New stage set-up. New announcer. New Top 12. This is "American Idol."

Tuesday (March 16) night is the music of the Rolling Stones and I can't wait to hear what Lilly Scott and Alex Lambert are going to sing!

What?

Really?

Huh. Well, click through for a full recap of tonight's episode. [And also check out my interviews with the Top 12.]

Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "Miss You"
My Take: It's pretty much impossible not to like Michael Lynche. I defy anybody to say a mean word about Michael and I double-dog-dare you to say a mean word to his face. This isn't exactly his Barbie Dream Theme, but I'm again amazed by how much energy and mobility this big guy has. He also has a killer, effective falsetto and commanding stage presence. I'm not going to go so far as to say that I exactly love his dance moves, but there's a contingent of my colleagues who have compared Michael to Ruben Studdard because they're both large African-American dudes, which is both vaguely racist and vaguely stupid, since Ruben was essentially an unmoving figure on the stage, limiting his performances to stretching out his arms and smiling placidly. Ruben also had a better voice than Big Mike does, which isn't an insult to Big Mike. There are a few bum notes in the second half of the song, but I'd say that for the first performance of the season on the big stage, it's mighty solid.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy is reminded of how great a performance Big Mike has become, saying he slayed it. Ellen doesn't know what's not to love about that. She agrees that Mike started the night. And Kara also agrees that Mike led off the night. She adds that Mike delivered the necessary swagger and attitude of the song. Simon says that the performance was a little corny, comparing Michael negatively to the clips of the Rolling Stones that preceded his performance. He tells Big Mike that some of it came across as desperate. There's unpleasant awkwardness as Ryan comes down to the judges podium and demands that Simon give Big Mike some constructive criticism. "We can sort this out in your trailer afterwards," Simon tells Ryan.

Singer: Didi Benami
Song: "Play with Fire"
My Take: Ah, Didi. She's kicking off the Finals without her guitar. If you want more of an explanation for that, you really out to check out that aforementioned set of interviews. Didi's tracking the camera very closely, playing well with both the stage and the the audience, who wave their arms along with every moody note. It's an arrangement geared towards emotions over vocal range. Didi looks passionate and sells the heck out of the song, even if on the big notes there's a thinness to her voice. There's a strange uncertainty around half-way through. Does she lose the rhythm? The lyrics? I'm not sure. But she smiles coyly, recovers and continues. This is the best she's done at delivering on the meaning of a song, at making her voice go beyond affectation into a contributing instrument, limitations aside. Also? I like Didi.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy says Didi was on fire tonight. Ellen was pleased with Didi's phrasing and her ability to keep composure. Kara liked the intensity. Simon echos the other judges, calling it "solid, not brilliant." Didi jokingly attributes her new darkness to her time rooming with Siobhan.

Singer: Casey James
Song: "It's All Over Now"
My Take: Yikes. That's, um, quite a story Casey has. And his mother appears to be Katey Sagal. Casey's got his guitar and a certain honky-tonk swagger. There's a version of the Rolling Stones whether they're the best bar band in history and Casey's playing a pleasant and low-key version of that Rolling Stones. He's not hugely impressive and he's a little bit lost in the middle of the stage, but he's still solid and he looks like he's enjoying the audience approval. This is a performance, like so many of Casey's performances, that would be better in a small, dark bar. His personality just isn't big enough yet. But the vocals are on-key and the guitar playing contributes to the performance without being obtrusive.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy says that Casey James can make a career like this, hailing that Casey is back. Ellen says that for most women, their hearts will race looking at him. "But for people like me... blondes... I thought it was fantastic," Ellen says. That was probably her best moment in a few weeks. Kara says that tonight Casey wasn't trying to be a rock star, he actually was a rock star. Simon disagrees. "For me, that was like an audition performance," Simon warns Casey, saying that he didn't use the stage or the audience well enough.

Singer: Lacey Brown
Song: "Ruby Tuesday"
My Take: Oh come now, Lacey. There's nothing so very wrong with Amarillo. She's got the whole string section performing with her. Now say this for Lacey, but if Tyra Banks were watching, she'd tell you that Lacey knows how to smize. It's yet another cutesy and breathy performance from Lacey, who almost can't avoid gravitating to the edge of the stage and sitting. It's like that's the only way she's comfortable. What she doesn't seem to get is that she can't project properly from a seated position. It's a diaphragm thing. Like Didi, Lacey hits a wall on the biggest notes and I think some of that is attributable to sitting when she ought to be standing. Again, it's a warm vocal, without being an impressive vocal. So far, nobody has offended me tonight. Four respectable, decent performances. That's a good start.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved the string quartet and was pleasantly surprised at how well Lacey held it together, calling it the most "interesting" one of the night. Ellen excellently criticizes Lacey not just for sitting on the stage, but for botched stagecraft at sitting in the up-tempo part of the song. Another substantive comment from Ellen! Kara liked the drama, but wanted Lacey to put more into it. Simon has a slight issue, which is that Lacey performs like an actress. He says she's in danger of doing the same thing week after week. Danger? She's well past "danger."

