Usher tried, with varying degrees of success, to bring the soul to American Idol last night and some contestants rose to the occasion while others — many, past week’s favorites — fell flat. One of the best surprises was the return of Andrew Garcia. With an inspired acoustic take on Chris Brown’s “Forever,” Andrew managed to recapture the magic that made him shine during Hollywood Week.
Some of the other highlights were Lee Dewyze’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” and Crystal Bowersox’s “Midnight Train To Georgia.” All in all though, it was a pretty boring theme. Most of the contestants play up the soulfulness of their performances as it is already, so definitely winners and losers — read on to find out which contestants came out on top.
1. Lee Dewyze Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 10 Total: 17
Lee Dewyze was in the zone last night — and was the clear judges’ favorite of the evening. His take on Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” was spot-on and brilliantly reinterpreted to suit Lee’s hard rock sensibilities. His vocals have been consistently improving for the past few weeks and last night was a great culmination to his efforts. The bluesy-ness of the song perfectly suited his husky voice and the judges couldn’t stop praising him. Randy called it “unbelievable” and Ellen said it was the “best performance of the night.” Simon went one step further, saying, “This is the night when your life may have changed forever.”
2. Andrew Garcia Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 9 Total: 16
Last night was definitely the emancipation of Andrew Garcia. Finally freed from his pointless quest to be someone else in order to reclaim the judges’ favor, Andrew rediscovered who he is as an artist — and treated everyone watching to an imaginative take on Chris Brown’s “Forever.” Similar to his much buzzed-about acoustic performance of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” during Hollywood Week, Andrew turned this dance pop hit into an upbeat folky gem. The judges were impressed — finally — with the performance, with Kara saying, “Andrew, nothing makes me happier than to tell you this is one giant leap in the right direction.” And though he criticized Andrew for being a bit “boring,” Simon agreed that his performance last night was much stronger than in weeks past.
3. Crystal Bowersox Risk Level: 6 Payoff: 9 Total: 15
The reign of Crystal Bowersox continued last night with her solid version of Gladys Knight & The Pips “Midnight Train To Georgia.” As promised, Crystal did have a few surprises for the Idol audience. She ditched the guitar and, instead, plopped down behind the piano for the opening of the song. Though, as a whole, her singing was as consistently good as it usually is, the highs were fantastic. Randy said it was another “great performance” for Crystal and Ellen told her she was “in it to win it.”
4. Michael Lynche Risk Level: 5 Payoff: 9 Total: 14
We were sure that Michael Lynche was going to choose some generic Motown song, but he completely surprised us with India.Arie’s “Ready For Love.” This relatively unknown — and decidedly subdued — choice, knocked Michael up a few notches in our eyes. Plus, his vocals were very strong. Randy loved that Michael showed his more “sensitive side” and Kara agreed that he did an “incredible job” with the song. Simon told Michael that last night was the first time he was actually able to take him “seriously as an artist.”
5. Casey James Risk Level: 3 Payoff: 8 Total: 11
Another judges’ favorite last night, Casey James stuck with what he knows when he took the stage and performed “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave. Again, he took the song into his bluesy rock comfort zone, strumming the electric guitar and singing in his mid register with ease. The problem we have with Casey is that he’s getting a little boring. We’ve no doubt he’ll stick around for a while, but it would be nice to see him shake things up a little. Ellen said it felt “a little generic” but Simon called it Casey’s “strongest week” so far.
6. Katie Stevens Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 6 – 3 points for being totally annoying = 3 Total: 10
It was a huge risk for Katie Stevens to take on the Queen of Soul, but she did with an average take on Aretha’s “Chain Of Fools.” Her worst mistake was to do nothing with the arrangement, forcing everyone watching to compare it to the original. Needless to say, it paled in comparison. Too young to tackle such a big song, Katie came off as totally amateurish. The judges were kinder than we would’ve been, with Ellen merely commenting that she wished Katie had chosen a song that was “more current.” Simon said it was “pretty good,” but, on the whole, a bit “robotic.”
7. Aaron Kelly Risk Level: 1 Payoff: 6 Total: 7
Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” has been covered many times on Idol, and Aaron Kelly’s generic take on the song did nothing for us. Vocally, it was solid — but it’s not a particularly difficult song to sing. Plus, Aaron did nothing with the arrangement, resulting in a particularly forgettable performance. For the most part, the judges liked it, with Ellen saying, “I thought it was a good song choice and you did a really good job with it.” Simon was less enthusiastic, saying it was “just OK.”
8. Siobhan Magnus Risk Level: 8 Payoff: -2 Total: 6
One of the only big surprises of the evening was how awful Siobhan Magnus was. For the past several weeks, Siobhan has been a judges’ and fan favorite. But she totally blew it last night with her cover of Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire.” Her first mistake was song choice — not just anyone can do Chaka. It just proved too difficult a song to sing, even for someone with Siobhan’s considerable vocal talents. The lower parts of her voice are weak, making the beginning of the song a total disaster. And the jumps to her higher register were just off. Siobhan fell back on her screams at the end but instead of coming off as incredible as they have in past weeks, they just felt like a desperate attempt to salvage a troubled performance. For their part, the judges seemed unimpressed. Randy said it wasn’t one of Siobhan’s best moments and Simon said you’d be kidding yourself if you thought it was a good performance.
9. Didi Benami Risk Level: 4 Payoff: 1 Total: 5
Didi Benami’s biggest problem is consistency. It’s just not there with her. One week she’s great, the next she’s horrible. This was a horrible one. She chose “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” by Jimmy Ruffin and, again, it came off as if Didi was simply playing the role of a soul singer. Didi tried to slow the arrangement down and give it a jazzy feel, but it just didn’t work. Ellen thought it was “way too dramatic” and the performance left Kara “puzzled.” Simon told Didi she’s “completely and utterly lost her way.”
10. Tim Urban Risk Level: 8 Payoff: -4 Total: 4
When we found out that Tim Urban was going to be taking on Anita Baker, we cringed. Surprisingly, his take on “Sweet Love” wasn’t so bad — for him, that is. When compared with the rest of the contestants though, it would appear that Tim will be the next to go. Aside from the poor singing, Tim’s whole stage presence is just off. He slouches, his eyes bug out of his head, and he stalks around the stage almost as if he were in slow motion. Randy called the performance “pedestrian,” Ellen babbled about nothing (a bad sign), and Kara told Tim he “took the soul out of the song.” Simon likened Tim’s choice of song to a “mouse picking a fight with an elephant — you’re just not going to win.” Adios, Tim.