Watching "Songs of the Cinema" night on "American Idol" was a lot like eating a large popcorn at the movies. Some of the kernels were close to perfect, with salty flavor and crispness balanced perfectly (Crystal). Others were stale, as if the concession workers had just dumped a new batch on top of one that had been sitting around since the theatrical run of "Kindergarten Cop" (Lee). And others were inexplicably soggy, which totally makes you gag 'cause Lord knows you didn't order any butter (Michael). (If Aaron was still on the show, I'd also talk about the kernels that were too young to pop.) And when the end credits rolled, you felt so bloated you regretted buying popcorn to begin with.
Jamie Foxx returned as a mentor (one of the few celebs in the history of "Idol" to return in the role, along with Quentin Tarantino, oddly enough) but this year Jamie brought props: Two T-shirts, one that read "Artist" and another that read "Contestant." That's an interesting way to bribe/shame the contestants into actually giving a damn about the competition. If a million dollar recording contract isn't enough, novelty T-shirts should do the trick! (Hell, it's how MTV pays me.) If only Foxx brought T-shirts for the audience, they would read, "Waiting for 'X-Factor' to Start!"
Before I go on a rant about Kara's business woman costume, let's get to the performances!
Song: "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal (from "Batman Forever")
Verdict: Kissed By Karaoke
DeWyze has been compared to Danny Gokey in some circles, and Jamie Foxx gave that fan theory more ammunition by repeating the "I'm Gonna Get In Your Face And Make You Sing To Me" rehearsal tactic he used on the Gokester. ("Idol" producers even supplied a fun split-screen in case anyone forgot!) But where Gokey took that lesson and ran with it, delivering his best — and darkest — performance of the season ("Come Rain or Come Shine"), DeWyze stumbled and got lost in an overbearing, karaoke arrangement. I scoffed when Randy said he wanted Lee the Rocker sing Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory." The problem wasn't song choice, dawg. It was Lee's lack of ingenuity in the treatment of the song. You don't want to see a power-hitter bunt, you know? It's that time of the season. Step it up, DeLazy!
Song: "Will You Be There" by Michael Jackson (from "Free Willy")
Verdict: Blow Hole
Big Mike was feeling the pressure this week. He set a personal goal to make it to the Top Three (because aiming for the number one spot would be too obvious?) and from the looks of his bumpy rehearsal with Jamix Foxx, Lynche was starting to crack. Jamie handed Michael a "Contestant" T-shirt when Lynche forgot the lyrics and Big Mike pushed it back in Jamie's face. There's the egotistical contestant we knew all season!
Lynche paid tribute to "Free Willy" be beginning the song in a register only whales could hear. Eventually, a choir sashayed down the stairs as Big Mike wailed (pun), "Hold me! Hold me! Lift me up sometime! Carry me!" As if anyone could ever lift that man. I kept picturing the Twitter Fail Whale, except instead of little birds attempting to carry a whale, they were flying around Big Mike in a too-tight leather jacket.
Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from "Once")
Verdict: Failing Quickly
Lee and Crystal's voices went together as well as Jay Leno and primtime. It's not easy to harmonize when you're in the Key Of Lee, and it didn't help that DeWyze's gravelly bellow overpowered Crystal's coo. I was especially bummed with the new Sonny & Cher back-and-forth arrangement, which teetered on feeling under-rehearsed. (The original version was sung by a male/female duo in a simpler, lovelier way, in my opinion.) The tweak they made to the chorus' melody was a change for the worse, too. Instead of reaching for a soaring high note, Crystal and Lee spent most of the time sticking to a lower harmony. Am I crazy for wanting lyrics about hopeful voices to sound ... I dunno, hopeful?
What saved the performance from being a Danny Gokey/Kris Allen "Renegade" catastrophe was Lee and Crystal's electric connection. The season nine frontrunners sang to each other so earnestly, the respect and (platonic) love they have for each other rang louder than the musical missteps. (Don't even get me started on Crystal's "Lee's my musical crush" proclamation. Too sweet!)
