Despite weeks of hype surrounding this season's female contestants--predicted by pundits and judges alike to dominate "American Idol" this year--on Tuesday this week, most of the ladies' performances fell flat. Therefore, the often-underestimated boys suddenly had a good opportunity thrust upon them Wednesday, and in the end they actually upstaged the girls, even moving Kara to tears and inspiring Ellen to get up on stage to hug one of them.
Yes, after Wednesday, it's not entirely evident that the women will indeed prevail in Season 9. I still really resent "Idol's" arbitrary gender quotas--that the top 12 must consist of an equal number of girls and boys, like some sort of reality-television Noah's Ark, instead of just letting the best singers of either gender advance to the finals. But now I do think there are a few males this season that might pose a real threat to the girls, based on Wednesday's performances.
So without further ado, here's Wednesday top-eight boys recap:
Lee Dewyze - "Indie" cred (at least indie by "Idol"/mainstream TV standards) rules this season, as evidenced by the quirky likes of Siobhan Magnus, Lilly Scott, and Crystal Bowersox. So Lee got in on a little bit of that action this week by interpreting "Fireflies" by bedroom-dwelling bleep-pop whiz kid Owl City. He sang it well (he's one of Simon's favorite vocalists this year), and kudos to him for trying something new, but in my opinion he obliterated everything about that song that made it cool in the first place. He basically transformed it from a winsome, ethereal electro-ditty into a meat-and-potatoes rawker that Nickelback might play at a NASCAR event. Randy Jackson and Ellen DeGeneres admitted that it was a "strange" song choice but appreciated that he "made it his own," and Kara DioGuardi bizarrely went a step further and told him he'd made the song BETTER. (Wrong, Kara. So very, very wrong.) But Simon, normally Lee's biggest champion, was less impressed, saying Lee's performance was "nothing to rave about." However, Simon still thought Lee had a very good shot at making the top 12. Lee probably will advance--he is a talented guy with two actual indie albums to his credit--but if he covers, say, a Postal Service song next week, I will scream.
Alex Lambert - Alex P. Keaton--oops, I'm sorry, I mean Alex Lambert (you must admit, the guy really looks like Michael J. Fox)--picked a perfect song for him this week, Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble." It's the bluesy Americana ballad that even gave Taylor Hicks cred (it was Taylor's finest moment in Season 5), and Alex, who has my favorite male voice this season, sounded wonderfully gravelly and gritty on it as he strummed his acoustic guitar. Ellen was thrilled, continuing her banana analogy from previous weeks when praising Alex's consistent improvement. "You're a mushy banana! You're ripening so fast!" she raved oddly. Granted, Alex's performance was still a little stiff--a young and inexperienced kid, he still hasn't quite come into his own onstage--but sonically, he was superb. However, both Kara and Simon advised him to loosen up more onstage. "The only thing standing in the way of winning is you," said Kara. Simon, meanwhile, advised Alex to imagine Randy Jackson in a bikini and even promised to make Randy strip down to a two-piece if Alex made it to the top 12. That, of course, is the only reason why I wouldn't want to see Alex advance. No one needs to see that.
Tim Urban - Tim took on Leonard Cohen's/Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," which I found to be a gutsy--and, frankly, annoying--move. I personally feel this song should have been retired from "Idol" after Jason Castro so memorably warbled it in Season 7; after that moment, it became Jason's calling card, like Fantasia's "Summertime," and it was arguably one of the series' best performances ever. Comparisons to Jason were therefore inevitable--but honestly, this was Tim's best performance yet. It wasn't as good as Jason's, and of course it didn't come close to the Cohen or Buckley versions, but it was, to use a Randy phrase, a million billion percent better than Tim's disastrous "Apologize" performance (for which Tim has yet to apologize, come to think of it). "You walked in some pretty big shoes and you did a pretty good job," said Randy. Simon, who had a hit in the U.K with "Hallelujah" when "X Factor" winner Alexandra Burke recorded it, told Tim he was smart to pick such a "reactive" song. Even Kara was impressed by this underdog alternate contestant. "I thought you were going to be going home a few weeks ago, but now I actually think you're in it." And Ellen actually gave Tim a hug. (Aw, I guess.)
