Baltimore Sun

R&B/Soul week on 'Idol': Not as bad as you'd think

It was a theme that should have had more than half of the remaining 10 contestants quivering in fear. With help of mentor Usher, it was R&B/soul week on “American Idol” and the Vegas odds should have had “mindblowing disaster” as a sure thing. But thankfully, the majority of the contestants surprised us in their competence. Some of it was even really good! Here’s the top 10, from best to worst.


1. Lee DeWyze. I’m slowly coming around on Lee, especially after electric performances like last night's. His raspy voice could easily sound second-rate, but he killed (in a good way) the Cornelius Brothers’ “Treat Her Like a Lady.” (Video above.) The performance came across as honest and effortless, a combination that wins every time on “Idol." And it was the best of the competition. I’d take the nervous-and-humble Lee over aloof-grinning Casey 10 times out of 10.

2. Crystal Bowersox. It was refreshing to see Crystal sing “Midnight Train to Georgia” without her guitar. The backup singers, as Simon pointed out, brought a borderline-cheesy dimension to a performance that didn’t need it. Crystal’s vocals were what we’ve come to expect: emotive and on-pitch. Plus, she earned the extra points for versatility.


3. Andrew Garcia. Way to make yourself relevant again, Andrew. Song selection is everything, and Chris Brown’s “Forever” works great for Andrew’s hip-acoustic thing. The song has such an elastic, fun-to-sing chorus, and Andrew worked it to his advantage, never pushing outside his comfort zone because he didn’t have to. This was the performance that removed the “Straight Up” monkey.


4. Michael Lynche. Tackling India.Arie’s “Ready For Love” and strapping on an acoustic guitar again (his “bread and butter”), Michael proved his sensitive, for-the-women performances can be his best. There was a dramatic flair that never felt heavy-handed, but rather believable, as pointed out by Simon.


5. Casey James. A tip for Casey: Fall back on the constant, goofy smile while you perform your soul song (Sam and Dave’s “Hold On,” a good choice). There’s nothing wrong with conveying a good time, but the pearly whites didn’t help sell the song. The performance was fine (soloing on that guitar as always), but Ellen hit it on the head --- it was a generic performance.


6. Aaron Kelly. This was not worthy of closing the show, but Aaron’s rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine” was just good enough to keep him in the middle of the pack. There’s not much to say about Aaron’s performance, other than it was serviceable for such a bold song choice. He shouldn’t be in the bottom three but needs to blow the audience away before they get bored.


7. Katie Stevens. Sorry Katie, but I didn’t believe your sassy head bobs. The vocals were relatively above average, but choosing “Chain of Fools” felt old (a problem Katie continues to run into) and stale. This wasn’t awful but there was nothing to grasp to make a lasting moment. Ho hum.


8. Didi Benami. Didi chose “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and broke down in tears while singing it for Usher during the pre-taped segment. We weren’t given much of an explanation as to why, but it lingered over the whole performance. (Ryan Seacrest's prodding didn't help the situation.) Didi’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry the song, and it’s a shame because she clearly wants this. Random observation: Why does Seacrest have to awkwardly hold Didi’s hand all the time? I was kind of creeped out.


9. Tim Urban. The best part of Tim’s performance came during the awkward coaching session from Usher. “You ever been in love, man?” the mentor asked. Clearly, he wasn’t buying what Teflon Tim (a nickname that fits all too well) was shoveling. Tim knows he can cash in on his Zac Efron-lite shtick, so it will unfortunately take a monumentally awful performance to get him out of the competition. It pays to perform toothless covers and have shaggy hair, I guess. Randy called his Anita Baker cover of “Sweet Love” “so pedestrian” and he was correct. We’re at a sad point of “Idol” when “at least you sang it in tune” is a compliment. I personally loved the judges’ assembly-line thrashing of the young singer, as if being pull-quote-worthy harsh will be the only way voters finally smarten up on Tim.


10. Siobhan Magnus. A surprising (yet glaring) misstep for a Season 9 frontrunner. Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” is a beast of a song, and perhaps Siobhan is the only current contestant with the pipes to do it justice. She failed, with pitch problems throughout the entire performance. The most interesting aspect of Siobhan’s performance was the judging afterward — Simon is bored with Siobhan’s big notes (which, OK, is valid but it seems nitpicky when we’re dealing with Tim Urban’s goofy ass each week), while the other judges just seemed disappointed in a consistent performer dropping the ball for once. Kara voiced my thoughts perfectly: It was a very bad performance but hopefully she's earned enough goodwill to stick around.