As the contest dwindles, it seems the contestants were hailing from more specific locations.
Casey James wasn't so much from Fort Worth, or Cowtown, as some folks call it. No, he's was from teensy Cool, Texas.
Looks like the producers acknowledged that viewers are more likely to tune in if they see a singer from big city they've heard of, but will feel more endeared to them if they come to know more about them and find they're just small town kids like the rest of us.
Kinda like how we all watch the Real Housewives of New York City but then watch them actually living in the removed community of the Hamptons half of the season. Or something.
Making the rootsy details all the more interesting, this was is the week the contestants got to visit their hometowns--and if you like curls of gold framed in the rustic setting of a fan parade, check out our slideshow of CJ's visit to the Stockyards here
But, before all those video packages featuring weeping supporters, lusting tweens and hard-edged dudes that appear to be at Idol rallies with their wives because, well, it meant they got off work for the day, peeps had to sing a little something for their supper.
Ryan Seacrest, in, I swear, the same Tom Ford suit he has worn all season and clearly loves, explained that the contestants would sing two songs.
Yes, it's what we've all been waiting for: It was the episode wherein the contestants pick one song and the judges pick the other. It was the episode wherein we really see what the singers want to sing versus what the judges think they should do if they're handed a bagizzlillion dollar career and are expected to recoup that investment in a nanosecond. It was the episode where in dreams of the shy, guitar-playing musician die and hearts begin to blacken ever so slightly whilst fingers are twiddled together Mr. Burns-style. Not really. Or, really?
CJ chose "OK, It's Alright With Me" by Eric Hutchinson because he felt that it was a lot like something he'd write himself. That, coupled with him being a fan of the song, made him think it would be a "good representation of [him] as an artist."
Not a really strong opener in my opinion. He just sort of stood there for most of it, looking more like he was selling the ice blue blazer on his back than performing. And well, he did sell it. He looked pretty enough. Fair-haired men will be instructed to purchase such clothing... and then return it after they try it on without stage lights. While he had his guitar there putting him at ease, it seemed like most of his stage presence was restricted to his face and his "Uh!"-expressing white man's overbite.
That expression and the blazer? In small venues, that combo could mean no strange his own age for a fortnight, but he's on TV, so fingers crossed.
The bluesy funk elements of the song were made dated by the back-up vocal arrangement, which sucks, because I can see those elements as being the ones Casey would want to drive home (and seduce the ladies with). Hutchinson is usually known as sort of a Folds-y, Squeeze-y, Wonder-y pop singer-songwriter-pianist, so perhaps the trade to an acoustic guitar and a bar band sensibility was what made the performance too Mraz-y, karaoke-y, that's a cryin' shame-y, maybe the judges know better-y.
And the crowd went wild? Randy said the song was just--as the song says--all right with him, too. He wanted to hear something more interesting. He stressed that it wasn't the time to play safe. Ellen wanted him to have brought something bigger and wanted to be blown away. Kara was sympathetic to his choice that a lot of people don't know. Her point was that Casey wasn't in a position to make it his own because he was establishing it as a song for the audience. Simon compared the song to a salad, using a dinner metaphor, and hoped there was something more substantial to come. He also thought it sounded like he was busking instead of competing on the biggest night of his life yet.
In a shocking turn of events, Crystal Bowersox chose Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window." Blues-busk earth mother. It was fine but I thought, much like the judges told CJ, that it just didn't seem she was performing like her ass was on the line.
Lee DeWyze went with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man." OK, seriously? Is it me or are these some of the most boring and trite song selections ever? I follow this karaoke host on Twitter and I'm not lying when I say that nearly every week there's at least one of these last two songs mentioned as he tweets the night. It kills me, too, that Randy just puckers right up and smooches Lee's ass for it. "Brilliant" song choice? "I can see you making a record like this." No shit. Someone already has. "You sounded amazing, but even more than that? Somebody here is feeling like they could win this!!" And Ellen lapped it up too. Kara: "What you did tonight is what every contestant needs to do."
The judges are gunning for Lee and it's so incredibly obvious it's insulting. Yes, he--comparatively--made a good song choice and a good one for his voice. And it's not like I can't stand the guy or anything, but sweet jeevus, I don't need to be hit over the head with a Lee mallet four times in a row. I get that the producers want people to vote for the guy, but maybe it would be a good idea to let the audience think they actually like him, instead of bludgeoning them with "BeLeeVe" propaganda. (That wordplay was totally on a sign in the audience, btw.) I'm starting to get the same feeling watching American Idol that I do when I open my inbox to creepy, overzealous political email forwards from elder relatives. First instinct: Do the opposite of the intended result. Take note, judges and producers...and computer literate.
