Recap: 'American Idol' - Miley Cyrus mentors the Top 11
Welcome, friends, to another two-hour "American Idol" Tuesday.
This Tuesday (March 23) night was originally a Teen Idols theme, but it was changed at the last minute to the far-more-nebulous Billboard #1s theme. I have no idea what that means, but it's sure to be generic, since it encompasses any top hit in any genre dating back to 1958 [Billboard Hot 100 only].
While the theme is gone, Miley Cyrus, who dates back to 1992 or so, remains on-board at tonight's mentor. She's sporting the most makeup for any "American Idol" mentor since Verdine White.
Miley's also the first guest mentor to give all of her advice in blue jean short-shorts since Quentin Tarantino.
On to the performances, after the break...
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "The Letter"
My Take: Is Lee intentionally paying tribute to Alex Chilton? If so? You're my idol, Lee Dewyze. I'd lay odds he isn't even vaguely aware of the Alex Chilton connection. He seems to have the Blues Brothers band backing him up and he's rocking a sort of '60s bruiser/hipster look. Yes. I know that's conflicted. It's a properly Seeger-ized version of the song, a little bit brasher and brassier than its original incarnation. But why would Lee be doing this? This is not "New Jersey's Next Great AC Lounge Singer." Because if it were, Lee would stand a really good chance of winning with this performance. He's trying to be a showman, but it also looks like he's singing for a voucher at the buffet.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Yo. You know what's cool? It's cool that Lee chose a bluesy soul version. As per Randy Jackson, Lee knocked it out da box. Ellen compares Lee to her favorite pen. Kara says that she's never heard him sound better or look more comfortable. Simon's surprised by the song, saying it wasn't a recording performance, dubbing it "quite corny."
Singer: Paige Miles
Song: "Against All Odds"
My Take: This is a song that has never been good on "American Idol" before, so why not try again? And why not try with a singer whose sense of pitch is as iffy as Paige's? Oh right. Common-freaking-sense. Oh well. That's out the window here. After being far better last week, she's back to the Paige who should have been forcibly sent home at the end of the semifinals. She's brutal. She's nowhere near the melody. She's bleat-y and unsure of most of the notes. This is awful. Oh, Lilly Scott. I'm so sorry about what America did to you. Last week, Paige sang well despite not having any voice at all. This week? I don't know if she's still sick, but I hope she whips that out as an excuse. If I'm listing, I dunno, the 12 Worst "American Idol" Finals Performances, this one makes the cut.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Yo. Man. Yo. Wow. Really? Honestly? Randy calls it terrible. The audience can't even bring itself to boo. "I'm gonna start with a positive... you didn't fall down," Ellen says. She's referring to Paige's heels, but it's the nicest thing she could say. Kara says that Paige's mistake was to stop listening to the judges' advice. Kara calls it the worst vocal of the season, possibly. Simon asks Paige how she thinks she did. Even Paige knows she was an embarrassment. "It was like there were five of you singing that song and it got progressively worse each one," Simon says. He says that she's in trouble. Ryan's in one of those awkward positions where even he can't try to protect her.
Singer: Tim Urban
Song: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
My Take: Robert Browning observed, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp." He didn't know it, but he was referring to Tim Urban, a man with an almost pathological obliviousness to his own limitations. His meeting with Miley Cyrus is like a showdown of teen idols and it ends, as you'd hope, in a hug. They'd have very cute children together. I encourage it. The song has been so very lowered that it's almost unrecognizable. But the melody doesn't even matter. Tonight is all about Tim playing around. He sprints around the stage. He does a full slide. He skips down the steps and stands in a sea of his squealing admirers. If you didn't know this was a Queen song, you'd have no idea, because none of the vocal gymnastics remain. Really, none of the notes remain. He occasionally shouts a few words, because otherwise there'd be no reason for all of the prancing. But hey, he's better than last week and he's less bad than Paige. This was Jon Peter Lewis-esque, in that it was a singer saying, "Screw you, you were never gonna compliment my vocals anyway." That's an approach.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Yo. Randy asks Tim if he had a good time. Tim agrees. Then Randy tries arguing that this is a singing competition, calling the vocals boring. Ellen calls it an audition for the "High School Musical" franchise, stealing Simon's use of "corny." Kara whips out "Hairspray" as her point of reference, saying that Tim isn't really popular enough to have had the pretense of popularity. Simon accurately points out that the best part about the sliding was that it distracted from the vocals. Simon tells Tim he has zero chance of winning if he doesn't try to become contemporary and relevant.
