Idol Nation had been unable to sleep or digest solid foods for the better part of two days, but just minutes before showtime on Wednesday, the final word came through Ryan Seacrest's Twitter feed: Crystal Bowersox will perform!
And, with that, Wednesday's (March 3) performances by the Top 10 "American Idol" women had their luster and sense of wonderment restored.
Click through for a full recap of Wednesday night's performances...
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Long As I Can See the Light
My Take: CRYSTAL LIVES! America's Busker was introduced last and it looked like she was going from the hospital to the pimp slot. Instead, she's opening the show, accompanied by an organ. She's doing a gospel-tinged version of this CCR song, guitar in hand. She looks a little pale, but that may just be reading her ordeal onto her visage. Certainly, you can't hear any weakness in her voice. It's a soulful and powerful vocal, far more distinctive than last week and, all things considered, probably just a bit remarkable. Heck, even if you don't take into account that she was in a hospital 24 hours earlier, that's certainly the best performance of the season thus far. Move aside, Alex Lambert. "Idol" has a new Comeback Kid.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: I miss Randy because of a technical gaffe, but Ellen is justifiably pleased. Kara says that Crystal completely recovered from last week, that this was effortless and centered and focused, saying Crystal hit a new level. Simon praises Crystal for not playing the sympathy card, saying he "misunderestimated" her last week. He compares her to Kelly Clarkson.
Singer: Haeley Vaughn
Song: "The Climb"
My Take: Oh Haeley. Don't talk about your nerves and lack of confidence. Crystal Bowersox was resurrected from THE DEAD. And you're nervous? Suck it up! And I really wish they'd saved this song for the Miley Cyrus Theme Night. Oh, you know it's coming. After last week's freakshow of styles, this is a big improvement in consistency for Haeley. She has a big voice, but she doesn't quite know how to breathe, which causes problems when she gets to the chorus and runs out of air. By the time she gets to the end, Haeley's strained and the notes aren't coming together properly and it becomes hard to listen to. It's an awful song, but I don't think Haeley's making it any worse.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: It didn't work for Randy, who actually calls it excruciating. Ellen didn't think Haeley connected to the song. Kara compares Haeley to Alex Lambert for some reason, that we're rooting for her. Really? Huh. Kara thinks a year of "strengthening her instrument" would be a big help. Simon's feeling gentle tonight, but reluctantly calls it "a complete and utter mess." Really? I thought she was better than last week. That's not saying much, because I thought Haeley was a trainwreck last week. This week, she's just a bike wreck. Or a skateboard crash.
Singer: Lacey Brown
Song: "Kiss Me"
My Take: Lacey likes to refurbish antiques? So what? Crystal Bowersox was physically refurbished overnight! You like antiques, but Crystal is a miracle! I don't much care what Kara thinks. This is a pretty tepid song for an "American Idol" showcase. It's a better song for Lacey's personality than whatever dull performance she gave last week. But "Landslide" was a better and harder song, one that actually forced her to do a little singing. This is just cutesy and bland and Lacey flounces around the stage smiling and doing karaoke.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought it was a good song choice and it would have worked except that she did it as pure karaoke. Randy's right. Ellen thought it was "adorable." Well that's high praise. Since this song was Kara's choice last week, she's taking credit for Lacey's bringing her tone back, warning her she has to step it up. Simon calls it "marginally better than last week." Simon takes Lacey to task for listening to the judges' advice last week. Ha. Contestants should always listen to the judges, but not too much. Similarly, if the judges recommend a song, the contestants should always take that recommendation, unless they shouldn't.
