The judges had also moved, with Randy Jackson and Ellen DeGeneres swapping places. Rather than shifting order throughout the show, Randy went first every time. Host Ryan Seacrest asked Ellen if she'd ever missed a show. Ellen joked that she'd missed American Gladiators when it went off the air. She also did a show from a hospital room once when her back was out.
Speaking of back problems, Michael Lynche, who had squeezed Ellen and Randy too hard when he got the news he'd made the top 24, went first. The video package preceding each performance focused on little known facts about the contestants. Michael revealed he's huge into the theater and went to a performing arts high school, where he also played football. He performed a soul-infused rendition of "This is a Man's World" by James Brown, wearing a black suit with a black banded-collar button-down. No guitar for him this time. Without that prop, he took easy command of the stage. [VIDEO OF MICHAEL] *
Randy proclaimed that "right now the season is getting rolling" and gave Michael a standing ovation. He said, "Crazy, unbelievable. R&B star right there." Ellen has liked every song choice he's made so far. "That was the one to beat. Everybody has now got to top that," she said. Kara DioGuardi said that "You went from being a singer to someone who could potentially be a great artist." She continued, 'I don't know what you ate between last week and this week..." Simon Cowell interjected, "A lot." For his commentary Simon said it was like Michael went "from being a pussycat to a lion in one week." He said it was "exactly the right song for you" and "didn't sound dated." He called it his best performance so far.
As his secret, John Park revealed English is his second language. He'd been born in America then moved to Korea and grew up speaking Korean, returning to America in fourth grade. Picking a more current song than last week, he went with "Gravity" by John Mayer. Sitting on a stool in just a white T-shirt and jeans, he similarly tried for simplicity with his vocals. Considering that this guy has taken voice lessons, he still has a lot to learn about mike technique: there were several audible breaths into the mike. His voice sounded a lot like John Mayer, but he didn't add much to it. Would the judges consider it karaoke? [VIDEO OF JOHN]
Randy felt that he didn't bring anything new to the song and it "wasn't as good as the original." He added it was "just kind of flat for me" and noted pitch problems. Ellen thought it was a much better song choice than last week but there "could have been a little more soul in it." She advised him to "just try to feel the song a bit more." Kara also felt it was way better than last week but said he "lacks connection" (and as we all remember, Kara loves to talk about connection to the audience). She added, "When you're singing it, I don't always believe it." She told him he needs to let loose. Simon, referring to the a capella group of which John is a member, said, "I think Purple Haze may get their lead singer back this week." He felt the performance lacked excitement and called it a "so what?" performance. He also agreed with Kara about John's "struggle with the believability."
Although Casey James had never watched the show, he picked a song that had been performed by several previous contestants, including Bo Bice, Elliot Yamin, and Chris Richardson. That is, Gavin Degraw's "I Don't Want to Be." His secret? He hasn't had a TV for most of his life, because his family never replaced one that was destroyed in a thunder storm. He wore a black button-down satin shirt and jeans and played electric guitar. The performance started out with a guitar riff, as the camera took a "rock star" low-angle shot. His version of the song was a blues-rock rendition that really reminded me of Jonny Lang. He got lazy with enunciation, though, perhaps because he was focusing on playing the guitar. [VIDEO OF CASEY]
Randy liked the musicianship but didn't know if it was the best vocal. Still, he said, "This is the kind of song I could see you doing as an artist." Ellen said you "can't go wrong with that song." She felt it sounded great, and she loved the guitar. Her one critique: "There's just a stiffness about you." She advised him to move more. Kara remarked on the standing joke about her crush on Casey: "We all got the memo; the cougar is a fan." Tonight, though, she felt "you took two steps backwards." She reminded him this is a singing competition and that his guitar work had distracted from his vocals. Simon, remarking on the unusually harsh critique from Kara, turned to her and asked, "Did he not return your calls?" Still, he agreed that last week, he'd chosen a great song but this week, he'd "turned into somebody you will see in any bar across America: somebody trying to be a rock star." He said that Casey's voice is not suited to a song like this because it has no grit: "More like sand."
