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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Idol: 9 Finalists Compete

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While last week I only accurately predicted two song choices for tonight, I think that's still pretty good since there almost 200 Lennon/McCartney songs in the library. Hey, did you know that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in the Beatles? Somehow, probably due to some copyright issue, they never mentioned the band's name in the first segment of the show but they alluded to it awkwardly by spelling out the Beatles’ names and the song titles in the band's bass drum font. Sir Paul himself even taped some words of encouragement for the contestants but didn't mentor the singers, probably because he was too intimidated to come after Miley Cyrus was there.

Aaron took on "Long and Winding Road," which is one of my least favorite Beatles songs. I think the original is schlocky and sappy and, sorry to say, Aaron didn't change it up much at all. I think it was so slow, in fact, that it didn't do his singing any favors. He didn't sound bad per se, but I think he can sound stronger and better than that.  "Aaargh, here we go," was how Randy prefaced his comments, and the judges all felt the same way.  The best part of the whole segment was when Simon asked Aaron why he chose that song, and Aaron said the lyrics were relevant to his experience on Idol, and Simon rolled his eyes hard and said he wished he hadn't asked.

I'm starting to get the impression that Katie's a sharper person than she is a singer.  When Ryan asked her which of the five prom invitations she'd accept this year, she answered that if everyone sent in their phone bills, she'd pick the one who voted for her the most, and she seemed kind of cute and clever in the little pre-song packages. She sang "Let It Be," another Macca classic that, I'm sorry, I think is sort of a drag (it's too hands-swaying-in-the-air-with-lighters for me).  She sang it very nicely, and I liked the little gospel twists she threw in there (which Randy interpreted as R&B, Simon as country).  However, I don’t think it went very far beyond “nice.” I think that partially because of her rough past few weeks and the fact that this is sort of a crappy season, the judges gave her higher praise than she would have gotten had she been on the show last season, where she might have gotten more criticism for not doing more with it.

I thought it was an interesting choice that Andrew picked "Can't Buy Me Love" and I also am intrigued by his slow transformation into Latin Roy Orbison but the arrangement was sort of a mess.  It couldn't decide if it was rock or blues or swing and while I gave Andrew points for trying to punch it up with a few shouts and high notes, in the end it actually got a little boring for me.  Randy and Ellen liked it a lot but Kara and Simon disagreed, and Simon actually found it corny, which I think was a good way to describe it.

Was Michael's performance over-the-top and dramatic? Sure. I would have never thought I'd see someone kick the air after singing "Eleanor Rigby." But at least I was entertained by his version of it—I thought it was an interesting choice for him, plus the arrangement was smart (keeping the strings and adding a heavy beat), and of course he can sing.  There haven't been that many moments this season where I went "Well, that's something new!" so if at least it wasn't a total and complete success, he at least got my attention in a good way. I'd say the judges by and large felt the same way—not entirely sure that it was the best thing ever but happy with seeing something different and done relatively well. 

Crystal took on "Come Together" (which I predicted!) and added a didgeridoo to the arrangement, which I thought didn't add anything, although her rapport with the player was cute. I thought Kara actually summed up what I thought about the song: that it was one of her favorite performances of Crystal's because she seemed happy, slinky, sexy and playful as she played it, and she had a bit of a Bonnie Raitt vibe (actually, I wrote Tracy Chapman/Melissa Etheridge).  Again, not one of my very favorite Beatles songs but she sang it well and put her own spin on it. Simon liked the performance more than Mike's, explaining that Crystal’s was actually contemporary and recordable, as opposed to Michael's, which was like a musical.

Randy happened to channel my thoughts on Tim, because he says he evaluates on whether "it's a good Tim performance." And yes, for Tim, his "All My Lovin'" was quite adequate and even cute. I liked his guitar (both the cherry red color and when he played it without the band joining in) and the song fit his teen-idol face.  Was there anything outstanding about it? Was it better than the other Idols or just about anybody who can sing pretty well? No. But as I wrote, it was "not a horrible disaster." And what more do you want from Tim?

I didn't expect Casey to do what he did tonight, which was remind me of how much I used to love a song and why.  I was surprised that he went for "Jealous Guy," since I figure that as a Lennon solo song that is not "Instant Karma!" or "Imagine," it's maybe not as well-known as some of the other choices tonight. Also, Lennon sings it in a high register so I wasn't sure where Casey would go with it but I really liked it—there might have been goosebumps involved. The tonal arrangement in the phrase "I made you cry" is so great, and while Casey changed the song up a lot, I'm so glad he kept that part the way it is.  The cello and acoustic guitar arrangement was a nice choice, too.  The judges adored the song choice, the arrangement, the execution, and that Casey showed a new side tonight too.  OK, so Crystal is my favorite girl, but I think now Casey is my favorite guy.

I think the judges let Siobhan off remarkably easy tonight. I actually thought Katie turned in a ballsier performance tonight than Siobhan. She delivered, as Kara said, a very polite, restrained version of "Across the Universe," even with a bit of fakey stage gesturing.  As Kara also said, she hit the notes, but it was…boring.  It sounded like something I'd hear as background music at my aunt's house. Simon made the mistake of asking her why she connected with that song and she accused the judges of trying to change who she is as a person and take her spirit away from her and cue onstage waterworks and subsequent audience adoration and me rolling my eyes this time.

I don't particularly like "Hey Jude" as a choice for any of the male singers because I think the song is sort of a cop-out in this type of situation. Of course people are going to feel uplifted and sing along at the end, so to me it's not a very interesting selection.  While the judges mostly liked it except for the bagpiper that descended down the stairs during the song ("that guy got separated from the parade," Ellen noted), I never got into it and so the bagpiper just seemed ridiculous. I didn't like Lee's gravelly voice doing the song, I didn't like the way the "na-na-na's" partway through the song descended instead of ascended, and I didn't think he hit the high notes. I think if it were a different song the judges wouldn't have liked it so much.

While I think Casey and Crystal were the clear winners of the night there were no clear losers except for Aaron, I'd say, so it might be the kid's last night.

—They are running out of new and exciting ways to introduce the show.

—I don't have a ton to say about the contestants' thoughts on the other contestants, except that I kinda got the impression that the singers don't love Tim, whereas everybody adores Andrew.  I thought Crystal got points for saying, about Andrew and Lee, "I'm so glad they can be together and get married and have lots of little Danny Gokey babies."

—What do we think about Randy defending Michael's "musical" performance by saying that Glee is popular? I don't think that means the kids are about to start downloading the soundtracks to musicals anytime soon.

—Hey great, let's encourage the people in the audience who scream out stupid shit while Simon talks, even though he is often the only judge saying something correct.