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Number Ones

As the Top 11 performed on American Idol last night, the theme of "Teen Idol," announced last week, had been changed to "Billboard 100." This is typically a hard week for the contestants, as they're faced with literally hundreds of choices: any song that hit the number 1 spot in the history of the Billboard charts.




Top 11 contestants with Miley Cyrus

Top 11 Contestants with Miley Cyrus



At the beginning of the show, the producers tried to scare us away with host Ryan Seacrest's creepy big face on a screen behind the contestants. Then, as the camera panned past the contestants, he was standing at the end of the line. Weird.

During the judges' patter, they emphasized the importance of voting. Randy Jackson reminded the audience that the top 10 go on the tour. Ellen agreed about how important it is to cast its vote. Then Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell quibbled about the importance of paying attention to the lyrics of a song. Simon apologized for previous comments, where he told Kara she was taking everything too literally. In response to the apology, Kara asked, "Who is this new Simon?"

Their mentor this week was teen singing sensation Miley Cyrus, who probably was selected back when the theme was still "Teen Idols." She won my love with her response to Ryan, who was chatting with her and felt it necessary to explain a canine is a dog. She told him she knew that and patted him on the head. In the audience, she sat next to choreographer/producer/director Adam Shankman, who many viewers probably recognized from his judging on So You Think You Can Dance.

First up was Lee Dewyze, performing "The Letter" by the Boxtops. Miley told him that he's lacking a stage presence (which could be why he's failed to resonate with me so far). She advised him, "Give them a few notes they wouldn't expect with you." He performed with a small brass ensemble and background singers on stage. He wore a dark jacket with a black T-shirt and dark jeans. His rendition of he song was jazzed up a little, syncopated. This was a different style for him, but despite some pitch problems at the end, it worked. In an effort to be more energetic, he was sawing at the air with his right hand a lot, which I found a little cheesy. His vocals have never sounded better, though. [VIDEO OF LEE]

Randy said, "It's cool you choose this bluesy, soul version of the song." He thought that Lee "knocked it out of the park." Ellen made another unintentionally phallic reference: "You know how you have a favorite pen because it writes just perfectly, and the ink glides out and it's so great? And you love that pen more than any other. Others write, but not as well, and it doesn't feel the same. And then all of a sudden, it starts running out of ink, and you're like, 'Oh no, I'm losing my favorite pen.' And you start lighting a match under it, and you lick it and things like that. So my favorite pen is back. That was fantastic." Kara told him, "You've raised the bar for yourself." She praised him for finally owning the stage. Simon was surprised by the song choice, saying, "That, to me, was not a recording performance. That was you doing something quite corny." He said, "That doesn't define you as a contemporary recording artist."

Next up was Paige Miles, wearing the tallest heels she's ever worn (high-heeled gladiator sandals), along with a white Grecian-style tunic and black pants. Miley's first comment: "She's beautiful." She told her that her voice is just as powerful when she sings really soft, but that she can be pitchy when she switches between those modes. "As long as she watches her pitch, she'll do really great," Miley predicted. Paige chose the Phil Collins song, "Against All Odds," starting out seated on the stairs. Right away, she was off. I mean, ouch. She was very hesitant, and it only got worse. God, it's time for her to go. If she makes the top 10, she'll stink up the Idol tour. Seriously. [VIDEO OF PAIGE]

Randy, remarking on the laryngitis Paige had last week, said, "Really, honestly, I don't know if your voice is back... but that was honestly terrible." He noted that her pitch was all over the place. Ellen said, "I'm going to start with the positive: you didn't fall down, and that's a good thing. You look stunning. I will now turn over the music critique to Kara and Simon." Kara said that "somewhere along the line you stopped competing and you stopped listening to what we're saying... It was the worst vocal that I've ever heard from you and possibly of the season." Simon asked Paige how she thought she did. Paige admitted that she'd struggled with the song and that her pitch was all over the place, but she'd had fun. Simon said, "To be honest with you, it's like there were five of you singing that song, and it got progressively worse." He predicted, "I think you're going to be in serious, serious trouble tonight."

