Such a weird night on Idol. There’s still plenty of dogshit left on the men’s side of the competition, and maybe even worse, there are plenty of people who haven’t yet decided if they’re going to be dogshit or not. And the night got off to a completely sluggish and uncertain start, a pretty jarring transition from the female contestants’ across-the-board smoothness. But then things steadily built up steam, and then the show ended with what might be one of my favorite performances in Idol history. And it came from a guy who’d previously mostly annoyed me. Who made Kara DioGuardi cry. By singing a Kate Bush song. Via Maxwell, but still.
Michael Lynche entered the show as a big goofball, a guy who warbled his way through John Mayer songs while treating his guitar like an open-mic night prop. And then there was the whole thing about him talking his wife through giving birth while he was in L.A. auditioning, which I hated. And if skipping your kid’s birth is risible, doing it so you could sing cheeseball midtempo MOR on TV felt somehow downright insulting. (I just had a kid; bear with me.) But when he sang James Brown last week, he showed signs that he if wanted to make a go of it as a serious soul singer, that he might even succeed at it. But that didn’t prepare me at all for his utterly masterful, fully committed, generally stunning cover of Maxwell’s cover of “This Woman’s Work.” Lynche pulled out a dizzying number of ridiculously difficult notes without ever losing the song’s melody or, more important here, its lump-in-throat feeling. All that led up to one of the most rousing, earned glory-notes I’ve seen anyone pull out on the show. It was really something, and at this point I’m convinced that he should be forcibly restrained from ever touching a guitar again.
So: In two weeks, this mugging musclehead went from karaoke Maroon 5 to becoming a fully formed, difficult, idiosyncratic art-soul singer and brought the judges completely along with him. (Seriously: Kara turned into blubbering Paula Abdul, and it didn’t seem even slightly fake.) And he did this with his wife in the audience (where was the kid? whatever), singing the song that’s playing during the birth montage in She’s Having a Baby and taking on one of the few great remaining soul singers in the process. Those 90 seconds onstage made me forgive Lynche for skipping his kid’s birth, for his constant flexing and camera-hogging, for still not singing “Havin’ Thangs”, for the godawful suit jacket/jeans combo he wore while he was singing the song, everything. I’m on his side now.
So that was the best thing about the show. The worst, predictably, was Tim Urban, who really needs to change his name to Tim Rural/Exurban Gated Community, because that’s where that guy is at. (Keith Urban is Brotha Lynch Hung next to this fucker.) Urban sounded like slightly less of a herb than usual this week, but he did it singing “Hallelujah”, one of the most gallingly unoriginal moves I’ve seen any contestant take on the show lately. Two years ago, Jason Castro had a “This Woman’s Work” moment singing the song on Idol, and since then, the pop-cultural machine’s done everything it can to drive the song into the ground repeatedly. The song’s shark-jump moment came during the ludicrous Watchmen sex scene last year, so Urban’s squeakily bland version of the song was the moment the shark actually grabbed the song out of the air, chewed it into tiny pieces, and spat them all out, whereupon a passing school of pirhanas ate all the pieces and then barfed them out. The judges, of course, gave it hosannas, and Urban looked like a shark was coming after him in the supremely awkward moment where Ellen left her table to hug him.
Everything else, of course, fell somewhere toward the middle of the crazily wide spectrum between those two. On the good side, Alex Lambert, the show’s redemptive figure last week, continued to do pretty OK by continuing to exhibit one of the weirdest intonations in the world. I don’t know if it’s the accent or what, but Lambert sounds like an alien’s idea of a scraggly singer-songwriter, and I kind of like him. Casey James, for the first time, made a case that he could be a convincing stage-gritty soft-yarl country singer, and Lady Antebellum are currently proving that there’s money in that. Aaron Kelly is back to big-tent country-gloop, a great look for him, and it was fun to hear Simon chide the other judges for telling him not to sing old-man songs. Let the kid sing old-man songs!
Plenty of crap on the show, too. Lee Dewyze abandoned his right-on game plan of pounding his way through simple songs with burly choruses so he could try out motherfucking “Fireflies”, which is just a wildly awful song and a Tim Urban joint if ever there was one; he could do nothing with it. Andrew Garcia doing “Genie in a Bottle” reminded me of someone’s roommate doing a half-joking acoustic dorm-room cover of “Baby One More Time”, and god knows I’ve seen enough of that to last ten lifetimes. And Todrick Hall unwisely combined three of the most absurdly theatrical things man has ever invented: Queen, gospel, and black leather fingerless gloves. Simon called him “a Broadway singer.” Kiss of death.