With "Dancing With the Stars" beating "American Idol" in the ratings this season, "Idol" producers had to do something to woo back the geriatric viewers. So they brought out the big guns: Frank Sinatra! Except Sinatra died in 1998, so instead of wheeling out his rotting corpse, they opted for the next best thing: Harry Connick, Jr. (For my younger readers, he's like Michael Buble, except he's not Canadian and he plays piano really, really well.)
If Sir Anthony Hopkins' and Rob Reiner's attendance was any indication, "Operation: Get the Geezers Back" worked swimmingly. Producers were so happy with Connick's involvement that they even let him say "This is 'American Idol'" instead of Seacrest. (Although it came out more like "Ahdull," thanks to his Louisiana accent.)
Connick brought along his arranger hat, tackling each performer's song with a brand new big band mix. He even brought many of his band members too, most of whom had names that began with the letter "J." (Good to know if I continued playing trombone past the sixth grade, I may have ended up in Connick's brass section.)
While the Chairman of the Board is taking meetings up in Heaven, his daughters were in the hizzouse! Tina was a dream, but Nancy looked like Debbie Harry in a JT Leroy Halloween costume. (I thought her boots were supposed to walk on people. Why did she look like she was the one who was trampled?) The baby Sinatras did a fine job hand-delivering one of their dad's old snot rags to Simon Cowell.
Before I go on a rant about how Connick stressed how important the lyrics were until Casey's rehearsal where he said the complete opposite, let's get to the performances!
Song: "Fly Me to the Moon"
Verdict: Crash Landing
Have you guys seen that recent viral video of the little kid on a pony getting chased by an ostrich? And then the kid falls off the pony and the ostrich goes after him? And then the kid's father comes to the rescue by stomping on the ostrich's long skinny ostrich neck before the animal loses a bunch of feathers and trots away? That video ran on a loop in my head as Aaron struggled through this standard. Except Sinatra's songbook was the dad, and Aaron was the ostrich getting trampled by an angry elder.
During the judges' lukewarm critiques, Kara pointed out that Frank Sinatra was about the same height as Little Aaron. If you listen closely, you can hear Nancy Sinatra in the crowd say, "Oh no she didn't." (At least you can in my warped brain.) Simon let Aaron down easy by pointing out charming he is ... when he’s not singing. How does the back of Simon's hand feel on your face, kid?
Song: "Blue Skies"
Verdict: Cloudy With A Chance Of Aw Hell No
Casey told Seacrest that one of his friends back home called him up and tried to book him for a gig Tuesday night, totally oblivious that Casey was a finalist on "American Idol." Casey insisted it was because his friend doesn't have a television but Seacrest didn't have the heart to tell him that even "Idol" viewers often forget Casey's still on the show.
In his rehearsal with Harry, Connick praised Casey's groove thang (I don't think he meant it the same way Kara would have), but once Mr. James got on stage, he was stiffer than Sinatra's dead body and more awkward and uncomfortable than those miserable, soulless Duets albums. By the time Casey (flatly) sang the line, "I never saw things going so right" with his signature grin plastered on his stubbly face, I expected Nancy and Tina to walk up to Simon, slap him in the face and then demand their father's hankie back. Even the "Idol" crew tried to distract from the disaster. As Casey hit the "power note" at the end of the song, the director quickly cut away to the conductor as if to say, "Nothing to see here, folks! Keep moving! Pay no attention to those unpleasant noises!"
After a brutal judging (Kara finally called out Casey's lamb-like vibrato — welcome to two months ago, DioGuardi), Harry went out of his way to tell America that Casey killed the song during rehearsal. My old boss who attended the dress rehearsal said the same thing. He also said that he had to walk through a metal detector to get into the studio audience, which begs the question: If "Idol" has metal detectors, how did Harry sneak in his gun?
Song: "Summer Wind"
Verdict: Hot Air
The opening of Crystal's performance — and how she got up from a piano bench and nodded at the camera as if saying, "Oh! Hello there! Fancy seeing you here!" — reminded me of a Lawrence Welk special. But I don't think Jo Ann Castle ever showed off a massive sunflower back tattoo. (If any of you have photographic evidence to the contrary, please tweet me @jambajim at once!)
First, the good news. Crystal looked stunning. She glowed in a gorgeous mermaid dress and her hair was lovingly tossed together in an up-do, as though she had styled it in a summer breeze. And as Kara praised, Mamasox's phrasing made the song interesting than it could have been.
