Here we go again.
Based on song choice, this week was "American Idol's" most somber since the competition started. I can't tell if this was encouraged by producers or if the contestants were sad to see John Park go last week. Either way, there was too much stool-sitting (pointed out by Simon Cowell) and not enough go-for-broke engagement ... at least until Michael Lynche closed last night's show. More on that, after the jump.
We're down to 16 contestants, so I'll rank the guys and girls from best to worst. First up, Tuesday night's ladies.
1. Didi Benami. She was brought to tears last week, thanks to an awful performance of Bill Withers' why-would-you-try-to-do-that-song "Lean On Me" and a resounding thumbs-down from the judges. This week, she took on Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," a song that could have given the singer trouble, especially in the emotive department. No worries — Benami gave a stark yet beautiful rendition with her acoustic guitar. (Watch the video above.) Her frail, porcelain voice has worked against Benami most of the competition, but it evoked real emotion this time. She probably doesn't stand a chance to win but this was easily my favorite female performance of the week.
2. Siobhan Magnus. So she chooses The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" and murders it (extra ballsy move starting a capella). Then we have to hear Simon tell her she's "weird" (OK, we get it). Magnus' voice is one of the best in the competition, but it's still hard to picture her as the ultimate winner. This performance killed, though, with little (if any) pitch problems and that now trademark Magnus intensity. She baffles the judges, and they have no idea what to think.
3. Crystal Bowersox. Simon went on Leno and picked Bowersox as his favorite to win right now. Bowersox did Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason" without breaking a sweat, proving she's the most consistent female competitor the show has. She's gaining confidence each week, but there's still a question of how much range she has.
4. Lilly Scott. I'm still pulling for Scott and her Zooey Deschanel-meets-Amy Winehouse kind of vibe. This week wasn't it, though. It was a cool song choice (Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces") and she strapped on a mandolin, but her vocals were mediocre (for her) and it wasn't memorable at all. She's still the woman to challenge Bowersox.
5. Katie Stevens. This is where the drop-off in talent became most apparent. Stevens took "Idol" legend Kelly Clarkson's (who seems to be mentioned once a week by a judge) "Breakaway" and did an average job. She has a nice low range, but has trouble going between it and her belting area, so pitch problems are pretty obvious. This was a much weaker version than Clarkson's (aren't they all?) but competent. The worst part is the judges trying to point the 17-year-old singer in a million different directions. Sometimes I wonder if the teen contestants would be better off waiting a few years to get more comfortable with their voices.
6. Katelyn Epperly. When Epperly took on Coldplay's "The Scientist," there was a charming aspect to the vocals — similar to Lady Gaga doing "Speechless" live. It put Epperly back in the running, but her version of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" did her no favors. Pure hoaxy karaoke.
7. Lacey Brown. After last week's horrific "Kiss Me," Brown bored me to tears with Brandi Carlisle's "The Story," a song I wasn't familiar with (sorry!) and won't be downloading from iTunes anytime soon. Brown needs to go, but maybe not as much as ...
8. Paige Miles. Michael Jackson's "Smile" struck some emotional chord in Miles, bringing her to tears in the middle of her performance — not a good look. It was flat, both in notes and all around.
1. Michael Lynche. The first "Idol" performance to bring Kara DioGuardi (who, in a moment of overwhelmed vulnerability, said she was moved as a woman without a child) to tears. I had grown tired of Lynche's goofy, big guy schtick, so thank God he dropped it (momentarily) for a truly touching rendition of Maxwell-via-Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work." As Sean Fennessey pointed out at the GQ blog, Lynche knew he had a winner and couldn't help smugly smirking while the judges showered him with praise. He should cut that out, but more importantly, build on this performance. Ellen said, "You are the one to beat. It feels like the show just started now."
2. Tim Urban. This dude was dead in the water a couple weeks ago, but his good looks saved him. Not bad, America! Urban's reworking of "Hallelujah" (the Jeff Buckley version) was a perfect choice. He connected with the camera, judges and the audience. His vocal range is just OK but don't forget, this is "Idol," where star power matters. He's kind of stiff but he's going to be around for awhile.
3. Todrick Hall. Another contestant who seemed destined for a tearful adios montage, Hall delivered his best performance of the show with Queen's "Somebody To Love." Hall, a dancer (something we're reminded of every time he's on screen), brings a dramatic flair to everything he does, and it finally paid off this week (although the arrangement teetered too close to gospel for me). I don't see him as a contender (too "Broadway" like Simon pointed out), but I was happy to see him pull this off.
4. Alex Lambert. Last night indicated it's going to be tough for the aloof Lambert to outshine his John Legend cover ("Everybody Knows"). He picked an appropriate song, Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble," but came off more nervous than anything else. He has my favorite tone of the competition, but he has to do better.
5. Casey James. The best part of James' performance was the lack of flirting from Kara afterward. James put me to sleep with his fine-yet-languid version of Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me." From James on down, the rest of the guys are lackluster and need to bounce.
6. Aaron Kelly. Along with Katie Stevens, Kelly is a young teenager (16) trying not to drown in poor song selection. He's a perfectly fine, kind of nerdy kid with a good but still maturing voice. And he tried his hardest last night, taking on Lonestar's "I'm Already There." Kara chastised the teen for picking a song about a father calling his kids, and Simon rightfully called her criticism "rubbish." The song choice wasn't the problem; there was just nothing to grab onto as a listener. I sat on my couch thinking Kelly was doing a fine job, but that'd I'd never want to hear him sing this song again.
7. Lee DeWyze. What's up with dude's song selection? It's straight out of my purgatory soundtrack. Last week was Hinder's "Lips of an Angel" (admittedly, DeWyze made it almost likable) and he opened up last night's show with Owl City's "Fireflies," one of the worst songs ever. (Kara pointed out the song's production — not the songwriting — made it a hit.) I don't want to talk about this anymore. There was nothing noteworthy about DeWyze's performance.
8. Andrew Garcia. Remember when he was a frontrunner? Now things have turned embarrassing. So you have success doing Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," are constantly reminded of how good that moment was and have been trying unsuccessfully to recapture it ever since. The logical (read: "DESPERATE" — Simon's word. I co-sign) next step is to take another female pop song and Garcia-ize it. This week's victim: Christina Aguilera's "Genie In a Bottle." Garcia's only trick has officially gone crouton stale. Just like when he sped through Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Goin' Down," Garcia packed every line into a rapidfire succession of syllables and little else. Only until the very end did we hear Garcia's range, and by then it was too late. He will most likely stick around (his fans in the audience booed loudest as the judges' pans), but he shouldn't.
And some good news: Next week shifts to one night of "Idol" per week.