Answer me something: How the fuck is Casey James still on American Idol? I realize this is a weak season and all, but he should’ve been gone at least a month ago, and I have no idea how to explain his continued existence on the show unless he’s made some sort of devil-at-the-crossroads bargain–the exact sort of thing he’s probably sung about a million times at shitty bars across Texas. One theory: He’s the only Southerner left on the show, and Southerners always win American Idol. (Kansas counts as the South, right? I’m calling David Cook a Southerner because I like my theory.) But now that Lee DeWyze swiped that Southern-man vote by singing a Skynyrd song last night (not one of the canonical ones, either!), Casey is good and fucked. The other explanation: If Sandra can win this season of Survivor by doing absolutely nothing for the entire time and just never getting kicked off, James might be able to sneak past the gatekeepers and win the whole shit just by being bland. It’s possible! That’s how Kris Allen won last year!
But yeah, no, Casey’s not winning. All the contestants got to pick one song for themselves tonight, and James went with one by something called Eric Hutchinson, which I’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again. Justifying his godawful pick, Casey tried to plant the I’m-a-songwriter thought-seed by saying that the song is like the ones he writes. If that’s true, Casey James writes some dogshit-ass songs. You’ve been warned, America. The song (already forgotten the title) was some loping, somnolent quasi-Mayer adult-contempo nothingness, and Casey seemed to be half-hearting it because he knew he had no chance in hell of winning.
Things only slightly got better when he sang the judges’ imagination-free pick, the actual Mayer song “Daughters”. Kara made a big point of being like “your audience is women and girls,” which essentially translated to “stop playing guitar solos”. He still played a guitar solo. “Daughters” was a bad choice for Casey just because it’s a bad song generally; as the father of a daughter, that’s some condescending bullshit right there, and I sure don’t need goddamn John Mayer giving me parenting advice. Casey’s version was prettily stripped-down, but it was also criminally boring, and you don’t get to win by being boring.
Crystal Bowersox, the presumed frontrunner for most of the season, also went into a weird sort of autopilot tonight; her autopilot just happens to be way better than Casey’s. Crystal’s chosen song was Melissa Ethridge’s “Come to My Window”, a disappointingly obvious choice and a telling one. In her first live appearance on the show, Crystal sang some Alanis song and looked utterly unmotivated. And after just about the entire season has gone by, she still feels almost exactly the same way, and gave a virtually identical performance, right down to the harmonica-holder thing that she really didn’t need. For the judges’ pick, she sang Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and sang it well, albeit in the least surprising way possible. It’s fun to watch her belt out gigantic notes, but it’s not transformative, the way it sometimes was when Siobhan Magnus did it. Crystal thinks she’s better than the show, and she’s not. She’s just a good contestant, and I hope for her sake that the Lilith Fair continues to exist in 2011.
Right now, everything seems lined up for DeWyze, who’s peaking at the perfect moment and who, unlike Crystal and Casey, seems to really, really give a shit how he does on the show. DeWyze’s choice, Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”, was just a brilliant gambit in so many ways. It stole Southern votes from Casey, it articulated his persona in a way a four-year-old could understand, and it perfectly conveyed the sensitive-growler aesthetic that he’s been pushing all season. Pretty good song, too!
This was the week the contestants visited their hometowns, though we didn’t see much of those hometowns. Casey and Crystal’s towns apparently both consist of strip-mall AT&T stores, and DeWyze lives on an airport runway. I’ve got half a mind to believe the show saved a couple of bucks by just filming all those segments in some outlying L.A. suburb. When DeWyze read aloud the text that he’d be singing motherfucking played-out “Hallelujah” (weirdly credited to “Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley”; what, we’re just giving the song to Buckley now?), he looked legitimately pissed. I don’t blame him; nobody ever needs to hear that song again, in any form, ever. But DeWyze seized the moment, though the weird thing about that moment was that his kinda-rough vocals didn’t actually play that big a role in it. It was all about the arrangement (really nicely building and crashing strings pushing things from skeletal to epic) and the staging (fake gospel-choir elegantly fanned out behind him). DeWyze, for his own part, just did a pretty good job singing the song while the big coronation unfolded all around him. I’m guessing that’ll be enough.