As his secret Alex Lambert revealed that he's created his own language, which he demonstrated while strumming guitar. He did the John Legend song "Everybody Knows," while playing his guitar. His skills in both guitar and vocals are much more rudimentary than Casey's. He wore a black and gray plaid jacket with a light blue button-down and jeans, sitting on a stool as he performed. He seemed a little more relaxed than last week, and this was a better song for him. I could be wrong, but it looked like he had a small cut under his left eye. [VIDEO OF ALEX]
Randy found something to bond with Alex over: "I have my own language, too." Yes, and it involves copious references to "dawgs." He felt this was an improvement over this week and that this time, Alex didn't sound as "sound-alike". He added it was "way legit tonight." Ellen picked up on her metaphor from last week and said it's like "someone took the unripe banana and put it in a paper bag" to make it ripen up faster. "I don't know how you did that so quickly." She remarked, "Under that mullet is a little Sam Cook voice." Kara assumed -- wrongly, from what I'm hearing from fans -- "There isn't a person out there that isn't rooting for you." She said he has "an incredible, recordable voice" and predicted the show will show him what to do with it. Simon proclaimed, "That was a million times better than last week." He told him not to be nervous, because "the only time you should be nervous is if you're useless. You're not." He told him that now he has "to have a killer, killer instinct" and told him he doesn't want to hear any more about nerves. "Take your opportunity and do your best."
Todrick Hall didn't have much of a mystery to reveal, just that he's had numerous stage roles since he was very little and that he does push-ups before his performances. He went with the Tina Turner song "What's Love Got to Do with It," wearing a black button-down, black pants, and a shiny black leather blazer. His performance started out much more toned down than last week but with two many arm gestures. He sure likes to inject those runs. About midway through the song, he started his stomping dancing moves again, slamming his fist. Overconfident much? [VIDEO OF TODRICK]
Randy still insists that Todrick is "one of the best we found." He liked the falsetto run at the end but overall "didn't love this." He advised Todrick to "just sing a nice song and just sing it." Ellen somewhat agreed: "I wouldn't say just sing. Sing and move." She told him he should always go with his strength. Nevertheless, she felt it was not the right song, not a current song. "I don't think that song helped you get any votes." Kara said, "We all like you" but lamented that his performances in Hollywood Week and in the live competition were very different from his first audition, where he sang just a simple melody. Simon advised him, "Move but don't sing, because this is not working out at all for you." He compared it to "one of those performances I've had the misfortune to see at a theme park." Summing up, he called it a "very corny, bad version of a Tina Turner song which has no relevance."
In his video package, Jermaine Sellers showed some personality, modeling the adult-sized footie pajamas he wears because his family keeps his house too cold. "I am Jermaine Sellers, and I rocks my onesie." Too bad his vocal performance can't match that fun personality. For his version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" he looked straight out of the '50s, in a black and white polka-dot shirt buttoned all the way up, with a pink plaid bow tie and dove-gray short-sleeved cardigan. His voice just isn't good enough, despite throwing in a lot of runs. It was very pitchy. [VIDEO OF JERMAINE]
Randy thought it was "definitely better than last week" but "wasn't a great performance." He noted it's a tough song to sing. Ellen loves his style: "I like that you rocks the onesie." But the singing "just didn't work for me." She said that once more, he pushed too hard. At this, Jermaine interjected, "If I pull back any more..." Kara agreed with Ellen that he's been "hitting some crazy notes, crazy runs" and is "always doing too much." She advised him to look at the meaning of the song. Simon said, "What everyone's saying in a roundabout way is we're frustrated and disappointed." He said that he makes songs lose their importance because he plays around with them too much. At this point, Jermaine, still believing his vocals were all that, urged Simon, "You've got to come to church with me," presumably to see him in his natural environment among other over-singers. Simon agreed to the invitation but still insisted it was "a cabaret performance, making you very old-fashioned." Jermaine asked the judges what he should sing next week. Simon commented, "I'm not sure you're going to be here next week." Ellen suggested a "Frankie Beverly and Maze type vibe."