Singer: Katie Stevens
Song: "Put Your Records On"
My Take: Katie Stevens can say "Give me a kiss" in six languages. But she doesn't know what "irony" is. Katie isn't nearly sweet and sassy enough to pull off this Corinne Bailey Rae favorite. In places she sounds terrific in that polished-and-professional way that she has. But do I buy that she's feeling the song? Not at all. It's just sing-songy, pleasant and thoroughly disconnected. Really, the Degarmo-esque-ness of Katie Stevens is insane.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy wants Katie to tackle songs that are more difficult and that she needs to believe she can do bigger songs. Ellen liked the performance, but she can't believe Katie is 17 and wants to see her younger still. "I don't want to hear something that I would hear in my dentist's office," Ellen says. Kara also didn't like the way the song began, saying that this is one of those songs that sounds great on the radio, but isn't a good performance song. Simon wants to know what kind of artist Katie is going to be, but that she'll stay around for another week because people like her. Kara wants Katie to sing a song based around what she's feeling right now. "Confused," Kara suggests.
Singer: Didi Benami
Song: "Lean on Me"
My Take: Didi Benami was a middle school mascot *and* a cheerleader. And she does meowing exercise before each performance. Oh, I love Didi. But why isn't she using her guitar?!? I'm so confused. Did you learn nothing from The Late Great Janell Wheeler? If you've got a guitar, play it! I mean, Janell went down in flames so that you might live. Didi turns "Lean on Me" into the same sort of song she's been singing for weeks, starting it like a singer-songerwriter ballad. It picks up towards the end and becomes basically the familiar version of the song. I liked the first half and probably would forget the second part, or at least try to. I love Didi and don't much care. But seriously, if you don't bring out your guitar next week, Didi... Bad news.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy would not have chosen that kind of soul song, which showed her imperfections. Ellen also wasn't a fan of the song choice. And Kara wasn't a fan either. She wants more consistency from Didi and wants her to bring out her guitar. "At least you continued the cat theme through the song, because that's what it sounded like," Simon says. Didi can't even respond to the comments, trying her hardest to hold it together. Oh, Didi.
Singer: Michelle Delamor
Song: "With Arms Wide Open"
My Take: Creed? Really, Michelle? There's taking a risk and then there's singing Creed. Also, is it taking a risk if you try turning Creed into a generic Alicia Keys song? Mostly, that makes me appreciate that Alicia Keys is a better songwriter than Apollo Creed. She's OK until the end when the final notes are almost unlistenably bad. The final note is KILLER.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Michelle swears she feels good. Randy loves her outfit, which is vintage Madonna, as if she and Katelyn Epperly are swapping stylists each week. Ellen disagrees and says Michelle did do a lot with the song, pitch problems aside. Kara calls it her favorite performance of Michelle's ever. Even Michelle looks confused. Kara bought it. Simon agrees with Kara. Wait. Is nobody going to mention that Michelle strangled a puppy on her final note? Oooh. Simon's getting all meta and admitting that the judges give contradictory advice. Simon says Vega Wang is in the audience, but the director can't find her. Ryan makes Randy back down from his criticisms.
Singer: Lilly Scott
Song: "Change Is Gonna Come"
My Take: If Lilly plays the Moog this season, she automatically becomes the "American Idol" winner, at least in my book. Lilly says she spent a week training to improve her stage presence. Her most important learned lesson? Keeping her eyes open. If you know me, you know this is my pick as the greatest song every written in the history of American popular music and I hold it mighty sacred. There's only a little lyrical connection to the song, but at least she's not grinning her way through it. It's been interestingly arranged and, once again, I'll ask if this is an arrangement that anybody knows. I like what Lilly does with it, even if she breaks into a smile at the end. I think Lilly topped Crystal in Week One. I think Crystal topped Lilly in Week Two. But unless Didi figures out how to use her flipping guitar and unless Siobhan blows stuff up tonight, I'm putting Lilly and Crystal laps ahead of the rest of the competition.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy says this is the season of the most unique contestants the show has ever had. Randy thinks she worked it out and she did her thing. Randy calls it his favorite performance of the night. Ellen says Lilly has it and also calls it the best of the night. Kara calls it Lilly's first "moment" in the competition, warning that Lilly is going to change the game. Simon wasn't crazy about it, saying that Crystal was better.
Singer: Katelyn Epperly
Song: "The Scientist"
My Take: Oooh, Katelyn plays the piano. Somebody has to reclaim Coldplay for the "American Idol" stage after Matty Giraud destroyed the band last season. This isn't a dynamic performance -- a slow song made even slower and sleepier -- but it's simple, well-controlled and beautiful. I'm a bit stunned they didn't find a way to give Katelyn the pimp slot for that one. Well-played, Katelyn.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy really liked it. The performance was too slow for Ellen, who says it would be a good help to babysitters putting children to sleep. Kara kinda loves Katelyn, though she says that Katelyn is all over the place. Simon thought it was a smart choice of song, making Katelyn contemporary. He warns that it was a bit corny, but that this puts her back in the race. There's no doubt in my mind that Katelyn has just moved ahead of poor Didi to the front of the second tier.
Singer: Paige Miles
Song: "Walk Away"
My Take: Paige likes to color. She's 8, but her bio claims 24. It's our second Kelly Clarkson song of the season. I have no problems with Paige's voice, especially since she's actually singing this week, doing melody and lyrics, little things she skipped over last week. Paige is another singer in that upper-middle tier (a tier that only exists for the women, since there are five or six women who are better than any of the guys). I'm not feeling the stage presence, any stage presence, but her voice is solid and serviceable.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: It turns out that Kara wrote the song, which Randy makes sure to point out, though he wasn't over-the-top in love with the performance. People keep talking about Paige having one of the best voices in the competition, but this wasn't a good showcase. Kara pouts, but Ellen loved the whole performance. Kara wants to explain the genesis of the song. Kara says it's an angry song, but Paige made it into a happy performance. She still liked it. Simon agrees with Randy, saying that this is the song straight week she chose the wrong song. Simon also references Paige's big voice. Paige agrees with everything that everybody said.
Singer: Siobhan Magnus
My Take: I've said it before... Siobhan is just an awkward, funny goofball. Hmmm... When the judges say "Big," they don't necessarily mean *this* big. Oddly, the bigger the song gets, the closer Siobhan comes to doing it justice. In the smaller verses, she sounds thinner than she needs to. Regardless, it's a funny package to see this song coming out of. It's just such a big song and her voice... Well, I don't know where it comes from, but it's sure strong. Meanwhile, I wonder how that next-to-last note sounded in the theater. That note was huge and I *think* she nailed it (justifying the pimp slot), but I don't know how it would have sounded live. Siobhan is like a baseball pitcher who throws a 100 mph fastball with no movement. Her voice is ridiculously big, but maybe not textured and soulful enough? That pitcher with the 100 mph flat fastball, sometimes he's gonna look dominant and sometimes he's going to get hit hard and he'll tantalize you with his potential. Tonight, Siobhan sounded dominant... But under different circumstances, I can imagine her just going loud and empty, all the while tantalizing you. Regardless, she also moves past Didi into the high second tier.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy announces that Siobhan sold it, that it was dope, even doing a funny impression of Siobhan's last note. I think Ellen somehow compares Siobhan to a Snuggie as a compliment. Simon remains perplexed by Siobhan, but he praises the last note.
TONIGHT'S BEST: I'm putting Crystal in her own group this week. Lilly and Siobhan get to play together in the second group.
IN DANGER: This should be a no-brainer. If Haeley and Lacey go home, we'll be left with eight women who are better than every single one of this season's men. [Michelle might be the one exception to the previous statement, but if she goes home next week, that'll be OK. Didi could also be in trouble if she doesn't get her act together and if she doesn't come out with a guitar next week, whatever happens is her own darned fault. Ditto with Paige if she doesn't eventually show the voice the judges keep talking about. The other five women are just solid, collectively, and it's getting more and more difficult to see their weaknesses. This is in contrast to the men, where I could start picking them off one at a time and not stop until April.]
Who'd you like on Wednesday night? And who's going home?