Would it be a blockbuster or a bomb? That was the key question heading into Songs of the Cinema Night on Tuesday's (May 11) "American Idol," a theme whose approved song list heavily favored a perplexing mix of tunes from golden oldies, '80s action flicks and Disney cartoons. And while this Hollywood-centric episode might not be the stuff of awards-season glory, the "Idol" crew handled themselves well in front of the camera. Crystal Bowersox shined like a seasoned A-lister and made Lee Dewyze look like a breakout star during their duet. Meanwhile, Casey James and Michael Lynche proved they just might not be bankable solo stars at this point in the competition.
Dewyze got the night started with "Kiss From a Rose," a nod back to season eight contestant Danny Gokey, thanks to mentor Jamie Foxx. During the pre-performance video, the Oscar-winning actor got up in Dewyze's face as he did with Gokey last year, giving the singer what Foxx called the Michael Mann treatment (a reference to the famously intense director of "Miami Vice" and "Collateral"). "Yeah, it's different," said a visibly uncomfortable Dewyze of his mentor's approach.
Dewyze brought that unease to the stage during his straightforward take on Seal's hit from "Batman Forever." His higher register was simply not up to the song's requirements. Ellen DeGeneres alone was impressed with the rendition. Randy Jackson wanted to see more of a rocker attitude and more of an effort to switch up the song's arrangement, while Simon Cowell laid down one of his most dreaded analogies: "That was verging on — I'm afraid to say — karaoke," the Brit judge said.
And so the night proceeded on from karaoke to what DeGeneres mockingly dubbed "one of the classic, great movies of all time." Yes, Michael Lynche selected a tune from "Free Willy," one sung by Michael Jackson but nonetheless made famous in a movie about a boy's enduring friendship with an Orca whale. Foxx was not impressed during rehearsals, nor were the judges when they heard his live version.
Backed by a choir and with a lovely gospel vibe to the song, Big Mike sounded perfectly lovely. But Kara DioGuardi nailed it when she said, "You played it safe. What you did tonight, you can do in your sleep."
Just as Kara wished Lynche had done something in the vein of past R&B performances like "This Woman's Work," Jackson wondered why Big Mike abandoned what is so clearly his strongest genre. "You're an R&B dude," said the disappointed judge. "I wish you'd chosen something R&B."
Next came the first duet of the season, as Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox teamed up onstage. Facing each other with guitars sandwiched between them, they traded and shared lyrics from "Falling Slowly," a beautiful number from "Once." It marked a welcome return to form for Dewyze and a stunning debut for MamaSox. His growly tone contrasted nicely with her innate bluesiness.
The judges then took turns trading superlatives to describe the performance. "One of my favorite moments from the entire season," said DioGuardi, seconds before Cowell declared, "I don't know if I'd call that a good song. I'd call that a fantastic song."
It was a tough act to follow, but as they say in showbiz, the show must go on. And on came Casey James with a mandolin and a bluegrass-tinged take on "Mrs. Robinson," the Simon & Garfunkel classic from "The Graduate." Foxx seemed to be channeling DioGuardi when he asked the singer to seduce him during rehearsals. The seduction didn't necessarily pay off.
"For me, this is you fighting to stay in the competition," DioGuardi said as she pointed out how Casey's more comfortable standing back and rocking out. "For me this was actually a good choice."
That was less of a compliment than it might sound in print. Cowell was more direct when he said, "I didn't think the song or the performance had the substance required on this important night for you. ... I thought it was a little bit lazy and I think you could have made more of an impact."
After the break, Bowersox headed back onstage for a country-rock version of Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright" from the comedy "Caddyshack." Like the movie, her rehearsal was marked by some foul language. But by the time of her live performance, MamaSox had found her form.
The judges feted the 24-year-old for switching the song up far more than any of the other contestants dared during their performances. Both DioGuardi and DeGeneres announced that she "made it better." Cowell, who had criticized Bowersox in recent weeks, welcomed her back by saying, "After that performance, you, Crystal, are back in the game."
To finish up the night, Big Mike and James sauntered back onstage for another guitar duet. Though it lacked the energy on display during Bowersox and Dewyze's performance, their take on Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" from the movie "Don Juan DeMarco" was still far better than either man's individual effort.
"The duets tonight were incredible," said DioGuardi, summing up the judges consensus. "They were better than all of the solo performances."
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