Tim Urban was probably never so grateful for a lead-in, because it was destined to make anything he did sound good. He went with the Queen song, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Miley told him that, despite viewer feedback, it's not personality he's lacking. She told him he just needs to add riffs and switch it up somehow. "I don't think you're boring at all." He wore a gray jacket with a white and black striped T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He tried to break his dependence on the mic stand by walking, almost limping around the stage. At one point, he actually slid onto the stage extension and later he ran down the stairs onto a small stage, where he sang surrounded by clapping girls. It was like a choreographed high school music: totally not believable. This week, his vocals were fairly solid if not too exciting. [VIDEO OF TIM]

Randy reminded him this is a singing competition, but "The dopest thing you did was the slide. The vocals were so boring. It was like bad karaoke." Ellen observed he has "huge fans." She said it felt like an audition for High School Musical 6 or 7, and observed it was corny. "There's a large group of people who will love that performance, and then there's me." Kara compared it to Zac Effron and Hairspray, the musical. She predicted "little girls will love it," but she took him to task for grabbing the hands of audience members. "You're not at that place yet. You're not established. You have a lot of work to do." Simon didn't think the sliding around was the problem, "because I think it distracted from the song." He went further: "The problem was it was completely and utterly pointless and silly." He was even surprised that song was ever a No. 1 record. He predicted, "You've got zero chance of winning right now... unless you take some proper singing lessons [and] get your act together."

The other teen guy contestant, Aaron Kelly, told Ryan he was having trouble with his voice this week, suffering from both laryngitis and tonsilitis. He has a crush on Miley and had selected Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," previously performed on Idol by both season 7 winner David Cook and season 8 finalist Allison Iraheta. Miley didn't have much to say, simply saying that she didn't realize how good he was and was really impressed. He walked out on a blue-lit stage, wearing a denim jacket over a checked shirt. This was much stronger than his previous outings, and even though the song refers to a guy watching his lover sleep (a bit mature for him), it wasn't as jarring as some of his previous lyrical outings. [VIDEO OF AARON]

Randy noted it wasn't a perfect performance, that there were a few pitch things, but that he sounded great compared to the previous two. "I'm a fan." Ellen called it the perfect song choice and told him he has an amazing voice. Kara called it the best song choice of the night and that he knows how to pick a song "that accentuates the strength in your voice." She wants to see more stage presence. Simon called it a very brave choice. "If I had any criticism, I'd say for your age, you're making yourself old-fashioned." He predicted, "There is zero chance you are going to go home."

Ryan referred to the frequent fan comparisons to the season 7 runner up: "If you want to vote for David Archuleta here..." The audience groaned.

Then came my fave, Crystal Bowersox, who'd chosen the Janis Joplin song, "Me and Bobby McGee." Miley loves the song and liked what she did with it. She liked the gospel quality and advised her to showcase her higher notes. At the end, Crystal told her, "I have powerful, beautiful women sign my guitar," so she had her sign. How sweet. Wearing a floor-length chocolate brown strappy dress with sweetheart neckline, Crystal was in her comfort zone with her guitar. I liked the fact that she changed up the melody, but not too much. Full disclosure here: I'm a huge Janis Joplin fan, and this past weekend I watched the documentary Festival Express, featuring some never-before-seen performances by Janis. She was an artist who never stood still: every performance she changed up her songs, just going with the moment. Though Crystal's performance was initially much more toned down than Janis, she let loose on the bridge. It was a good song for her, a little country-gospel. [VIDEO OF CRYSTAL]

Randy said, "That's what's called being a star." He told her, "You slay it; you sing what's in your heart." Ellen said she was driving the other day and heard the song on the radio and thought of Crystal immediately: "She should sing that song." She said there's nothing wrong with that performance, that Crystal is consistently great. Still, she urged her to connect with the audience more. Crystal said, "I've got big plans for next week." Kara asked her if she were overthinking it again, which Crystal had acknowledged last week. Crystal said, "I let go." Kara suggested putting the guitar down, and Crystal hinted she'll do that next week. Simon, however, said, "I wouldn't change anything." He compared her version favorably to a cover that Pink did, which he also loved. He said it was good and that "your only gimmick is a carpet." It was only then I realized she'd been performing while standing on one.

