In a season filled with youthful mentors like Miley Cyrus, Usher, Adam Lambert and Alicia Keys, Tuesday night's (April 27) "American Idol" brought back a country/pop superstar who hasn't released a new album in eight years. But Shania Twain knows what she's talking about, since she was a guest judge during the audition rounds, and her soft-focus advice to the remaining six finalists helped a few — Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly and Siobhan Magnus — get back in the thick of the competition, even as longtime front-runner Crystal Bowersox faced her first neutral notices of the finals.
First up was barroom rocker Lee Dewyze, who Twain met during the Chicago auditions. He chose "You're Still the One," with Twain suggesting he hold off on the guitar at the top and come in more subtly with a piano. Dewyze took her advice, starting off quietly and then rising to sing the everlasting-love lyrics in his signature raspy voice.
Admitting it's one of his favorite songs of all time (really, Dawg?), Randy Jackson said it started out, yes, pitchy but praised Dewyze for finding a way to make it his own by mid-song. "You found your sweet spot," he said, with Ellen DeGeneres agreeing and saying that Lee's talent is finding himself in each song. Simon Cowell said Lee picked the absolutely perfect tune from Twain's catalog but faulted what Kara DioGuardi labeled a smile as a "weird face."
Shania said she was moved by the way Michael Lynche sang "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing," reminding him that even though his singing seems effortless, he should remember to imbue it with feeling. Big Mike transformed the tune into a Maxwell-like R&B seduction play, giving the song a gospel flair and throwing in some ear-candy falsetto at the end that brought a tear to Twain's eye.
Ellen compared the emotion Lynche brought to the song to the late, great Luther Vandross, and Jackson said Lynche has found his lane as a sensitive balladeer. "I thought the performance, however, was a little bit wet, as if you were in a musical acting out the words," Cowell said to the rest of the panel's confusion after agreeing with DeGeneres' Vandross analogy. "It was a little bit girly for you."
How was construction worker Casey James going to rebound from criticism that he was a bit lazy last week? Encouraging him to let his confidence shine through, Twain was excited about James' choice of "Don't." Sitting on a stool and playing simple rhythm guitar, James sang a straightforward version of the midtempo ballad, stripping away some of his calling-card bluesy grit in favor of a more emotional, mellow rock vibe.
"Casey, artists do not hide: the good, the bad, the ugly. They show it all, and that's what you did in that performance," said a pumped-up DioGuardi. "You didn't hide. You didn't cover it up with guitar. You were vulnerable, you were raw." Cowell and Jackson also said it was one of the best performances James has given on the show so far, praising him for finally finding his sweet spot.
She can do blues and pop, but can season leader Crystal Bowersox do country? MamaSox, who got her guitar signed by Twain during the Chicago auditions, chose "No One Needs to Know," and Shania said she needed to let the emotion shine through. Backed by simple percussion, lap steel guitar, standup bass and mandolin, Bowersox crooned the tune in a peppy, old-timey country cadence, imbuing it with her particular charm while smiling through lyrics she said she hoped would get her boyfriend to "man up" someday.
"Shocker, we don't like Crystal this week," Cowell frowned. "It was limp," he added, comparing it to being forced to listen to a hired band in a coffee shop. "I didn't feel any conviction from you." Randy was into the Nickel Creek vibe, even if, like Ellen, he didn't love the performance. Though Kara said it's kind of impossible for Crystal to not be good because of her honest nature, she, too, thought it was just OK.
Aaron Kelly, 17, has been on the bubble for weeks, and Shania tried to put him at ease about singing "You've Got a Way," telling him to not worry about hitting the notes and just sing the song the way he feels comfortable. Kelly, arguably the most country of the remaining singers, convincingly and confidently sang the expansive ballad, giving one of his most solid performances in weeks.
"The amount of emotion and depth that you showed when you sang that song ... the maturity you had to embrace those lyrics," Ellen said. Kelly proved he gets the "Idol" game by explaining that he changed a line about making love because he was singing the tune to his mom, and Kara praised his conviction. "For the first time in weeks, it actually felt sincere, it felt believable," Cowell said.
The final spot belonged to Siobhan Magnus, who went with "Any Man of Mine." Twain encouraged her to get into the character of a woman who knows what she wants. Though her vocals were typically uneven, Magnus worked the crowd while strutting across the stage in a short flowered skirt and white boots, unleashing a pair of her signature rebel yells to cap off an upbeat performance.
Simon, no fan of country music, loved the song, even though he felt the screaming at the end was unnecessary, comparing it to the sounds of a woman in labor. "I loved it!" Randy raved simply, as Kara agreed, saying Magnus was back in the competition.
Someone will be sent home on Wednesday night's show, which will feature performances from Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Sons of Sylvia and Shakira.
What did you think of Tuesday night's performances? Who killed it? Who fell flat? Who should go home? Write in your comments below!
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