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing"
My Take: Oh good. Aaron's making excuses before he sings a word. He's rocking the tonsillitis. He's also rocking a big old crush on Miley Cyrus, which is at least age appropriate. It's kinda cute. He can't compete with Tim Urban for her affections, though. Listening to Aaron tonight is like watching an unsteady figure skater trying desperately to build up enough momentum to make a single big jump. He's so clearly got the training wheels on tonight, noticeably holding back on the song's biggest note, but he never reaches a moment where it hurts to listen to him. And coming after Paige and Tim, he sounds like a superstar.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy throws Paige and Tim under the bus and praises Aaron for coming out and singing. Ellen's pleased. Kara praises Aaron's ability to choose the right song and then she doesn't say anything about the vocal. Simon calls Aaron "brave," but then warns Aaron that he's making himself old fashion. He says there's no chance that Aaron is going home.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Me & Bobby McGee"
My Take: Finally Crystal Bowersox and Miley Cyrus are together. It's almost surprising that it's taken Crystal this long to get around to covering Janis Joplin. It's a speed relief that although she's doing the Janis version, she's skipping a few of the affectations that could have made this performance a bit too much to take. Sigh. She's just better than the other people who have performed tonight. She's just a lot better. It's just not close. Yes, it becomes a bit heavily Janis-y at the end, but good gravy she earns it and plays it perfectly.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: "That's what is called being a star," Randy announces. He's so happy now. Ellen is also pleased, but she wants a little bit more personality. Ellen wants Crystal to feel the lov. Crystal announces that she has big plans for next week. Group hugs? Kara felt a bit more looseness and suggests putting the guitar down. Crystal repeats her big plans for next week. Simon tells Crystal not to change anything, saying that Crystal's cover of the song was as good as Pink's. I missed that Crystal was performing on her own carpet! That's kinda cool. She and Ryan cop a squat on her carpet.
Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "When a Man Loves a Woman"
My Take: Miley has no advice for Big Mike, but she does get two big bear hugs. There's Earnest Soulful Big Mike and then there's Bouncy High Energy Mike. It's the first one who makes Kara cry. That's who Big Mike is being tonight. Big Mike is good. He doesn't have Crystal's musicianship, but he rarely makes vocal missteps. If anything, this is a bit too much Earnest Soulful Big Mike. It's like we know that whenever he sings songs like this, he's singing to his wife, but this performance is practically wandering out into the audience, sitting on her lap and stroking her cheek. Still, nice to listen to.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: It wasn't Randy's favorite Big Mike performance, but he says Mike knows who he is. Ellen calls it safe, but say she loves him. Uh-oh. Kara was bored, calling it "lounge-y" and "over-indulgent" and says she lost her connection. "It's like you want one scoop of ice cream and you got 11," Simon says. He didn't think Big Mike made the song current and relevant. Simon gives Big Mike some advice and says that he enjoys having this mentorship opportunity. Mentorship? Like on "The X Factor"? Like on "Simon Cowell's X Factor"?
Singer: Andrew Garcia
Song: "Heard It Through the Grapevine"
My Take: Miley Cyrus' advice to Andrew is to lose the guitar. Is she trying to kill him? She would tell Samson to cut his hair also. Alas, Andrew isn't backed by a quartet of singing raisins. Ummm... What Miley didn't understand is that Andrew has no idea what to do on the stage without a guitar. He stands in place and occasionally points at his ear to imply the hearing that he was doing through the grapevine. WAIT. DID ANDREW JUST MOONWALK? And was the director showing the backup singers instead? That's his only moment of stagecraft in this entire immobile performance and the director missed it? DUDE. The arrangement has Andrew doing roughly as much singing here as Tim Urban did. I used to think he was better than that, but now I'm not so sure. Miley looks uninterested and I don't blame her. If Andrew goes home, he has three people to blame: Miley Cyrus, Bruce Gowers and, of course, Andrew Garcia.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Dude. Man. Yo. Randy didn't think it was good. Ellen, who loves everybody, hopes that people will vote for him, even though it wasn't good. Kara thinks he's confused. She tells him to go back to "Straight Up." "Maybe we just overrated that moment in hindsight," Simon says on "Straight Up." He tells Andrew he doesn't know who he is as an artist and pretty well tears him to shreds.
Singer: Katie Stevens
Song: "Big Girls Don't Cry"
My Take: It's hard to believe that Miley Cyrus and Katie Stevens are the same age, perhaps because it's hard to believe that Miley Cyrus isn't 35. She's tackling Fergie, which is contemporary at least. There's some wobbling on the verse, but she finds the chorus in full stride. It's a pretty smart song choice, one where she can pretend she's connecting to it on a personal level -- "I'm a big girl now!" -- without having to mine any true emotions. It's the second straight week of not-at-all-bad singing from Katie.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy doesn't know if it was Katie's best performance. Which one was Katie's best performance, Randy? But he likes that Katie's listening. Ellen disagrees, calling it Katie's best performance yet, calling her "The Dakota Fanning of 'American Idol.'" Kara thinks this is the lane that Katie should go down, but she still notes Katie's "mad pitch issues." Simon says meeting Miley was the best thing that could have happened to Katie. He says that the way she looks now compared to weeks ago is "chalk and cheese." That's a Cowell favorite and it probably has no meaning at all to poor little Katie.
