Starting off the program, the Top 9 performed a Beatles medley, wearing black and white mod looks. The medley included "Here, There and Everywhere," "Got to Get You Into My Life," "The Fool on the Hill," "All You Need is Love," and "She Loves You." Despite the fact that it was once more lip-synched (apparently TPTB don't trust this year's finalists to sing as a group live), it was an enjoyable performance. [VIDEO OF TOP 9]
Then, the obligatory Ford ad, this time to "Will It go Round in Circles," with the contestants in a kaleidoscope. With its somewhat '60s feel, this was the last attempted nod to the Beatles (this week's theme being Lennon-McCartney songs) of the program. [FORD AD]
Then it was time for the results. Ryan asked Siobhan to walk onto the stage, where she was shortly joined by Katie Stevens and Crystal Bowersox (Crystal looking really nervous, perhaps thinking of the fact that Ryan had promised surprising results). First, Ryan declared Crystal safe, then told Katie and Siobhan that "one of you is safe, and so is the other. Take a seat." Mean!
Ryan announced that next week the finalists will be mentored by Adam Lambert for a special theme. Katie looked really excited to hear that.
Then, with none of the bottom three announced yet, Ryan welcomed to the stage a singer signed by Kara: Jason Derulo, who performed "In My Head." Throughout, I couldn't help thinking he was trying to be the next Michael Jackson, down to the little grunts and his dancing, which seemed to borrow from MJ moves, including even ending the song by going up on his toes (but awkwardly). We should all keep this in mind whenever Kara pontificates about how a contestant needs to be commercial. Do not want. [VIDEO OF JASON DERULO]
David Archuleta, the season 7 runner-up, took the stage to reprise his performance of John Lennon's "Imagine," accompanying himself on piano. He's got a new haircut, looking sort of Beatles-ish and a little more grown up. His performance was beautiful. He's definitely still got it. (Take that, Aaron.) Afterward, he told Ryan he's working on a new album. [VIDEO OF DAVID ARCHULETA]
It was time to get back to the results. Ryan had the guys form two groups at the center of the stage. First, Lee Dewyze was sent to the far side of the stage and Michael Lynche kept to the near side of the stage. Casey James was next, joining Lee on the far side of the stage. Aaron Kelly was placed next to Big Mike. Tim Urban was up next and joined Lee and Casey. Finally, Andrew Garcia was told to join Mike and Aaron.
Ryan announced that one of these groups was safe, one was in the bottom three. He asked Ellen DeGeneres for her best guess of the bottom three, based on the previous night's performances. Ellen said, "I hate this part. This is horrible." She guessed Mike, Aaron and Andrew and then, after the audience booed, "I meant the group on your right. Either way, it's horrible."
Without further delay, Ryan announced that Mike, Aaron and Andrew were in the bottom three. Lee, Casey and Tim were safe. Damn. Not Big Mike! He had the bottom three move to the center and sent Aaron Kelly to safety on the couches. This left Andrew and Mike to sweat it out. [VIDEO OF SPLIT & BOTTOM THREE]
Rihanna performed "Rock Star 101," wearing a latex suit with big shoulder pads, strutting around the stage. She does have a great voice, and I was so relieved to hear a pop star who wasn't autotuned that I almost squealed in glee. [VIDEO OF RIHANNA]
Then, it was back to the results, as Ryan reminded us the bottom two were "two fathers both trying to make a better life for their families." He continued: "After surviving a season total of over 132 million votes, the person who will perform next week and is safe is Andrew."
Crystal, safe on the couches, looked ready to cry. Ryan counseled Mike, about to sing for his life, to give it "everything you've got. Leave nothing behind."
Mike sang "This Woman's Work," which was one of his most acclaimed performances earlier in the season. His wife was in the audience crying and absolutely distraught. I was thinking, "If they don't save him, I don't know who they would save." He truly left it all on the stage.
Unlike with some previous eliminations, the judges were clearly debating. They looked very moved by the situation: Randy Jackson shaking his head and Kara DioGuardi visibly upset. Simon announced the results: "The frustrating thing is that we all wish you did something like that yesterday. This is why you're in the position you're in now. We only have one save in the competition. This is unanimous, if it's any comfort. We have decided we're going to see you next week."
The audience jumped to their feet, cheering, and the other contestants walked out to greet Mike, who was soberly hugging himself. His wife was beside herself with relief. If his fellow contestants reacted in a more restrained way than the season 8 contestants did when Matt Giraud was saved, it's probably because they all realized that, from this point on, nobody gets a safety net. [VIDEO OF MIKE]
Next week, Ryan reminded us that we lose two finalists (which would keep the season on track).
So why did it go down this way? Some people have pointed to racial factors. In recent years, black males have not done well on American Idol. However, I would point out that, over the last couple of years, those contestants have also been weaker singers. Mike Lynche was the first black male in several years who was actually strong enough to be a serious contender. In fact, I'm not the only one who considered him a shoe-in for the top five and probably the top three. Talent alone is not the reason for this week's results.
What other factors might have contributed? Mike certainly has a big personality, which is usually a good thing, but showing off his muscles and talking back to the judges have probably cost him a few points. He needs to compete not just with the current contestants but also, for some viewers, with previous winner Ruben Studdard, who was also a big guy with a big voice but who was seen as a gentler, humbler soul. Sometimes overconfidence can be a bad thing.
That alone is mild, though, because I'd argue that just as many people love Mike for his big personality. So let's look at this week's performance. Three of the judges loved it, but Simon pegged it as overly theatrical and old-fashioned. That might have cost him with voters, especially when so many of the contestants took chances with fresher approaches this week.
Most likely, he was hurt by the fact that he was good but not outstanding on a week when other people really upped their game. Those who have been pulling for Andrew Garcia might have seen the writing on the wall and voted more for him in order to save him. Even Tim Urban, whose performances have been relatively weak, had a good week. People might have rallied for the underdogs, assuming that Big Mike was safe.
Whatever the reason, this is the rudest reminder that nobody is safe in this competition.
Even the mighty are vulnerable on American Idol.