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American Idol: Top 10 Perform

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I'm back from my trip to New Orleans where I accidentally let some good live music hit my ears, so if I'm little harder on Idol tonight than usual, please forgive me. Thanks to officer/gentleman Leonard Pierce for covering for me while I was gone.

It was R&B and soul night tonight on Idol with Usher serving as the mentor and the unofficial theme being "backstage," as we saw what the contestants see when they walk onto the stage, and followed them off after their performances to wallow in stink or rejoice in lack of stink. 

It annoyed me when Siobhan told Usher that she's been a fan of his since she was 6 years old—you'd think she was meeting Tony Bennett on his deathbed or something.  She took on "Through the Fire" and Usher's main bit of advice was for her not to dress like an idiot.  I thought things were rough the minute the song started, with the cheesy '80's arrangement.  Siobhan had such a tough time at first hitting her high notes I was getting flashbacks to Paige from last week.  Then she did that thing that I hate that her fans love, when she screeches those notes at the end of the song. And you know what? Her outfit WAS stupid, despite Usher's advice. She looked like an aerobics instructor from Xanadu. The performance was rough and I think Siobhan knew it, from the pissed-off look on her face when she was done.  Kara filled me with rage by saying that "the screaming parts" worked—I'm sorry, if we're calling them "screaming parts," how is that a good thing? And Kara said, "You're entitled to an off night." I disagree. This is supposed to be one of the frontrunners of the season and she's getting credit for trying a hard song and failing?  Standards=lowered. At least Simon agreed with me.  Siobhan put on a quasi-brave face onstage but the camera that trailed her backstage revealed how she really felt, as she grabbed some napkins off the craft services table presumably for her tears.  Her competitors soothed her with heartwarming encouragements like "You were fine" and "Don't even worry about it." 

Casey took on "Hold On, I'm Comin" and Usher liked his "swag." I could tell from his opening guitar riffs that it was going to be a proverbial moment for Casey—he just looked so happy and it's an awesome song.  I didn't think he sounded like he was trying too hard to sing like a soul man—it felt like a mini concert, plus he got to do a guitar riff. I think the performance could have gone cheesy or generic but he pulled it off. One of his male friends in the audience looked like he wanted to kiss him on the mouth after it was over.  While the male judges were enthusiastic, Ellen thought it sounded generic, and Kara thought Casey has more range in him, which I think is completely bogus—I think this is his niche and going "acoustic" doesn't mean shit.  Casey's behind-the-scenes reaction was markedly different from Siobhan's, in that he was, you know, happy.

Big Mike sang India.Arie's "Ready for Love", which he performed on a stool behind the judges in order to be closer to his audience.  The lights were shining brightly through Michael's ears and there were chimes involved. The judges and I thought he sang quite well, but while Mike is definitely not on the "this season sucks so bad" scale of the contestants, he's not my favorite. I think he's got a strong voice and he's talented but I don't think there's anything especially unique about what he does.  But as Simon said at least it was a more believable performance and didn't involve Michael being a big ol' karaoke-style cheeseball.

For some reason before I even saw Didi start singing with Usher, I thought, "She's going home soon."  In a season full of such mediocrity, she unfortunately doesn't even seem to have a toehold as something as specific as "the big guy" or "the young kid" or "the guy with the hot body who shouldn't be there." She's "the pretty girl" but that applies to a lot of them.  Didi took on "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and began crying after she sang it to Usher. He advised her to bring that emotion to her performance, which she didn't do whatsoever.  I actually didn't think she was terribly off-melody but the performance was generic, oddly-paced, and she looked drawn to boot.  The judges completely felt the same way but what was most noteworthy about the whole scenario was Ryan trying to force her to tell everyone why that song made her cry.  Two or three times he asked her why it meant so much to her and she dodged the question, to the point where the judges asked him to knock it off. Finally he just decided to go ahead and be a jerk and say "She sang that song for someone: we can leave it at that." I don't know if Ryan was trying to garner her sympathy votes or trying to make the show more interesting but it made him look like a creepy dick.  If anything I came out of that scenario feeling more positively towards Didi for not giving in. Ick.

