Tonight's American Idol starts the usual way, with the dramatic declaration, "This ... is ... American Idol!" Except instead of host Ryan Seacrest making the pronouncement, it's this week's mentor, Harry Connick Jr. Hi, Harry!
He'll be helping the kiddos interpret the songs of Frank Sinatra. He's also writing the arrangements and orchestrations for them. Nice! Nancy and Tina Sinatra are also in the audience tonight.
The first contestant to hit the stage is Aaron Kelly. Harry is not messing around -- right off the bat, he gets him to realize that he needs to hold this one note for only four beats because otherwise the it doesn't harmonize well with the arrangement. Harry interviews that he really likes Aaron and thinks he has a very sweet voice. Aaron is singing "Fly Me to the Moon." He's not quite as comfortable as he was on country week, but he holds his own, even with a cast of thousands of musicians (or so it feels like at times) working with him. I was impressed with that. Randy Jackson says he wants to see who is in it to win it tonight, and he thinks Aaron did a really good job. Ellen DeGeneres tells Harry the piano was a little pitchy (heh), and she says he really pulled it off and that the vocals were beautiful. Kara DioGuardi says it was good, but not as strong as last week. She wants him to learn more charisma and fill the stage more. Simon Cowell agrees with Kara. He says Frank was the king of cool, and if Frank was a lion, Aaron was a mouse. But people like Aaron and he tries hard.
Casey James is next up. He tells a funny story about a friend who doesn't watch television calling him up and telling him he wanted him for a gig that paid $50 and a free meal. Heh. Harry says Casey is singing the song and using it to create bluesy mood rather than focusing on the lyrics, and he thinks it works. He's singing "Blue Skies," by the way. And it works pretty well, I think. Casey's a little shaky, but he is singing, which isn't always his focus. Randy says this was Casey's worst performance, and he was pitchy the whole time. "You know if the orchestra sounds out of tune, there's a problem." Ouch. Ellen seems at a loss for words at first. She thinks it didn't feel effortless, but it seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Kara says it took him a while to feel comfortable up there, but at least he finally held some notes. However, she thinks those notes sounded like a lamb. Ouch again. Simon says he wasn't fantastic and that he seemed a little embarrassed and awkward. They ask Harry what he thinks, and he says Casey killed it in rehearsal two hours ago but that this wasn't that great.
Crystal Bowersox is singing "Summer Wind," and Harry loves that he can tell she is singing about something personal, but he can't tell what it is. It is intriguing and he wants to figure it out and hear it again. Crystal sounds awesome even if she doesn't seem 100 percent comfy with it. Randy says it was one of her more subdued performances and a little sleepy for him. Ellen says at first she was swallowing the words, but then she loosened up a little. She says Crystal has so many sides to her and she's impressive. Kara says it's out of her element, but she liked it, especially her phrasing, which Sinatra was phenomenal at. Simon loves the song but doesn't know that he would have picked it for her. He liked the second half more, but overall, he thinks Crystal has had "two OK weeks." He says next week needs to be about being in it to win it, not just singing for herself.
Michael Lynche says he usually performs with a 12-piece band, so he feels like he's somewhat in his element. His song is "The Way You Look Tonight," which he loves because people get up and dance to it. Harry tells him to sing it to his girl, and the advice works. He is in his element. Randy says it's an unbelievable arrangement, and Mike is in it to win it. He says he did it interestingly and well. Ellen says Mike has the most comfort on stage, and he showed that tonight. Kara says he found the drama in the song and took us on a journey and also remained himself. Simon says this has been a tricky night with Harry on stage and Sinatras in the audience. He says the first three performances were OK, and Mike just put himself back in the game. He says it all just clicked.
Last up is Lee DeWyze. He's singing "That's Life." Harry says he likes Lee and that his wife thinks Lee is cute. He talks with Lee about how to make it work better and tells him to give a couple of words "half an hour," which cracks me up. The advice works for Lee -- you can understand his lyrics much better than usual, and I think his voice is more on point than usual, too. Randy says this is another great arrangement and that Lee stayed his rocker self. He loved it. Ellen says at first she was "distracted by Harry's organ," but she thinks if this was the last night, he would have just won this whole thing. Kara asks him straight up whether he thinks he can win. She says he needs to write "I CAN WIN" over and over because he can and he needs that confidence. Simon says Harry has been incredible working with the contestants and doing so much for them. He thinks Harry brought out Lee's personality and confidence and that Lee gave it 110 percent. He says it was by far the best performance of the night.
It's been an interesting night, don't you think? At least no one pulled out the "it wasn't current" card at judges' table.
(Photo of Top 5 courtesy of Fox)