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‘American Idol’ Top 9: Elvis Has Most Definitely Left The Building

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Viewers and bloggers, myself included, have rightfully whinedall season long that this year's "American Idol" just hasn't packedthe punch of seasons past. So this week (an especially importantdouble-elimination week), Fox apparently lurked on a few expletive-riddled messageboards, heeded these complaints, and decided to do something about it, bybringing back one of the "Idol" contestants who made Season 8 so memorable:Adam Lambert.

Adam returned to "Idol" as this week's mentor, andhe was the first former contestant to receive such an honor/responsibility. (Asa side note, I'd love to see other personality-plus Idols like Kelly Clarkson,David Cook, and Fantasia coach on future episodes.) Since Adam was in the topnine's shoes (albeit in his case, they were platform shoes) not long ago--andsince he is always so unfiltered--I knew he'd give the struggling contestants somemuch-needed straight talk, so to speak. And I hoped that, maybe, just maybe, he'dpush them to take some risks and, as he put it, "wake up alittle bit."

Of course, he had his work cut out for him, since thisweek's theme was the not-quite-current music of Elvis Presley--a propositionthat nearly prompted me to shoot out my TV screen, Elvis-style. But Adam seemedup for the task, and in some cases (Crystal, Tim, Lee, Michael, Katie), hisadvice yielded results fit for The King. For other contestants(Andrew, Aaron, Casey, and surprisingly Siobhan), not so much. After all,Lambert may have once sung "Time For Miracles," but he's not amiracle worker.

Here's how the top nine did:

Crystal Bowersox- Crystal went with Elvis's gospel burner, "Saved," a perfect fit forher bluesy vocal talents, and Adam suggested she surprise the audience by playing anelectric guitar instead of her usual acoustic (or, um, didjeridoo)."Let those dreads down!" he aggressively advised. It was arecommendation Crystalwas wise to follow. Her uncharacteristically uptempo performance was full ofpep and pizzazz, and in my opinion it was her best effort yet. RandyJackson was impressed, and he heralded her as the "second coming ofBonnie Raitt." Kara DioGuardi was thrilled by Crystal's amped-up personality and drama. AndSimon Cowell raved, "What I loved about that was you didn't choose an obvioussong, you chose something that suited you, you put your own slant on it, andyou didn't fall into the karaoke trap." What a fitting episode opener,because the show was saved!

Andrew Garcia - Duringtheir mentoring session, Adam voiced what all of America was thinking when he toldAndrew he is "boring." Ouch. The truth hurts! Adam then told Andrewto change things up, but apparently his advice didn't work this time, becauseAndrew delivered yet another hokey and dorky performance. "Hound Dog,"complete with a big-band arrangement and verging-on-desperate stage moves(dragging the mic stand around, walking into audience), was just a silly songchoice for someone trying to come across as current and contemporary. "Thatwas definitely not good karaoke," sighed Randy. "I didn't get it atall." Ellen DeGeneres was kinder, complaining that she'd wanted more"swagger" from Andrew but conceding that he generally pulled it off.And Simon, of course, was even blunter than Adam, saying, "I thought itwas lazy and unpredictable. It was like the one part of a musical nobody wantsto see and hear." Simon's coldest comment? "It's like the coolness hasbeen sucked out of you." Ouch, again. That was the first time I ever saw allthis constant criticism really get to the ever-smiling, always laid-back Andrew,who looked very defeated. He was wearing a hound dog expression by the night'send.

Tim Urban -Teflon Tim has been the token impossible-to-topple contestant this season,narrowly escaping elimination week after week despite some cringeworthyperformances. But after this week, he is sure to be safe again. First of all, he's made greatstrides over the past couple weeks, and second, this week Adam singled him out at thebeginning of the show, praising his song choice--a move that will surely winover the Glamberts and unite Adam fans and Vote For The Worst fans in a way noone ever could have predicted. Tim did an unplugged rendition of "Can'tHelp Falling in Love," even semi-successfully venturing into his falsetto range(something Adam suggested--and something I feared because Tim's infamous high-pitched"Apologize" performance had been so unapologetically awful). It was alovely performance that even had Ryan Seacrest and a Michael Sarverlookalike slow-dancing in the aisles. (To Tim's credit, he was a pro and didn't bust uplaughing at that midsong spectacle.) Said Randy, "This may surprise you,but I actually liked it!" Ellen puzzlingly likened Tim to sequentialtequila shots (more enjoyable the more you partake) and sweetly told him,"I can't help falling in love with you,Tim." (Awww.) Kara said it was her favorite Tim performance ever. And Simon,in what appeared to be a direct quote from the Vanilla Ice movie 'Cool as Ice,' surprisingly told him,"You've gone from zero to hero in two weeks." Very cool, indeed!

Lee Dewyze - Adamonce again didn't mince words when he said Lee had pretty much nothing going onfrom the neck up. Gee, tell us how you really feel, Lambert. But it's how Ifeel, too, and how much of Americaprobably feels. Lee can sing, but live performances just aren't his forte. Adamstrongly urged Lee to be more "playful," and while Lee's version of"A Little Less Conversation" was hardly as fun and effervescent aspast "Idol" performances of the same song by Jon Peter Lewis andJackie Tohn, he did managed to smilea little, which was progress, I suppose. And his bluesy rasp did suit the songwell. "I've never seen you go for it vocally like you did tonight!"exclaimed Kara. Kara did think Lee was still a little too stiff and serious, asusual, but said "the vocal was fire." As for that aforementioned"be more playful" advice, the always serious Simon quipped, "Whatdo you want, kittens? Do you want him to skip around the stage?" Anyway,then Simon just praised Lee, as he always does, telling him, "That was onthe money, full stop." I personally think it would have more exciting with some kittens, actually. Or somebagpipes! Maybe next week...

