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Doing it Their Way

In a season mysteriously full of older classics rather than new hits, the Top 5 of season 9 of American Idol took on the songs of Frank Sinatra, with help from America's favorite current crooner, Harry Connick Jr.



Top 5 with Harry Connick Jr.
The Top 5 with Harry Connick Jr.



At the beginning, Ryan walked down the steps on the stage, introducing the final 5, with Harry Connick Jr. saying, "This is American Idol." Harry would be one of the most involved mentors ever.

The camera revealed director Rob Reiner in the audience, looking confused by the light on him.

Unlike previous mentors, Harry Connick Jr. would also be working on the arrangements. He brought some of his own band members to sit in with the band, played piano behind the contestants, and led the band. Harry had one more important note for the contestants before they began: reminding them to focus on both the melody and the words.

Two members of Frank Sinatra's family, his daughters Nancy and Tina, were also in the audience, and they had brought a present for Simon: a hanky from their father, monogrammed "FAS."

First to take the stage was Aaron Kelly. When he met him, Harry, always the jokester, greeted him as "Big Mike." In their time together, Harry gave him advice on how to hold notes, based on musical theory. Aaron chose "Fly Me to the Moon," a song often heard at anime conventions because of being used as the ending theme for Neon Genesis Evangelion (so I mentally compared it to all the karaoke versions I've heard). Wearing a light blue button down with a black tie, a gray vest, and black pants, Aaron started the song off slower and then speeded it up. He started off at the piano, and then moved to stand next to the mike stand. This was actually a good genre for him. He seemed much more comfortable than his usual stiff performance, but it didn't blow me away. [VIDEO OF AARON]

Randy Jackson said he's been "worried about you, because you're so young" but "you did a really good job." Ellen DeGeneres joked that "the piano was a little pitchy." She was also worried for Aaron but "didn't feel any country in that at all" (which I suppose is good, in her book). She called it "beautiful vocals." Kara DioGuardi said it was good but, compared to last week, wasn't as strong. She told him he needs more charisma, to fill up the stage more. I agree 100 percent. Simon Cowell was with Kara on this. (And took a minute to tell the Sinatras he'll treasure the hanky). Simon adored Frank because he was the king of cool. "If he was a lion, you were just a mouse," he told Aaron. He felt he didn't have conviction and that the vocals towards the end were a bit corny but praised him for trying hard.

Next was Casey James. While he was waiting for Ryan to interview him, Harry got in Casey's face and urged him, "Don't screw it up." Casey shared a funny story about a friend who doesn't realize he's on this show, who asked him to help out with a gig. Casey looks up to Harry and loves his sense of humor. Harry, contradicting his own advice, said that for Casey, "It wasn't about the lyrics. Sometimes it's about the groove." For his selection, Casey went with "Blue Skies," wearing a purple shirt and charcoal vest, his hair pulled back, which made him look a lot like Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. He started a little slow but then picked up the vibe, wearing a big smile throughout. He was a bit stiff, clearly out of his element. [VIDEO OF CASEY]

Randy called it "your worst performance," saying it was "pitchy all the way until maybe the last note" and that Casey was "out of your element." Ellen joked it was "a bad idea to have the piano on stage." She said that singing Sinatra is "about being smooth, having swagger... That felt very stiff to me." Kara observed it "took you a long time to warm up. By the end you had it." She said that on his sustained notes there was too much vibrato, making him sound like a lamb. Simon said the band was great but "you weren't fantastic." Casey, he said, "seemed a bit embarrassed and awkward" but the good news was "you've got a booking for next week," referring to his friend with the band gig. Ouch.

Ryan asked Harry what he thought about Casey's performance, and he said that Casey sang it better in rehearsal. He added that "it's hard to hear up here, and that's where the problem was."

