Leave it to the brilliant works of John Lennon and Paul McCartney to whip American Idol‘s weakest bunch ever into semi-shape. The top 9 of season 9 took on a Lennon/McCartney theme night on last night’s show, and surprise, surprise! No trainwrecks! Not even from notoriously bad (but dreamy) Idol hopeful Tim Urban.
The theme also revealed a potential new frontrunner in bluesy rocker Casey James, whose stirring rendition of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” drew rave reviews across the judges’ panel. 17-year-old Katie Stevens also stepped it up. For a second week in a row, she delivered one of the best vocal performances of the night with her rendition of “Let It Be.”
But the night wasn’t without bumps. Andrew Garcia, who finally shook off the “Straight Up” curse last week, regressed into Cornyville with his lopsided version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Here’s a rundown of how the top 9 did:
Aaron Kelly – Long and Winding Road: Aaron (or Yoda to his fellow Idol contestants) couldn’t have been a lamer choice to kick the night off. While singing weakly, he looked distracted — almost bored — which was completely understandable since I was bored to tears until his last big note. Randy was also bored. He called the performance “sleepy,” while Ellen joked that it seemed like “the long and winding song.” Kara warned that he should step out of his box because we’re constantly seeing the same side of him. And Simon ended by calling the performance “old fashioned and boring.” It could be Archu-Not’s time to go — or at least see the bottom three.
Katie Stevens – Let It Be: After being showered in praise for her performance of “Chain of Fools” last week, Katie continued the hot streak with a commanding rendition of “Let It Be.” She switched the song up just enough to make it her own, while displaying her best vocal performance of the season. “Amazing,” Randy said. “You never sounded better,” Ellen chimed in with. Before having another fight with Kara about where Katie should go as an artist, Simon told her “tonight you got it right.”
Andrew Garcia – Can’t Buy Me Love: Looks like Andrew needs a helping hand from Chris Brown every week. Last week he finally stepped out from behind the shadows of his “Straight Up” performance when he stripped CB’s pop hit “Forever” down to an acoustic masterpiece. This week, he’s in trouble again with his ridiculously cheesy, big band-inspired version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It was only “OK” for Randy. Ellen disagreed, saying she “loved it.” Kara loved only the breakdown portion. And Simon panned it as “corny and old fashioned.”
Michael Lynche – Eleanor Rigby: Big Mike went a little theatrical with his take on “Eleanor Rigby.” Surrounded by string players, Mike focused on big vocals and dramatics and it sorta, kinda worked. Randy loved seeing “the artist in [Mike] blossom.” Ellen noted that some people won’t like how much he changed things up, but she liked it. Kara did, too. “Those vocals were hot,” she said. Simon wasn’t as enthusiastic. He felt it was like a musical and that Mike is going “slightly backwards.”
Crystal Bowersox – Come Together: The chick to beat was back on guitar this week for a funky rendition of “Come Together.” The performance was classic Crystal. She’s never going to suck, but she will be painfully predictable. One thing we would have never seen coming was a guy playing the didgeridoo. Entertaining as it was, it was silly and pointless. Still, no skin off Crystal’s back. The judges all love the performance. What a surprise! [/sarcasm]
Tim Urban – All My Loving: Tim, his big, beaming smile, his Beatles-esque hair, and his electric guitar made the crowd sway with a surprisingly delightful performance. Look, Tim is never going to be a great singer, but he at least picked a song that was right up his alley and didn’t require too much effort from him. That deserves praise. The judges all agreed that it was much better than last week, but Simon took it even further, saying, “You did really well.” He even complimented Tim on the way he’s handled the harsh critiques over the weeks. “You take the criticism like a man…I’m very, very proud of you,” he added.
Casey James – Jealous Guy: Casey chose a tough one with “Jealous Guy,” but he pulled it off. I mean, really pulled it off. He traded his electric guitar for an acoustic one and had only a cellist backing him. It was a beautifully vulnerable performance. It wasn’t perfect. He had a few pitch problems and a shaky high note, but it all felt like it was coming from a real place. He felt it, so any mistake he made could be forgiven. “Your best performance to date,” Ellen told him. “It was the best performance of the night,” Simon crowned the performance. I think Casey finally had his “moment.”
Siobhan Magnus – Across The Universe: Siobhan completely bombed last week, so last night was kind of like her redemption song. Toning it back a bit, Siobhan stayed away from the big notes and let her gorgeous voice stay pure and angelic throughout her performance. Randy called it “a little bit sleepy,” but he loved her tender side. “Beautiful,” Ellen raved. Kara was a bit confused, not really offering much critique. She still needed to process what she just saw. Simon was with Kara, but admitted she “came back stronger” from the previous week.
Lee DeWyze – Hey Jude: And of course Lee would get the sweet closing spot after a “life changing” performance last week. Too bad he didn’t really make good use of it. His gruff voice was too harsh for the song and he invited a bagpipe player — complete with kilt — to perform alongside him. Somewhere recently eliminated Didi Benami was throwing rocks at the TV (she performed “Hey Jude” during her audition). Randy loved it. “You don’t have to be nervous. You got this,” he told Lee. Simon thought he was doing great before the ridiculous bagpipe player came along.
Predictions: Tough! Andrew went back to Lamestown. Aaron was super dull. And Tim…well…he’s Tim. Andrew might be saying bye-bye.
Tonight we learn who will continue on into the top 8 and get mentored by Adam Lambert next week. Before that, we’ll enjoy performances by Rihanna, Jason DeRulo, and season 7′s vocalist extraordinaire David Archuleta.