I really wish that "American Idol" wasn't insisting on calling Tuesday (April 27) night's theme The Shania Twain Songbook.
I'm not saying that Shania Twain doesn't have hits aplenty. She's popular and Grammy decorated and it often feels like she's written enough hits for 30 different Dodge and Chrysler commercials.
But The Shania Twain Songbook? Come on. Bob Dylan has a songbook. Cole Porter has a songbook. But in 60 minutes of programming tonight, do you think we're going to hear the name "Mutt Lange" mentioned a single time? Because if you aren't going to acknowledge a man whose name is on nearly every meaningful page in the Shania Twain Songbook, maybe you ought to just call it "The Music of Shania Twain" or just "Shania Twain Night."
Full recap of Shania Twain Night after the break...
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "You're Still The One"
My Take: The arrangement is nicely stripped down so that all we're listening to is Lee's raspy interpretation, which couldn't be more different tonally from Shania's original version. I like how, at the end of the chorus, Lee does a little singing-out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth thing that's totally out of the Kris Allen playbook (not The Kris Allen Songbook). My reservation would be that the song just takes too long to get going in this version and that by the time he gets to the end of the chorus and he's sounding great, the song is over. Too much build, not enough crest.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy calls it one of the greatest songs ever written and says that Lee found a way to make the song his own. One of the greatest songs ever written? Hmmm... I would say that Orleans' "Still The One" is a better song with a nearly identical title. If you're not the best song of all-time with your title, you're not one of the best songs ever written. Ellen says Lee couldn't look cuter and that he made it his own. She invites us all to hop aboard the Shania Twain. Is that like the Hot Tamale Twain? If so, Mary Murphy may need to consult an attorney. Kara says that the tone of his voice makes every song relevant. I have no idea what that means, Kara. Simon thought it was the perfect song. Simon liked the performance, but accuses Lee of pulling some strange faces. I think he's talking about the Kris Allen mannerisms, but Kara just flaps her arms and tells Simon that "It's called smiling." [Note: This is night's first song co-written by "Mutt" Lange without any mention.]
Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing"
My Take: Shania wanted emotional connection from Michael, which means he has to sing the song sitting down, because you can't be emotional and genuine if you're standing. There's some excellent technique on display from Michael here. I think Crystal has a better voice, but she's driven by emotion, while Michael's technique is ridiculously good. He has utter control of both his lower and upper registers and the transitions are flawless. His phrasing and enunciation are also superb. Do I think he was any more or less emotionally connected to this song than any of a half-dozen other songs? Probably not.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves that Michael has found his place and that he was really in the zone of who he is. Ellen compares Big Mike to Luther Vandross. Kara always feels like Big Mike is connected to the songs. Simon likes Ellen's Luther Vandross comparison, but he calls Michael's performance "a bit wet." He clarifies that it was "a little bit girlie." ["Mutt" Lange was also a credited writer on "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing."]
Singer: Casey James
My Take: Casey doesn't think he's really sung yet this season and this is a singing song. He's decided to sit down and play an acoustic guitar, meaning that he's taking Michael's "emotional connection" and raising it by a notch or two. Then he kicks into another gear by closing his eyes and never opening them again until the very end. How much more heartfelt and emotionally connected could he possibly be? I mean, I guess he could be wearing a black turtleneck. In any case, vocally Casey is very good and I find myself agreeing with Casey's point that he hasn't done anything for a while where I was just listening to his voice and not concentrating on his guitar noodling and whatnot.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: For Randy, this was one of the best Casey James performances ever. Ellen says Casey sang it like he actually belonged, calling it his best performance to date. Kara says that great artists don't hide and he didn't hide. Simon thinks that Casey got a much-needed wake-up call last week and that this was one of his best performances. Simon suggests that Casey come down and give Shania a hug and a kiss. Both parties happily oblige.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "No One Needs To Know"
My Take: Crystal's singing this song for her boyfriend. Apparently, somebody wants somebody to put a ring on it. Coming off of last week's ultra-emotional (*genuinely* emotional) performance, this is a markedly blander version of Crystal, but I appreciate the effort she's putting into making it look like she's having fun. Every once in a while, you catch her forgetting to smile and then she forces her lips up into a grin of sorts.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves seeing Crystal trying new things and appreciates that she actually sang it as a country song. It wasn't Ellen's favorite Crystal performance. Why does that even have to be mentioned? Kara says Crystal always feels honest and she also adds that this wasn't her favorite performance of Crystal's. Simon calls it "limp" and interprets that the other judges were trying to say they didn't like Crystal either. Simon also tells Shania that the song was forgettable as well. Crystal attempts to tell us that bigger isn't necessarily better, as her boyfriend smiles sheepishly in the audience.
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "You Got a Way"
My Take: "American Idol" would love for Aaron Kelly to go home this week. It doesn't mean they hate Aaron Kelly. It's just that of the Top Six, he's pretty clearly the sixth best vocalist. He's also sitting on a chair, but he doesn't have a guitar and his eyes are open at least half the time. Not nearly emotional enough, Aaron. He's nasally and ultra-serious and not especially interesting.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy says this was in Aaron's wheelhouse and he did a really great job. Ellen hasn't figured out how old Aaron is, even though he's told her three or four times this season. Kara says she thought Aaron felt the song and says she appreciated that he changed a lyric that mentioned making love. First Kara says that she's glad Aaron changed the lyric because she doesn't figure that Aaron gets laid, which is awkward and embarrassing. Then Aaron points out he was singing the song for his mother, which takes the awkwardness to a different level. It's here that if Kara had any self-respect, plus a sword, she would fall on her sword out of pure idiotic shame. Instead, she giggles nervously and doesn't say that she's glad Aaron isn't banging his mother. Simon thought Aaron was like a different artist tonight and that this was the sort of artist he should be. So much for "Idol" wanting Aaron gone. It may just be me who wants Aaron gone.
Singer: Shioban Magnus
Song: "Any Man of Mine"
My Take: Shioban's being a little sassy tonight. I like it. She's clapping to the music, flirting with the band and high-fiving the audience. What Shioban lacks is the necessarily levity to actually sell this kind of a performance. She gets breathless running into the audience, which causes her to drop the rhythm of the song completely for several phrases. But after several weeks of downplaying her bellowing instincts, the "American Idol" Munch-kin works in a full-on scream into the end. It grinds the up-tempo song to a halt and, to my mind, feels like pretty clear and indicated desperation.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved it. Ellen kills another "Shania Train" joke. "Guess who's back," says Kara, who has been particularly annoying. Simon liked the song, but not the screaming at the end, comparing it to giving birth. "If you heard that note in isolation, you'd think something else was happening," Simon says.
TONIGHT'S BEST: There was no clear disaster tonight and also no clear breakout. The singer who I most enjoyed listening to tonight was Big Mike. Casey James was solid and Crystal probably comes in at third for me.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Aaron Kelly's nasally earnestness wasn't awful at all, but it didn't impress me much. [Yes, that was a reference to "That Don't Impress Me Much," another fine Shania Twain song that Jeff Lange co-wrote. Look, I know they had an ugly divorce and that he was probably in the wrong, but does that mean that Shania magically got no musical assistance from the guy at all?] Siobhan would be my second worst of the night and if you wanted to put her below Aaron, I wouldn't take any offense.
IN DANGER: It's hard to get sent home from the pimp slot, but Siobhan's going to give it a try. I think Aaron and Big Mike join her in the Bottom Three.
Who'd you like tonight? Who'd you hate? Who's going home?