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Rolling with the Stones

Last night, the Top 12 contestants of season 9 of American Idol took on the Rolling Stones. Normally, this sort of theme would come later in the competition, offering the contestants a broader selection of songs the first couple weeks. This time, though, they had to choose from a rock catalogue when some of the contestants are far from rockers.



Top 12 American Idol contestants
The Top 12 American Idol contestants


The performances moved to the new, bigger stage, and the judges were announced, entering through sliding doors on the stage.

Kicking off the program was Michael Lynche. This time each of the contestants' performances was preceded by a video package about his or her life back home. In Michael's, we learned that, when his mom died, music helped him. He did "Miss You," clad in a black button-down shirt, jeans, and silver necklace. Once more, he started out with falsetto, standing at the microphone, and he gave the song a little bit of a soul vibe. After the opening, he began moving around, seemingly very comfortable. It was not his best, but good. [VIDEO OF MICHAEL]

Randy Jackson said that he's looking to see "who's in it to win it," and that the performance "reminded me of how great of a performer you've become." Ellen DeGeneres asked rhetorically, "What's not to love about that? At some point, I'm going to be disappointed, but not yet." Kara DioGuardi observed that the Stones "were" incredible performers (um... psst; they're still around) and "that's what you delivered tonight." Simon Cowell said that he's definitely got confidence. Yet, Simon wasn't sold on it: "I thought the performance at times, particularly your dancing, was kind of corny." He acknowledged, though, that "You sang it well."

Ryan asks Simon what he meant. Simon: who are you talking to? Ryan comes down to the desk and says, "I'm trying to help him out, because I want him to stay in the competition." Looking for constructive criticism. Simon: the middle part of the song.

Didi Benami, the middle child of three sisters, was next. She said that, amongst her family, she's "the dreamy one." Lots of cute pictures of her hamming it up. For her Stones song, she went with "Playing with Fire," slowing it down and turning it into a modern ballad. Black and red were the colors of the evening, and she wore a black tank top with layered necklaces, stacked bracelets, dark jeans, and a leather belt. The song was a good choice for her voice, especially the decision to turn it into -- pardon the pun -- "torch song." She stumbled on the words for the third verse but recovered quickly. [VIDEO OF DIDI]

Ryan enthused, "I think for the first time for me in weeks, you're on fire tonight." Ellen told her, "You have an amazing voice." She noted that she'd "lost your way... but you got right back." She added, "You made the word 'fire' two syllables, which I thought was 'grr-eat'." Kara gave her a singing tip: "Sometimes when you push on your vocals you lose your way a bit." Overall, she liked the intensity, the way "the sweetness of your voice" contrasted with "the eeriness of the song." Simon said, "What I like about you is that you are beginning to show us the kind of artist you want to be... I've been a fan of yours for the last two or three weeks." He called it a "solid but not brilliant performance."

Casey James grew up in a small town in Texas, and his parents divorced when he was young. He had a bad reaction to an immunization and hummed before he could talk. His whole family are musicians. For his performance, he went with "It's All Over Now," accompanying himself on electric guitar and wearing a red and black button-down with black jeans. Occasionally, he was strumming with one hand without fingering the chords, which initially made me go "WTF?" until I realized he was using a bar that would hold down the strings in a given position. He gave the song a Southern rock/blues feel. I wasn't sure about the song choice, since it was relatively obscure, and it didn't do much to show off his voice. He's got to remember this is a singing competition. Still, I liked it; and I'd buy that album. [VIDEO OF CASEY]

Randy said, "You're back to the Casey that I love." He thought Casey could have a great career performing blues-rock like Kenny Wayne Shepard or Jonny Lang. Ellen joked, "Most women, their hearts are going to race just looking at you, but for people like me, blondes, I think -- I thought it was fantastic." Kara said, "I think that I said... you were trying to be a rock star [before]. Well, tonight, you were a rock star." Always the song-writer, she noted that it was one of the earliest Stones songs and "they didn't even write it." She liked the blues and soul and called it "your best performance since we met." Simon started with the positives: "You look great, you sang it well, you played the guitar well." But he said "that was like an audition performance," not using the stage "to do something incredible." He advised Casey, "You've got to push yourself."

Lacey grew up in Amarilla, Texas, and was a really cute little girl and sang in her church. She sang "Ruby Tuesday," accompanied on stage by violins on stage and dressed in an off-kilter ensemble of a one-shoulder black and white striped shirt under a peach boustier, with black high-waisted pants and chandelier earrings. Her opening was faltering, and I wish she'd just stay on the melody. This arrangement was just not working for me. Later on, she sat on the stage again (does she get tired?) [VIDEO OF LACEY]

Randy called the arrangement very interesting (which, incidentally, is what my high school French teacher told us to say about food when we didn't really like it, just to be polite). He liked the string quartet but "I wasn't jumping up and down about it vocally. He was "pleasantly surprised," observing "you kind of held it together. Ellen agreed with me that it was "weird" for her to sit down once the song got rolling. She added it was "a tiny bit sleepy for me, but I'm a fan of yours." Kara said, "It was 50-50 for me." She pointed out there were some "issues where you didn't hit the notes right. I think you can do better." Simon told her that she performs "like an actress," with every move "very, very thought through." He told her, "You've got to stop over-thinking this, let yourself go."

