It was a nice joke when, during Wednesday's Frank Sinatra medley on American Idol, 17-year-old Aaron Kelly got to sing the "when I was seventeen" verse of the Sinatra classic "It Was a Very Good Year." But while it has unquestionably been a wonderful year for the cherubic Pennsylvanian, Wednesday won't be remembered as one of its better days, as Aaron's run on Idol came to an end with him in fifth place.
Aaron was the latest in a long line of polite, unthreatening, practically presexual teen males that have adorned the Idol stage over nine seasons (John Stevens and Anthony Federov were early examples of the breed, and David Archuleta was the pinnacle of the evolutionary process). Their appeal is less to teenage girls (who prefer someone a little more dangerous, or someone who can at least grow stubble like Kris Allen) than to preteens and their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Aaron put a small twist on the formula due to the faint twang in his voice, and his stated ambition to move into country music despite his lack of a rural southern background. Without any true country artist in the top 24, Aaron seemed to have what it took for a long run, if he could just keep up the consistency.
But inexperience and the grind of the show tend to wear down most teenage Idol contestants before long, and Aaron quickly exhibited telltale signs of being the latest contestant who was getting on-the-job training before an audience of twenty million instead of at high school talent shows. He often looked nervous onstage, had trouble controlling his upper register, and was unconvincing on anything uptempo. His trademark became utterly predictable song choices, as he invariably settled for trite ballads that had worn out their Idol welcome years ago.
But while Aaron never had a true showstopper, he had a knack for alternating bad weeks with decent weeks in such a way that it never looked like he was starting to crack. His innate likability and the general audience bias toward cute males kept him alive in the competition longer than fellow teen Katie Stevens and the even cuter Tim Urban; and a good effort during Shania Twain week enabled him to get past the much more promising Siobhan Magnus. But even though the Sinatra theme was seemingly tailor-made to appeal to Aaron's granny fans, his leadoff spot in the singing order and his failure to look in any way adult singing "Fly Me to the Moon" brought an end to his run.
Michael Lynche was the other half of the bottom two despite some fine work on "The Way You Look Tonight." Still, Big Mike has now survived four weeks since the judges chose to save him, so the fact that he's still here is a defiance of the odds in itself. And he probably helped himself Wednesday with some kind words to Aaron after the young man got the bad news. In a prime example of how illogical the Idol voting process can be at times, Casey James was completely safe this week after tanking on "Blue Skies" -- one week after he was easily the best performer of Shania's music and was nearly voted out for his troubles. Unless something odd happens, these next two weeks shape up as predictable, with Casey and Mike likely to leave; while Crystal Bowersox and Lee Dewyze, who have both yet to be in the bottom group, seem destined to give Idol its first boy-girl finale in four seasons.
The night's performance highlight was a pre-taped Lady Gaga, putting on her usual stage spectacle behind her new single "Alejandro," which I suppose is appropriate for Cinco de Mayo if not for a celebration of American standards. Harry Connick Jr. came in for much love, as we saw some outtakes of his mock-brutal chats with the contestants and got the lowdown on his aborted first meeting with Sinatra. He also insisted he hates Ellen DeGeneres, which I assume is some kind of inside joke going back to their days in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, Connick was a better comedian on this night than a singer, since his performance of the Beatles' "And I Love Her" was the definition of a non-event. He needs to be singing Gershwin, not covering ballads by rock bands. As mentioned up top, the final five had their own medley of Sinatra standards, which served Crystal well as the last woman remaining. While the choreography looks less like a train wreck these days with fewer people onstage, the lip-syncing is if anything getting less plausible. Everyone heard Casey floundering for themselves on Tuesday, but his solo in the medley was massaged so much in the studio that he actually ended up sounding like Connick.
Next week, the final four tackle songs from movies, with repeat mentor and serial Autotune abuser Jamie Foxx providing guidance.