When Ryan asked her about the carpet, Crystal invited him to have a seat and sat down. "It's plush," she told him. She likes it because it's homey. This girl is the real deal. Every time I think I can't love her any more, I do.

Whereas Crystal is easy grace, Big Mike Lynche is big personality. He'd chosen "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge, and Miley said that he has a lot of personality, and she thinks that will take him a long way. He wore a dark suit with a white striped shirt as he performed with a full ensemble on stage. Man, he's got some pipes. Great sustained high note near the end. [VIDEO OF MIKE]

Randy wasn't sure it was the perfect song choice (what's up with all the older songs; nothing from the '90s or from this millennium?). Randy praised Mike for knowing who he is, "this R&B soul dude." He loved it. Ellen called it sort of a safe choice, "sort of like driving the speed limit." She thought he has "amazing tone" and added, referring to herself, "This woman loves that man." Kara said that "technically, it was really good." Still, she "felt it was a bit boring and loungey at times." She called it "over indulgent," with too many rifts. Simon agreed: "It's like you want one scoop of ice cream and you got 11." He said he would have taken the band off the stage and had "just you and a piano, very simple." The arrangement, he felt "made it very loungey." Nevertheless, he agreed Mike has "tons of charisma" and a "very, very good voice."

For some reason, Andrew Garcia also went with an older hit: Marvin Gaye, "Heard it Through the Grapevine." I'm beginning to wonder if the list they were given was a lot more limited than the producers have let us believe. He stumbled on the lyrics while performing for Miley, who suggested he put down the guitar, which she felt he was using as a crutch. Good call. Andrew wore a tan jacket with extra pockets and black buttons. There was a guitarist and background singers on stage with him. In some ways, he seemed much more relaxed, but it just felt like the wrong song for him. Still, I do like the tone of his voice and would much rather see him in the top 10 than Paige or Tim. [VIDEO OF ANDREW]

Randy said, "It wasn't good," blasting his song choice. "This is not the kind of vocal that you are." Ellen agreed: "That was not enough to get a whole bunch of people on board." Nevertheless, "I love you and I hope people vote for you." Kara said she feels bad for him, and once more brought up his Hollywood week performance of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," saying he was "chasing that moment." Only because YOU won't stop bringing it up, Kara. She also thought his hand motions were puppet-like. That's strange. She didn't say anything about Lee's marionette-like left hand. Hmm. Simon turned to Kara as he said, "Maybe we just overrated that moment in hindsight." He thought Miley gave him good advice about putting down the guitar. But he disliked this rendition: "You sucked the soul out of that song... Sucked it out and tortured it and ruined one of the great pop songs of all time." Ouch.

Katie Stevens was next, and Miley predicted, "If Katie shows confidence, I think she'll do great." She went with "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie, and her opening was so tuneless I wrote, "What the hell song is this?" At least Katie looked younger, in tight jeans, a jacket with puffy sleeves, and a peace T-shirt. She was pitchy in parts, and the rest of it just made me yawn. Still, it was better than Paige. I know, that's not saying much. [VIDEO OF KATIE]

Randy called it "a little pitchy here and there," but praised her for listening to the judges and picking a younger song. Ellen called it "your best performance so far." She compared her to "the Dakota Fanning of American Idol." Whether that's good or not, I'm not sure. Kara asked Simon if he still thought she's country, referring to a previous comment he'd made. She said, "This is the lane for you: pop with R&B leanings." But she added that Katie's "still got mad pitch issues." Simon thought that meeting Miley Cyrus "was probably the best thing that could ever happen to you," and he liked her new outfit. He asked, "Do I, however, believe you are believable in this area? I'm still not sure." He said he'd stick to his original advice, saying she's not unique enough to stand out in the young pop artist area.

