If the winner of American Idol is determined by how many tears were shed during the final singers' hometown visits, Lee DeWyze is a lock. The 24-year-old DeWyze returned to Chicago, where he wept upon returning to the paint store where he used to work and sniffled his way through an acoustic performance of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer." His tears accelerated when he reached the "I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains" refrain as his parents mouthed the words and his voice cracked on cue.
This is exactly how American Idol loves their hometown visits to go: they're designed to maximize an emotional response from the finalists, who as DeWyze, Crystal Bowersox and Casey James discussed with Ryan Seacrest during an poorly paced 10-minute interview segment at the top of last night's show, are mentally and physically drained from the very exhausting Idol experience. As the trio explained how the competition took over their lives, they inadvertently made it sound a bit like joining a cult with a fancy benefits package — you've got to relocate, give up everything else in your life, participate in the group's activities nearly 24 hours a day, perform on demand and let yourself become emotionally ragged to the point of breakdown.
The show likes it best when contestants give themselves wholly to the process, explaining how Idol helped them grow up and become better artists. That's likely why DeWyze got to run his hometown reel third, after James kept a stiff upper lip during a visit to the Texas hospital ward where doctors saved his life and arm following a motorcycle accident. Bowersox stayed strong during her trip back to Ohio, losing her composure only when the show surprised her live by soundtracking her visit with one of her original songs, "Holy Toledo." Clearly overcome by shock, pride and relief, she told Seacrest, "I've been fighting all season long for some originals … [it's] the anthem for my city, it's given the area so much hope and that's what this is all about, man," she added as she exclaimed, "That's my song!" one last time. Bravo, Idol.
Forty-seven million votes were cast after the last three standing performed personal picks and judges' selections Tuesday night, and as expected, Bowersox and DeWyze advanced to next week's finale, which will mark Simon Cowell's final two episodes of Idol ever. There's been no word of his replacement (producers have said the decision will not be announced until after Season Nine's completion), but one of the most vocal candidates lobbying for his job was in the house last night, trumpeting the arrival of his "discovery" Travis Garland. Perez Hilton told Seacrest he spotted Garland — a former boy bander from the group NLT (which also featured Glee castmember Kevin McHale) — online when Garland posted his own take on the Justin Timberlake and T.I. song "Dead and Gone." The 20-year-old singer performed his debut solo single "Believe" as the show struggled to shoot him from every possible angle but close-up. The camera swooped around the stage grabbing shots of random dancers, the screen split into three frames, and Garland ended the performance a microscopic spec at the top of the staircase.
The subsequent Justin Bieber performance of "You Smile" and "Baby" was all close-ups and shots of the 16-year-old Canadian superstar's winning grin. He wrapped his quickie set with a drum solo and the sounds of hysterical shrieks from the crowd — and he didn't even have to shed a tear.