Aaron Kelly -Aaron sang what Ellen declared the most-iconic Elvis song of all time,"Blue Suede Shoes," and even he admitted that the choice was "wrong inevery possible way." To Adam's credit, he did his best to draw anElvis-esque performance out of the squeaky-clean teen (who seemed spooked bythe song's scandalous "drink my liquor" line), ordering Aaron to masculinely growl his waythrough the tune. And to Aaron's credit, Aaron really did try to step it up. But it was all very "Junior High SchoolMusical" in the end. Three of the judges gave Aaron some credit as well: Randyliked the jazzy breakdown at the conclusion, Ellen gave him an "A foreffort" for taking on such a signature song, and Kara exclaimed,"You're out of your comfort zone, and I like it!" Kara also toldAaron the song made him seem younger, which was supposed to be a compliment.(What, he looked 8 years old now? The guy seems young enough as it is.) Simon was, naturally,less enthused. "It was like somebody at a high school doing a concert--very karaoke," Simon grunted. "You just look like you're dressing up forthe part." I agreed with Simon. Aaron is no Elvis.

Siobhan Magnus -This week I was especially excited to witness the meeting of the minds, between Adam and thequirky contestant sometimes known as Lady Lambert. There was definitely amutual admiration thing going on between them, as Siobhan expressed how flatteredshe was to be compared to Adam, and Adam in turn declared, "Siobhan likesbeing different, and I respect that." Seeing them together, I was hopingthey'd just break into an impromptu "Slow Ride" duet in the middle oftheir mentoring session. And I was equally eager to see the result of theirunion, a sped-up cover of "Suspicious Minds." But unfortunately,Siobhan's performance wasn't as edgy or interesting as I'd hoped or expected--at least not until the dramatic ending, when she started screeching like Lamberton a helium binge. Randy and Ellen welcomed the return of her big, blowhard vocals--after Siobhan was criticized earlier in the season for oversinging, she pulledback a bit for a couple of weeks--but Kara was "confused" bySiobhan's dual personality. And Simon didn't seem to enjoy Siobhan's screechinessany more than he did last month, calling her performance "erratic"and lamenting, "I kind of feel you lost who you were two to three weeksago." Siobhan looked dejected, just like she did on the night of her infamousChaka Khan cover, but she boldly defended herself, saying, "Even I can'tpinpoint who I am, and I've always taken pride in that. I'm not just one kindof singer. If I can't even label myself, I don't think it's necessary to belabeled." You go, girl. I just hope Siobhan's sassing back doesn't hurt herchances. It never helped Adam's castmate Lil Rounds last season, you know.

Michael Lynche -Big Mike was saved from elimination last week (hence the double eliminationthis week), so he really had something to prove on Tuesday. He needed to sing aredemption song of sorts that would demonstrate that the one Judges' Save ofthe season had not been squandered on him. Cue "In the Ghetto," theperfect soulful choice for him, which he crooned from the heart while takingAdam's advice to not rein in his natural theatrical tendencies. Granted, sometimesMichael's theatricality has bordered on cheesiness in the past, but for a story-song likethis, it was ideal. This was my favorite performance of the night. "Hot vocals! Hot, hot, hot!" shouted Randy whenMike was finished. "A million, billion times better than last week--and one ofmy favorite performances you've done," added Simon. And Ellen summed itall up when she said, softly and succinctly, "I'm glad we saved you." After this star turn, I'm gladthey did, too.

Katie Stevens -After a rough run on "Idol," including several showings in the bottomthree, Katie channeled all her frustration and anger into the feisty "Baby,What You Want Me to Do." The result was more swagger and confidence thanI'd ever seen before from this pageanty teen robot. She should get angry more often! "Thatwas a very horny song," Ellen joked (it had brass accompaniment, see),before she more seriously remarked, "Man, you can sing." Kara laughed and admitted, "I think you showed usjudges! You showed us!" Simon, less chagrined than Kara, just said,"I found it very loud and a bit annoying." The plus side is, maybeSimon's barb will fuel Katie's anger for next week's performance.

Casey James - Caseywas last week's standout, with his poignant acoustic take on John Lennon's "JealousGuy." So his bar-band cover this week of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy,"while decent, was a bit of a letdown. It was somewhat pedestrian, sadly lacking lastweek's magic. It was just another good-ol'-boy blues jam from a good-timeguitar guy. "I didn't see anything different, but it was another solid performance,"Randy shrugged. "It wasn't as exciting as I would have liked to have seen,but you're always good," shrugged Ellen. "That really fell short forme. I know you can do more," shrugged Kara. And Simon flat out called it a "wastedopportunity" and "completely forgettable"--though he added, almost as anafterthought, "Your vocals were good." Casey should have realized heset the bar high for himself last week. Now he has to prove "JealousGuy" wasn't a fluke.

So now it is prediction time. Like I said earlier, twopeople will go home this week, so Wednesday night is going to be tough. Andwith no more Judges' Saves lying around, there will be nothing anyone can do ifAmericagets it wrong. Hopefully viewers will get it right, though, and send home my twopredicted castoffs: Andrew and Aaron.

Tune in Wednesday to see if I'm right. Parker out.

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