Recap: 'American Idol' - Alicia Keys tries to help the Top 7 find Inspiration
We're only 24 hours away from the telethon thrill-ride that is "Idol Gives Back," but first our Top Seven must handle inspirational music in the hopes of avoiding becoming the contestant to get humiliated and sent home at the culmination of a charitable celebration.
Putting them through their paces is Alicia Keys, who manages to be ridiculously talented, philanthropic and smoking hot. Will she be inspiration enough for the Top Seven?
Recap of Tuesday's (April 20) performances after the break...
Singer: Casey James
Song: "Don't Stop"
My Take: Alicia Keys' agenda tonight is making the singers connect to the songs they're singing, a worthy goal. Casey spent several weeks interpreting songs in the style of his favorite '90s rockers, but tonight's pretty clearly a Huey Lewis night. He sounds like he's singing just above the arrangement, leading to more sharp notes than I'm really interested in hearing this early in the show. It's the same slightly cocky, half-smile Casey performance we've seen for five or six weeks straight now. Maybe it isn't coasting, per se, but there isn't any hint that Casey has been inspired by this song or theme to do anything different or to follow Alicia Keys' edict and connect to the song. He rasps and slurs his way through the lyrics and, as usual, takes valuable vocal time for guitar noodling.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Yo. You know what? Randy thought it was a good performance, but not great. He tells Casey that every week they're seeing the same thing from him. Ellen liked the guitar playing, but she also didn't feel it was great. Kara also isn't seeing what makes him different, which frustrates her. Simon wasn't particularly inspired, calling it a lazy song choice.
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "The Boxer"
My Take: I love Alicia's strategy of asking Lee to just recite the lyrics for her. Lacking a Garfunkel of his own, Lee begins by over-singing the song, but I'll confess that I'm distracted by how horribly the lyrics have been gutted for this shortened arrangement. What's the point of singing a song that tells a story and has a message, if you take the story and the message out of the equation entirely? Lee's vocals are strong, oversinging aside, but his energy is perilously low. It's about distinguishing between "somber and emotional" and "sleepy and dull." Lee is somewhere between those two extremes, but closer to "sleepy and dull" in my book. He's still better than Casey James, but that's only because Casey James has only one gear and Lee has two or three.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy says that Lee is a great artist ready to have a great career and says nothing at all about this performance. Ellen calls it Lee's "best performance by far." Kara thinks Lee had his Moment and then she mocks Casey, emphasizing the difference between people who feel connected to the song and people who don't. Simon calls it the night's best performance and also insults Casey.
Singer: Tim Urban
Song: "Better Days"
My Take: Alicia Keys thinks Tim Urban is dreamy. America seems to agree. Backed by a whole string section, Tim's guitar is completely superfluous. You can't hear a single note he's playing. The judges have complained that Tim always has the same sleepy smile, but he's selling "earnestness" better than either Casey or Lee did. It's hilarious to say that a Goo Goo Dolls song is too big for his voice and yet it is. Goo Goo Dolls songs aren't spectacularly rangy, but they cover a lot of terrain within a limited range and and Tim isn't good enough to make the necessarily low-to-high-to-low transitions. He's at his best on smooth an amelodic songs.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: For Randy, it was only OK karaoke. Tim responds with the return of the sheepish smile. Tonight, Ellen compares him to the soup-of-the-day and says that today she didn't enjoy the soup. Kara says something dull and incomprehensible. Simon didn't believe Tim's performance, calling it possibly a step too high for him.
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "I Believe I Can Fly"
My Take: I'm disappointed that Aaron isn't doing something from "Trapped in the Closet." Perhaps he's differently inspired. He's also got the benefit of the orchestra. I say "benefit," because I can concentrate on the violins and not on Aaron's bleating and vibrato. We've now reached the point in the competition at which Aaron has hit his reasonable ceiling. I'm tired of listening to his totally uninterpreted wailing. While I'd pretty much wanted to cover my ears by the half-way point, I'll acknowledge that Aaron *does* hit the last note solidly, which was really all that Alicia Keys wanted out of him.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought the arrangement was funny for him, saying that he did a good job with the giant song. Ellen makes a drug reference on 4/20 and says that Aaron did really good. Kara says that Aaron was flying by the end after a rough take-off. Simon says that he'd have turned it off if he'd heard it on the radio. Thank you, Simon.
Singer: Siobhan Magnus
Song: "When You Believe"
My Take: Siobhan has started getting dressed up and putting in her contacts for the mentors. Did the producers tell her that Clark Kent Siobhan wasn't working anymore? Siobhan has butterflies on her shoulder. Or maybe just one butterfly. It's a show-off-y performance, which is what you'd expect from an artist trying to live up to a Whitney/Mariah pedigree. That means that the "American Idol" Munch-kin is doing a lot of shouting, though no screaming. The upper register stuff at the end is beautiful once she gets there, but the transition into that upper register is brutal and makes me wonder why she bothered at all.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy doesn't like people to cover Mariah. Ellen disagrees and loved it. Kara suggests she wants to hang out with Siobhan more than buy her record. Simon was also distracted by the butterflies, which he thought were leaves. Siobhan protests that she didn't want to let the original artist impact her song choice. Siobhan is amazingly good at talking back to the judges in a way that doesn't sound obstinate.
Singer: Michael Lynche
My Take: Interesting and intriguing arrangement for Michael here, starting entirely on an acoustic guitar before the band joins in. I like the arrangement enough that I'm ignoring how rough Michael is in the early going when it comes to actually singing the song. He closes strong and I guess i appreciate his energy and charisma after Siobhan and Aaron. Really, though, I'm becoming increasingly disheartened here. By this point in the competition, I shouldn't be in total "Crystal or Bust" mode, but I am. Also, watching the Red Sox in the background isn't helping matters any.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy was worried about the song choice, but he says Michael held his own and worked out. Ellen says he did a great job. Kara disagrees, saying he didn't have the tone for the song. Simon disagrees and notes that he wasn't so much inspired by a song about Spider-Man. Michael instructs Simon that Spider-Man is also a hero and even Simon agrees.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "People Get Ready"
My Take: Thank you, Crystal. If one people can salvage 59 minutes of mediocrity, that would be Crystal. Working entirely instrument-free tonight, she also starts off a cappella. The point is clear: Crystal isn't just the best musician in the competition this season. She's also the best pure singer and the gap is wider than it has ever been between the best and second best in any season since Fantasia's win. The amazing thing is that it's clear from early on that Crystal's voice is raw tonight, that she's too joked up to hit the notes as purely as she otherwise might. But despite being audibly choked up, she sells the performance 100 percent on pure and anguished emotion, even ending the performance in tears. You want to know what emotional and inspiration sound like? They sound like this.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy gives Crystal a standing ovation. Ellen begins by praising how great Crystal looks and praises the whole performance. Kara tells Crystal that she's on another level and tells her she just schooled all of the other contestants. "That was inspirational," Simon tells her.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Crystal Bowersox.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Tim was pretty lame. Aaron was pretty lame. Casey was pretty boring. Siobhan mangled more notes than anybody else. Really, it's a competitive race for worst. Lee and Michael get to be in their own comfortable class below Crystal, but far above the worst.
IN DANGER: I can't exactly figure on who gets to go home. I think Tim, Aaron and Siobhan are your Bottom Three. Flip a coin between those three and it doesn't even matter. I'm saying Aaron goes home, but it's tough to guess.
Blech. So were you inspired by anything on Tuesday's show? Who'd you love? Who'd you hate? Who's going home?