"This is the worst night to go, because you're so close," Simon Cowell gravely intoned to the remaining eight ladies on "American Idol" Tuesday night, unsubtly pressuring them to perform at their personal best. After all, this was the night that would determine which six girls would advance to the all-important top 12 next week, so they all needed to sing like they'd never sung before.
Well, they sang like they'd never sung before, all right. They were even worse.
OK, maybe that's a little harsh. Some of the eight female semifinalists were good on Tuesday. But that's just it: They were GOOD. They weren't great. Few of them really seemed like they were competing at all--like they had that hunger, that drive, that unrelenting desire to be the next American Idol. This was odd, because all of these girls are undeniably talented. What the heck is happening this season?
Almost all of the girls this week perplexingly picked safe, slow songs (did they not learn any lessons from John Park last week?) and sang them way too softly and sweetly. This made for a pretty paint-dryingly boring episode, at a point in the season when things ought to be getting really exciting. So I was pretty glad Tuesday's show was only an hour long this time, because let's face it: 120 minutes of this would have put me in a coma. It was the audio equivalent of Ambien at times.
Anyway, despite my resultant grogginess I've managed to compile my thoughts on Tuesday's eight performances. I sincerely hope the six contestants who move on after this sing a few upbeat, uptempo numbers once they're in the top 12, or it's going to be a dull, dull, dull Idols Live Tour this summer.
Katie Stevens - This girl has supposedly been a frontrunner since the very first time she pulled a Gokey and worked the sympathy angle by mentioning her grandmother's failing health. But speaking of failing, Katie's performances during the competitive portion of this season have failed to live up to the hype. Tuesday she performed "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson ("one of the greatest contestants ever on this show," as Randy Jackson astutely pointed out), and she struggled, just like Paige Miles struggled with her Clarkson song last week. Her voice--which even in its rawest form is one of the technically better female voices this season--just seemed flat, as did her personality. I was not impressed, and neither were any of the judges, even though Katie had specifically taken Randy's advice to do a "bigger" song and Ellen DeGeneres's advice to sing something "younger." Kara DioGuardi and Simon were especially disappointed, both griping that at the tender age of 17, Katie hasn't yet defined herself as an artist or figured out the kind of music she wants to make post-"Idol." Simon gave Katie a "10 out of 10" for at least trying to heed the judges' critiques and learn from them, but Kara told her, "The singing needed to be perfect tonight to stand out--and it wasn't, sweetie." Ouch. I'm beginning to wonder if this former frontrunner will even make it into the top 12.
Siobhan Magnus - OK, now here's a gal who knows how to define herself, all right: She's got real throwback torch-singer style, from her smoky vocals to her cutesy vintage frocks--AND she picks big songs AND she nails all the notes AND she has personality up the wazoo. This week Siobhan belted out the Animals' dark bayou classic "House of the Rising Sun," and she took a real risk by starting the song a cappella. But it was a risk that paid off, as it put all the attention on this chanteuse's killer voice (just like "Wicked Game" did two weeks ago). "What I like about you is you take every risk, every chance," Randy raved. "I don't think you listen to us at all, but keep doing that, because it's hot!" (Considering all the conflicting aforementioned advice Katie has been getting this season, perhaps the best advice Randy could give Siobhan would be to not take his advice.) Ellen was even more enthusiastic, telling Siobhan, "You are why I love music, because it's supposed to move you like you just moved me....You're spectacular!" Simon was less excited, calling the performance "all a bit weird." (Conflicting advice alert: Simon called Siobhan a "funny little thing" last week, and it was a compliment, not an insult.) I still think Siobhan is one to watch and quite possibly the one to beat. It's not unlikely that this season's "unlikely character" (Kara's words) could win the whole thing.
Lacey Brown - Lacey has come unlaced during the past couple weeks, starting out with such promise but then delivering two consecutive lackluster performances. This week she stepped it up a bit, but I'm not so sure she stepped it up enough at this late stage in the game. She chose Brandi Carlile's "The Story," a belty, almost gospel-tinged weeper that (to quote an oft-used Randy Jackson phrase) was a little too big for her whispery, creaky voice. Plus, she was sitting down again--this girl ought to change her name to Lazy Brown at this point. Randy did think the song was "boring and sleepy" but declared this to be Lacey's best performance, as did Ellen (not that that's saying much, considering what Lacey's sung so far this season). Kara was also impressed, telling Lacey, "Performances like this are why you got here...This is the kind of record you need to be doing." Simon further raved that it was "like listening to something on the radio." I do think Lacey improved this week, but it remains to be seen if this performance was enough to keep her on the show another week after her weak track record.
