On tonight's American Idol, the Top 10 are mentored by Usher, and he straight-up tells them that he is going to be honest with them and might hurt their feelings a little to try to push them.
Siobhan Magnus says she has been a fan of Usher since she was 6 or 7, which reminds me just how young she is. Usher talks to her about her wardrobe choices for her performance, which is, by the way, "Through the Fire." He tells her not to make a choice that is completely distracting from her singing. She looks pretty normal from the hips up, but has some weird shoes on. However, once she starts singing, I think maybe she would have wanted to pick something more distracting because for a whole swath of the song, she is completely off pitch. Plus, she goes for a bunch of those big screamy notes. Some of them are OK, some of them are not. But the middle-range stuff is really not good tonight. Randy Jackson says she was a little all over the place, though he still likes her courage for taking on the song. But, "It wasn't your best performance at all," he closes. Ellen DeGeneres says she looked at the judges when she went off like a hiker who lost his way. Kara DioGuardi says it should have worked for her, but it didn't. But up until this point, she has delivered. Simon Cowell says it sounded like she'd run a marathon and was singing while she was running and out of breath. He also thinks she looks all over the place. Simon says, "If that was the first time I'd heard you ..." "But it's not," she whines at him. Don't do that! It goes on and on (why is this episode two hours again?), and when Ryan is finally sending it to commercial, Siobhan looks like she is tearing up. Go to commercial, go to commercial!
Ugh, after commercial, we get "a look backstage," and we see Siobhan stalking backstage and ignoring her fellow contestants because she is so upset. I don't want to see that. Let them work it out alone!
Casey James is singing "Hold On, I'm Comin'," and Usher thinks he's making it happen and that this is great song choice. I'm going to agree with him on that because Casey rocks it out and holds his own even with a seeming cast of thousands on stage with him (backup singers and horn section). Randy says it was another hot night for him and the perfect selection. Ellen says he is consistently good, but to her this felt a little generic. Kara says he needs to show off more range and she thinks he has more. Simon says this was his strongest week so far because it sounded authentic and impressive.
Mike Lynche takes on India.Arie's "Ready for Love" (swoon), and Usher says the ladies will dig him. He tells Mike to make sure he projects his energy to the back of the room and through the camera. He says that is totally part of his game. Weirdly, they have him sitting, playing guitar, on the mini-stage behind the judges so their backs are to him. He sounds fantastic, but as far as connecting with the audience with his eyes, he has them closed through large parts of the performance. It's still a grabber, but not exactly like Usher was suggesting. Randy says he is in the zone, even though it wasn't very exciting. Ellen says she doesn't like when people sing behind her back, but "that was beautiful." Kara says she hasn't heard the song until she saw he was singing it and she went and listened to it. She says he got to the heart of the song and the emotion of it. Simon says this is the first time since the live shows have started that he can take Mike seriously as an artist. He says Mike did a terrific, believable job.
Didi Benami chooses "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," which Usher calls "a very emotional song for a very emotional young lady." She starts crying after she sings for him because the song means something to her. He tells her he needs to bring out that emotion in the performance. For some reason, this song really doesn't work that well with the tone of her voice. I don't know if it's that she is pushing it too hard, but it just seems kind of flat. I'm not the only one: Randy says the whole thing "flatlined" for him. Ellen says it was dramatic, and she loves her, but it was not her best performance. Kara says it was overdone and she's lost her way. (Of course, it sounds self-serving because she says she was the best when she did "Terrified.") Simon says it was like swimming in jelly, and it just didn't do it. Then he says that it was like when you're watching "one of those dancing shows ... with the singers murdering the songs." Anyway, after she performs, Ryan tries to get her to explain why she is so emotional about that song, and she clearly doesn't want to go into personal details, but he keeps on pushing. She still doesn't go into detail, and he finally says that she auditioned for the show for a reason and that she sang that song for someone in particular. Dude, she didn't want to tell us that! Didi looks like she is trying not to cry and also like she's really, really mad.