Andrew Garcia revealed he has been a breakdancer since middle school (although his moves look a little rusty). He went with the James Morrison song "You Give Me Something," wearing a gray flannel blazer with black button-down shirt and jeans. Sitting on a stool, he started out strong, this time without his emotional crutch of the guitar. It was a little pitchy on the chorus, but there's still something special about him. I hope next week he finally shines. [VIDEO OF ANDREW]
Randy said, "That wasn't the vibe for you." He said it was "pitchy all over the place" and that "you're way better than that." Ellen said there were a couple pitch problems but she liked it a lot. In fact, she joked she's "such a huge fan I'm thinking of getting your name tattooed on my neck." Kara wanted to talk about his acoustic performance of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" again from Hollywood Week, and she'll keep comparing all his performances to that until he surpasses it, no doubt. She sees potential but told him he'd "played it too safe." Simon said, "The fact you haven't managed to choose the right song in two weeks is becoming a problem." He predicted no one "will never look back on that performance and say, 'That was an incredible version of that'." Ultimately, he was disappointed.
Aaron Kelly loves photography. We saw him taking photos but didn't get to see the results. He did that old chestnut "My Girl" by the Temptations, wearing a dark denim button-down and dark jeans. His voice had a lot of vibrato, which I found distracting and a little goat-like. His tone is pretty pleasant, and he stayed on key until the end, where he hit a high note that was too big for him. [VIDEO OF AARON]
Randy said that at first he didn't know if he was going to like that, but "This is that young dude I loved in Hollywood week." He said it was "200 percent better than last week." Ellen said this week he had a lot more confidence, using the stage and moving around, but "the song was just a little forgettable." She does feel, though, that he has a great voice. Kara liked it and called him consistent. She praised his slight country twang, "great vibrato," and control. Simon didn't like the song and thought it was all over the place. He thought Aaron "went kind of backwards" and told him he's "got to work out what kind of artist you want to be." The song, he summed up, was "too old-fashioned."
Tim Urban has four brothers and five sisters, which could explain why his hair looks straight out of the '70s TV sit-com, Eight is Enough. He did the Matt Nicholson song "Come on, Get Higher," wearing a red V-neck T-shirt with white jeans and playing the guitar. His enunciation was heavy-handed, and he really needs to work on his phrasing. Overall, he seemed more comfortable but the performance was kind of forgettable. [VIDEO OF TIM]
Randy didn't really get it. He called it "very karaoke," saying there was "nothing special about it." He also pointed to pitch problems. Ellen pulled a Simon: "Do you like to act? You should act. Girls would love you." As a singer, she said he has "no charisma, no stage presence, but you're so adorable." Kara liked the song choice but critiqued him for not making it his own. "You look the part, but it's not all there yet." Simon, surprisingly, disagreed with the other three, saying it "was a marked improvement on last week." He praised Tim for listening to criticism and choosing a young song. He found him "more relevant tonight than a lot of the other singers we saw before," and he was "impressed by your attitude and your work ethic."
Closing the show was the current anointed one, Lee Dewyze, who revealed he went to an alternative school in high school (I think that means he was a trouble maker. Girls, looking for a bad boy? Here's your contestant). He did the Hinder song "Lips of an Angel," clad in a medium-blue T-shirt and jeans, this week without the guitar. He reminded me of a raspy version of Adam Duritz from Counting Crows. This was a better song for him overall, but the chorus was a little rough. I still fail to see why the judges love him so much. [VIDEO OF LEE]
Randy asked him if he missed the guitar, and Lee said he felt it was time to put it down. Randy liked that he got out of his comfort zone. There were a few pitch problems, but he liked it. Ellen also pointed to "a couple pitch problems" but felt it doesn't matter because "there was so much passion and intensity." Kara said it was a big improvement from last week but admitted there were "still some pitch problems." She said she could hear him on the radio right now, saying he sounds very commercial. Simon advised him to correct his posture: "raise your shoulders." Vocally, he said, "you are head and shoulders above everyone else in your side of the competition." He advised him to believe in himself. "You may be the one to beat."
Kudos this week to Michael Lynche and Casey James, with a nod to Andrew Garcia.
Tim Urban may well be in the bottom, but I'm predicting he'll stick around for another week. In the most danger of leaving are John Park and Jermaine Sellers, with wild cards of Todrick Hall (if his attitude is cheesing off other people as much as it is me) and Alex Lambert (who might have to finish ripening at home).
* The site where I usually get my video links did not post any. I tried to take the video directly from the official American Idol site, but it's currently got problems, with the videos all jumbled up. Since TPTB will probably remove all unauthorized video within the next day or so, my best advice is to check back at the official site, look under "VIDEOS" and then "PERFORMANCES," and hope that they get things straightened out.
Change it up, but not too much.