Next up was Andrew Garcia, whose parents had grown up around gangs but whose dad was a musician. His parents tried to give him a better life, and he wants to do that for his family, too. He wore a red and black button-down with a gray blazer. This week, no guitar as he did "Gimme Shelter." He started out very similarly to his other songs, turning it into a more mellow version, but he loosened up near the end and put more into it at the end. This is definitely not his style of music. It reminded me a little bit of what would happen if Smashmouth tried to cover the Stones. [VIDEO OF ANDREW]

Randy loves the song and loves the Stones, "but it was just pitchy everywhere." Ellen said breezily, "What do I know? I think that was your best performance yet." Kara said, "There were elements where we started to hear the tone we've been missing." Again, as the songwriter, she paid attention to the lyrics: "It's a song about war, children. I wanted to feel that from you. Simon remarked, "What was he supposed to do? Come on stage with a tank or something?" He criticized Kara for "taking this too literally every time." For his critique, he observed, "My gut feeling... you were better in rehearsals." He said that "something didn't connect." He praised him, though, for moving away from what he'd done before.

The very young Katie Stevens, in a pre-interview with host Ryan Seacrest, answered his question about the judges always asking her to be younger on stage. Now that it was Rolling Stones week, she said she had "no choice but to be old." Her package included video of her singing, off key, at a wedding at age 8. She went with "Wild Horses," dressed in a very girly purple and yellow party dress and bathed in overhead light, sitting on a stool. In the beginning, she had pitch problems and then recovered. It was OK, but sort of lifeless. [VIDEO OF KATIE]

Randy said that she "sang that really well," noting that there were "some pitch problems, but you corrected it." Ellen lightened things with a joke: "First of all, I almost wore that. She said that she'd started pitchy but when she got into it, it was good. Kara said it's "never technically perfect with you." She liked the "nice variations in the melody" and said it was better than last week. Simon said it was the "only week where you've actually chosen a really strong song" and dropped the fact that he'd recorded that song with Britain's Got Talent standout Susan Boyle. Still, he didn't like the second half of the emotion, saying that she'd "lost the emotion."

Tim Urban comes from a big family and wanted to be an athlete until his older brother pounded it out of him. For some odd reason, he chose to do a reggae version of "Under my Thumb," strumming along with his guitar and wearing a black and gray long-sleeved V-neck with jeans. His version of the song was very light, which didn't match up with the somewhat dark lyrics (it's about a guy who is bragging about the fact that he's convinced a girl to change herself for him. I thought it was like the Brady Bunch version of the song (to go with his hair?). I mean, did he listen to the lyrics? [VIDEO OF TIM]

Randy remarked, "I didn't get that. It was very bizarre, the whole reggae version." He felt it "didn't serve you or the song well." Ellen felt she was "at a resort and drinking a pina colada." While she said, "There was nothing wrong with it," she thought it was too laid back. Kara applauded him "for doing something so incredibly different... Whether you like it or not, you made it your own." Simon also applauded him for doing something different, but "having said that, it didn't work." He went further, saying, "A lot of people who are Rolling Stones fans would be turning their televisions off at that point." Or, like me, they kept watching, hoping the next contestant would turn things around.

Thankfully, that contestant was the quirky Siobhan Magnus, who grew up in a similarly quirky, artistic family. She went with "Paint it Black," starting out sitting on red-lit steps, dressed in a black dress with a fitted bodice, sweetheart neckline and pouffy skirt,paired with charmingly clunky short boots. She looked like a radical Molly Ringwald. This version of the song was perfect for her. She seemed to be really feeling it, especially as she got up and took command of the stage. I thought her vocals were great until she reach a little too much for the high note at the end, momentarily getting a little screechy, but then she pulled back and ended on a sweeter note.

Randy complimented her for "bringing the drama to American Idol, season 9. That was hot." Ellen loved her look and her sound, saying, "You rise above. In a sea of people, like Snooky's (from the reality show Jersey Shore) pouff, you just stand out." Kara claimed to be "having flashbacks of Adam Lambert." She called it the "best interpretation tonight" and the "most interesting." Simon called it the stand-out performance of the night and liked seeing her development as a performer. He joked, though, that it's "almost like you'll now have to scream at the end of every song." He added, "A lot of people are going to love that, and a lot of people are going to hate it." He said that's better than being indifferent and boring. But if she polarizes people, it also won't get her to the top spot.

Lee Dewyze was next, and his parents revealed in his video package that he wasn't the most natural to the stage but was often normal. He performed "Beast of Burden" with acoustic guitar, wearing a black leather jacket with a banded color, paired with a black button-down and dark jeans. The opening of the song was pretty dull but the chorus had more energy. He reminds me of Third Eye Blind or Matchbox Twenty; he could have a hit, I don't think he'll ever have a huge following. [VIDEO OF LEE]

Randy said he "really came home with this" as a singer-songwriter, calling him a "cross between Rob Thomas and Dave Matthews" (stop reading my mind, Randy). Ellen said, "You sounded great, but I was expecting a tiny bit more." She used a creative analogy: "It almost didn't come together, like a hospital gown." Kara said that "you are growing faster than anybody on the stage." (Really?) She said this week it was "not as pitchy." Simon really likes Lee as a person but "what's always held you back is your personality. You don't shine at the moment." He also critiqued him for choosing "a very safe song, a very forgettable song." He advised him to "stamp your mark on the competition and stop thinking that other people are better than you."

