UPDATE: I took out one particular comment out, specifically calling Austin American-Statesman reporter Dale Roe an idiot. Honestly, anyone who has the time to come to a lowly little blog like mine and comment (and compliment my writing, to boot) is no idiot in my book!
In all honesty, I apologize for that comment and to anyone who was offended. I consider myself to be good-spirited while blogging, and should not have jumped to conclusions. (But seriously, I have a Statesman reporter commenting on this tiny blog of mine! That's awesome!)
A few weeks ago, I wrote that I felt this season of American Idol was in serious jeopardy after beyond-underwhelming semifinals shows and few standout talents beyond frontrunners Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus.
What a difference a few weeks makes.
This week's episode of Idol, in which the Top 9 performed the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was one of the highest rated ever according to absolutely must-read Idol site WhatNottoSing.com. Coming in at an average 59.7 point score, the Lennon/McCartney episode is ranked No. 8 in the database of every Idol episode. It also came far ahead of either Lennon/McCartney episode in season 7, and the first of those is considered among the top Idol episodes ever with some critics (though the numbers indicate that those critics' memories aren't quite accurate).
This week, contestants Casey James, Tim Urban, and Katie Stevens all had their highest-rated performances in the live shows, with the former, James, the clear favorite of the episode and the latter, Stevens, having a moment similar to season 7 third-place finisher Syesha Mercado's performance of "Yesterday," another Lennon/McCartney song. Stevens' powerful, pitch-perfect vocal on "Let It Be" was my personal favorite of the night, even if the numbers don't agree (she would have come in 3rd as far as WNTS.com's ratings are concerned, behind James and Bowersox, but in front of Magnus).
Even contestants who hit lows didn't come close to their lowest. Lee DeWyze, Andrew Garcia, Michael Lynche, and Aaron Kelly were more "average" than "terrible," and Lynche's performance, plus his phenomenal reprise of his signature "This Woman's Work" on Wednesday, saved him from elimination thanks to the one-time-use Judges' Save.
In fact, each week of Idol season 9 has actually signaled a trend upwards since the first week of semifinals, save the Billboard #1's week, which was very, very, very low (average WNTS rating: 41, ouch). However, with the theme changing from "Teen Idols" about halfway through the week, it seems as though that particular disaster was an exception, not the rule. (Though I will forever treasure that week for giving me Garcia's tragic performance of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" in which he helpfully pointed at his ear on the word "heard" so as to let the audience at home know which bodily orifice deals with his sense of hearing. Thanks, Andrew, for that anatomy lesson.)
But I truly think this season is on its way up, and while it won't be the highest-rated season ever, it will be one of the most enjoyable. A few notes for each contestant, as well as the judges, Ryan Seacrest, and the show on the whole, on making it even more enjoyable, follow.
The Frontrunner: Crystal Bowersox
Bowersox no longer needs to prove to anyone how good she is. She's delivered nothing but stellar performances for seven straight weeks, her lowest coming in at a 78 (higher than most contestants' highest performances!) and her highest for a sexy, sultry version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's (you read that right: sexy CCR) "Long As I Can See The Light." Personally, my favorite Bowersox was "Midnight Train to Georgia" on piano, as opposed to her trusty guitar.
What Bowersox must do now is something so completely out of the box that everyone steps back and says "Hey!" It need not even be a particularly good performance, though something tells me that everything she sings turns to gold. "Mad World" showed us last season how dramatically restrained Adam Lambert could be--something like an acoustic "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" or knocking something current out of the park, something like when Nathaniel Rogers did "Disturbia" during last season's Hollywood week. But more performances that are technically good but not showstopping, and we could see a Melinda Doolittle-style backlash brewing for Bowersox.
Signature Tune: "Long As I Can See The Light"
Weak Point: "Come Together*"
*Not from a statistical standpoint: that'd be "Hand In My Pocket." But it wasn't the most original performance, and something of a half-baked one.
The Wild Card: Siobhan Magnus
Name the most iconic performance this season. How many of you said "Paint It Black*," by none other than Magnus? Not surprising, considering her interpretation so veered off of the original Rolling Stones recording and became something iconic all its own. Her vocal may not have been steady the whole time, but it was powerful, dramatic, interesting, and, yes, showstopping. And her high note, first introduced to us on "Think," was beautifully done.
However, Magnus needs to make sure she always picks the right song. True, she's done it almost every time. But the two times she didn't, with Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," it really hurt her. Making standards all kinds of brilliant works for her, and this week's "Across the Universe" was no exception. And the emotion she showed in talking about her sisters was a huge humanizer, making her relatable for the audience. Trust me, that's half the battle.
Signature Tune: "Paint It Black"
Weak Point: "Through the Fire"
*"Paint It, Black" is the actual title of "Paint It Black," but the Rolling Stones have made it clear that the comma was unintentional and added by their record label. So I won't use it.
The Unsure Rocker: Lee DeWyze
I get a little frustrated when talking about DeWyze, because I feel that this guy has so much potential but doesn't realize it. All of his performances have been lacking in confidence, even though some of them have been pretty good. R&B week's "Treat Her Like a Lady" was amazing, actually.
