It was the wail heard 'round the world. OK, that's too much, but last night Crystal Bowersox reminded "American Idol" viewers that she, all along, has been the best contestants of Season 9 — Mamasox (hope I never hear/write that again) had just been coasting the past several weeks. Complacent no longer, Crystal left Lee DeWyze whimpering to the camera after his flat, utterly boring performances. His defeated, what-just-happened expression left me with a sense of pity, as if he was asking us to not forget his triumphant performance of "Hallelujah" from a week ago.
No luck, Lee: Crystal was that good last night. After a ho-hum re-do of Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee" (of course) in round one, Crystal took on "Black Velvet" sans guitar. Even though she looked somewhat uncomfortable, there was no denying her pitch-perfect vocal. Smelling blood in the water (and knowing what a "moment" is — take notice, Lee), Crystal finished Lee like a Mortal Kombat fatality with "Up to the Mountain" (remember Kelly Clarkson's version during 2007's "Idol Gives Back"?). Crystal zeroed in on nuance, holding back for emotional punch when needed and hitting the crescendo when our goosebumps were fully formed. It was a masterful "Idol" performance — something this entire season sorely lacked — because it showed Crystal at her best: vulnerable, fully committed and technically sound.
What's there to say about Lee other than his three performances — "The Boxer," "Everybody Hurts" (crafty song choice but Lee never bought into it) and "Beautiful Day" (WTF, don't make him do one of U2's most recognizable songs; also, that will be his single?!) — were way below the mark expected of an "Idol" finale. A clearly nervous Lee was completely swallowed by the arrangements and backup singers, with each new element crashing on his weaker-than-usual voice like a tsunami.
I've grown increasingly cold to Crystal because she has appeared smug and entitled in recent weeks, but last night underlined how strong of a contestant we've had all season. It doesn't justify her laidback coasting, but it makes it a tad more understandable: With the exception of Michael Lynche, no one on Season 9 has come close to Crystal. If Lee wins, which he very well could due to his rabid fanbase, it won't be because he was the best of the season. He's merely the safest choice.
Wesley Case is a presentation architect at b. Follow him on Twitter, @wesleycase. Check out his cover story on this lackluster season of "Idol."