Hey, they actually sent someone home last week during Idol Gives Back! Bye, Tim Urban! Also: Bye, suffocatingly boring sense of self-congratulation that comes during Idol Give Back week! It’s time for American Idol to return to what it actually does pretty well: Paying tribute to slightly marginal and past-their-prime genre-based superstars! This week: Shania Twain!
Shania, as guest-mentor this week, pretty much seemed to be auditioning to get her own sitcom in which she plays a loopy but lovable single mom. From what we’ve seen of her during tonight’s show and the audition round, she’s a total flibbertigibbet, which is not what I would’ve expected. All night, she clucked and cackled and made proud-mom faces and sang along and swayed and mock-glared at Simon when he said one of her songs sucked. She didn’t carry herself remotely like someone who’s sold the head-exploding number of records that Seacrest named during the opening video package. (Seacrest also called her a “country pioneer,” and I started to get annoyed before realizing that he’s sort of right. I can’t even imagine what Nashville would look like without Shania right now.)
Weirdly, the only contestant who outright sucked this week was Siobhan Magnus, who went from being the season’s easy standout to some freaky potential-annihilating netherworld that I don’t understand. Way more than her ability to roar out monster end-notes, Early Siobhan’s great strength was a poised, fire-eyed darkness that set her apart from every other Idol contestant I can remember. Mid-Period Siobhan seems to want to be fun. Her “Any Man of Mine” was manic and messy. Sass is just not what she does, and her modulated New England voice is basically the Anti-Twang. The whole thing was a massive airball, and it was really weird when the judges drooled all over it. Would’ve been the biggest Judge Problem all night if Ellen hadn’t made the Twain/train pun twice. Simon actually glared at her on-camera. (End the Ellen experiment. Just end it.)
Everyone else, though? Pretty good! Aaron Kelly’s stage-kid intensity feels simultaneously sweatier and more manufactured every night, but country is very forgiving of those faults, especially if you’ve got a big but sort of boring voice, which he does. He sounded OK. Casey James, meanwhile, actually sounded good for only the second time all season. This guy has put his tiresome blooz shredding to the side to sing tender, weary acoustic jams exactly twice this season, and the judges have flipped for him both times. I honestly don’t understand why he doesn’t just keep doing that, but I’ll take it when I can get it. He sang “Don’t” like it was “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, and bedraggled hair-metal ballads are absolutely this guy’s look.
Michael Lynche could’ve been a mess, but his tremulous, vulnerable soul take on “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing” actually made great use of the always-awful house band’s drippy arrangement, and that guy is just a good singer. As his season wears on, he’s even figuring out when to hold back a little. Lee DeWyze, meanwhile, still has a way of taking these gigantic melodies and turning them conversational. His “You’re Still the One” got a bit shouty and off-key on the chorus, but it still ended up being the song I had stuck in my head all night.
Obvious frontrunner Crystal Bowersox continues to amaze me just in her ability to find a Janis Joplin song to sing every single week. This time, she turned a product of the high-gloss ’90s Nashville machine into one of those kitschy ramshackle country-fried album tracks that early-’70s rock bands would always include. And she killed it, of course. Minor Crystal, but still.