Once upon a time, "American Idol" used to shift from single performances to doubles when the contestants reached the Top 5. That meant 10 performances and "American Idol" used to magically do that in an hour. Unbelievable, right?
On Tuesday (May 4) night, "American Idol" could only find time for five performances in 61 minutes. And how could you possibly do more when you have two clip packages -- one for mentor Harry Connick Jr. and one for Frank Sinatra, whose songs made up the night's theme -- and a five minute filler conversation, plus one commercial break before the first song?
Credit is due to Connick, who arranged the Sinatra songs specially for the Top 5, brought along several representatives from his band and even joined them himself on the piano and organ. At least that guy was a committed mentor.
But did his efforts pay off? Or did the "Idol" singers turn me into the Chairman of the Bored?
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "Fly Me To The Moon"
My Take: "Big Mike!" Connick says as Aaron enters the room. I'm not sure if I've ever liked Harry Connick Jr. all that much before, but he's winning me over. Why is Aaron using his microphone as chapstick? What an odd and awkward stylistic choice. I didn't like Aaron very much last week in his nasally Shania performance, but this is serviceable and not a total violation of Sinatra spirit. Aaron has almost no cool, but he doesn't do badly vocally until the odd country-fried conclusion. You have to remember how young and spindly Sinatra was when he started. It wasn't like he was a man and Aaron is just a boy. No, Sinatra even in his very earliest performances, he knew he was Frank Sinatra and he had the confidence that he was Frank Sinatra. Aaron is a teenager playing dress-up and at least he doesn't destroy this beautiful song. The kids like Aaron, as the squealing post-performance is nearly TUrban-esque.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy was worried about how Aaron would handle the theme, but he thought he did a really good job. Ellen was also worried and she says she didn't hear any country at all. Oh Ellen, go back and listen to the end. Kara thought it was good, but not as strong as last week. Kara wants Aaron to learn more charisma. Simon agrees with Kara. He's still a bit overwhelmed by the monogrammed hanky that Sinatra's daughters presented him earlier. Simon's a Sinatra fan and, shockingly, he implies that Aaron wasn't quite on that level. "If he was a lion, you were just a mouse," Simon tells Aaron.
Singer: Casey James
Song: "Blue Skies"
My Take: Harry's a hoot. Is anybody else getting a strong "American Idol" Judging Contender vibe off of him? Casey is performing instrument-free tonight and he doesn't have a clue what to do with himself without his crutch. He can't sing-and-walk. He has an arm that just hangs limp at his side. With the guitar, Casey actually does have a little swagger, a little confidence. Take away his instrument and he's a lummox. It's a second straight for Casey to showcase his vocals and nothing else. And as we know, Casey's vocals are only a tiny, tiny part of the Casey equation and not the part he'd want to rest his laurels on. With the exception of one truly awful note where Casey starts off-pitch and goes through like five other notes trying to land the right one, the vocals and the whole performance are forgettable. If the goal was somehow making Aaron seem composed and interesting, Casey succeeded.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy calls it Casey's worst performance, that he was out of his element and that he actually made the orchestra sound out of tune. Ellen doesn't know what to say. She calls Casey stiff, saying he missed "cool" and "effortlessness." Kara thinks Casey found himself by the end, but that at least he held some notes. Then, after that praise, she criticizes his vibrato. [That wasn't vibrato. That was the note he couldn't hit and tried to find.] "Good news, band was great. Bad news, you weren't fantastic," Simon says. Even Harry tells Casey that he sang it better in rehearsal, that he killed it two hours earlier.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Summer Wind"
My Take: The "Idol" producers want either Casey or Aaron gone and they don't much care which. The show is rather bottom-heavy this week. Crystal says she has personal reasons for picking this song. I believe this is yet another hint for her boyfriend to pop the question (though I'm not instantly sure how). The difference in confidence between the night's first two performers and Crystals is hilarious and all-too-evidence. She actually opens by making a joke with Harry and sashays over to the mic looking beautiful and genuinely happy to be there. She wasn't at her best last week nor is she exactly 100 percent in her element this week, but she's just calm, cool, collected (i.e. this isn't a big, show-offy performance) and fine tonight.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought it was a little sleepy for him. Ellen wanted to see a little more, but she's impressed with this version of Crystal compared to the woman we meant at the start of the season. Kara liked Crystal's phrasing and seeing this side of her. That's actually a good point by Kara, the part about the phrasing. It felt a little indulgent for Simon, though his criticisms are all of Harry's arrangement and seem not to have anything to do with Crystal. Simon tells Crystal that she needs to be in it to win it. He expects better. Crystal explains it's about singing to your lover and doing it sweetly.
Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "The Way You Look Tonight"
My Take: Nobody's going to accuse Large Michael of lacking in confidence. I'm finding myself enjoying Large Michael's voice more and more each week. He's vocally dextrous. I'm not a huge fan of this arrangement, which doesn't play really into any of his strengths. But the arrangement also nicely side-steps Mike's weakness of becoming over-invested in "earnestness" and "feeling" and becoming schmaltz. By keeping the arrangement jazzy and uptempo, Mike never wallows and, thus, remains interesting and believable throughout. He does what Harry wanted, which was giving the melody and the lyrics equal weight. I'm not blown away here, but it works.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought it was an unbelievable arrangement and an unbelievable vocal. Wow. Randy's way over-the-top here. Ellen says Mike looked the part and sounded the part. Kara thought Mike found the drama in the song, but also maintained himself. Simon says that the first three performances were only OK, but everything clicked with Mike's performance. Simon also loved the arrangement. Hmmm...
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "That's Life"
My Take: This was a great song choice for Lee, whose raw and gruff voice encompasses enough world weariness to sell this song. I also love the untucked shirt and the slightly loosened tie. There are a couple big notes that push up against the edge of Lee's limitations, but this is the best, most "whole" performance of the night, in my book.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: You know what Randy loved? That Lee stayed his rocker self. Randy loved it. "At first I was distracted by Harry's organ," Ellen cracks. She then says that if this was the last night of performances, Lee would have just won the whole thing. Kara asks Lee if he thinks he can win. Lee says he does. Kara tells him he can. Simon thinks Harry brought out Lee's personality and confidence.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Lee was the night's best, but Crystal wasn't too far off. And Big Mike was a respectable third.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Casey was the night's worst.
IN DANGER: It's hard to know. I'm guessing it'll be either Aaron or Casey, but Casey may get a voting bump from being near the bottom last week. I still think Casey is doomed, which is just fine by me. Could I imagine a situation in which Crystal is, at the very least, in the Bottom Two? Absolutely. The judges practically begged America to put the fear of "Idol"-God into her, to force her into a Come to Simon Moment.
Who'd you like tonight? Who'd you hate? Who's going home?