Perhaps that chemistry is what the judges were responding to when they acted as though DeWyzerSox had birthed the definitive interpretation of the song. ("One of the best moments of the season," Kara? Really?) To me, it didn't come close to the original or to Kris Allen's aching cover last season, which Simon went out of his way to praise as being "brilliant" on a results show. It's not often that a contestant "owns" a song on the "Idol" stage, but one could argue that "Falling Slowly" — which wasn’t even on the list of pre-cleared songs last season when Kris picked it — played a big part in Allen's success and deserves to be the "Idol" benchmark that all future renditions are expected to live up to. I'd assume the same for Adam Lambert and "Mad World," David Archuleta and "Imagine," Melinda Doolittle and "My Funny Valentine" and Scott MacIntyre and "Mandolin Rain." (OK, that last one may have been a little cheeky.) Sadly, at this point, I'm starting to suspect that Crystal could do an acoustic version of "Heartless" next week and Simon would praise her "original" song selection.
Or perhaps the judges ignore previous seasons because they don't want to remind us how entertaining this show used to be?
Song: "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel (from "The Graduate")
Verdict: Scarborough Hair
Jamie Foxx’s advice to Casey James: "Seduce me."
"Not you, too," Casey James thought to himself.
But really, Casey brought it on himself by picking the definitive ode to cougardom, "Mrs. Robinson." Not since Kristy Lee Cook chose "God Bless the U.S.A." has an "Idol" contestant pandered to his or her base more. Kudos to Casey for playing to his strengths, which is looking pretty and making post-menopausal women feel sexy. Bigger kudos to Casey for switching the '60s rock classic into a mandolin-driven shuffle. It showed some chutzpah, and as Kara pointed out, it proved he was fighting to stay on the show. I worry that the "sitting in the mosh pit" blocking is going to do him in, though. The sight of the girls on screen who were more entertained by the lights than the six foot tall Texan singing two feet in front of them is hard to shake.
Song: "I'm Alright" by Kenny Loggins (from "Caddyshack")
Verdict: Crystal Clear
All signs were pointing towards Crystal having a disaster on her hands. The judges criticized her past two performances for feeling lightweight, and you can't get much more frivolous than a movie about a gopher who terrorizes a country club. (MamaSox's "All the songs tonight have been heavy, I want to have fun" interview, while charming, didn't indicate that she had guns locked and loaded, either.)
Yet somehow WinnerSox took a song from "Caddyshack" and turned it into a triumphant personal anthem, complete with a percussion section and her magic bong lamp mic stand. "I'm alright/ Nobody worry 'bout me/ Why you got to give me a fight?/ Can't you just let it be?" she sang in a minor key, giving the song a gravitas I never knew existed. (I doubt Kenny Loggins knew the song could sound so political, either.) It only took her two months, but Bowersox finally figured out that the only appropriate time to mouth off at the judges is during the performance, not after.
Don't you worry, Crystal. I'm not worried 'bout you. Your boyfriend in the American Flag drawstring pants? Now him I'm worried about.
Casey James & Michael Lynche
Song: "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" by Bryan Adams (from "Don Juan DeMarco")
Verdict: A Pleasant Surprise
On paper, Casey and Michael go together like Kara DioGuardi and fashion. One is stiff and introverted, while the other is smooth and over-the-top. I expected their collaboration to go down like a glass of orange juice after you've just brushed your teeth. Instead, it was like chasing Oreos with pretzels. Just scrumptious, even if the tune is one of my least favorite songs in the history of music. (I knocked it last year, too, when Matt Giraud had a near-moment with it.)
Casael (or Masey? Jynche?) sounded a tad rough on their respective verses but once they combined forces on the chorus, their tones snuggled up to each other like lovers in front of a fireplace. The big dramatic stop, all too common in Big Mike's performances, was a neat look for Casey James, whose performances rarely build past their initial setup. Who would have thought that the remaining also-rans of season nine would have a more satisfying duet than the two frontrunners?
What did you think of the performances tonight? Do you think "Idol" judges should acknowledge past "Idol" seasons? Do you think Jamie was inspired by my T-shirt collection? And if you could give each contestant a specific T-shirt saying, what would it be? Leave a comment below, and for more "Idol" insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim.