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Wow. Oh boy. Whoof. OK. This was definitely the worst episode of American Idol in recent memory and probably one of the worst of all time, Taylor Hicks season included. Everything was just wrong. The theme, Billboard #1s, was hopelessly vague and the kind of thing that just naturally leads to people having no idea what to pick. (And according to reports, it got switched up late from a teen-idol episode, leaving the contestants even more in the lurch.) The guest mentor was Miley Cyrus in unreasonably short shorts, which is the sort of thing that just begs assholes like me to point out that she’s not actually a good singer in any substantive way. Which, I mean, she’s not. Some good singles, but any singer on the show, even the shitty ones, could just immolate her, voice-wise. (Also, someone should demand birth-certificate proof that she’s really 17. That girl is 33 at least, and nobody can tell me otherwise. Maybe that’s why they scotched the teen-idol thing: a believability gap.) The judges were all completely shocked at how awful things got or just completely lost at sea, and if Ellen carries over that godawful pen analogy into future weeks the way she did with the Alex Lambert/banana thing, somebody’s getting punched. And then there were the performances themselves. Which, I mean, yikes.
Even the people who reliably do well every week, though they still found ways to not suck, did their respective things in some of the most dull, unimaginative ways possible. Like, of course Crystal Bowersox is going to sing a Janis Joplin song if given half a chance. She’s practically been singing Janis Joplin songs from jump. And she did well at singing a Janis Joplin song (Simon, revealingly and hilariously, said that she was as good as Pink), but I felt like I could’ve imagined the entire performance before it happened and not gotten one thing wrong. Michael Lynche mugged too much when he wasn’t singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” (seriously, something has to be done about the faces this guy makes), and he riffed too much when he was singing it. He still convincingly played the part of old-school soul singer, but there wasn’t a damn thing transformative about it. And Siobhan Magnus, who just slew me last week, was good but not show-saving good. She interacted awkwardly with the band’s horn section, she busted out a barely-there version of her now-trademark scream, and the single most memorable thing about her was her glam-rock pompadour-mullet thing, which was admittedly outstanding.
There were a couple of minor surprises, I guess. Lee Dewyze became the least likely Alex Chilton tribute-payer imaginable when he took on “The Letter”. He left his guitar backstage for the first time and didn’t know what to do with his hands, which resulted in what I can only call air-scratching. And he found some weird nonexistent alternate-universe rhythm on the verses, sounding like a swing hepcat from a ’90s movie. But he did what he does best when he barreled his way through that chorus. Tellingly, none of the judges (or Dewyze, or Seacrest) mentioned Chilton, and Cowell callously went so far as to basically call the song corny. Meanwhile, Aaron Kelly sang “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, probably the most obvious thing he could’ve possibly done (I called it as soon as Seacrest said “Aerosmith”; ask my wife), but he did it like the weirdly masterful tiny deliverer of big-screen country aw-shucksery that he has somehow become. I might’ve liked him best this week? That felt weird to type. Let’s just move on.
A few contestants found ways to totally suck in average and humdrum ways, which will probably keep them safe, what with the titanic, historical suckitude I’ll discuss in the paragraph below. Huey motherfucking Lewis’s “The Power of Love” is a song I don’t want to hear, ever, if I’m not watching Marty McFly hitch rides on passing cars, and Casey James, for whatever reason, did an exact copycat version of it, except with more halfassed guitar-shredding (more “Johnny B. Goode”-era McFly, as it were). Didi Benami made ridiculously silly angry faces at the camera while singing “You’re No Good”, which was enough for Simon to call her bad Broadway. Miley’s face when she got done was some funny shit. Katie Stevens sang Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” a godawful song so old that it’s completely lost its pop cachet but so new that it has no chance whatsoever of evoking nostalgia in anyone, even if it did help Stevens get through a particularly rough period in elementary school or whatever the fuck. It’s a song I can’t imagine anyone out there actual likes anymore, and she sang it with the cornea-scraping half-smile of the terminal drama nerd.
But OK. Enough dancing around it. Andrew Garcia, Paige Miles, and Tim Urban were all just breathtakingly bad, bad in ways I’m not a good enough writer to adequately convey. Garcia’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was straight butchery. He had awkward-ass finger-pointing, clipped overenunciation, and supremely smug and clumsy dance moves all working against him (my wife Bridget: “Oh my god, it’s like he’s proud of this”). And yet he was the ghost of Marvin Gaye made flesh and come down from heaven next to Tim Urban, who is basically just auditioning for a community-theater staging of Grease at this point. I rewound Urban’d deeply absurd slide across the stage at least three times; it’s just begging to become an animated gif. The judges, to their credit, absolutely annihilated Urban, as they did to Paige Miles, who sang Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” (a great song!) like she was a drunk chick making fun of American Idol at a bad party. I don’t even know what to say about that particular trainwreck. When she’s almost inevitably forced to sing that “take a look at me now; I’m just an empty space” line at the elimination show tomorrow night, the world will think to itself, “If only.”