With just 14 days to go until American Idol crowns its Season Nine winner, is it a good idea to give Simon Cowell the opportunity to mock you for singing a tune from Free Willy? Is it wise to let your boyfriend wear nearly audibly loud American flag pants? (Actually, thinking of Kristy Lee Cook's patriotic grab "God Bless the USA," maybe that's a brilliant plan.)
The Final Four this year are certainly an unpolished group — even its standout star-in-the-making Crystal Bowersox prides herself on her earthy soul — which made for an interesting mix on a week devoted to songs from the big screen as guided by Jamie Foxx. Movies are about being awed by a huge artistic creation; the performances last night were fairly small. As the judges rightfully pointed out, the two duets — Lee DeWyze and Bowersox singing "Falling Slowly" from Once and Casey James and Michael Lynche teaming for "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" from Don Juan DeMarco — were better (and bigger) than the solo songs. And though it's nearly too late to matter now, new judge Ellen DeGeneres finally crammed in a few punch lines worthy of her pay grade, calling Free Willy "one of the classic, great movies of all time" and answering James and Lynche's duet with a simple reply: "As a matter of fact, yes, I have loved a woman."
One to Watch:
• At this point in the competition, there is only one: Crystal Bowersox. Showing good humor and good taste by selecting a song from Caddyshack, the show's blues mama cooled out Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright" with standout skills. It's in the hole!
• At times, Casey James and Lee DeWyze both look like they don't really want to be in the competition: James plays his seeming disinterest off as distracted cool, and Lee alternates quiet desperation with stoner distance. Both prefer to hide behind guitars, but James is by far the better player. His classical flourishes on "Loved a Woman" were his strongest contributions of the night, though his mellow ukulele take on Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" wasn't as weak as the judges implied; at times, it seemed like he was singing it how he'd imagine Eddie Vedder would, which wasn't necessarily a mistake. DeWyze fumbled by roughing up a sweet, silky song (Seal's "Kiss From a Rose") and responding to the judges' first negative critique in weeks with a deer-in-headlights stare. Last year, Adam Lambert blew the doors off the Idol theater with "Born to Be Wild" — DeWyze should have been taking notes. Unbridled passion translates better than half-hearted scruffiness on TV.
Thanks for the Memories:
• Randy Jackson may well have broken Michael Lynche's heart by telling him he's "an R&B dude" after he sang "Will You Be There." Lynche has been hiding an identity crisis under his massive physique all season long: this man thinks he's a rocker, not a crooner. His picks have included tracks by John Mayer, Kate Bush and Nickelback. He wants to wield that acoustic guitar. But the fact that Kara DioGuardi and Cowell's banter over the "Willy whale" was more interesting than his song was not a good sign. Season Nine is about blues, not smooth, and Lynche will likely be the odd man out tonight.