The numbers in our "American Idol" classroom are dwindling, and that's forcing producers to get creative. Thus Tuesday night's Songs of Cinema theme introduced a dose of group work into the live show, as the top four contestants sang a couple of duets in addition to their familiar individual efforts. The ensembles proved to be the night's saving grace.
Before we dole out the grades, we've got an extra credit question for the "Idol" conspiracy theorists among you: What was the thinking behind pairing Crystal Bowersox with Lee Dewyze and Michael Lynche with Casey James? Hmmmm. And how about a bonus extra-credit question: What does it mean that for three out of the four contestants, their duets were far superior to their solo performances?
In any event, "American Idol" is a competition for individuals, and the singers must be graded on this basic fact: How did each one fair? That's exactly what we plan do as we push forward with another edition of our "American Idol" report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's recap of their performances in the MTV Newsroom.)
Crystal Bowersox: Her blown-glass mic stand was back, and so was MamaSox! After two straight weeks of adequate, if not revelatory, performances, the 24-year-old stormed back with a truly unlikely performance. A song from freakin' "Caddyshack"? Really? And yet, the country-rock makeover she gave Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright" simply worked. By now we hardly have to mention that her vocals were on point; they're always on point. And then her duet with Dewyze ("Falling Slowly" from "Once") showed off such easy chemistry, such likability, we'd say she might just have locked up the competition. But we already knew that, right?
Casey James: Casey probably should have known better, picking "Mrs. Robinson" after his entire story arc this season has boiled down to a cougar-rific connection to Kara DioGuardi. Wise or not, the song — with its mandolin-driven bluegrass feel — was a pleasing choice that stayed well within James' vocal abilities. Was it a bit lazy, as Simon Cowell suggested? Perhaps. But we'd take a few more weeks of "Mrs. Robinson"-esque ditties rather than James back in his bar-band rocker mode. Meanwhile, his duet with Big Mike of Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" was an even stronger performance. It's going to be very interesting to see what happens between these two singers come elimination time.
Lee Dewyze: We've known for a long time now that Dewyze suffers from persistent pitch problems. Have those deficiencies ever been on display as glaringly as they were during Seal's "Kiss From a Rose"? As the judges pointed out, that tune is a crazily difficult one to pull off, and Dewyze simply wasn't up to the challenge. He did little to change up the tune, and while we wouldn't go so far as to label the performance "karaoke" — as Cowell did — we will say that it was a colossal disappointment from a singer who's supposed to be giving Bowersox a run for the "Idol" crown. Luckily for him, he was paired with MamaSox for his duet, and he rode her dreadlocks to the highest praise of the evening.
Michael Lynche: Big Mike gives us our toughest call of the night. Was he merely OK during Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There," or truly subpar? We enjoyed the gospel choir backing him up, but there's no getting away from the roller-coaster path of his vocals from beginning to end. But in the end, Big Mike ends up at the bottom of our grading curve for making the worst song choice of the evening. Even Ellen DeGeneres couldn't help but mock the selection, calling "Free Willy" "one of the classic, great movies of all time." If you believe that one, you might also believe that Big Mike has a shot at winning "Idol" season nine.
How would you grade the contestants' movie-night performances? Post your report cards in the comments.
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