Singer: Casey James
Song: "Power of Love"
My Take: Miley Cyrus has no idea of who Huey Lewis is, nor has she ever heard of the News. So many people in the "Idol" demo aren't going to be aware of how how karaoke this performance is. Casey, accused of being a bit too restricted in previous weeks begins a foot or two away from the mic and starts with a guitar solo. He makes his way to the mic and from there, this is the exact same Casey we've seen for weeks. He closes with a second little guitar solo. Straight-forward, moderate quality karaoke.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: You know what? Randy thinks Casey may be the best guitar player they'd have on the show. Randy wasn't a fan of the song choice, but he worked it out. Ellen calls it the night's best vocal. Kara says Casey is on another level, saying he could put together 10 songs and have a hit album. Sure, Kara. If the next one was "New Drug." And then maybe "If This Is It." Simon is incredulous. He says that it was an identical cover to the original. Kara shakes her head and says it isn't. Ummm... Kara? Earth to Kara. There's no reaching Kara who goes on blathering about how Casey made the song current. No. He didn't. "Power of Love" is a fantastic song, but that's just what "Power of Love" *sounds* like. Or maybe Kara's just too young to remember "Back to the Future"? No. That sure can't be it. She's just a smitten kitten again.
Singer: Didi Benami
Song: "You're No Good"
My Take: We can now spend a while making fun of Miley Cyrus' pronunciation of "vibratto." Tee-hee. And then we can spend a while making fun of Ryan Seacrest's blunder on Didi's last name. Tee-hee. I like this version of Didi. She's going a bit slinky and flirty, playing with the on-stage bassist (an "Idol" classic) and moving with the camera. Is the vocal memorable? No. But do I find it unlikeable? No. Not at all. She looks fantastic and she's having fun and looking relaxed. And yes, I may be a bit of a smitten kitten myself.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved the idea, but he didn't like the pitch. Ellen doesn't get the song choice. Kara thought Didi was playing a character. Perish the thought of a performance? Simon points out the "irony" of Didi singing "You're no good" over and over again. That would not be "irony," Simon. Sorry. That would be a sad coincidence. Then Simon compares Didi to Lacey, which is damning. Didi tries saying that she doesn't want to be pigeon-holed and that she wanted to do something different.
Singer: Siobhan Magnus
My Take: So will Crystal and Siobhan just swap back and forth on the pimp slot for the rest of the season until the finale? I can live with that. I can also live with Siobhan's faux-hawk. She had the real thing before, so she can get away with this version. Similarly, she can get away with showing up to be mentored in her Clark Kent incarnation. Siobhan went dark and brooding last week, so she's trying for bluesy this week. It's not exactly her thing, really. And this is one instance where the Siobhan Scream wasn't motivated at all. A smooth performance for 80 seconds followed by a wail isn't the same as the gradual and well-deserved build-to-scream last week. But if Siobhan is determined to join Edvard Munch as people who have been synonymous with screams, she just needs to choose songs accordingly. Miley gives her a thumb's up, but I thought that it was a flat and unremarkable performance from perhaps my favorite singer in the competition.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves that Siobhan is fearless. He loved it and thinks Siobhan an inspiration. Ellen asks for more. Kara sees that Siobhan is more comfortable on stage than anywhere else. And raves about that last note. For the second straight week, Simon says that there will be a split with Siobhan. Simon suggests that Siobhan may want to start with a scream next week. In general, Simon is feeling down about the night. Siobhan says that if she could, she'd do a whole song in the Siobhan Scream.
TONIGHT'S BEST: I'm with Simon on this one. Crystal was demonstrably the night's best performer. Second best performer? Miley Cyrus, for covering up just how little she had to add as a mentor, while also making it onto the screen two or three times after each performance.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Paige was the night's worst. I think Tim was second worse, but that's only because I'm giving Andrew Garcia credit for the moonwalk that we didn't get to see. Andrew was third worst.
IN DANGER: I got the full bottom three last week and pegged the eliminated singer. That will not happen again. I'm saying that the bottom three is Didi, Andrew and Paige. And Paige goes home. Season of the Women my eye.
Agree? Disagree? Who's going home tomorrow?