Singer: Andrew Garcia
Song: "Gimme Shelter"
My Take: Andrew's dad is kinda an awesome dude. The more screentime he gets crying about his son, the more likely Andrew is to stick around. This is a crazy tricky song because its melody holds off practically forever. Andrew, working without his guitar, is doing what is probably his most straight-forward melodic rendition to date. Frankly, that's not what I look to Andrew for. He doesn't have a big enough voice for this song. In fact, I should never be watching or listening to Andrew for his voice alone. I should be watching the full performance, with the musicality and the creativity. When he just sings, he may have the weakest voice of any remaining male not named Tim Urban. Here, there's nothing for him to hide behind or to take away from the reality that on the big notes, he's shouting, not singing. That's especially damning when there's supposed to be emotion coming through. This is the first poor performance of the night.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves Andrew, but tells him that it was pitchy everywhere. Which indeed it was. Ellen says it was Andrew's best performance yet. No. No it wasn't. Kara tries to explain the song to Andrew, telling him to have more intensity. Simon says Kara has started to take singers too literally. I'm with Kara on this one. Simon suddenly decides that it was bad for the judges to be comparing every Andrew performance to "Straight Up" and says that at least Andrew give it full effort.

Singer: Katie Stevens
Song: "Wild Horses"
My Take: I think I like goofy Person Katie more than identity-starved Singer Katie. It's yet another arrangement starting a song too low for Katie. When she gets to the chorus, it's probably the best she's sounded in weeks. Do I completely get the impression she was gelling with the meaning of the song? Maybe not, but she really comes through on the vocal by the end. And when she misses the note, as she does a couple times, the adjustments are swift and correct. This returns the show back to its track of respectful, slightly safe performances. I think tonight's episode has been *very* well directed to give the impression that the singers are holding the stage. I spend so much time mocking poor "Idol" direction, so I might as well say nice things.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Yo. Listen. Randy thought Katie sang the song really well. Ellen says that Katie sounded great after she got into the song. Kara says that Katie's never technically perfect and that this was better than last week. Simon tells Katie this was the first time she has chosen the right song. But when he compares it to the version he recorded with Susan Boyle, he sounds less enthusiastic.

Singer: Tim Urban
Song: "Under My Thumb"
My Take: Tim Urban comes from a very big family. And it makes me laugh to talk about "The Urban Family." As soon as he goes out, FOX can just make "The Urban Family" into a sitcom. Heck, it would be better than "Brothers," the network's last urban family comedy. When did "Under My Thumb" seem like a good white bread reggae song? Oh right. It didn't and yet Tim is singing it as one anyway. The arrangement is ridiculously bad, but it does a fine job of covering Tim's vocal liabilities. He's barely singing and barely playing the guitar, but he's smiling and bouncing up and down to the music and for some female fans, that's certain to be enough. Personally, I need never hear this version of the song ever again.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Listen, man. Randy thought it was very bizarre and it didn't serve Tim well. Then, however, he says it couldn't hear Tim's vocals. And that's proof that, indeed, the arrangement served Tim well. Ellen wasn't wowed. Kara applauds Tim for doing something incredibly different with the song. Apparently Kara doesn't care that Tim didn't listen to the lyrics of this song. Simon thinks the song is boring anyway and warns Tim that Rolling Stones fans will be turning off their televisions, calling it "a crazy decision." Tim admits that it was a huge risk, but he didn't want to fail at sounding just like the Rolling Stones.

Singer: Siobhan Magnus
Song: "Paint It Black"
My Take: I'd have loved to hear Siobhan do "Gimme Shelter" and to hear Andrew do a rearranged take on "Paint It Black." But that's just me. I'm also a little distrustful of this slightly glammed up version of Siobhan, so at odds with the fantastically dorky Siobhan of her interview package. Or I'm distrustful until I see she's also wearing boots. I like that she can work both looks, though. The orchestral arrangement initially makes "Paint It Black" into an odd James Bond theme. Then it starts to rock and becomes a lot of fun. Because somebody has decided that we want to hear Siobhan's primal scream on every performance, she lets loose a roar at the end, but then transitions into a high, lilting, almost haunting note. You know what's great about this performance? [Yes, that was me channeling Randy.] There's a full story being told out there. There's a musical build, a vocal build and a build in her use of the stage. So when she gets to that banshee wail, a little rougher this time than when we first heard it, she's actually earned it because she took us through a progression.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy calls it hot and raves that she brought the drama to "Idol." Ellen compares it to Snookie's pouf. Somehow, that's a compliment. Kara calls it the night's best performance and compares Siobhan to Adam Lambert. Simon adds that he can see Siobhan's development, but he's worried she may need to scream at the end of every song. He also cautions that some people may hate that performance. Siobhan dons her dork glasses at the end of the comments and... Words fail me. Almost too cute.

Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "Beast of Burden"
My Take: The arrangement of the song sounds like an Eric Clapton Unplugged, only performed by Bob Seeger. Does that seem right? I love the original song, but I'm fine with what's being done to it here. It sounds rootsy and soulful. My complaint would be that it starts in one place and stays in that place for the duration. If Siobhan's performance had that build and earned its big moment at the end, Lee's performance starts steady and gruff and slightly muted and continues steady and gruff and slightly muted. Lee has a big enough voice that he could have escalated things.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy thought it was dope and compares it to Rob Thomas and Dave Matthews. Ellen expected more out of Lee, comparing it to a hospital gown, that it didn't quite come together. Kara celebrates Lee's growth. Simon likes Lee as a person, but wants to see Lee shine, criticizing it as a safe and forgettable song. Simon wants Lee to come out and have a moment.

Singer: Paige "Not Lilly Scott" Miles
Song: "Honky Tonk Woman"
My Take: Paige is a Southern gal. She ought to be able to pull this song off. She's over-singing the song, but this is the first time I've been able to hear that big voice that the judges have been anecdotally raving about for weeks. This is what Paige's voice actually sounds like and it's not bad. Sure, I might prefer just a little more dedication to a melody, even a rearranged melody. But this performance is enough to, in my opinion, keep her around for a while. And yes, I'm pretty much just comparing Paige to how very, very, very bad she was last week.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy wanted a little bit more energy, but he liked it. Ellen thinks Paige has start quality and she makes sure we know that Paige has been struggling with her voice. Kara also praises Paige for working through her problems. Simon wants to hear more about Paige's difficulties and then grades her on a curve and calls her great. What he wants is to see her connect a little more.

Singer: Aaron "Not Alex Lambert" Kelly
Song: "Angie"
My Take: Aaron is sticking so close to the original arrangement and stylization that this is one of the first times tonight when I can't get Mick Jagger's voice out of my head. And the rawness and urgency of Jagger's performance has been smoothed out and nearly erased. If three other guys would just come out and join Aaron in harmony, the boy band reductivism of the song would be completely. It's mock-earnest more than true-earnest. Still, I'll acknowledge that Aaron is much better than he was last week.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loved the tender moments in Aaron's voice and compares him to a bunch of other people. Ellen says that Aaron and Siobhan's performances are the two that sound out. Kara says Aaron connected with the song and the result was very powerful. Simon was worried for Aaron, but he chose the right song. He compliments Aaron on singing within the limits of his vocal.

Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "You Can’t Always Get What You Want"
My Take: Oh. Crystal's dad also gets me choked up. They need to outlaw clapping from the "Idol" audience, especially when the audience doesn't know the rhythm the singer is performing to. Are they trying to mess her up? Fortunately, Crystal's unflappable. It's a folksy version of the song, with just enough of the Joplin affectations that make Crystal so much fun. It's not exactly electric, but she's just such a pro up there. She even closes with a smile and a nod to the audience.
Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves Crystal, even if it wasn't his favorite of her performances. Ellen saw a little personality from Crystal and she thought that was a good addition. Crystal admits that she'd been thinking too hard before. Kara finds Crystal easy to watch. Simon says that Crystal came out tonight the clear favorite, but she chose a song without clear drama. Simon says Siobhan beat her tonight and, in a nice moment, Crystal smiles and says how great Siobhan was. This is definitely the most Crystal has shown us of who she really is.

TONIGHT'S BEST: I don't disagree with Simon. Siobhan was the clear winner tonight. But there were a lot of solid alternatives if you felt that Siobhan was too dramatic. I think Didi and Crystal were also standouts. Really, of the 12 performances, I'm not gonna quibble if people to get behind maybe seven or eight performances.

TONIGHT'S WORST: Done in by the arrangement (and, you know, his talent), Tim Urban was the night's worst. Then again, I also thought Andrew Garcia was pretty bad. And I *like* Andrew.

IN DANGER: I think the teenage girls will save Tim, but I'd guess he lands in the Bottom Three. Although she at her best, I think Paige may join him. I can't help but feel like Lacey's slightly lackadaisical performance may be forgettable enough to send her home. Maybe.

 

Who did you like on Tuesday? Who did you hate? And who's going home tomorrow?