Tim Urban's performance pretty much sums up the direction this season is going in, and why I'm almost on the verge of looking forward to seeing who sucks worst as opposed to seeing who can salvage a good performance.  Usher does what all the celeb mentors do, which is have at least one protégé sing to a pretend woman.  Tim sang "Sweet Love" and I am pissed at him for messing with and sucking the life out of such a good song. While the judges thought he mostly sang in tune (high praise), I thought Tim had a rough time navigating the high-to-low transitions of the song. Moreover I hated his expression while he attempted to connect with the camera. I think I can illustrate his eyebrows and eyes with symbols right here:  /. . \  To his credit I think he improved a little, vocal-wise, towards the second half of the song but he's really the Sanjaya of the season.  The judges agreed with me, and got annoyed with him for laughing while they all told him how bad he was. "Why are you laughing?! " Kara implored and while I wrote, "Because he's the devil," Simon said "He's laughing because it doesn't make any difference what we say.  You're gonna smile, audience is gonna vote for you and nobody cares and you'll be here next week, so well done."  Ryan congratulated Tim for all his achievements and Tim decided it was a great night. 

Next we segued into to a couple of performances that would be just OK if they took place a season or two ago but were strong for this season. Andy Garcia looked like Hispanic Adam Lambert as his hair was teased up into a pompadour for Chris Brown's "Forever." Once again, he was on the acoustic guitar, but this time accompanied not just by a bass and drum but a string section too. It was a nice arrangement but while Andrew's voice has a nice husky timber, he's just a fine singer, not great, and I'm surprised the judges let him get away by basically reprising what he did before.  I'd rather see him be good at something different than be good again at taking an up-tempo pop song and putting the guitar to it.  I'm not sure though that Andrew needs to show more personality, as Simon claimed.  I think he seems mild and nice and I don’t need more than that. Katie as well did OK with "Chain of Fools" but imagine how Carly or Melinda would have handled it and I think Katie would look pretty bland in comparison.  The judges can't decide still what her genre is which I think is a clear sign that Katie's squarely in the middle of the pack this season.  I agreed with Simon that Randy calling Katie a "young Christina" was ludicrous (and not the kind that makes your booty go [smack-noise]).

Lee did "Treat Her Like a Lady," which started off with a thumping bass drum, which got the audience into it.  I missed the "Like-a-like-a treat her like" backups but it was a strong performance from Lee. I thought the performance was a lot like Casey's, actually, white boy soul-rock, and actually I thought Casey's was more fun since he had the band and backup singers up there with him. The judges seemed to prefer Lee’s, though, maybe because Lee seemed to have a bit more confidence onstage, whereas Casey hasn't had that problem. He still has that goatee though. Simon said, "I've always believed in you.  This was the night your life might have changed forever." It didn’t seem so ridiculous at that precise moment but just try saying that out loud to someone tomorrow.  

Crystal's big surprise this week was that she was going to wear high heels and play the piano (two things which I never thought went together) on "Midnight Train to Georgia." She also showed a bit of cleavage. Overall I thought Usher was a whatever mentor—not terribly insightful but not as smarmy as I expected him to be. I felt like he actually seemed legitimately respectful of Crystal's talents, however.  I agreed with Simon that she didn't look all that comfy in front of the pianey, and I didn't think she hit the softer low notes at the beginning of the song, but after she warmed up she put all the other female vocalists to shame as she always does.  Randy compared her favorably to Gladys Knight. While Simon warned her against changing too much to suit the judges' input, I sort of liked seeing her without the guitar, swaying a little bit. 

We closed out with Aaron, whom I could tell was going to bring the funk when he gave us a double thumbs-up in his rolled-up-sleeves jacket.  He covered "Ain't No Sunshine."  Performances like Siobhan's, Tim's and Didi's lowered my expectations so greatly that I found myself tolerating Aaron much more than I did before. I get goose bumps when I hear a good version of "Ain't No Sunshine" and that didn't happen tonight, but I'm going to give Aaron high praise and say he wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other performers tonight. The judges agreed with me although Simon compared Aaron to a cupcake and I'd rather have a cupcake, please.

—I predict we'll see that clip of Ryan jumping up behind Tim and Casey on The Soup on Friday.

—I wonder why the costume designer on the show hates Katie so much.

—Why does Lee's goatee bother me but Casey's facial hair doesn't? I don't know. Fickle is woman.

—When did we get too tired to say "swagger" and just started going with "swag"?

—I'm becoming convinced that this season of Idol is being hosted by Evil Ryan Seacrest. How else to explain him being so adamant about making Simon and Ellen kiss, being on Tim's side, trying to educate Kara on what is and is not a funny joke, getting Andrew's mom yelling into Simon's mic, picking on Kara's outfit and his attempt to talk ebonics with Randy? Only Evil Ryan would do that. Maybe Good Ryan got fat again and he's not allowed back out until he slims down.

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