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‘American Idol’ Top 9 Go Helter Skelter: A Very Odd Lennon/McCartney Night

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

It was a very daytrippy Tuesday when "AmericanIdol" held its Lennon/McCartney Night. No, no one performed a song by thePlastic Ono Band or sang the backwards-masked "Tomorrow Never Knows." That would've been cool. But there was a didjeridoo, a bagpipe player, an actual good performance by underdog Tim Urban, a (hopefully pre-screened) heckler who got up closeand personal with Siobhan Magnus, a few bizarre outfits that might get a couple stylists fired, a pectoral comparison, and a whole bunch of Beatles songs thatsurprisingly didn't end up totally mangled (as I'd feared). Everything went alittle helter skelter on Lennon/McCartney Night, but kind of in a good way. Itwas far and away my favorite episode among this season's live shows.

So here's my breakdown of the fab and not-so-fab moments of Tuesday's tribute to the Beatles' Fab Two:

Aaron Kelly - Notexactly living up to the legend of David Archuleta--to whom he is oftencompared, and whose "Imagine" cover from Season 7 is widely regardedas a high pointof the entire "Idol" series--Aaron warbled "The Long and Winding Road," and, as EllenDeGeneres put it, it was a long and winding song. It just went on and on andon. And on. It's not like he sang it badly, but it certainly didn't sound like a song by arguably the best band of all time. Aaron's blank-eyed performance just suckedall the majesty and grandeur out of this pomp-and-circumstance-filled weeper. RandyJackson griped that Aaron should have gone a more country route (although inAaron's defense, that disastrous Kristy Lee Cook "Eight Days a Week" bluegrass cover from Season7 might've scared him away from doing that). Kara DioGuardi rightfullycomplained that all of Aaron's performances are starting to sound the same, andthey've all been "good, but not great."Simon Cowell, struggling to be heard above the angry din of Aaron's noisilybooing relatives and other hecklers, pulled out the staple criticism he's beenusing all season long, and called Aaron too "old-fashioned." (Come tothink of it, Simon's critiques are kind of starting to sound the same, too.)Then Aaron rambled something long and windy about this song beingrepresentative of his long and winding "journey" on this show, and his explanation was as dull and overlong as his performance. Despite all this,I'm sure he'll still be safe this week, but I agree with Kara: Aaron betterswitch it up and step it up soon, or his days will be numbered on "Idol."

Katie Stevens - "LetIt Be" was a risky choice for Katie, especially after she'd been in thebottom three two weeks in a row. The song had already been iconically performedby past Idols like Brooke White, Jennifer Hudson, and, just this season only a fewweeks ago, Kris Allen. Katie also chose to sing the solemn, also gospel-ishnumber while dressed in a Pepto-pink getup that looked more suitable fora concert by Jem & The Holograms, and this was a little disconcerting. As forKatie's performance, it was tame, with none of the soul or pathos of theaforementioned Idols' versions--but vocally, it was admittedly her best work of theseason. Randy raved, "This reaffirms to me and to all of America: Dude, that was hot! That'swhy you're in top nine!" Ellen described Katie's version as "a perfectexample of changing it just enough to make it your own without disrespectingthe song," and assured Katie there's no way she'll be in the bottom three againthis week. (I'm still not so certain about that, but I don't think Katie will gohome.) Kara praised Katie's confidence and good attitude in the face ofadversity, and told her, "You're blossoming on that stage." And Simonsummed it all up by saying, "When you're in the bottom three consistently,that shows you're doing something wrong. Tonight, however, you got it right."Simon also claimed this song showcased Katie's more country side (a directionhe's been strongly urging her to go in), but that comment just proved thatSimon really has mentally checked out of this show and is already on his way to"X Factor," because I soooo did not hear anything countryish aboutKatie's performance. Was Simon even paying attention here?

Andrew Garcia - Oh,Andrew. Grrr. This guy frustrated me so much this week. After managing to stagea mini-comeback last week with his unexpectedly pleasant acoustic cover ofChris Brown's "Forever"--a strong effort that slightly hearkened backto his lavishly praised best Hollywood Week moments--Andrew managed to squander all ofhis newly reacquired goodwill with yet another hokey performance this week. His renditionof "Can't Buy Me Love," performed with a fussy arrangement whilewearing a retina-scaldingly bright yellow shirt that appeared to be borrowedfrom that Big Bird Lady reject auditioner from a couple seasons ago, had me wonderingif this was Big Band Night, not Lennon/McCartney Night. It was all very BrianSetzer, but without the pizzazz, or without the jump, jive an' wail. His vocalswere decent, but overall this was a misfire. Randy called it a "solidperformance, but a little corny at times." Kara was disappointed that thesong didn't reveal any new sides to Andrew. Simon likened the performance to thatof a sideman guitar player singing lead on one throwaway song--"You and the bandtogether kind of got this all wrong tonight," he moaned--and of course he calledthe whole production (wait for it) "old-fashioned." Andrew Garciacouldn't buy himself no love this evening. "Can't Buy Me Votes" wouldhave been a more fitting title here.

