There ought to be a long, complicated German word to describe the sensation of settling in to watch Didi Benami and Lilly Scott and, instead, finding yourself watching Tim Urban and Alex Lambert.
That's what "American Idol" viewers experienced on Tuesday (March 2) night, when Crystal Bowersox's medical issues caused the show to reverse field and move the Top 10 "Idol" Men up by a night. After all, if the men were bad last week, what could be better than seeing how they'd do when rushed and underprepared? A little quick housekeeping: I've had a couple people ask me about my usual game of substituting all of the "Idol" judges' names for famous trios and quartets, leaving only Simon. For now, I'm holding off on that game because I'm confused about the judging dynamic this season. The joke always used to be that Simon was giving the valid opinion and the judges around him were interchangeable and irrelevant. Last week, though, both Kara and Randy were substantive and helpful. Only Ellen was superfluous. Was that an anomaly or is this developing as a topsy-turvy season?
And now, on to the recap of Tuesday's "Idol"...
Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "This Is a Man's World"
My Take: Mike Lynche benches 505. Yikes. I don't want to be the one telling Big Mike bad news. After coming out so spirited last week, but perhaps a bit silly, Mike's going for some soul and some style. He's spiffy, confident and in no way silly. Then again, Big Mike has chosen a song that's been arranged to include almost no singing. He sounds very solid, but it's nearly spoken word at several points. His performance is largely pacing back and forth to the microphone and throwing his arms in the air, but he does it with authority (or at least the authority of a man who can bench press 505). Finally, towards the end, there's a little singing involved. I'm still going to say that the degree of difficulty on this performance was virtually nil, but posturing and style are in evidence aplenty.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Ellen and Randy have changed places this week. Yo yo. Randy feels like this season is getting rolling now, because Randy gives Mike a standing ovation. For what?!? Ellen likes every song choice that Mike has made so far and she works in a punchline, warning the other men that they have to top Mike. Kara says Mike went from being a singer to being a potentially great artist and she's feeling this different. "It was like from being a pussycat to being a lion in one week," Simon raves, adding that it also didn't sound dated. And I'm going to suggest that the judges are grading on a heck of a curve tonight based on last week's suckitude and the lack of preparation, because Big Mike was fine, but he wasn't THAT good.
Singer: John Park
My Take: English is John Park's second language. But how much can he bench? Too many John Mayer jokes to be made. John Park is making none of them. He is, in fact, almost life-suckingly serious. He's giving one of those performances where the singer perches on a stool and barely opens his eyes. John, John, John. You need to loosen up. Just a little? I mean, you have a good voice. But so very little personality.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Yo yo. Randy is disappointed John didn't bring anything new or spicy to the song. Like kim chi, Randy? Xenophobe. Ellen isn't feeling that John felt it enough. But Ellen, his EYES WERE CLOSED. What more do you want? Kara thought it was better than last week, but she still isn't believing him. She wants him to take some risks. "I think Purple Haze may get their lead singer back," Simon says, calling it a "So what?" performance, one that will be forgotten within 20 minutes. Because this show is two hours for 10 performances, that's plenty of time for the judges to blather. They make their comments. Then John gets to respond. Then they get to recomment.
Singer: Casey James
Song: "I Don't Wanna Be"
My Take: I actually don't care what Casey James' pre-show ritual is. Oh, OK. I'll play along. What's in the box? What's in the box? What was in the box? What's in the f***ing box?. [It's never a bad time to watch the ending of "Se7en."] Ugh. Talk about a song that didn't need to be covered again on this show. But at least he's actually working some legit electric guitar work. But that part at the beginning where he said he was planning on doing something different with the song? Was that just a joke? Because this is the Gavin DeGraw version without even the slightest embellishment. I guess it's OK bar band karaoke, but is sure isn't an iota more. And by doing this song, Casey probably kept us from hearing Lee Dewyze's far better karoke version of the "One Tree Hill" song. And the silly guitar solo at the end? That's just cocky. Now if he had smashed his guitar on the stage at the end? Now that would have been gangsta. This? Not gangsta. Plus, Casey's voice is thin and uninteresting.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy lists a bunch of guitarists who are better than Casey. But Randy can imagine Casey making this kind of album. Ellen thinks you can't go wrong with the song, saying that on paper everything was there, but she notes a stiffness about him. GO ELLEN! Backbone! "We all got the memo, the cougar's a fan," Kara begins, before saying that Casey took two steps back this week. Ha. Clearly Kara got a different memo, one about pulling the tongue back in and maybe delivering constructive criticism. Simon is astounded. "Did he not return your calls, darling?" Simon cracks, before agreeing with Kara. Simon says Casey didn't have the grit to sing the song. Casey is initially confused, finally shrugs his shoulders and admits that the judges might be right. He resists the urge to just wink at the camera and move on.