Tim Urban picks Anita Baker's "Sweet Love." He sings for a bit, and Usher stops him and asks him if he's been in love. He kind of mumbles yes. Usher tells him to pretend Usher is that woman, which is funny. Then he tells him to put up his hands and pretend the woman he's singing to is right there. His performance is just kind of blah, and when he looks at the camera he looks pained and somewhat terrified. Randy says it started out as a pedestrian singing waiter vibe, but he did sing in tune. Ellen says he performed like he was sneaking into a bedroom. Kara says it was Broadway at times, Vegas at times, and he took the soul out of the song and made himself not commercial, young or relevant. Simon says it was an inappropriate song, like a mouse picking a fight with an elephant. He says it probably doesn't matter, and he'll keep smiling and laughing and getting voted through.
Andrew Garcia gets a lecture from Usher. He tells him he needs to stop thinking so much and just feel the song. Andrew sings a stripped-down version of "Forever." It's good, back in the groove, but not super exciting. Randy says Andrew is back and that he made the song his own. Ellen says on its own, this was a great performance. Kara says this was one giant leap in the right direction. (Then she and Simon make some "walking on the moon" references; swipes at DWTS?) Simon says it was a good performance, but he comes across as really boring.
Katie Stevens says she's met Usher before, when she accosted him at Epcot Center. Her song tonight is "Chain of Fools." He likes her energy and her voice, but he wants her to have pizazz and attitude. It's a big song, and she tackles it, but I predict they are going to say it's a step backward because it's not young. Randy, though, says it is one of the best vocal performances of the night. He says she's like a young Christina "in a weird sort of way." Ellen says the vocals were great, but she wishes she'd done something a little more current. Kara says R&B/pop is where she belongs, but she needs to "go back to making it young and commercial now." Simon says it's crazy to compare her to Christina. He says it was pretty good, but it was kind of cold and robotic. He compares it to Star Search. He says again that he doesn't think she is an R&B artist, and Kara says she knows 100 percent that Katie is. Confusing!
Lee DeWyze is singing "Treat Her Like a Lady" tonight. Usher calls it "a special treat." He definitely brings it up a notch in terms of connecting with the audience, and he seems like a bigger performer somehow. It doesn't feel as coffee-shop tonight. Randy calls it unbelievable, best he's heard him in weeks. Ellen: "There you go. ... Best performance of the night." Kara says he brought the song into his world, and it could have been on his record. Simon says he has always believed in him, even throughout his frustrations, but tonight he wants him to go home, watch this back on TV and understand that this is the night his life might have changed forever.
Crystal Bowersox is dropping the guitar, as promised last week. Usher suggests she play the piano instead, and she says that's actually what she had planned (though she hasn't played regularly in years). She is singing "Midnight Train to Georgia." She seems just a little tentative at first, but then she picks it up at the end of the piano part, then she stops with the piano and stands up to sing, and she is powerful. Randy says she did the song proud and that it was another great performance. Ellen says she is never not good and that she is really competing now, having shown a new side of herself. Kara says she is glad she took that risk and that she can't wait to see what Crystal does next. Simon says it was a sensational choice of song and that the vocals were amazing in parts, but that she needs to not get mixed up about what kind of artist she is. She says she wanted to prove to herself that she could do some new things. Ryan makes some horrible segue about Kara's one-shouldered shirt, but no one can understand what he's saying, and it's just a mess. He's really off tonight.
Aaron Kelly is singing "Ain't No Sunshine," and Usher gives him some specific advice on building up the "I know, I know, I know ..." line. He starts out shaky on the performance, but he gets better as he gets into it. It's not his best, but it is OK. Randy says it was just all right. Ellen says it was a good song choice and a really good job (after she calls him 11 years old). Kara says it could have had more energy, but she still liked it. Simon says if you compare it to some of the other performances tonight, it wasn't the main course, it was a cupcake. But at the same time, there is no chance he is leaving the competition.