Top 12 week is where the real American Idol competition supposedly starts. Everyone’s worked out their jitters, most of the no-chancers have been cut, and the singers finally have to start submitting to theme weeks, ideally pushing themselves outside their comfort zones. That’s not quite how it worked out last night. Thanks to some pretty crazy voting results, a few no-chancers are still in the game, making me worry that maybe some of them actually have a shot at winning. And the contestants were singing Rolling Stones songs, a theme week that leaves enough room for stylistic variation that pretty much everyone can find something wheelhouse-ready. Fortunately, it’s also a badass theme for the show, one I can’t believe Idol hasn’t done yet. The Stones are obviously canonical and obviously deserving of that status, and when you factor in the fact that they’ve been disgracing their own catalog for decades now, nobody’s going to get all pissy about a bunch of American Idol contestants doing the same thing. (Well, some people will, but they’ll be wrong.)
Last night shook out the way pretty much anyone could’ve predicted. Some singers had already established themselves as being great, and they were great again. Some sucked, just as they’ve persistently sucked throughout. And most fell into the pretty-OK middle ground. Siobhan Magnus, who totally should win the whole show even though she almost certainly won’t, just beasted the fuck out on “Paint It Black” and pretty firmly established herself as the best thing the show’s got going for it this year. With the eerie music-box arrangement and the big dramatic flare-ups, the song could’ve been straight Broadway-goth cheese, the way a lot of Adam Lambert’s stuff was last year. But she makes these screwy goblin facial expressions the whole time and just comes off looking like a deeply strange person, which sells the song so much better. And the absurd run of notes she peeled off at the end gave me chills, no joke.
Other standouts: Michael Lynche sang “Miss You”, already totally a disco song, and played it as straight-up strut-funk, filling every empty space with big falsetto runs. He didn’t have a once-a-season holy-shit moment the way he did last week, but he continued to prove that he’s so much better as a straight-up soul singer instead of the coffeehouse dork he was at the beginning. Crystal Bowersox will probably make it through the entire season, and quite possibly win, without ever varying even a tiny bit from her yowly Lilith Fair thing; she did her scary-looking dad proud. And I guess Didi Benami did a pretty decent job with “Play With Fire,” though she looked pretty ridiculous when she tried baring her teeth at the camera.
At this point, I’m hoping Tim Urban remains in the competition for as long as possible, just because I’m enjoying hating him so much. But real talk: Tim Urban fucking sucks. His “Under My Thumb” was about as wrong as wrong could get: a vicious song that he had no idea was vicious, inexplicably rendered as Carnival Cruise TV ad reggae, sung in a brutally weak quaver. I’m not enjoying hating Andrew Garcia, who seems like a good dude, I guess, even though he looks dead onstage. He had the balls to try “Gimme Shelter” even though his voice is nowhere near able to handle the chorus, and that shook out about as well as you’d expect. Casey James had a chance to sing some boring bar-rock, and he took it. Also, points off for giving Kara an excuse to overemphasize the word “soul.” I hate it when she does that.
Everything else was full-on meh. Lacey Brown’s “Ruby Tuesday” was nice, at least until the “still I’m gonna miss you” bit, which she sang super-fast for some reason. You’re not Twista, Lacey Brown! Lee Dewyze moved even further away from barreling through zero-subtlety power-ballads, going full cornball toward the end of “Beast of Burden”. Paige Miles sang “Honky Tonk Woman”, and the only thing I can remember about it is that she flipped the gender, so it became “I’m a honky tonk woman.” It was weird. And Aaron Kelly showed that he’s going to be completely lost when he’s not given goopy country songs to sing. “Angie” is pretty close to a goopy country song, so he did OK, but I couldn’t get behind his teen-idol makeover. Easy on the pancake makeup, Idol producers! Let Aaron Kelly be awkward!
Katie Stevens, boring as always, had the good sense to sing “Wild Horses”, a song that can sound pretty great even as a waiting-room nothingness, which is what it was here. Though the song can survive that kind of translation, it shouldn’t have to. (Also, we learned that she has a terrifying rictus-grinning stage mom, which just makes sense.) But then, maybe that’s the takeaway from Stones week: If the basic songs are this good, it’s not a total tragedy if the Idol contestants don’t completely hold up their end. May every theme week this season be as successful.