Next up was Casey James, who'd chosen the Huey Lewis & the News song, "The Power of Love." Really? Miley told him, "You rock." She advised him to make eye contact with the audience. He wore a gray button-down with dark jeans and performed with his electric guitar. There were trumpets in the balcony, swinging back and forth to the beat. He did sort of a blues-rock version of it, complete with a couple inserted guitar riffs. I liked it at the time, but listening to it back, I think his vocals are overshadowed by all the instruments. It might have been more interesting to see him do this one unplugged. [VIDEO OF CASEY]

Randy wasn't a fan of the song choice, "but you definitely did it well." Ellen agreed, calling it the "best vocal of the night." Guess she found a new pen! Kara said, "You're ready to make an album... It just gets better and better and better." Simon disagreed: "That song was old-fashioned 25 years ago when it came out." He thought it was "like watching and listening to an '80s cover band." He lambasted Casey for "no effort, no originality."

Didi Benami followed that with the Linda Ronstadt song, "You're no Good." Miley advised her to "go bigger and beyond" and "give sass to it." Didi said she was "going to sing the song to my nerves tonight." She wore a black dress with an asymmetrical hemline and one shoulder snipped off (at least that's what it looked like). She started out standing on steps, then walked onto the stage. She grew more comfortable on the second verse, singing part of it to the cello player on stage. Her version was kind of jazzy, and because of that, it lost the anger and the drive of the original rock song. [VIDEO OF DIDI]

Randy loved the idea of it but said her pitch was "all over the place." Ellen just wasn't getting the song choices tonight but added, "I do love your voice." Kara said it "felt like you were playing a character," acting very slinky. It "felt like you were trying to be something that you aren't." Simon said there "was a certain irony, your screeching out, 'You're no good, you're no good, you're no good'." He compared it to "the bad part of the musical, right before the interval." He said it "didn't sound like it was you." Didi responded that she'd been just trying to do something different and she'd had fun.

Closing the show was Siobhan Magnus, who chose an ambitious song, "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. It's always risky to take on Stevie, whose songs are typically demanding vocally. Miley thought that Siobhan has something really interesting about her and said "Your voice has a swagger to it." Channeling Adam Lambert, Siobhan wore her hair in a moussed pompadour, slicked back on the side. She wore what seemed to be a Shirley Temple T-shirt, layered under a lacy shrug and a black sequined vest, paired with acid-washed distressed jeans. She seemed very comfortable with this song, and I liked the almost smoky quality of her voice, but I thought she ruined it when she ended with yet another high note that turned into a scream. Harsh. From the audience, though, Miley gave her a thumbs up. [VIDEO OF SIOBHAN]

Randy called her fearless, praising her conviction. "I love you." Ellen said, "To quote Oliver, 'More please'." She loves her, too. Kara complimented her for expressing herrself every time she performs. She said it was "not your best performance, but that end note, how do you not say it was amazing?" Umm... if you have ears? Simon thought there was "going to be a real split with you. Some people will like it, and a lot of people won't." He's also tired of her ending each song with a scream and suggested maybe next week she reverse it. He gave advice "to all the contestants, with the exception of... Crystal, which I thought was in a different league: you've got to start pushing yourselves now, and you've got to start finding better songs, and you've got to start making yourselves relevant."

Kudos this week to Crystal Bowersox, Big Mike Lynche, and Siobhan Magnus, with a nod to Aaron Kelly and Casey James.

There's no doubt Paige Miles will be in the bottom three, and it will probably be Tim Urban and Katie Stevens joining her there. This week, I think that Paige finally wrote herself a check she couldn't cash. She'll be bouncing home.

Moral:
Sometimes, too many choices is worse than too few.

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.


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Tags: american idol, music, television
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