The night’s theme was R&B and soul with the impossibly smooth Usher acting as mentor. His most consistent advice to the singers was to connect with the audience, the camera, the viewers.
Despite a bout of walking pneumonia, Lee DeWyze was the standout with “Treat Her Like a Lady.’” He grabbed the song by the scruff of the neck and gave it a vigorous shake. Randy‘s response? “Unbelievable!” Ellen dubbed it the “best performance of the night!” Kara called it “amazing!” And Simon, who has always wondered when Lee would finally exhibit some star power, said: “This was the night your life may have changed forever.”
Simon, you understand, never speaks in exclamation points.
This also may have been the comeback week for beleaguered Andrew Garcia, who performed an acoustic version of Chris Brown’s “Forever.” I still think he has one of the best voices this season, and this version reminded viewers of his syncopated ease. “Andrew is back,” said Randy — and Kara agreed: “That’s one giant leap in the right direction.” Simon said he’d been “miles better” than in recent weeks, although he still finds Andrew’s personality “boring.”
At that point Ryan allowed Andrew’s mother to come to the judges’ table and jokingly berate Simon. This is bad form, Ryan: Parents are not to be used as props on national television.
Siobhan Magnus kicked off the night with Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” Surprisingly, Usher asked her about her wardrobe and suggested she make if stylistically coherent. (She didn’t.) She’s not terribly coherent as a singer, either. She consistently missed a key high note, and she shrieked AGAIN! But the judges were forgiving: Randy praised her for “the courageousness and the conviction” she shows every week. But Simon was less generous. “I’m getting bored with the screaming,” he said.
But then we saw her walking backstage into the green room, flicking at a piece of food on the table of catered snacks, and it was very sad, like the Little Match Girl out of matches in the cold. If the contestants could all be seen meandering around, dejected, no one ever would be voted off.
It was a good week for Casey James, who sang “Hold on I’m Comin’” by Sam and Dave. He was confident and revved up and rootsy. He smiles a lot. That’s a good thing. He has a good smile.
Michael Lynche performed “Ready for Love” sitting down and playing the guitar, his eyes closed in memory or emotion or, you know, something. It was very pretty, if a little forced in its sensitivity, but the judges were impressed and moved. “That was beautiful,” said Ellen. “BEAUTIFUL!”
Crystal Bowersox, the show’s bluesy earth mother, put down the guitar and played the piano for “Midnight Train to Georgia.” (And she put on high heels.) By the time she stood up with her hand mic, her vocals were swooping, and she had full command of the song. “You’re in it to win it,” said Ellen. Simon thought the song choice was “sensational,” but fretted that she might be led into a wrong-headed glam style.
Didi Benami turned “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” into a throbbing torch song–“a very emotional song,” as Usher put it, “for a very emotional young lady.” Actually, it was histrionic, and got under everyone’s skin. Simon thought it was “like swimming in jelly.” Ryan pressured her to reveal why the song meant so much to her. Presumably it had something to do with the dear friend whose death inspired her to audition, but Didi resisted playing along with him.
A point in her favor: Ryan is determined lately to interview everyone in camera range. He’s like the Larry King of pop.
Whenever Tim Urban comes out to sing, the judges go on their weekly hunting safari and take aim. He performed Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” a tough ballad under the best of circumstances. Randy used the phrase “singing waiter,” and Ellen said, “You were walking like you were sneaking into a bedroom.” Simon threw up his hands: “I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever what we say. You’ll be here next week – so well done.”
Tim just laughed and laughed, as if being slaughtered were the same as being tickled.
Katie Stevens tackled Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” The judges, overall, liked the performance – and her voice does keep getting stronger – but they bickered over how much talent she really has, what musical genre she should settle into, how young or old she should sound. The surprising maturity of her singing personality always seems to throw them into a tizzy. Ryan asked her whom she’d listen to, and she answered, “Myself.”
Aaron Kelly ended the night with a very tremulous “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” He seemed to sense a very serious thunderstorm approaching. The judges’ critiques were mild. Simon compared him to a cupcake and concluded he’d be staying.
So, au revoir, Didi? –Tom Gliatto
Tell us: Did you agree with the judges? Who had the best performance tonight? And who will be going home tomorrow?