Crystal Bowersox selected "Summer Wind" for "some personal reasons," which she didn't reveal to Harry. He said he knew she was singing about something; he just didn't know what she was singing about. As far as advice is concerned, he told her, "There's nothing I need to tell you." Crystal was sitting on the piano bench with Harry as they started, gave him a warm smile, and then walked over to the mike stand. She was wearing a floor-length evening gown in black lace, her hair pulled up in a loose chignon on top of her head. She had great control and hit the high note very well. At the end, as she sang, "My fickle friend, summer wind. I lost you to summer wind," she looked sad, paying attention to the lyrics. I never noticed before that she has a sunflower tattoo on her back. [VIDEO OF CRYSTAL]

Randy thought it was a great arrangement, though it was "one of your more subdued arrangements." He found it "a little sleepy." Ellen felt like Crystal was swallowing the words at the beginning and then started really singing. She wanted her to loosen up a little bit more but complimented her for her different sides, which she found "so impressive." Kara said that "it's out of your element but I kind of liked it." She especially praised her phrasing. Simon loves this song but didn't know if he would have chosen it for her. He found it "a little indulgent," saying the first half was too jazzy and the second half a lot better. He told her she's had two OK weeks and "now it's about being in it to win it."

Ryan asked Crystal for her response to the judges' comments, and Crystal said that it's a sweet love song that gets bigger as it goes on, that it's not always about the big notes. Simon countered that he was just giving her advice "as an artist," and Crystal said that she appreciates it, thus (hopefully) saving herself from accusations of talking back to the judges.

Michael Lynche is a real fan of the song he chose, "The Way You Look Tonight." Harry advised him to "think about your girl," which seemed to help Michael get into the emotion of the song. Wearing a black suit with a gray fedora, Big Mike did betray some nervousness, continually licking his lips. Still, he was very smooth and professional. I could actually see him putting out an album of standards. [VIDEO OF MICHAEL.]

Randy called it an unbelievable arrangement and an unbelievable vocal. "Mike is in it to win it," he announced. Ellen noted that "you have the most comfort onstage" and moves easier than everyone else. She thought he was very smooth with a lot of charisma. Kara, who had previously criticized him for being too dramatic, liked that "you found the drama in the song" and "took us on a journey." Above all, she liked that "you didn't lose yourself." Simon reminded viewers that Sinatra is "my favorite singer of all time." He said that "the first three performances have been OK; now with you, that's all changed." He liked how Mike worked with the band.

Lee Dewyze finished off the night with "This Life." Harry said that his wife thinks Lee is cute, and he told Lee to focus on the words. For the first time, Lee (wearing a black jacket, white shirt and skinny black tie) actually seemed very relaxed, perhaps because Harry was giving him moral support from his seat at the jazz organ. Surprisingly, this was a great genre for him. It truly was his best yet. Afterwards, he gave Harry a hug and Harry joked, "Get out of here with that." [VIDEO OF LEE]

Randy said it was another great arrangement. He liked that "You stayed your rocker self." Ellen joked that at first she was "distracted by Harry's organ." She gave Lee high praise: "If this was the last night of performances, you would have just won this whole thing." Kara asked Lee if he really thought he could win. Lee said yes, and Kara asserted that he can. Simon took a moment to thank Harry, who's "been absolutely incredible working with the contestants. Very generous." He liked that "What Harry managed to do is bring out your personality and your confidence. You really gave it 110 percent. It was by far the best of the night."

Kudos to Crystal, Michael, and Lee. Hopefully, they'll all be safe, but at this point it gets a little harder to predict.

Will the producers go with a bottom three or just a bottom two this week? The bottom two will probably be Casey and Aaron, although surprises could be in store. If we're looking at a bottom three, I'd say Mike is more likely to appear there than the other two, simply because he doesn't seem to have as strong of a voting bloc. In many ways, Mike is the Danny Gokey of season 9. His confidence strikes many people as cockiness, and his onstage performances often read as over the top. He's been in the bottom three -- even eliminated -- before, and at this point no one is safe. If there is any justice in the world, though, milquetoast Aaron Kelly will get his long-awaited ticket home.

Moral:
Harry Connick is serious about his mentoring duties.

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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