Michael Lynche - Themoment I learned that Big Mike, one of my favorite remaining male contestantsin the competition, was doing "Eleanor Rigby," I just knew he'd killit. Michael took a risk turning the symphonic, string-laden funeral ballad into afunk-soul workout, and some viewers probably didn't like his take on the tune, but I think he nailed it and made the remake seem (to borrow someoverused judges' terms) relevant, current, and believable. This was one of myfavorite performances of the night. Simon was less enthused, saying it soundedtoo much like a number from a "Glee-"style musical, but the otherjudges seemed more in agreement with me. Said Randy, "You've got thatlicense now that you can do whatever you want. That could really be a joint onyour album. I love seeing you blossom!" Kara called the performance"on fire," "amazing," and "committed," raving to Mike,"You made that song commercial today. You made it come to thisgeneration!" Simon just continued to roll his eyes, until Big Mikechallenged him to a "pec contest." Um, yeah. That was about asawkward as the time when Simon Cowell told Alex Lambert to imagine Randy Jacksonin a bikini. Just concentrate on winning this singing contest for now, Michael, OK?

Crystal Bowersox- Leave it to this year's rebel granola girl to perform accompanied by a didjeridoo.I'm pretty sure that was an "Idol" first--not even Season 7 Australiancontestant Michael Johns got to do that! Crystalperformed "Come Together" while a nice large-lunged man named Erniehuffed and puffed into the Australian wind instrument, and the result was definitelyone of the more memorable performances of the evening. That wasn't just becauseof the didjeridoo, however: Crystalexplained she'd picked this song because of its "groove," and she didindeed get her groove on during this number. For the first time, she seemed toactually be having fun, cutting loose, even smiling!(Crystal Bowersox grinning? Yup, another "Idol" first!) Kara in factcalled the performance "slinky, sexy, and playful," and told Crystal she seemed moreaccessible than ever before. Simon said, "That's a performance I can hearon the radio." And Ellen echoed Simon's sentiment when she told Crystal that she'd madethe song "current." Because, you know, didjeridoos are all the ragewith the kids these days. Just kidding. I wouldn't be surprised if didjeridoosales skyrocket tomorrow, actually, after this.

Tim Urban - Iadmit I was skerred to hear Tim Urban do a Beatles song, any Beatles song. Ibraced myself for a bigger debacle than that time when Steve Martin sang"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" in that horrific "Sgt. Pepper"box-office-bomb movie back in 1978. But you know what? Tim actually pulled this off. Picking asong he could "do with a smile" from the Fab Four's lighthearted moptop era,"All My Lovin'" (with a moptop Liverpudlian hairdo to match), whilestrumming a red guitar, he delivered a performance that was very cute, very PartridgeFamily, very Tim Urban. It was definitely his finest moment of the season;he was wise to go with a tune that fit his vocal limitations and perky persona.Sure, it was a somewhat safe song choice, one that involved no tricky highnotes or complex phrasing, but it was a literallysafe song choice--as in, he'll definitely be safe this week. All the judgeswere pleased, even Simon, who flat out told Tim, "I thought you did really welltonight with this song." Simon and Kara both praised the boyish Tim fortaking all his flak like a man, and Tim just kept on smiling as they complimented him for the first time in, well, practically ever. And I was kind ofsmiling too. (Darn it, NOT make me like you! You weren't even supposedto be here!)