Andrew Garcia - Andrew made an indelible impression during Hollywood Week when he creatively covered female artists Paula Abdul ("Straight Up") and Adele ("Chasing Pavements"). Ever since then, he's been trying to get back to that place. His semifinals performances--both covers of male artists--were disappointing, so this week he went "back to his roots" by paying homage to another female. He did a Latin-tinged acoustic version of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," which was well-intentioned, but it still failed to capture the magic of his Hollywood Week numbers. Randy said "it didn't quite work," and Simon said the performance came across as "a little bit desperate" and "overthought." Added an equally underwhelmed Kara, "You peaked so early, and you've been chasing [that Hollywood Week moment] ever since. It just wasn't great tonight." It's a shame. If only Andrew had saved "Straight Up" for this crucial week, he'd be a shoo-in for the top 12. Now, I'm not so sure.
Casey James - The sort of default country singer this season along with Crystal Bowersox (there's no straight-up country contender this year, strangely), Casey strapped on a six-string, sat on a stool, and sweetly strummed his way through Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me." He sounded nice, though his performance didn't quite have Kara hooting and wriggling in her seat like a Chippendales customer, as she did two weeks ago when she almost caused an HR incident. Randy thought the song choice was too safe and not edgy enough, and Kara said he was still missing a spark, though she conceded, "I'm kind of back on the Casey train." I'm pretty sure many female voters never got off the Casey train, though, so I'm fairly certain he will make the top 12. But when/if he does, I hope he'll deliver flashier performances than this.
Aaron Kelly - This lovable teenager also went the country route, with Lonestar's "I'm Already There." So what did he mean--that he's already in the bottom two? Quite possibly, after this. It was not good. Actually, it did get better when he got into what Randy called his "power zone"--that is, the higher register at the song's end--but at the beginning, he really struggled with the lower notes. Even the always-nice Ellen thought it was "not terrific." (No hug for Aaron!) But all the judges gushingly professed their love for this season's youngest and cuddliest contestant, no doubt echoing the sentiments of America's many speed-dialing grandmas and tweens. Despite the doubts I expressed earlier in this paragraph, I am pretty sure Aaron will avoid the bottom two this week. And I don't think it's a bad idea for him to choose more weepy country songs. But he's got to be a little savvier with his future song choices, because his voice didn't quite work on this one.
Todrick Hall - This colorful and controversial theater veteran is quite the showboater, so when I learned he was planning to sing Queen's "Somebody to Love," I braced myself for the worst. Or for the best, since I'm actually a massive fan of trainwreck TV. I held my breath expecting Todrick to sashay out in a Freddie Mercury unitard and change up the melody until it was borderline-unrecognizable. Well, he didn't do that, but his "Glee"-inspired rendition was entertaining nonetheless. His gospel-tinged version was full-on theatrical, of course--he did drop to his knees at one point, and he was flanked by three choir singers--but he sang it well. Not as well as Freddie, mind you, but as well as he possibly could. "Todrick is BACK! One of best vocals of the season!" yelled Randy. Kara confessed that Todrick's over-the-top "Godspell" theatricality had her on the verge of laughter at times, but she couldn't deny that his vocals were on point. Simon griped that Todrick came across as more of a Broadway singer than a modern recording artist ("That was 'American Idol: The Musical'"), but made the important point that after one stool-seated singer-songwriter after another, at least Todrick stood out. "That song may have saved you," Simon predicted. God save the Queen who saved Todrick, I guess.
Michael Lynche - Crooning the Maxwell version of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work," Michael delivered the standout vocal performance of the night in the show's "pimp spot." This is NOT an easy song to sing, requiring an almost superhuman vocal range, but Michael's vocals were impeccable throughout. This time the focus was on Big Mike's big voice, not his famous "big personality." Ellen raved, "Oh my God, that was so beautiful. I feel like the show just began." (Well, better late than never, I suppose.) Kara even cried, which was a little weird (especially when she cuddled up to Simon and he awkwardly hugged her), but it was a memorable moment in an otherwise forgettable episode. "This was so needed tonight," said Simon. "This show was all a bit boring, then you came out with an incredibly difficult song. and you 100 percent nailed it. This was not just the best performance of the night. It was the best performance of all the shows so far." Go Big Mike!
So now it is prediction time. It's a tough call, but I'll go first with Tim--he was better than usual this week, yes, but I think doing Jason Castro's signature song may have backfired on him, and the hug from Ellen may have annoyed some viewers. ("Idol" viewers do not take kindly to blatant judge favoritism.) My second prediction is Andrew Garcia, who I think has finally squandered all the goodwill he amassed during Hollywood Week. But I don't believe anyone except Michael and Casey are 100 percent safe.
Anyway, after Thursday night's results show, next week the boys and girls will start competing against each other on single episodes. It's going to be a real battle of the sexes, and that's when things are going to get interesting. And that should be awesome, since this season hasn't been too interesting thus far.