So when he finally gains some confidence, what does he do? Have a bagpipe player come out during "Hey Jude," all the while acting like a cocky asshole. He was back to his worrywart self on results night, facing being in the Bottom 3, but it was a major turnoff. He needs to learn to moderate himself.
Signature Tune: "Treat Her Like a Lady"
Weak Point: "Hey Jude"
The Consistent One: Casey James
I want to like James. I really do. I can appreciate how well he sang (technically) on this week's "Jealous Guy," or how good he was the first week out on "Heaven" when everyone else was still struggling. I also like that he's been ridiculously consistent all season, always scoring in the same small range.
But James needs to learn that he needs all the performances to be "Jealous Guys." Actually, they need to be better. He needs to convince the audience that he has a personality behind his chiseled chest, long blond hair, and electric guitar skills. Not only that, but he needs to prove that he could be a contemporary artist today. I just don't think that's the case right now.
Signature Tune: "Jealous Guy"
Weak Point: "I Don't Want to Be"
The Saved: Michael Lynche
I will be the first to say I was rooting (quite hard actually) for the judges to save Lynche this past week. I think that there are so many more that deserve to go home before him, and I applaud that he took a real risk with "Eleanor Rigby" this week, even if it wasn't technically a brilliant performance. And his "This Woman's Work" is up there next to Maxwell's famous cover of the Kate Bush song.
What Lynche really needs to work on is not letting his "lovable" personality grate on people. For some reason, despite really strong performances like "Work" and India.Arie's "Ready for Love," Lynche just isn't connecting with the audience enough to bolster his ratings above a relatively low 79. And he was technically eliminated this week; thank goodness for the Judges' Save. Something isn't working with Lynche, so I hope he figures out what he needs to change to really turn it on. Because it needs to happen fast. Like, this week. Remember, two are going home this week.
Signature Tune: "This Woman's Work"
Weak Point: "This Love"
The Starlet in the Making: Katie Stevens
Stevens has never been my favorite, but this week, she won me over hard. Her "Let It Be" was beautiful, she had a couple of great personality moments, and she proved that she does indeed belong in this crop.
But she needs to step it up if she wants to keep that momentum going. She needs more moments like "Be" every week, and she needs to prove that she is just as good as the two other women in the Top 9. Which she isn't, of course, but she just needs to fake it.
And Katie, sweetheart? Don't cover a Kelly Clarkson song if you don't have the vocal chops for it. In fact, just don't cover a Clarkson. She's the standard-bearer for Idol, and all others should stay the hell away from her impressive catalog.
Signature Tune: "Let It Be"
Weak Point: "Breakaway"
The Ragamuffins: Andrew Garcia, Tim Urban, Aaron Kelly
With nine left, only six really deserve to be there. These are the three that don't. They all have ratings that fall below or at 40 on WNTS.com, and none have had a very impressive moment (I don't count proper identification of body parts as a "moment," Garcia). In fact, Garcia and Kelly have mostly skated by on the judges' sometimes superfluous praise of mediocre performances. Urban has skated by because he's the singing equivalent of that puppy you found on the side of the road when you were four and your mommy wouldn't let you keep. He's what you want, but also what you can't have. (That's because he probably has rabies, kids.)
If any of these three want to survive past this week (always a possibility that two of them will, but at least one will be caught up in the double elimination), they need to get better. Fast. Do something different, like gender-swapping a song, or going way outside their comfort zone. But none of these three can win. And I'm sick of bloggers perpetuating VoteForTheWorst.com's theory that Urban can win the competition. He can't. It didn't happen with Sanjaya Malakar, it didn't happen with Kristy Lee Cook, and it didn't happen with John Stevens. He won't win. It won't happen. Don't get nuts. It may not go to Bowersox or Magnus, but then it'll go to DeWyze or James. Urban has absolutely no shot at the title, and neither does Garcia. Nor Kelly.
The show on the whole needs to keep the themes relevant, and pick themes where the songs will actually get cleared (Teen Idols to Billboard #1s was a bit of a disaster, after all). The judges are doing all right, considering their usual incompetence. After all, Ellen DeGeneres isn't Heidi Klum, Kara DioGuardi isn't Nina Garcia, Simon Cowell isn't Michael Kors, and Randy Jackson isn't that rotating guest judge no one listens to. (Oh, wait, yes, he is.) But Simon needs to wake up, Ellen needs to learn to balance the funny and the constructive (something she seems to be learning every week), Kara needs to stick to her actually incredibly intelligent critiques and stop flirting with Simon, and Randy...needs to hush.
Same for Ryan Seacrest. I don't know of one person that actually likes him, to be frank. He's a placeholder, albeit a better than average one, but his showdowns with Simon this season have been ridiculous. He needs to leave himself out of the proceedings.
I'm actually excited to see where Idol goes from here. If you've stopped watching because you think it's gotten unwatchable, tune back in. You might be pleasantly surprised.