I was all prepared to hate the performance by Florida girl Paige Michaels, raised by a single mom. When I learned she'd chosen "Honky Tonk Woman," I was certain it was going to be a disaster. Not to mention her khaki romper, combined with black tights and brown cowboy boots. She was harsh on the chorus, but she was actually better at this than at other styles she's tried. On the big notes, though, she's like a siren, honking away. I just don't get it. [VIDEO OF PAIGE]

Randy told her "you did all right with it" but he wished she'd had more energy. Ellen loved that she used the stage and noted that "I know you're struggling with your voice. No one would know." (What? Paige is sick?_ Kara continued, "For someone who was struggling, you really hit some big notes," but "at times... may have gotten a little lost." Simon asked Paige what went wrong with her voice, and Paige revealed she has laryngitis. (Ohhhh!) Simon said, "taking that in account, it sounded great." On the other hand, he said she still hasn't quite connected, and he called it a "very old-fashioned performance."

Next on the rundown was Aaron Kelly, from the tiny town of Sonestown, Pennsylvania, who was adopted and got a lot of support from his mom. He chose "Angie," a song I had been hoping to hear Michael do. Like Siobhan, he started out sitting on the steps, this time lit with purple light. He wore a reddish-brown leather jacket, a white T-shirt with orange and green patterns, and dark jeans. Right off, he stepped on the intro and started too early. For the first verse, he continued to be ahead of the beat. On the chorus, he was off pitch. What's more, it's another song that's too old for him, since it's about somebody who has a long history with a woman and is finally giving her the kiss off. I doubt Aaron's ever even been kissed! [VIDEO OF AARON]

Randy said, "Your mom was absolutely right; you were definitely born to sing." He loved "the tender moments in your voice" and said at times it was "almost a little Justin Timberlake." Ellen, remarking on his brushed front coif, asked him, "Are you trying to do your hair like mine now?" She liked the song choice and went even further: "Next to Siobhan, those are the two that stand out." (Maybe, but for totally different reasons.) Kara said that "When you connect the feeling of a song, it is very powerful." I guess that means she liked it. Simon said that he'd feared for him when he heard it was Rolling Stones week but "You chose absolutely, 100 percent the right song." (Really? Really???) He praised him for sing the song "within the limits of your vocal."

Finally, in the pimp spot was my girl Crystal "Mama Sox" Bowersox. She grew up in rural Ohio, and her Dad drove her to music gigs. She started writing songs when she was 10 years old. She performed "You Can't Always Get What You Want," walking out onstage, strumming her guitar. She wore a black top with a little lace and was wearing a feather on one dread (from Lilly?). She gave the song sort of modern blues-country vibe, with a hint of soul. She was very loose on stage, and probably the most believable of the night. Just love her. [VIDEO OF CRYSTAL]

Randy said, "I don't think it was your best performance, but I love you... You're always great... You didn't disappoint me." Ellen praised her for making it effortless. "You really are born to be on stage." She liked that Crystal showed some personality. Crystal interjected that "I was thinking too much." Ellen joked, "No one should think. Remember that, kids." She advised her to "play more on stage." Kara agreed that Crystal is comfortable up there and had loosened up, though it "wasn't the greatest vocal performance." Simon asked Crystal, "When you said you were over-thinking, what do you mean?" Crystal remarked that she's "got a lot on my mind. The show, my family and everything." She said she "wasn't in the right zone." Simon told her that "you came out here 100 percent the clear favorite" but "chose a song that didn't have what you needed." He went further, saying it was "The first time where I think you were beaten by somebody," meaning Siobhan. He told her she's "got to dig deep, week after week."

Ryan answered my question afterwards, mentioning that Crystal had been close to Lilly and had something from her. Crystal pointed to the feather in her hair, calling it "my memento from Lilly." Awww!

Kudos to Siobhan Magnus and Crystal Bowersox, with a nod to Michael Lynche, Didi Benami., and Casey James.

Some of the performances were weaker than others, for sure, but will they translate into fewer votes? While my personal bottom three are Tim Urban, Lacey Brown and Paige Miles, I'm not certain that Tim will wind up in the bottom. If Tim rallied the teen vote and stays safe, that will find (gasp) Andrew Garcia in the bottom, but it's almost certainly Lacey going home.

In the event that these videos are removed, go to the official American Idol site, click on "VIDEOS" and then "PERFORMANCES" and search for the videos you'd like to see. Unfortunately, the American Idol site does not allow for direct links, which makes it difficult for me to embed their links in my write-ups.

Moral:
Even a simple rock song can be a challenge to perform.


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Tags: american idol, music, television
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