It's the week before final exams on "American Idol," so it's probably too late to start wondering, "What if?" As in, "What if we had a different top three? What if Lilly Scott or Katelyn Epperly hadn't been chucked off the show far too early and were still bringing their expectation-defying artistry to the stage?"
It's certainly too late to imagine our expectations might be proven wrong when it comes to the performances of Crystal Bowersox, Lee DeWyze and Casey James. By this point in the "Idol" school year, we know exactly what we're going to get from each contestant and, at least in this regard, Tuesday night's show did not disappoint.
There were, of course, myriad disappointments: Bowersox's first song choice, which came off like a parody of a Bowersox performance; the way the judges bickered among themselves after James' second performance rather than concentrate on the evaluation at hand; how DeWyze's purportedly show-stealing performance of "Hallelujah" paled in comparison to Jason Castro's take on the song years earlier, and maybe even to Tim Urban's earlier in the season. There were also many highs: MamaSox's smack-it-outta-the-park rendition of the softball song choice Ellen DeGeneres handed her. Time to get specific and dole out some grades with another edition of our "American Idol" report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's "Idol" recap in the MTV Newsroom.)
Crystal Bowersox, "Maybe I'm Amazed": Courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres, MamaSox got the gift of the finest judges' song choice with this Paul McCartney hit. She didn't squander the opportunity. Crystal's voice was delicate in places, powerful in others, and at all times showed off range and emotion that her competitors simply can't match. We'd take points away for the staging, during which she descended a staircase and generally looked uncomfortable, but we're guessing all that movement wasn't her idea. Note for next time, Crystal: If you're gonna ditch the guitar, stay in one place on the stage and do what you do best: Frickin' wail!
Lee DeWyze, "Simple Man": Would it be crazy to say we enjoyed this take on the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune better than his second performance? Less ornate, more honest, fewer bells and whistles, more Lee. We dug the slowly building intro and how he cut the song's Southern-rock flare with some indie-rock verve. He suffered through some pitch problems in the second half of the tune, but his performance was far and away the finest of the first three songs.
Lee DeWyze, "Hallelujah": This seems to be the most buzzed-about performance of the evening. Simon Cowell could barely contain his self-satisfaction as he congratulated himself for choosing a tune that allowed Lee to have a "moment." Only problem was that it wasn't really Lee's moment. He was surrounded by half the backup singers in Hollywood and a brassy trumpet, the combined effect of which was to overwhelm the "Idol" hopeful. That's not to say it wasn't a good performance, especially by season-nine standards. And Lee showed off genuine emotion, something verging on vulnerability. For the first time, he looked like he actually wants to win. But despite the judges' effusive praise, Lee's song was not nearly as powerful as Crystal's "Maybe I'm Amazed."
Crystal Bowersox, "Come to My Window": You want to know why MamaSox landed in the Satisfactory range on this one? Not because she didn't sound lovely, or because we didn't dig the reappearance of her harmonica, or because we fault her for staying true to herself as an artist. It's for a simple lack of creativity on her part. A Melissa Etheridge song sung pretty much exactly how Melissa Etheridge sings it shows us nothing new about Bowersox. No doubt that cover killed back in her hometown, but up on the "Idol" stage, it was simply tiresome. Not something we'd expect at this point in the competition. There's a way to respect your own artistry while at the same time surprising your audience. This wasn't the way. Luckily, she returned for a stellar second performance.
Casey James, "Daughters": James deserves an apology from Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi for a lazy song choice that almost seemed designed to deny the singer a "moment" in the same way that Bowersox and DeWyze got a chance at theirs. John Mayer's song is a simple one that requires a voice that can communicate raw emotion; Casey's just lacks that sort of intensity, phrasing and modularity. What we got instead was a contestant far too laid-back at this point. That's the Casey we've known all along. The only difference seems to be that, for the second week in a row, the judges seem to have tired of his presence on "Idol" and are ripping him to shreds in the hope that voters follow their lead. He deserves better, even if he doesn't really deserve to call himself an "Idol" top-three finalist.
Casey James, "OK, It's Alright With Me": If Jackson and DioGuardi were bent on sabotage in their song choice, James straight up nuked himself with his pick. Let's just forget about the song choice, because there's no way to wrap our heads around that one. He was severely uncomfortable on the stage. There was nothing unique about the performance. It was the epitome of small time. Forget about star power. This performance never got off the ground. It's hard to see any other outcome on Wednesday's elimination show: James' "American Idol" run will be coming to an end.
How would you grade the top three on last night's "American Idol"? Share your report cards in the comments.
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