"This is their moment. This is your show. This is American Idol."
There was a slightly new approach to how the show began...
Viewers were taken backstage to get a perspective from the contestants' point of view. I was very excited by this beginning because I encourage stepping outside of a comfort zone to explore new ideas, concepts, and activities in life. The "backstage view" became a sub-theme of the night. After every performance, the audience was given a brief glimpse of the contestants as they reacted to the judges' critiques and interacted with their fellow singers. Ever careful of getting too serious, the judges were backstage too "making out," according to Simon. Ellen and Simon kissed while Randy and Kara gave each other a little peck. Their light-hearted banter cracked me up. The judges provide an extra bonus to watching this reality show! You never know the antics these exhibitionists will regale you with each week.
After all the silliness, Ryan showed a video clip about the guest mentor. Then, there was a mini-interview with Usher. This gave the audience a chance to become familiar with him as an artist and critic. Again, there was a nice balance of the serious with the humorous when Ryan joked about Usher teaching Aaron some dance moves. Usher explained that it would take more than one session to dance like him, and Ryan countered with the fact that it took him two sessions. What an engaging conversation between the pair!
Having enjoyed a little bit of fun and humor, the show began with three power singers: Siobhan Magnus, Casey James, and Michael Lynche. This was my least favorite performance by Siobhan, and I thought the judges were very gracious with their critiques, all things considered. Siobhan and Crystal have really been heralded as the stars of this season, so it was a nice change of pace to see that Siobhan can make mistakes like the other contestants. Unfortunately, she didn't take the feedback as well as I would have hoped. When the glimpse backstage was provided, Siobhan had a napkin to her face and wouldn't face the cameras. The rest of the contestants swarmed around her with words of praise. She might have been crying, or she might have been angry about the feedback. Either way, I expected a little more grace from Siobhan.
Countering this rather pitchy and awkward performance was Casey's. This was the most relaxed I've ever seen him. He showed a lot of confidence, and I could imagine hearing "Hold on, I'm Coming" sung by James on the radio. All the judges thought so as well; Randy exclaimed how this was a hot night for Casey. Michael was also well prepared for singing "Ready for Love." I'm ready for a less gloomy song choice too! I also disagreed with Usher's advice about connecting with the audience. Yes, singers need to connect with the audience a little bit, but that connection is not the primary reason why fans swarm to the concerts. Music stars, and all celebrities, are about the unattainable. That is part of the fun and glamor. The general public follows these celebrities because they want to get caught up in unattainable lifestyles. People wish they could be a part of it. If that unattainable and distant quality wasn't there, the fans wouldn't be so obsessed with the artist. Lynche also marked a ground breaking moment with his performance: This was the first time a contestant sang behind the judges to be in the middle of the audience. Ellen took the opportunity to make a joke about singing behind their backs. Little did Michael know, he would start a trend that would resurface in the following week's performances.
The next two performances were my least favorites of the night. First, Didi Benami was too dramatic. Simon complained how "it was like swimming in jelly." Interestingly enough, I agreed with Simon's critiques. It was just too old-fashioned and stuck in the past. At least Didi took the critiques like a woman. She didn't start bawling like last time. She made her choice to try and branch out with other singing styles and accepted the consequences. Layering another bad performance on top of Didi's was "Teflon Tim." Really...why America? WHY? He is not a strong enough singer to still be in this competition. I really hate that he stole a spot in the top from more deserving contestants. He hasn't impressed me since Episode 20 when he sang "Hallelujah." I was fooled to think that he belonged in the top 12 but the top 10? Why haven't people seen through his charming smile and good looks? There are way too many teens watching this show! He is not following the judges' advice anymore, and I keep hoping that he will be voted out off each week. Simon expressed my frustrations when he said: "No one cares. He doesn't care. Smile and you will be here next week, so good job!" Thank goodness a serious competitor sang next.
The "surprise of the night" award is given to Andrew Garcia with his rendition of "Forever." I've said this before, and I will say it again: Any singer that can reinvent a song to make you like it when you originally disliked or even hated it marks the true genius of an artist. That is what Andrew did for me. All of the judges loved it, and Simon said it was "one giant leap in the right direction." When Simon criticized Andrew for being boring, Momma Garcia began to talk and get really animated. It was a cute exchange between Mrs. Garcia and Simon, and the pair hugged at the end of it. After all the additional exposure and character defense, I was sure that Andrew was going to be safe. This was further reinforced when Andrew said "I love you, Mama" behind stage. It was an "AWWWW" moment! Unfortunately, the next performance was cold and flat.
The next two performances were as different as night and day. First, there was Katie. I am getting sick and tired of her wannabe R&B style. She is not a good enough singer to compete with the artists in that field. Randy and Kara are reinforcing a bad artist genre for an impressionable youth. She was not like a "young Christina!" What singing is Randy listening to? Again, the judges fought over whether she can sing R&B or country. I don't see why Katie won't give country a chance. She limits herself by scoffing at Simon's well-intentioned ideas and critique. Whenever she is on stage, I see a star-struck teenager that wants to mimic all the big name divas. On the other hand, Lee delivered an amazing performance with his rendition of "Treat Her Like a Lady." The judges gushed over it. Randy and Ellen said it was "unbelievable." Simon was ready with his wise words of wisdom: "This was the night your life may have changed forever." His backstage moment was extremely touching too. I agree with Simon. Lee is the lead male singing contestant who will give Crystal and Siobhan a run for their money.
The final two performances of the night were both disappointing and flat. I was devastated to see Crystal's surprise. Oh, Crystal...why? It was really unnecessary! The whole performance felt very cabaret, and Crystal was awkward behind the piano. I guess the two big female giants are entitled to "off days." Simon imparted more words of wisdom: "Don't let this process suck the identity out of you." Crystal's retaliation was a bit unnecessary. I don't always agree wit the contestants' decisions to "talk back" to the judges. Sometimes they come off as "high and mighty" or abrasive. The judges, although harsh, are trying to make the contestants better singers. They should really take the advice that is offered rather than make excuses or explain away a bad decision. The final performance of the night was Aaron Kelly. I simply hated this performance! It gets my "worst of the night" award...which is really pathetic considering how bad Tim's and Didi's songs were. I couldn't help myself. I kept comparing the song to Kris Allen's version, which is extremely poignant and memorable. I love his rendition. Aaron didn't have a chance to do the song justice considering Kris' version was just performed last year. Plus, his "I know" part was still weird and repetitive. Aaron could also be riding on his good looks rather than his singing talents at this point in the competition.
Overall, it was a rather mediocre night. There really isn't too much of a reason to watch this episode other than Andrew and Momma Garcia. The antics at the beginning were cute but not enough to counter the mediocrity of the episode.
Here is the full lineup of all the contestants and what they sang for this episode. I included as much information as I remembered:
Siobhan Magnus, 19, MA, "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan
Casey James, 27, TX, "Hold on, I'm Coming" by Sam and Dave
Michael Lynche, 26, FL, "Ready for Love" by India Arie
Didi Benami, 23, TN, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" by Jimmy Ruffin
Tim Urban, 20, TX, "Sweet Love" by Anita Baker
Andrew Garcia, 24, CA, "Forever" by Chris Brown
Katie Stevens, 17, CT, "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
Lee Dewyze, 23, IL, "Treat Her Like a Lady" by The Cornelius Brothers
Crystal Bowersox, 24, OH, "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight
Aaron Kelly, 16, PA, "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers
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Adrianna Simone (Adrianna)
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