Season 9 of Fox's smash hit American Idol started out a little bland. Instead of last season's flashy front-runner Adam Lambert, we got dreadlocked mom Crystal Bowersox. Loose cannon Paula Abdul's seat at the judge's table was filled by the more grounded Ellen Degeneres. Katrina Darrel (aka "Bikini Girl") was replaced with Larry, a 62-year-old man who sings about pants. Where had all the water cooler talk gone?
Now, as Bowersox joins competitors Lee DeWyze and Casey James in a battle for the coveted title, the competition is in full swing. Let's take a moment to review the best (and worst) performances of the past four months:
"Falling Slowly" performed by Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox
My favorite song of the competition, despite the camera's nausea-inducing oscillations. (Dear American Idol, MOTION SICKNESS IS NOT ROMANTIC. Please stop swooping during love songs. And... don't let Casey win. Thanks!) Lee and Crystal have fantastic chemistry and sound wonderful together. One of the rare Idol moments where singing was an art. Beautiful and brilliant.
"Straight Up" performed by Andrew Garcia
Andrew Garcia's lovely acoustic version of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" was fun, fresh, and inventive. Though Andrew never quite lived up to the standard set by that first song, he had a lovely, easy style that carried him farther into the competition than anyone expected.
"Midnight Train To Georgia" performed by Crystal Bowersox
Crystal exists as a shimmering beacon of hope for all of us who tune in looking for an actual singing competition. Her voice is flawless, and her storytelling abilities are unparalleled alongside the other contestants. Despite the too-close-for-comfort backup singers and Crystal's relatively un-Crystal presentation, "Midnight Train To Georgia" was one of the most moving moments of the competition. The sweetness and purity of Crystal's voice on the first few notes alone was enough to elicit goosebumps. Best hippie mom pop star ever.
"Pants On The Ground" performed by Larry
The best performance of the season, if not of all time. Larry's emotional conviction as he delivered lines such as "pants on the ground," and "lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground" was brilliant, and his phrasing put him in a class of his own. If it wasn't for that pesky age limit, I'm pretty sure he would've been our American Idol. 62 is the new 28, right?
"Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?" performed by Michael Lynche and Casey James
The best part about Casey's duet with Big Mike was that Casey tied his hair back. The worst part was everything else. I mean... who picked that song? Really. Because I find it extremely hard to believe that either of those guys felt any real pull to the closing credits music from "Don Juan Demarco".
"Ruby Tuesday" performed by Lacey Brown
Nothing is as representative of Season 9's peculiar brand of boring as Lacey Brown's slow, bland rendition of "Ruby Tuesday." By all estimations, it should have worked. It's a song about a free spirit! And the singer has a weird voice and crazy hair! But, alas, it was not to be. Lacey meandered through a dirge-like performance that seemed to pass without a single moment of story or communication. "Ruby Tuesday" is a jukebox favorite of mine, but I'll save my quarters on this version.
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love" performed by Tim Urban
Tim Urban can't sing.
There. I said it.
In addition: he could never sing. He was just cute. Which, y'know, is good for him, but ultimately not so good for the rest of us. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" included lackluster floor-sliding, inappropriate bounciness, and a striped shirt that made me angry for a reason I can't quite put my finger on. Dislike.
"Kiss From A Rose" performed by Lee DeWyze
Lee's never been the most charismatic performer, which is problematic when the song he's singing is a) overplayed, b) not a fantastic song to begin with, and c) almost completely dependent on the charisma of the person singing it. He looked defeated from the moment he started singing (or maybe he was just scared that Jamie Foxx was going to get weirdly intense with him again). Sidenote: HOW CRAZY WAS JAMIE FOXX? "If you can get past looking me looking in your eyes and asking you to seduce me, you can really perform that song." Yes. Obviously a benchmark of performative success is being able to make it through a faux seduction by the lone Oscar-winning actor with a tattooed skull.
"Through the Fire" performed by Siobhan Magnus
When your biggest strength (in this case, Siobhan's ability to scream on pitch) is also your worst enemy, you know you're in for a rough week. After being warned by Usher not to dress like an idiot, Siobhan showed up to her Top Ten performance wearing a sarong, a pleathery corset / tube top hybrid, and the ugliest boots I've seen in my life. She then proceeded to yell loudly and make uncomfortable, nervous faces for a few minutes as the judges squirmed uncomfortably. When Simon commented that he was "getting bored of the screaming at the end" I was confused. What about the screaming in the middle, and the beginning?
Looking back, it hasn't been too bland after all... and with the competition in its final stages, every performance matters more than ever! I predict that Casey will go, then Lee, leaving Crystal as the next American Idol. That is, unless they remove that age restriction and let Larry back in the game...