But there was more bad news than good this week. Randy called her performance "sleepy" (on a scale of one to 10, how much do you hate Randy's new go-to term for anything under 250 bpm?), Ellen begged her to loosen up and Simon gave her the same "I expect more" speech I got from my ninth grade English teacher when I handed in a video project that was essentially 35 minutes of my cat sleeping in cute positions while Beatles songs played in the background. (I still maintain that "This Is Kitty" was a masterpiece.)
Crystal's response to Simon's "meh"? "I don't think I should sing really big notes just because I'm on 'American Idol.'" My response to Crystal? "Yes you do, because the people who watch this show don't understand subtlety. Stop picking songs that are less-than-epic. More importantly, what viewers lack in musical prowess they make up for as judges of characters. Your sassy backtalk is not helping your cause, girl!"
Song: "The Way You Look Tonight"
At the top of his segment, Big Mike talked about how he is used to singing various styles because of his 12-piece "east coast band." Does he a different band for every region, the way a businessman has multiple secret families around the country? Or is "east coast band" code for "I play weddings"? (Ding ding ding we have a winner!)
Regardless, Michael Lynche finally delivered a performance that was geared more for "Idol" and less the "Idol Cruise." Going back and re-watching the song, I now see that it wasn't his vocals that excited me (he has sounded better in past weeks). Rather, it was the introduction of old school swagger to the episode that made my heart go "Boom boom boom, but seriously how the hell is this guy so frickin' large?" He lost a couple cool points for picking one of the obvious standards (at least it wasn't "New York, New York"), but coming off of three performances that had the emotional honesty of a Ted Haggard Oprah appearance, Big Mike's rendition was a pleasantly surprising showstopper.
"Everyone worked together. It all just clicked," Simon said, before adding, "Everything worked." He's almost right. The only thing that didn't work: Big Mike's double-handed waves, which made him look like he was grabbing at viewers' boobs. Thanks for the offer of a mammogram, Mike, but I'm all set for now.
Song: "That's Life"
Every TV show has its rhythms. On "24," there's always a mole in CTU. On CW dramas, there's always a "storm" episode where characters come to big realizations while stuck in an old house with no power. On every skill-based reality show, producers bring back eliminated contestants to help the two finalists on the big finale challenge. And on "Idol," there's always an underdog contestant who the judges begin to notice close to the end of the season as interest in the frontrunner begins to sputter.
So congratulations, Lee "Younger Connick, Jr." DeWyze. You are that guy. Although Simon could have easily compared your boozey interpretation to "something you'd see at a ghastly wedding where the groom's uncle had a few too many and got up on stage to sing a song," and although Randy could have pointed out that you struggled with pitch and tempo the way he struggles with the English language, you didn't because the judges have you in this "dark horse" plot line and they will not deviate from it. (Hell, they're even starting to push the "heartthrob" angle, what with Kara drooling last week and Harry sharing that his wife finds Lee hot. Sorry, Casey. You're yesterday's CougarFeast. Now America's in the mood for some Deep Dish DeWyze.)
Granted, "That's Life" was one of Lee's better performances, but saying it would have won him the show had it been the last night of the season? Ellen, that's not life. That's wack! Also wonky? Kara's "Do you think you can win! Go write that down on a piece of paper a hundred times" pep talk. Man, won't that exchange play so nicely when it's shown in an edited package at the finale?
Pardon me for being cynical here. Lee deserved good reviews for what was a solid offering. But it felt like one of those performances where I was told by the judges that it was a moment when it really wasn't. Compare Lee's "That's Life" to, say, Blake Lewis' top five breakthrough "You Give Love a Bad Name." Exactly.
The only person I believed (aside from Lee, who definitely connected with the lyrics — particularly the part about being on top in June, which will be a week after his "Idol" victory) was Connick when he told Lee, "Good job" before turning to the camera and mouthing the words, "Not really." Harry Connick, Jr., where have you been all my "Idol" life?
Who was your favorite singer Tuesday night? Was anyone else distracted (in a good way) by Casey James' mother being seated right behind Simon all night? Do you think Harry Connick, Jr. should take over the "Idol" band from now on? And even though Seacrest called Frank Sinatra the original "American Idol," do any of you remember Old Blue Eyes winning a reality show in his day? Me neither. Leave a comment below! And for more "Idol" insanity, follow me @jambajim.