First things first: Two hours? To hear nine people sing for a minute and a half each? That is some ridiculous shit. Is FOX that starved for programming? They couldn’t have lopped off like half an hour and run an old episode of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose? I’ve got a life to live over here!
That extra half hour? Mathematically, I’m thinking it probably didn’t actually work out this way, but emotionally I think it was Ellen DeGeneres just talking for the entire time. The entire Ellen experiment deserves to come to a sad, painful end. Not many people are capable of both stammering and saying absolutely nothing on live TV, but Ellen is one of them. We never knew how good we had it with Paula Abdul.
One more note of hopeless rage: Are we going to have to endure Beatles week on Idol once a year for the rest of existence? The last time they did Beatles week, it was a total travesty. This time, almost nobody said the word “Beatles”, and instead we heard over and over that it was Lennon/McCartney week, even though only one guy did a solo Lennon song. Presumably there’s some sort of weird legal thing going on there, but I can’t imagine the whole charade was worth it. The Beatles’ songbook is just fundamentally a bad choice for American Idol singers since it absolutely does not lend itself to the sort of big-note warbling the show favors. The whole thing comes off like some sort of misguided plea for legitimacy, like we’re supposed to think American Idol is a better show because they’re not just singing, like, Rascal Flatts songs all the time. They’re not fooling anyone.
Actually, the week’s theme tended to favor the show’s technically less capable and generally shittier candidates, since they didn’t have to try to over-sing the whole time. Tim Urban, who I’ve enjoyed hating for the entire season, did a bare-bones skiffle version of “All My Love” that totally worked, since the song bops along pleasantly enough that he really just had to stand there and not fuck up. Casey James, meanwhile, did a really nice acoustic version of “Jealous Guy” with a cellist sitting next to him on some Nirvana Unplugged shit. He actually turned it, aesthetically at least, into one of those scraggly living-on-the-road anthems that hair-metal bands used to do. Katie Stevens did “Let It Be” and looked like she was about to cry the whole time, which was sort of weirdly moving. Between that and “Wild Horses,” she’s got a nice little streak of stealing teflon power-ballad anthems from the more qualified contestants.
A common thread between those three unlikely overachievers: All of them stripped the arrangements way back, which gave the house band less room to shit all over the songs. That was smart. Whenever the band got a chance to turn these songs into straight mush, they did it big. Aaron Kelly’s “The Long and Winding Road”? Lite-FM gurgle. Andrew Garcia’s “Can’t Buy Me Love”? Cornball bubblefunk, which Garcia didn’t help by standing stiffly on the weird second-stage riser and looking like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Lee DeWyze’s “Hey Jude”? Well, it’s easy to make fun of the full-Scottish-regalia bagpiper who thoroughly upstaged DeWyze halfway through the song, except that guy actually saved him from what was turning into a flaming wreck of a performance, with DeWyze making the adventurous choice to make gasping noises when he could’ve been singing notes. What happened to that guy? He ruled so hard last week!
As for my three perennial favorites, they were a profoundly mixed bag. Michael Lynche did what he could with “Eleanor Rigby,” a song absolutely ill-suited to his strengths. He ably hammed his way through the chorus, but those verses were an absolute mess, and the silly, overthought stagecraft (strings everywhere!) just made him look like a clown. Also, we learned that he was once part of a family singing group called the Lynche Mob, which is really the worst name I could ever possibly imagine. Crystal Bowersox made a string of disastrous decisions that began the moment she chose to sing “Come Together” (a slinky groove that’s absolutely not her thing, coupled with lyrics no person alive could credibly sell) and extended to the didgeridoo and slap-bass that dominated the arrangement. And yet she still manged to survive the mess just by singing incredibly well. Inspiring! But I can only completely endorse Siobhan Magnus, who sang “Across the Universe” (basically the best Beatles song, right? I mean, right?) and invested it with a great sense of drama that went from the stage’s seriously pretty lighting to the sense of masterly restraint that she brought to the whole thing. And on this craptacular show, restraint was the only thing that could possibly save you.
And in conclusion, here’s a list of the remaining contestants and their X-Men equivalents because, what the hell, why not.
Aaron Kelly = Nightcrawler (slight, pious, looks like a little freak sometimes)
Katie Stevens = Cyclops (boring, asskissy in a severely off-putting way)
Andrew Garcia = Jean Grey (keeps dying and coming back to life, should probably stay dead this time)
Michael Lynche = Beast (smart, burly, makes too many jokes, would probably be best friends with Wonder Man if Wonder Man was a real person)
Crystal Bowersox = Colossus (unstoppable, likable, sneakily sentimental)
Tim Urban = Longshot (absurdly lucky, looks ridiculous)
Casey James = Gambit (floppy hair, flirty in a ridiculously theatrical way)
Siobhan Mangnus = Wolverine (unpredictable, dangerous, awesome)
Lee DeWyze = Cannonball (humble, polite, able to blast through anything when he applies himself)