By People Staff
Updated April 21, 2010 12:00 AM

The opener to Idol Gives Back week was an hour of inspirational music mentored by the beautiful and thoughtful Alicia Keys. She stressed emotional connection and depth, and whenever she spoke she seemed to be floating in her own tranquil space.

She should anchor the network news.

The general buzz has been that this is turning into a contest between Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox — very likely, but Crystal (singled out by Keys as a favorite) definitely owned the night.

This was the first time Crystal didn’t accompany herself through a song. Well, it turns out she doesn’t need it. Her performance of “People Get Ready” was one of the best vocals in the history of the show. Uh-huh! And at the end she even sobbed! (Because her father was in the audience, she said afterward.) Randy gave her a standing ovation. Kara called her “Mama Sox.” Why? Because “you just schooled all those contestants!” Simon concluded: “THAT was inspirational.”

Lee sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” — a peculiar choice, since it happens to be total bummer about a poor boy swallowed up by the pitiless city. Lee’s version tactfully left out most of the unhappy lyrics, however, and the judges were thrilled. “I think you are a great artist,” said Randy.

Siobhan Magnus, who certainly has no problem with giving herself emotionally to a song, performed “When You Believe,” for once softening her high note — what Keys called her “money spot.” Kara thought it was too dramatic, closer to a number from a musical. Randy and Simon concurred that the song was a poor choice — and Simon didn’t like her butterfly accessories. “It’s a shame,” he said. Not just about the butterflies. He meant the performance.

Casey James started Fleetwood Mac‘s “Don’t Stop” in a higher register than the original, then knocked it back down. He doesn’t really have an original style, and the judges expressed the unanimous sentiment that he’s become no better than consistently entertaining. “You have to be GREAT right now,” said Ellen, “and it wasn’t great.” Simon called the song a lazy choice that delivered “zero emotion.”

Tim Urban’s version of “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls was generically upbeat. Ellen compared him to the soup of the day, sometimes to her liking, sometimes not — and this was not. (Why do carp about Ellen? At least her critiques are funny.) Simon, giving Tim continued points for having improved, nonetheless considered the performance a letdown.

Aaron Kelly took perhaps the biggest gamble with “I Believe I Can Fly” (which he began singing at age 5). It was like watching a little boy roping a dragon, but by the end he’d landed a big, juicy anthem. “You hit it, and you started flying,” said Kara. Simon said it was, essentially, unlistenable, but he was impressed by Aaron’s gutsiness.

Michael Lynche, who revealed that he came to Idol with his own list of some 200 songs to keep in mind from week to week, sang “Hero.” By then a certain inspiration fatigue was beginning to set in. Kara said his version was unrecognizable (“Sorry — oops,” she added), and Simon complained that the song was from a Spider Man movie. However, he said, “I still think you’re going to be around next week.” –Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Whom did you vote for? And who deserves to go home this week?Michael Becker/PictureGroup