Casey James - Allseason long, I've been waiting for a "WOW" moment. You know,something that would make my hairs stand on end and my posterior move to theedge of my seat. Something along the lines of David Cook's "BillieJean," Adam Lambert's "Ring of Fire," or Blake Lewis's "YouGive Love a Bad Name." Well, this week I finally got it. Casey did the onlynon-Beatles song of the night--John Lennon's dark and desperate solo ballad,"Jealous Guy"--stripped down and acoustic, accompanied only by acellist, and it was unexpectedly magical. His voice, possibly due to an authentic lump in his throat, took on a gruff, Eddie Vedder-esque qualityduring his raw and emotional performance. (I wonder if he had someone specialin mind when he was singing this song?) Heseemed a genuinely choked up, and so was I by the song's end. SaidEllen, "Whether it was about somebody or not, it felt like it was. It wasso soulful!" True, Casey's David Coverdale perm/white jacket combo was a bit odd-looking, but other than that, there was nothing cheesy about hisperformance, which in my opinion was the best performance of the night (Simonconcurred) and actually the best live performance of the entire season. For thefirst time in weeks, I became legitimately excited about Season 9, and I wasgrateful that Casey had restored my flagging faith. IfCasey can keep knocking out goosebump-raising performances like this one, hecould very well win this whole competition. He might want to lose the Goldilocks'do, though. Someone get this guy a flat-iron!

Siobhan Magnus -Siobhan is still my grrrl, but even I will admit she had a rough time lastweek. She oversang her Chaka Khan song and ended up sounding more like ChakaKan't. This week she got her chance to redeem herself, and fortunately for Siobhan, andfor me and the rest of the Magnus Militia, she did just that. "Across the Universe"was a perfectly understated song for her, an opportunity for her to prove that shecan do more than just scream like a banshee. Sitting on a stool, delivering anuncharacteristically mellow and controlled performance with nary a single bumnote, she revealed a softer, more sedated side to her wacky personality--notunlike last season when Adam Lambert sang "Tracks of my Tears,"actually. It was the same sort of strategy: a sudden switch from wild to mild. Ellencalled Siobhan "really, really special" and namechecked RufusWainwright's stellar cover of the song (Yay!Another "Idol" first! Love for Rufus!), and told Siobhan, "I'm a big fan ofpeople who march to the beat of their own drum." Said Randy, "No onein this competition screams 'artist' more than you." Kara wasn't as big afan of Siobhan's personality makeunder, saying Siobhan was too restrained this evening, butSimon told Siobhan, "What's great about you is you're unpredictable."Of course, Simon could have been referring to Si's wacky outfit, some sort ofMiss Havisham/Stevie Nicks/quinceañera floor-length lace atrocity paired with boxer boots.But anyone not entirely won over by Siobhan's performance Tuesday, or anyone alienated by herbizarre costume, was surely reduced into a puddle of jelly and/or tears when Siobhanstarted emotionally convulsing while lovingly talking about her baby sisters athome. (One heckler, who'd been booing Simon all night, was inexplicably invited onstage at this point. Was this such a great idea, especially considering Siobhan's fragile emotional state at that moment? Like I said, it was a weird night.) Anyway, Siobhan's not going anywhere this week. And hopefully not for many, manymore weeks. And maybe one day, she'll win this show and become a star across the unvierse.

Lee Dewyze - Simon'spet Lee closed the show with "Hey Jude," and oh, what a memorablecloser it was. I didn't think anything could erase my fond memory of the Idols Live Tour version byKris Allen accompanied by the rest of the Season 8 cast, but I ask you, did the IdolsLive Tour have a...bagpipe player? Yup, you read that right. For reasons thatmade no sense to anyone--probably not even to Lee, judging by the vaguely panickedlook on his face--midway through Lee's acoustic rendition of the venerableBeatles classic, a plaid-kilted bagpiper appeared out of nowhere. Ellen said the poor piper looked like he'd gotten lost andseparated from a  parade, and honestly, Lee looked a little lost too. In Crystal's case the didjeridooworked, but in this scenario the addition of an unusual instrument was just kind of superfluous and silly. Thebagpiper did not take this sad song and make it better. "I don't knowwhat you lot are drinking in the house," Simon laughed, referring to theoverall strange night. More seriously, he told Lee, "I wouldn't have donethat. I think you were doing great. It was like [the bagpipe player] turned upon the wrong show!" (Ha. What, is this "Scottish Idol" now?) RyanSeacrest, understandably confused, asked on behalf of all of America...why did Lee have a bagpiper play withhim? To which Lee just shrugged, almost Tim Urban-like, and said, "Why not,man?" Well said, Lee. Well said. Why not indeed.

So, now it is prediction time. This was a surprisinglystrong night, with awesome performances from Casey, Michael, Siobhan, andCrystal, an amusing performance by Lee, and a redeeming one by Tim. So that, by obvious process of elimination, leaves my predicted bottom three of Aaron, Katie,and Andrew. But in the end, I think it'll be Andrew's time to go onWednesday night. Some people (and by "some people," I mean, um, me)think he should have left a while ago, actually.

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

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