Two hours is a very long time to commit to a television show. Add the interactivity element to it, as “American Idol” does, and you’re asking viewers to spend their entire after-dinner evening watching relative unknowns cover Rolling Stones tunes, and then pick up the phones to vote and text for their favorites.
Sometimes, that is a lot to ask. Even for a seasoned professional like myself, Tuesday was one of those nights where I looked at the end-of-the-show recap and thought, “Oh, yeah, Casey James did sing something tonight, didn’t he?” These are episodes where everyone blends together unless they really stand out, for good or ill.
So on a night where nobody was terrible enough to be the obvious choice to go home, the question becomes who was memorable enough to rest easy?
Siobhan Magnus? Check. Her rendition of “Paint It Black” was the best of the night, and she looked and sounded like a star. The only think to complain about with her show-stopping performance was the glasses she wore in the videotaped interview.
Retro may be one thing, but there’s a reason that even Sally Jesse Raphael doesn’t wear those oversized glasses anymore — it’s because they look old and dated. (Apologies to everyone out there with a similar pair at home. They look awesome on you, but you’re the only one who can pull that look off.)
Crystal Bowersox? Check. It’s fair to say this wasn’t her best performance, but the bar she’s set for herself is a lot higher than anyone else. She blamed herself for overthinking — “Stop thinking! No one should think! Remember that, kids,” Ellen said — and said she wasn’t in the right zone to let it out.
Simon Cowell said she has to learn that “just when you think you’ve got the competition in your pocket, you’ve got to dig deep week after week and you’ve got to kill,” which shows that Crystal isn’t the only one overthinking things at this stage.
Michael Lynche? Sure, why not? He opened the show, which can be a tough spot in these extended episodes, and sang well enough that everyone who liked him before won’t change their minds. He didn’t do anything to stand out, but for him to go home this week he would have had to crater, and he certainly didn’t do that.
Those were the big three. Everyone else’s performance can be described in various shades of “eh.”
In the “earned their spot for another week” category, Didi Benami was surprisingly good, considering she looks and sounds 180 degrees away from the Rolling Stones. Casey James and Lee Dewyze were both solid, though neither acted like a star onstage, which was disappointing. That’s particularly true for Dewyze — his biggest enemy so far is himself, and he needs to start looking at Chris Daughtry and Bo Bice tapes to see how the judges expect an “Idol” rocker to act.
That leaves us with six singers in varying degrees of danger. Andrew Garcia has always been one of my favorites, but he split the judges with “Gimme Shelter.” Ellen loved it, Randy wasn’t a fan, and Kara and Simon argued about whether he sold the anti-war message well enough. Don’t worry, though. Simon mentioned “Straight Up” again, keeping the consecutive episodes streak alive.
Lacey Brown is sort of the opposite of Crystal. The bar is set lower, so Randy was pleasantly surprised that she held “Ruby Tuesday” together. The arrangement was strange — slow and maudlin, but capped off by a rushed, flip “stillI’mgonnamissyou,” and Simon is right when he says she performs like an actress.
The two teenagers were ... well, the judges liked them, anyway. Randy even compared Aaron Kelly to Justin Timberlake, which is the Grand Canyon of stretches. Katie Stevens was better than she was last week, and she had the audience stacked with supporters, so who knows?
That leaves Tim Urban and Paige Miles, both of whom were operating with a handicap this week. Paige literally had no voice to speak of leading up to the live show: She had laryngitis and couldn’t let loose at rehearsal because of the need to save her voice. Not surprisingly, she was very uneven, and even though the judges praised her and noted her condition, she may not have the fan support to survive this.
Give Tim credit for trying. His handicap was that he’s the anti-Mick Jagger, so any rock version he could have done would have sounded karaoke. He went in the other direction by bringing out his guitar and making “Under My Thumb” his own, but not in a way that would make anyone else contest his right of ownership. It was a risk, and probably even a smart one, but he may be regretting that on tomorrow night’s results show.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.