Katelyn Epperly - Katelyn has become one of my favorites over the past two weeks, but her performance of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" this week was not as earth-moving as her recent Coldplay and Beatles covers. It as cool that she was playing a Wurlitzer, but her delivery lacked her usual fire and passion and her curly hairstyle made her come across as a Carole King impersonator. (Simon was the lone judge who approved of Katelyn's new 'do.) Randy said the performance seemed "put on"; Ellen didn't think it was the right song to wow the audience on this crucial night; and Kara complained, "I didn't feel like you were competing. I felt like you were going through the motions. I don't know what happened!" Katelyn later explained that she was trying to heed Simon's advice be "less corny," which once again proved that, when contestants take the judges' advice this season, we all lose.
Didi Benami - Didi is another aggressively pimped and promoted contestant (ever since she pulled a Gokey herself and dedicated her audition song to her deceased friend). But like Katie, she has floundered lately. I didn't think her performances during the past two weeks were so bad, but the judges were merciless, almost reducing Didi to tears last week. This week Didi sang Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," and I expected her third midtempo song of the season to garner more of the judges' wrath. After all, I didn't think her performance was so amazing. Good, yes. Amazing? No. It was just another sleepy, folky performance, blending in almost unnoticeably with Lacey's and Katelyn's. But for whatever reason, the judges thought Didi was the second coming of Stevie Nicks and salivated over her like Pavlovian dogs. Kara declared Didi's performance one of her favorite moments of this season, and Simon said it was "head and shoulders above anything else we've heard tonight." I do believe Didi deserves to be in the top 12, but I question why the judges were so thrilled with this particular performance when they were so hard on Didi's previous ones.
Paige Miles - This diva sang Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," but she wasn't smiling, and neither were the judges. Paige has arguably the best voice among this season's girls (Simon has said so, more than once), but on this maudlin ballad she sounded shaky and nervous, almost like she was about to cry. In some ways, her borderline-weepiness kind of worked: It brought to mind Jermaine Jackson's choked-up performance at Michael Jackson's memorial, and she displayed a certain sweet vulnerability that seemed really genuine. But vocally, it was just all over the place--or, as Randy put it, "It just didn't work, man." Ellen thought Paige sucked all the optimism out of the song and made it too "sad and heavy." Simon called it a "peanut performance" because he thought it was the type of rendition one might hear "in a Holiday Inn in 1974" while scarfing down bar snacks and ignoring the resident lounge singer. Paige, an avowed Michael Jackson fan, admitted that she'd let her emotions get the better of her and affect her vocal delivery. We'll see how emotional she gets on Thursday's results show, because there's a very good chance she'll be going home after this. Will she smile, though her heart is aching?
Crystal Bowersox - Bouncing back after her health scare last week nearly resulted in her disqualification, this season's golden guitar girl belted out a soulful rendition of Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," complete with electric guitar accompaniment. I was a little disappointed that she went with what I thought was an obvious song choice again--another folky female, like her previous Alanis Morissette cover--but she certainly gave the best performance of the evening, and I dug the whole electric guitar vibe. (I'd totally love to see her and blue-eyed bluesman Casey James duet, just like Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta did last season, on a future episode.) Anyway, despite the somewhat predictable song choice, during a night of boring performances Crystal stood out and elicited such gushing praise from Ellen as, "I need new adjectives for you! I'm sick and tired of saying you're amazing!" Simon called her the one to beat, declaring, "You are one million billion percent going to be in the top 12." I'm sure Simon was right, but I'm still waiting for Crystal to do that promised Bowie cover. That's one bit of judges' advice that I think is worthy heeding this season.
Lilly Scott - My favorite girl this season warbled Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" while strumming a mandolin, and it was just adorable. I just love this girl. What a sweetheart of the rodeo. "I don't know how you did it, but you kind of made Patsy Cline feel current!" exclaimed Kara. Randy told Lilly she was "hot" and "in the zone." Ellen said, "Loved it! Love you!" Only Simon dissented, as he often does, saying Lilly's cutesy, quirky performance "didn't have the wow factor" and might have been too big a risk on such an important night. But it's hard for me to imagine this season without Lilly, and it's hard for me to imagine that she wouldn't advance to the top 12.
So now it is prediction time. I don't think any of the girls were at their best this week, but some clearly faltered more seriously than others. I am pretty sure Paige's "Smile" will have her frowning on elimination night, and I think either Lacey (who's failed to truly impress all season) or, surprisingly, Katie (who sang a forgettable song in the problematic first slot) will join Paige in the bottom two.
Tune in Thursday to see if I'm right--and Wednesday to see if the boys are any more competitive or interesting than the girls. I doubt the boys will be, but on this show, you never know what's going to happen.
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