The judges chose "Daughters" by John Mayer for Casey's second song. They decided it would be the kind of song he should go after in a career, and, as Kara said, it speaks to his core audience: women and girls. Ca-ching!
Appropriately, wardrobe went with a pretty purple button-up for Casey as he exposed his vulnerable side and worked some Mayer riffs on his guitar... eyes effectively closed like a tortured, just barely emotionally unavailable artist. It actually worked for him. Casey, bless him, seems to be a fun-loving kinda guy with a band, but his forte solo is working the tender. He can get the ladies dancing and then bring them in for the sensitive soul-searcher with songs like these. And we've seen his mother on the show. You KNOW she loves "Daughters." You just know it. That had to work for the inspiration. That and the fact that he probably digs Mayer as a guitar player and didn't feel too slighted getting assigned one of his songs... even if he might feel slighted that he's never experienced his own "sexual napalm."
Randy said it fit him like a glove and he hoped he'd continue in that direction. Ellen agreed and said there'd be a lot of "daughters and mothers... and sons" voting for him. Kara felt the song showed the more artistic side of him and that they made a good choice. She did credit him for changing it up enough but not too much, which is surprised me because I thought surely she'd say more about how smart they all were to showcase his vulnerability like that. And how smart they were. And how at sweet last she'd taught him how to feel. Simon thought though he sounded great, the arrangement was a little lazy for not allowing him a bigger vocal moment and providing him a limp guitar solo climax. And Kara got angry, because it was written for emotion and not climax, and how could he be so blind and cruel.
Ellen chose Macca's "Maybe I'm Amazed" for Crystal. She absolutely nailed the vocal with that Janis flair of hers, but her stage presence was reserved. That being said, I'd really rather listen to someone nail a soulful rendition like she did than flail all over to cover up that they aren't feeling a damn thing. [That's not what he said. Hey-o!] Ellen earns props for her choice. Oh, and she also earns props for not going on and on and on and on and on about how right she was to choose that song.
OK. I almost turned off the TV when Lee announced what Simon had chosen for him. But I have a job to do so you can start feeling guilty now, Pete Freedman. What I did do was get really, really angry at Simon. I'll remind you of a post I wrote way back in the TUrban days entitled "Yay for Queen and Enough With the 'Hallelujah'
," in which I requested, nay, demanded, a moratorium on the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah." I stand by that. The fact that Simon wanted Lee to sing it because "we've heard this song before but I don't think we were ever gonna hear it like Lee's gonna do...This is his night..." just really makes it clear they either want him to win big or die trying. It definitely means they wanted to upset me personally. And now I'm even more upset because that comment totally made me sound like Kara. Me, me, me.
For a minute, I thought, you know, maybe it's all good. Maybe I've overreacted--I do that. Maybe I'll get through this and the song won't suffer and it'll be fine. That was before the stage doors parted and the fucking CHOIR walked out. Before it turned into Ronnie Van Zant screaming over a doo-wop (no joke) backing and before Lee DeWyze got tears in his vaguely stoned-looking paint salesman eyes. Before Simon made that face like, "See, assholes, I was the most right." But he wasn't.
It was atrocious. It was cataclysmic. It sucked so hard I got sad. It sucked all the beautiful, forlorn reverence out of the song and turned it into an oldies reunion tour performance--you know, like one with only the nephew of a founding member in the drawing band. And then I thought, maybe he's got tears in his eyes because he knows what he's just done. And I felt a little better at that point. But after the judges fellated him on stage and he thanked Simon, I realized he didn't.
Whatever. It's safely been the most lackluster season of all American Idol seasons I've actually watched. And I'm not sure that any of them but Lee DeWyze would be happy with what a record exec expects the winner to do once under contract. Maybe he should win based on that alone. Fingers crossed, though, if that's the case, he lays off the cover songs.
It's the blonds' to lose tonight. Sir Paul and Ellen could've saved Crystal, but Randy/Kara and John Mayer could've swung it for Casey. Thoughts? Results tomorrow.