On Tuesday night (April 13), Adam Lambert became the first former “American Idol” finalist to serve as a mentor on the show, and last year’s runner-up had plenty of advice for the nine remaining singers as they took on the Elvis songbook. In keeping with his vibe last year, Lambert encouraged the singers to bring their own special something to each performance, advice that served some in-danger singers well (Michael Lynche, Tim Urban) and enhanced the chances of the usual leading suspects (Crystal Bowersox, Casey James).
First up was cool customer Bowersox, earning effusive praise from Lambert, who was feeling her electric gospel take on “Saved.” Joined by a trio of backup singers, Bowersox boogied her way through the righteous church blues, slowing it down to a soulful crawl near the end as she strummed a bedazzled black electric guitar.
Randy Jackson called it the second coming of Bonnie Raitt, Ellen DeGeneres had no words for how solid it was, Kara DioGuardi was feeling the uptempo mood, and Simon Cowell loved the offbeat choice. “You chose something that suited you and put your own slant on it and didn’t fall into the karaoke trap, which I think a lot of people are going to do tonight,” he said.
After landing in the bottom two last week, Andrew Garcia knew he had to bring it this week, and Lambert encouraged him to punch up his version of “Hound Dog,” which the glam rocker found a bit boring. Singing into a vintage microphone, Garcia slowed down the hip-swiveler, turning it into a jazzy pseudo-salsa, waltzing out into the audience and adding a bit of extra grit to his usually smooth vocals.
Cowell called it lazy and predictable and said it was not a star performance, though Ellen liked the extra swagger. Randy dubbed it “not good karaoke” and deemed it pitchy, while Kara said Garcia didn’t really own the performance, was using the mic as a prop and failed to bring the Elvis magic to the stage.
Perennially on-the-bubble singer Tim Urban continued to surprise, winning over Lambert with “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Sitting on a stool and picking out a gentle melody on an acoustic guitar in dramatic shadow, Urban gave the classic tune a romantic, Jeff Buckley-esque feel in one of his strongest efforts to date.
Busting out one of her twisted metaphors, Ellen compared Urban to multiple shots of tequila, saying the more of him she sees, the more she likes. “I thought that was beautiful,” she added. DioGuardi called it her favorite performance yet and said it felt current and authentic. “You have managed to go from zero to hero in two weeks,” Cowell said, complimenting Urban’s confidence and ability to apply the judges’ advice.
Lambert told Lee Dewyze he needed to amp up the performance end of “A Little Less Conversation,” which Lee did by smiling, strumming and swaying along to the barroom-blues version of the tune, showing more personality than he has in the past.
“I’ve never seen you ever go for it vocally like you did tonight,” Kara said. “You really went for it, and I loved it. The rasp, hitting those notes, changing it up, an intensity that I haven’t seen from you.” Randy felt Lee was in the zone, and Ellen said he finally showed some confidence and engaged the audience. Simon disagreed with Kara’s advice to loosen up and smile more, saying Lee nailed it just as it was.
Teen Aaron Kelly went all in with the classic rocker “Blue Suede Shoes.” Lambert encouraged him to show more attitude, which the high-schooler wasn’t sure he had in him. He gave it a shot, bopping across the stage and singing with more edge than usual and subsequently coming across as seasoned beyond his years.
Ellen gave him an “A” for effort for taking on such an iconic song and said he almost pulled it off, though Kara thought getting out of his comfort zone helped finally make him seem young after weeks of stuffy performances. Simon, of course, disagreed, saying the arrangement and bluesy breakdown at the end felt old-fashioned and very karaoke. “It felt like you were dressing up for the part,” he said.
Lifelong Elvis fan Siobhan Magnus got into the spirit with a pompadour hairstyle and a slow gospel take on “Suspicious Minds,” which Adam said she needed to speed up to properly sell onstage. The slowed-down, girl-group-like version of the normally uptempo tune emphasized Magnus’ vocals and ability to hit big, loud notes, changing the arrangement into what Randy described as a “Supremes-ish” melody.
“To me, it was like you were put into a time machine and you came back in 20 years’ time,” Cowell said, lambasting Magnus for her erratic, screechy singing and uneven performance. Both Randy and Ellen liked the second half of the song better, when Siobhan busted out her power vocals, but Kara said she’s confused by the teeter-tottering between the big notes and more subdued ones.
After earning the season’s only save last week, Michael Lynche was tempted to tone down the theatricality with “In the Ghetto,” but Lambert counseled him to amp it up instead. Playing it as a subdued acoustic ballad, Lynche stripped the tune down to an emotional, Babyface-like R&B ballad.
“I’m glad we saved you,” Ellen said simply. Though a bit too sleepy, Jackson and DioGuardi said the vocals were hot, and, for once, Cowell agreed calling it a “million, billion” times better than last week.
Lambert told Katie Stevens to channel the anger she feels about the judges’ confusing advice into the bluesy “Baby What Do You Want Me to Do.” The big, brassy arrangement was augmented by some sassy neck rolls and plenty of lip-curling attitude and baby-blues-mama vocals.
She got Randy moving and earned a snap from Kara, but Cowell found the whole thing annoying and a bit too loud.
Casey James went way back to 1956′s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” which Lambert advised him to make more dynamic. With chicken-scratch guitar, a swampy Ben Harper-esque blues arrangement and a bit of acoustic-guitar flash, James delivered as the night’s final singer.
“I didn’t see anything different, but it’s another solid performance from you,” Jackson said, a sentiment DeGeneres and DioGuardi seconded. Cowell liked the vocal but said the performance was utterly forgettable and a wasted opportunity.
Lambert will be back for Wednesday night’s results show — where two finalists will go home thanks to last week’s save — to sing his hit “Whattya Want From Me?”
Who do you think nailed it? Who blew it? Who is going home? Let us know in the comments below!
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