There have been many signs that American Idol's ninth season is a bust: flagging ratings, no standout star, the fact that Simon Cowell isn't even bothering to come up with soul-crushing critiques anymore (remember when he told a hopeful he resembled a "bush baby"?). But last night the show got an unexpected pick-me-up ... from its guest mentor, Harry Connick Jr. Guiding the Top Five through jazzy Frank Sinatra songs, Connick showed the kind of charm and creativity that has eluded this year's cast. He sat down to arrange the tracks ("You think Shania Twain was up in here doing this?"), talked shop with the singers (saving Aaron Kelly from concluding on a dissonant note) and joked that his wife finds Lee DeWyze cute (that would be model Jill Goodacre, as in, "I'm trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre!"). Connick Jr. even stayed onstage during the live show, accompanying the singers on piano and showing them what a real star looks like in rumpled chic. Here's how the night broke down:
Ones to Watch:
• Crystal Bowersox turned out a giant vocal to match her huge back tattoo on "Summer Wind" (amazing what a strapless gown will reveal). The performance was excellent, but you wouldn't have gathered that from the judges' talk: "If you survive next week" and "I expect better," Cowell said, while Kara DioGuardi spoke about "not losing yourself." It seems the tide has turned in favor of ...
• Lee DeWyze, the new judges' pet. His rendition of "That's Life" was solid, but once again not game-changing. Cowell gushed that Connick Jr. brought out DeWyze's personality and confidence. Do Simon and Co. have money riding on their favorite former paint salesman or what?
• Michael Lynche sings with a 12-piece band and has just been waiting for the right moment to bust out that fedora. He was expecting a massive response to "The Way You Look Tonight" and got it, but the judges seem more interested in patting themselves on the back for "saving" him than offering up solid critiques.
One to Wipe From Your Memory With Bleach:
• Casey James seemed to know his usual growl wasn't going to cut it on smooth Ol' Blue Eyes week, so he opted to do the patented Constantine Maroulis smolder, staring down the camera as seductively as possible. This somehow backfired, and DioGuardi said he sounded like a lamb.
Thanks for the Memories:
• Aaron Kelly allowed Idol stylists to comb his hair rather than mousse it into a weapon, which was a good thing. His nervous knee shake was a bad thing. The teen's "Fly Me to the Moon" was mostly on pitch, but lacked heft and swagger (and no, Kara, you can't learn charm). He may be packing his bags as Lady Gaga takes the stage to perform her Abba homage "Alejandro" tonight.