Singer: Alex Lambert
Song: "Everybody Knows"
My Take: Alex Lambert performing is Jeremy Renner in "Dahmer." Discuss. Will he conquer his nerves by performing a song by my college classmate John Legend? Well, the guitar is a massive help. It totally makes up for the brown plaid blazer. Tonight, Alex doesn't look like he's about to throw up on stage. He just looks like he's prefer to be taking an nap, which is an almost unimaginable improvement. It doesn't even matter that by the end, Alex isn't really playing the guitar anymore. The guitar's like his blankie and he's like Linus. The voice that we heard on the choruses last week is there from the beginning. This week, Mr. Lambert is kinda good. If he continues at this pace, Alex is going to win this damn thing. He can't possibly continue at this pace, but still...
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: "You know what I loved about your package?" Randy says euphemistically before saying he really enjoyed the performance. Ellen returns to her banana analogy, saying that Alex has ripened before our eyes, which is also probably his euphemism. "Under his mullet is a little Sam Cooke voice," Ellen raves. Kara correctly notes that people will root for Alex and that he has "an incredible, recordable voice." Simon calls it a million times better than last week. What Simon wants is for Alex to develop that killer instinct. He suggests he wants to help Alex pick his songs. Hmmm... If only Simon could do a show where judges help actively mentor singers on a week-to-week basis. Wouldn't that be crazy?
Singer: Todrick Hall
Song: "What's Love Got to Do With It?"
My Take: Todrick first says he wants to show that he can mix singing and dancing. Then he tells us that he wants to show tonight that he doesn't need to dance, that he can just sing. Wrong choice, Todrick. Stick to entertaining. It's not like it's impossible to sing and dance at the same time and do both well. Work on that combination first. You can't do Tina Turner. You just don't have the voice or the emotion to pull this one off. Talk about not feeling the combination of singer and song, this one is a miss. And I was a fan of what Todrick did last week. He's got none of the searing pain and spirit that the song requires and none of the personality and confidence he had last week.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved the falsetto at the end, but he didn't love the arrangement. He keeps telling him to just sing. Ellen tells Todrick that he actually should try to be an entertainer and not to songs like this. Kara agrees that everybody likes him, but they don't know where Todrick's unique spin on things went. Perhaps last week when he put a unique spin on a song, you shouldn't have torn him to pieces? Simon calls him "Tondrick" and urges him to move and not sing. He calls it corny and makes the "theme park" comparison. Randy keeps going on about Todrick changing the arrangement. It wasn't that changed, Randy. Todrick looks utterly beaten. He says next week, he's going to come out and sing like he did in church. Alas, America, we may need to vote Todrick out before his personality vanishes entirely.
Singer: Jermaine Sellers
Song: "What's Goin' On"
My Take: It's funny. I like Jermaine a lot. But he was just awful last week and he's biting off Marvin Gaye this week? He's definitely better (almost nothing could be worse), but he's incapable of just hitting the darned melody. Also, does he have a CLUE what this song is about? It's not a smiling and flirting song, Jermaine. Just because people have sex to *some* Marvin Gaye songs doesn't mean they're all sexy songs. And if you want to wink and flirt, pick one of the other Marvin Gaye songs, not the one that goes "Brother, brother brother/ There's far too many of you dying." Gracious. The vocal flourishes are inane and out of place and absolutely nothing to the performance. Vibrato? Runs? Falsetto? Forget that. Sing the darned song like you can sing, Jermaine.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy says it was so close, but so far. Right about the second part, Randy. Ellen loves Jermaine's style, but she doesn't know what to say. It pushed too hard. Kara says it's impressive what he can do, but he's doing too much. Thank you, Kara, for asking Jermaine to look at the lyrics of the song. Simon tells Jermaine that he made the song lose its meaning. Jermaine invites Simon to church with him. Simon agrees to join Jermaine, clarifying that it was "cabaret," not "church." Jermaine challenges the judges to pick his song next week. "I'm not sure you're going to be here next week," Simon says. Jermaine knows God. "Don't even bother with the phone line," Simon grumbles.
