Wednesday night’s “American Idol” semifinal round was seriously one of the weirdest nights I can ever remember in the show’s nine years. It was like all the guys picked their numbers using the Random Song Generator, and all the judges got their reactions from a similar machine.
Michael Lynche not only singing “This Woman’s Work,” but also turning judge Kara DioGuardi into a sobbing mess while doing so? Tim Urban performing Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and not causing Simon Cowell to forcibly remove him from the stage? Lee Dewyze doing “Fireflies”? Really?
Who told Aaron Kelly, “I know you’re just 16, but you should sing Lonestar’s ‘Already There,’ where the protagonist in the song is an older man calling his family at home”? Who told Todrick Hall, “They’re worried about you being too Broadway — go with Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and try to channel your inner Freddie Mercury”? And who told Andrew Garcia, “Want to make the judges forget about your acoustic version of ‘Straight Up’? Why not do the same thing with ‘Genie in a Bottle’?”
And yet, none were disasters. In fact, Lynche became the star of the semifinals, as Big Mike blindsided the judges with the breakout performance of the round. He was good enough to not only cause Kara to bawl, but to prompt Ellen DeGeneres to tell him, “You are the one to beat now.” Take that, Cowell! Two can play at this anointing the favorites game.
Apart from their love/worship of Lynche, the judges were no help in sorting out the wheat from the chaff this week, with mixed opinions on the other seven singers.
The big surprise of the night was Urban — or, rather, the judges reaction to him. When host Ryan Seacrest announced Urban was singing “Hallelujah,” the natural reaction was to groan and reach for the mute button, but the judges gave him high marks and Ellen even ran onto the stage and gave him a hug. Maybe it’s the ol’ reverse psychology trick — saying nice things about him so he won’t get any pity votes and will get sent home.
Also getting pity votes in the past has been the petrified Alex Lambert, who went the more sensitive route and sang “Trouble.” We’re all in trouble if Ellen keeps comparing him to a banana, because after three weeks, she’s already taken that joke as far as she can go. Simon suggested that Lambert loosen up by imagining Randy in a bikini next week. Hey, Simon, the kid has already talked about being nervous enough to throw up before shows. Get that image in his head and he’ll be doing it on stage.
Now, Garcia is the one who should be getting sympathy. The judges still won't stop talking about how Garcia one time at band camp sang “Straight Up,” and it was really really awesome. “Genie in a Bottle” was not his best work, but he could come up onstage with Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi and do a 30-minute set, and all Kara would talk about was how great it was when he played that Paula Abdul song once upon a time.
Simon called Hall’s performance “ ‘American Idol the Musical’ doing Queen,” which is 100 percent what it was, and then said he liked it anyway. Go figure. And he liked Kelly too, even though he usually yells at teens who try and sing songs that sound old.
There’s not much else to say about the other two. Casey James decided to play it safe and channel his inner Keith Urban, which was fine and made actual logical sense, so extra credit to him for that.
And I like Dewyze, and he’ll almost certainly be back next week, so here’s my advice: Don’t try to make “Fireflies” into a rock song. In fact, don’t sing “Fireflies” at all. That just started the night off on a weird note that it never really got away from.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.