For the past two weeks on "American Idol," we've done 12 performances and then 10 performances spread over two hours. That has allowed for quality informational tidbits on the contestants. Yes, "quality" and "informational" can both be put in ironic quotes, if you like.
On Tuesday (March 9), though... It's eight performances in an hour. So let's go!
Fully recap after the break...
Singer: Katie Stevens
My Take: We're on a short leash this week, so we aren't learning anything new about the contestants. Katie's aiming both young and "Idol"-friendly this week, or at least that's what's been programmed into her database. Sometimes you lose things in the wiring. The beginning of the song is both too low and somnambulistic. Yes, she sounds better when she gets to the chorus, but the verse was almost amelodic. This is a problem with the arrangement, if you ask me. It may be essentially a karaoke version of the Kelly Clarkson original, but this was one that needed tinkering for Katie in this short a performance window. Katie was an early favorite who has turned in three mediocre performances since the Top 24 began. She needs to figure out if she has that next gear.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: Randy says "Breakaway" was one of the greatest songs of this modern age and that it was too big for her. Ellen's pleased that Katie took their notes and sang a young song, but Ellen didn't think Katie felt the song, didn't think she showed any personality. Kara, lookin' pretty good tonight, warns Katie that she doesn't know who she is as an artist. "I think this has been very confusing for you," Simon says, complimenting Katie on trying to learn from them. Then he repeats Kara's complaint. "You kinda sucked... the energy out of it," Simon says, before giving Katie "10 out of 10" for effort. Katie insists that she actually did feel the meaning of the song and it really is the artist she wants to be. That's not a good argument, Katie, because if you *did* feel the song and it *is* the kind of song you think you should be singing... Well, you didn't and it isn't.
Singer: Siobhan Magnus
Song: "House of the Rising Son"
My Take: This is gonna be fun. I can tell. And not just because The Animals' original is one of my favorites. She's starting a cappella. And it's fantastic. The guitar joins her, but the arrangement remains spare. We've heard this song done well and horribly in auditions over the years, but this is so far and away the best version of the song I've ever heard on "American Idol." Oh, we're going to be Team Siobhan on this blog. I can tell. That was pretty superior. She's just elevating.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: You know what Randy likes? He likes that she takes risks. He also likes that she doesn't listen to them at all. "You are why I love music," Ellen gushes, calling it "spectacular." Kara thought the a cappella stuff at the front was "brilliant," calling her "unique and different." Simon? Not a fan. He calls it "weird" and criticizes her for not doing anything different with the song. He says there were no "moments." Really?
Singer: Lacey Brown
Song: "The Story"
My Take: I can't be the only one who's just a bit perplexed by how Lacey remains in the competition, can I? She's not bad, really. I mean, her cutesy, baby-doll voice has its moments and gives songs a certain warmth. But she's so sleepy. And so soft and forgettable. And given that "Idol" voters almost always prioritize "Hot and dreadful" over "Sweet and negligible," the idea that Michelle and Janell and Ashley went home before Lacey is a puzzlement. This is her second "Sit in one place and smile coyly" performance of the semifinals and absolutely the best of the two. It sounds effortless, but not always effortless in a good way. Because sometimes "effortless" means you don't appear to be putting in effort. And Lacey doesn't. She's just cruising along and at times it works and at times I'm checking college basketball scores.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: Randy calls it her best performance, even though it's "boring" and "sleepy." Ellen also agrees that it was Lacey's best performance to date. Kara says that this is how she got here. Simon says this was like listening to a song on the radio. Now, to my mind, Siobhan's performance was in a different stratosphere from Lacey's. I don't quite get the gentle praise from the judges for Lacey and the not-appreciably-more-passionate praise (or outright dismissal from Simon) for Siobhan.
Singer: Katelyn Epperly
Song: "I Feel the Earth Move"
My Take: Damn skippy, Katelyn. When you're just standing at the mic singing, you're just another singer with an OK voice and minimal stage presence. When you're on the piano, suddenly I remember who you are and I think you're a bit cute and sassy. And this really is my favorite Martika song. The problem is that the arrangement has so weird pacing problems and the background singers are annoying. And a bigger problem is that I also feel almost no emotional intensity from her here and on a Carole King song, if you aren't giving intensity, you aren't really in the game. And, as I think back, "Toy Soldiers" was actually my favorite Martika song. I still think Katelyn as a more engaging and successful performer overall than Lacey, but I can see this particular performance drawing minimal support.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: Randy didn't feel the right connection, the vibe. Ellen doesn't know if this was enough to make people call and vote for her. Kara doesn't think Katelyn was competing. "Let me start with a positive... I like your hair," Simon says, before comparing it Request Night at a restaurant. Katelyn says she just wanted to perform this week and to be less corny.
Singer: Didi Benami
My Take: THANK YOU, DIDI. Yes, you're a week or two too late in bringing out your guitar, but at least you didn't force me to divorce you completely out of hand. And yet I may need to steal Kara's criticism of Katelyn. This feels like a sweet, ethereal Didi performance and it's certainly better than last week. And it's better than the week before that as well. But is this a performance that says "I'm out to crush the other seven of you"? No. She's so pretty and so sweet and this is a very smooth, low-key version of the song. I don't want to sound like the judges with Andrew Garcia, but the performance Didi gave at the start of Hollywood week, working with the handicap of a Kara DioGuardi song, was the Didi I thought could win the show. This is a Didi who's hoping to barely slip by for the third straight week. Unlike last week, with this performance she may at least deserve to make the Top 12.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: "I'm not sure that there was a 'Wow' moment," Randy says, but he acknowledges that she's muck better. Ellen says, "Yes-indeedie-Didi." This is why they pay a professional comic the big bucks, y'all. Kara, though, calls it one of her favorite moments of the show this season. Simon agrees with Kara, saying it was head and shoulders better than anything we've seen tonight. Simon says that the whole performance was a "Wow!" moment.
Singer: Paige Miles
My Take: I love "Smile," but this is one of those inexplicable "Idol" favorites. Does anybody tonight other than Siobhan have a killer instinct? Or have all of the ladies gone into the musical equivalent of a Prevent Defense. Didi, Lacey and Katelyn were trying to see who can make the fewest viewers forget them, without alienating or exciting anybody. Paige at least has the decency to be bad. Very bad. She oversings every little bit of the sing, with weak vibrato, thin head-voice and brutal runs. She's not in tune. She's not on rhythm. She has no spirit. And she can't sing the song.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: It didn't work at all for Randy. Ellen wonders why we didn't get to see any personality here. Kara asks Paige if she knows that she blew it. Paige can't really come up with an answer. Simon says the arrangement was awful, calling it a Peanut Performance from the Holiday Inn in 1974. Simon says it's a shame, because Paige has so much potential. Simon has said this for three straight weeks. It's nice that the judges got to see her potential. We haven't. Paige cries and pays tribute to Michael Jackson. She also throws the musical directors under the bus by blaming the arrangement. And was that also the case last week, Paige? And the week before? I'd say Paige is done, except that as the worst singer of the night, that's going to stand out.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Give Me One Reason"
My Take: Crystal goes electric. The idiotic crowd starts clapping in synch without bothering to figuring out the speed Crystal is performing. Crystal isn't reinventing the wheel on this cover. This is a much more expressive Crystal performance tonight. Is it possible that she's warming up to the crowd? To the stage? Add Crystal to the small list of performers tonight who seem to think they can win. Everybody else just wants to survive tomorrow night's cuts.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: Crystal is what the show is about. Ellen laments her absence of appropriate adjectives. Kara's pleased, because Crystal knows exactly who she is and knows exactly what songs to sing. Kara thinks that's the kinda song Crystal would be doing on her record. I disagree a little. It's exactly the kind of song Crystal would be performing on a subway platform, but what she's learning to do, week by week, is raise the performance to the venue and the audience. "You are one million, billion percent going to be in the Top 12 next week," Simon says, noting her improved confidence. He tells her that she's the one everyone has to beat.
Singer: Lilly Scott
Song: "I Fall to Pieces"
My Take: I've had Lilly and Crystal in their own tier for the first two weeks, with Siobhan getting closer and now joining them. I'm not exactly sure that Lilly's whole ensemble comes together here. There's a mixture of cutesy and attempted emotionality that doesn't gel. It comes surprisingly close. And the vocal, while interestingly and affectedly nasally, doesn't quite reach high enough. I think the problem here is just Lilly going right after Crystal on this particular night. One looked like a polished pro, ever improving. The other continues to be a watchable, sometimes excellent enigma. I dig the cute little mandolin.
Randy, Ellen, Karen and Simon Say: Randy and Ellen love it. KAra praises Lilly for making Patsy Cline feel current. Since when has Patsy Cline had problems for current audiences. Simon thinks Lilly is brave and warns her that while it was good and quirky, it lacked the "Wow" factor.
TONIGHT'S BEST: For me? Siobhan was clearly tops. Crystal was a solid and unquestionable second. I'd then go Lilly and probably Didi.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Paige holds this crown all on her own. Katie wasn't very good either, though.
IN DANGER: Paige feels like a done deal, despite her pitch to Michael Jackson fans. But who joins her? I think it's either Katelyn or Lacey. I'm guessing Katelyn, but not for any compelling reason.
Who did you like tonight? Who did you hate? Who's going home?