Singer: Andrew Garcia
Song: "You Give Me Something"
My Take: Andrew was good last week and I'm perfectly happy with his choosing not to really listen to the judges. Be yourself, dawg. Part of what we like about Andrew is his guitar playing, though. Like if this is him being himself, then what was last week? You know, when he was good and original. Without the guitar, he's not the same guy and not just because an awful lot of the notes here are starting mighty sharp. In places he sounds OK, but overall, it's a sloppy, pitchy vocal with almost nothing distinctive about it.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy also loves James Morrison, but this wasn't the vibe for him. He calls it pitchy through and also asks for his guitar to come back. [Andrew Garcia's girlfriend (sister?) is hot.] Ellen keeps being disappointed that Andrew didn't sing "Straight Up." How can he possibly live up to that? Kara also says he's going down since then, noting that the guitar helps him stay on rhythm. And in tune, Kara! Simon is frustrated that Andrew isn't choosing the right songs.
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "My Girl"
My Take: Another strange song choice and even stranger arrangement. It's an under-produced version of The Temptations it, which seems to force Aaron to oversing at every turn. It's not a Jermaine level of oversinging, but it's pretty close and some of the runs and vocal modulations are just plain out-of-tune. I can't really exactly tell if Aaron is more confident this week, but his brow is furrowed, which means he's determined and being determined is like having confidence.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought the first half was brilliant, but Aaron can really can sing, scoring it 200 percent better than last week. Ellen found the song forgettable and wishes he'd done something different. Kara really liked it and she really likes him, especially his consistency. Simon didn't like the song and that Aaron went backwards this week. I agree, Simon. Oooh, Simon also mentions Justin Bieber. He's hoping to trend on Twitter. Ryan asks Aaron if he likes Justin Bieber. Aaron starts to say he does, but Ryan jumps in and interrupts him, potentially rescuing his credibility.
Singer: Tim Urban
Song: "Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In"
My Take: Tim loves to pray before performances. Last week, though, God didn't listen to those prayers, at least not musically. This week? Well, it may not matter. Tim Urban just doesn't have a very good voice. With a guitar he's improved the very slightest bit from last week, but that's only because he doesn't do any of the dreadful falsetto. He just has no tone, minimal pitch and no warmth to his voice. He's just not in the league that this show requires. Not in any way. I can't be bothered to critique him. If you leave out singing, stage presence, charisma and intangibles, Tim Urban is a star.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy didn't really get it, calling it "very karaoke." "If you were on 'Glee' and all of a sudden we heard you sing as well as act..." Ellen says, before telling him that he has no charisma or stage presence. Kara liked the song choice and gets cheers. "But you didn't make it your own and it's just frustrating with you, because you look the part and you play the part, but it's just not all there yet," Kara says. Kara still wants to see Tim next week. Simon calls it a marked improvement on last week. You know what? Because Tim listened to the criticism. Simon is impressed by Tim's attitude and work ethnic.
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "Lips of an Angel"
My Take: Oh, I assure you that I've never heard this song before, so I don't know how much arranging has been done on it or how true it is to the original. All I do know is that, at least at first, it's a great match with Lee's raspy voice. But does walking from the back of the stage make Lee run out of breath by the time he hits the chorus? Everything becomes a bit unsteady when it ought to be at its best. He's missing many of the notes the more passionate he becomes. It seems so right at first and then it never goes anywhere. Like Andrew, Lee is just better with a guitar and there was no reason to go guitar-free this early.
Randy, Ellen Kara and Simon Say: Randy likes that Lee was trying to take chances and he liked it despite a couple pitch problems. Ellen also doesn't care about the pitch problems. Kara thinks this week was an improvement, but she can hear him on the radio right now. She thinks his look is commercial. Really? Huh. I would not have said that. Simon tells Lee that vocally, he's head-and-shoulders the best singer on the male side.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Well, the men were better this week than last week. That's hard to deny. I still would say that there was almost no star power on display tonight. I really can't process that Alex Lambert may have given the evening's best singing performance. There were parts that I liked from Lee, Michael and even John, but not the full package.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Again, Tim Urban and Jermaine Sellers were the night's worst singers, but one of them is dreamy and one has a good personality. So it wouldn't surprise me if John and Todrick went home instead.
What'd you think of Tuesday's performances from the Top 10 guys?