Oh boy. Here we go. Sinatra Week. What a muddled and ill-conceived concept, even in a season that’s attempted to grab attention by grabbing every iconic name off the shelf (Beatles, Stones, Elvis). I honestly can’t imagine a group of professional singers worse equipped to handle the Sinatra songbook than this particular group of contestants. But really, could any of the great Idol contestants from years past done a convincing Sinatra? Clarkson? Daughtry? Jennifer Hudson? I’m not sure. Sinatra’s great virtues– timing, ease, charisma, world-obliterating cool–are not the virtues of an American Idol contestant, especially since the show tears apart anyone who exhibits obvious outward asshole tendencies, something Sinatra thrived on projecting. The Idol contestant will always tend toward oversinging, toward shoehorning in vocal gymnastics even when they should just talk. And since just talking is what you should do at virtually every moment of every Sinatra song, this whole episode was death waiting to happen. Honestly, Ryan Seacrest does a better job reflecting Sinatra’s crisp iciness than any Idol contestant I can name, and that’s pretty sad.
So Sinatra week was a worthwhile endeavor mostly as a fascinating example of trainwreck TV. Anthony Hopkins in the audience? Sure. Seacrest calling Sinatra “the original American Idol”? Why not? Guest mentor Harry Connick, Jr., still gawky after all these years, mercilessly clowning all the contestants even as he shared a stage with them all night? Awesome. Connick, beyond just playing mentor, also wrote all the arrangements and sat in on piano all night, a pretty clear sign that he’s not as famous as the other guest mentors and thus has to work a whole lot harder. Unfortunately, that ensured busy and showy arrangements throughout, which meant none of the contestants had a chance to actually translate the songs into some idiom that might’ve worked for them. Everyone, I guess, was afraid to tell Connick no, even though he didn’t mind shitting on people directly to their face. (The faces he made behind Lee Dewyze’s back might’ve been my favorite moment of the night.) Also, I was sad that former favorite Siobhan Magnus wasn’t around for this episode, largely because she might’ve screamed “I AM THE SUPER MOTHER BUG” the moment she saw Connick. (That’s right, Bug reference! What, nobody else saw Bug?)
Speaking of nightmares! Nancy Sinatra showed up, giving Cowell a monogrammed hanky and displaying her plastic-surgery tragedy of a face for the whole world to see. Nancy really needs her own Idol theme week; I’d love to see what, say, Crystal could do with “Sand”. But it’s never going to happen because nobody’s ever letting that face back on TV again, with good reason. Yikes.
The only contestant who managed to make anything of the whole mess was Michael Lynche, who revealed pre-song that he leads a 12-piece band in New York and thus has to sing all sorts of songs: standards, country, Black Eyed Peas. Sounds like an awesome band, Michael Lynche. The whole time he was singing, Lynche seemed to be struggling with a temptation to go on some crazy wild-horses runs, but he managed to restrain himself most of the time, giving “The Way You Look Tonight” a nicely cool, conversational reading without losing the art-soul grit that’s worked so well for him. There was a little bit of wedding-band left in his rendition, but honestly, wedding band was pretty much the ceiling for the night going in.
I also didn’t mind Crystal Bowersox, or at least the parts where she wasn’t being cagey about why she picks the songs she picks. (Honestly, Crystal? Nobody really cares. Stop being mysterious.) Crystal has at least some sense of rhythm and timing, more than I can say about most of the other contestants, and her “Summer Wind” was calm and restrained, at least until the horns started farting around, forcing her to get some yarly whoops in there. All the judges claimed to like the song’s second half better, which was just mystifying.
Freaky little imp Aaron Kelly, meanwhile, needs to disappear, like yesterday. You can’t sing “Fly Me to the Moon” as sap, and you can’t directly disregard Harry Connick’s televised advice when he’s sitting right there. (Connick was right about how he shouldn’t have drawn out that last note, too.) Kelly came off like a kid playing dressup– specifically, one dressed up like k.d. lang for some reason. Casey James, meanwhile, looked completely lost and awkward without his guitar, and came off as just silly when he tried to make crooner faces. The judges outright loathed him, but they made a big fuss over the equally shitty Lee Dewyze, massively uncomfortable on his tone-deaf style-clash take on “That’s Life”. If anyone should’ve just talked, it was Dewyze. But Dewyze isn’t built like that, and that’s why he’s never going to be an actual honest-to-god star, regardless of whether he wins this thing. And increasingly, it’s looking like he might.