The complaint get louder each week: This is the least talented "American Idol" pool in the show's history. There may be some validity to this, but it certainly doesn't help when the producers force Elvis Week on a group that is often criticized for not sounding "modern" enough. Still, there were some great performances (along with the trash we've come to expect), and guest mentor Adam Lambert (merely one year removed from being in the contestants' shoes) was a gelled jolt the show desperately needed. Lambert, whose huge personality dominated meek contestants (I see you, Lee DeWyze), was unafraid to keep it real when a rehearsal was boring or a vocal needed changing.
(A side note before we get to the rankings: What was up with host Ryan Seacrest last night? Bloggers are speculating he was drunk, and it would at least explain his strange "jokes," such as when we he told Lambert, "My tongue is not nearly as talented as your tongue" after a G-rated discussion of singing. Also, he left-field dissed former "Idol" host Brian Dunkleman, screamed "THAT WOULD SUCK" to an old woman and slow danced with a stagehand during Tim Urban's ballad (visible to TV cameras). Seacrest is normally an excellent host, but last night was a head scratcher.)
1. Michael Lynche. Remember when Mike was doing lame-ass Jason Mraz covers earlier in the season? Who knew he'd evolve into one of the season's most engaging performers? The last remaining black guy doing Elvis' "In the Ghetto" could have left a few of us feeling icky (and it probably did, especially with Siobhan being the one to introduce Mike to the song), but the performance was beautifully restrained and sung perfectly. Mike is always best when he quits the musclehead-goofball act and lets his voice move us. It's affecting stuff.
2. Siobhan Magnus. I rarely scream at the television, but the judges' misreading of Siobhan's excellent performance of "Suspicious Minds" had me off the couch, tweaking out. Kara's confused? Simon described it as "erratic and screechy." Huh? The first half of the performance was '80s cheese, but once the pounding-the-floor, half-time breakdown kicked in, there was no moment as vocally on point or stirring (aside from Mike) all night. Simon and I must have heard a different performance because the huge notes were hit like a target. The judges really got it wrong this time, holding Siobhan to a different standard than they hold clearly weaker contestants (ahem, Tim Urban).
3. Lee DeWyze. Lee benefited from mentor Adam the most, as if he needed someone other than the judges to tell him to have fun up there. Lee continues to roll along, fully embracing his alt-bro rock with enough grit to his voice to not sound like he's trying out for a Seven Mary Three cover band. This was much better than the sloppy-but-sort-of-fun mess that was last week's "Hey Jude."
4. Crystal Bowersox. Crystal and Lee's performances were neck and neck, but I gave the edge to Lee because his rendition felt fresher, not as outdated. Crystal still turned in a typically great take on "Saved," especially when the song broke down and she could really wail. "Bottom 3" will likely never be in her vocabulary.
5. Casey James. It was another great call from mentor Adam, pointing out that Casey's performances often lack an arc. It's almost always decent-to-good, but there's never enough dynamics. Casey (right, photo by Fox) should have listened closer, as his rendition of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" was serviceable, but predictably boring. Last week proved Casey was more than just long, blond hair, but this week was a clear step backwards. If Casey is still around at the end, I'm going to be beyond tired of his bluesy, ax-man shtick.
6. Katie Stevens. Dead weight starts here, with Katie no longer receiving the benefit of the doubt. Granted, she's progressed but it feels minuscule when compared to the top singers. Her take on "Baby, What You Want Me To Do" was supposed to be a middle finger to the judges, apparently for giving her crummy advice all season (only partially true). She did her best to sell it (massive amounts of "oh-no-you-didn't" head shaking), but it felt flat, similar to her high notes. I won't be surprised if Katie is one of the two voted off tonight.
7. Aaron Kelly. The most ill-fitting performance of the night, but Aaron's voice saved him from being in my bottom two. He seemed so awkward, doing his best to get through "Blue Suede Shoes" (WTF song choice). Aaron's voice is fine, but he doesn't seem ready for this size stage.
8. Tim Urban. Great song choice for Tim, who proved earlier in the season that slow-moving ballads suit him better than ones where he's sliding across the stage like a doofus. His voice is so basic, though, that even when he doesn't screw up, it's unfair to compare him to the rest of the contestants. The guitar playing was pretty good, but he sings every note so weakly, like hammering a nail with a pencil. The judges praised him across the board, only to later shake their heads at Siobhan, a real singer.
9. Andrew Garcia. Andrew, if you're reading this — it's over, man. It's time to start planning your "2010 Straight Up Tour" at various coffeeshops.