The opening montage showed glimpses of the Top 3 backstage and on their trips home. Host Ryan Seacrest announced that "tonight we find out who makes it into the finale." Results were based on 47 million votes.
Crystal and Casey await results
As the Top 3 came out onto the stage, we saw a shot of finalists Andrew Garcia and Michael Lynche in the audience.
Ryan interviewed them all, asking Casey James, "Is it surreal?" Casey replied it is "so much more than you ever expected." Crystal Bowersox remarked that, from an outsider's view, people don't see how much goes into this. The whole week is filled with press and rehearsals, she said. Lee Dewyze agreed, saying that his friends think he gets a week off in between performances. The show, he said, has made him a better person. Casey never thought he would get this far. He said that making it further would be like the difference between winning $10 million in the lottery or $100 million in the lottery. Crystal said, "I'm cool with whatever happens but would love to win." Lee has never wanted to win more than he does right now. Crystal expressed gratitude for the show because of the treatment she gets for her diabetes. "I would never have the care that I have now if it weren't for American Idol."
To judge Randy Jackson, Ryan asked what he sees in these contestants. Randy commented that Lee was shy when he met them and had found himself and that "the same thing happened a bit for Crystal." He didn't have much to say about Casey, though, except that he's a guitarist and singer. Crystal chimed in, telling the judges, "Everything you guys have said has been helpful." She tries to take it constructively. Lee agreed. Casey, perhaps sensing he had nothing left to lose, said that not every single comment was usable (probably referring to all the nonsense about Kara supposedly having a crush on him).
For this week's Ford video, the Top 3 painted stencils of themselves onto a wall, and the stencils sang "Real Wild Child" by Iggy Pop. After the real Idols left, the stencils made themselves a stenciled car and drove away. [FORD VIDEO]
We saw video then of Casey's trip home, featuring lots of screaming girls. He stopped by his alma mater, Milsap High School, where a full football stadium of people greeted him. Then he took a trip to the hospital to thank the doctors and nurses who treated him after his motorcycle accident six years ago. His mom was crying as he signed a guitar for the hospital staff. Finally, he performed for a big crowd and, at the close of it, got on his knees and applauded them, too. [VIDEO OF CASEY'S TRIP HOME]
Perez Hilton, in the audience, stood up to talk with Ryan about a singer, Travis Garland, he discovered through a cover he did online of Justin Timberlake. Perez claimed he was better than Justin.
Travis Garland performed "Believe," with lots of dancers and a drum line joining him onstage. It was a typical pop performance, with lots of choreographed dancing and therefore definitely lip-synched. In no place was this more obvious than at the end, where he ran up a flight of stairs and still had the breath to sing the final phrase at the top. Even though it was lip-synched (and therefore balanced and mixed perfectly), it was not better than Justin Timberlake. [VIDEO OF TRAVIS GARLAND]
Then, to Elliston, Ohio, with Crystal. She signed a fan's chest who said he's going to have it tattooed. Crowds of people came to see her, and she had fun with them, popping out of the limo's sun roof. During a parade in her honor, she handed out flowers to people from a convertible. The mayor gave her the key to Toledo. Then she performed at Bowerstock, a concert performance at what looks like a fairground. One of her originals, "Holy Toledo," was used in the video package. She was overwhelmed about this, because she's been fighting to do originals all season. This song is special, she said, because "It's the anthem for my city." The song "has given the area so much hope. That's what this is all about, man." [VIDEO OF CRYSTAL'S TRIP HOME]
Lee's hometown trip took him to Chicago. He appeared on the local FOX affiliate, and wherever he went, girls and women were freaking out (again, why???). He threw the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game and visited a local elementary school, where the kids were also freaking out. Then he revisited the paint store where he used to work a relatively short time ago, having a conversation with coworkers while fans pressed themselves against the window. He got a bit overwhelmed. Finally, he performed a concert at a packed fairgrounds. [VIDEO OF LEE'S TRIP HOME]
In a prerecorded performance, Justin Bieber performed "You Smile" and then "Baby." A very pop performance, with synchronized dancing and pyrotechnics. He wore a black jacket with banded collar and dark jeans, seemingly secure in his position as the preteen Elvis. At the end of the performance, he did the only genuinely cool thing: he sat down at the drums and played, showing his musical skills. [VIDEO OF JUSTIN]
Finally, it was time for the results. Ryan had the top three join him on stage. He read a summary of last night's performances. Then, he announced, "After the nationwide vote, the first person in next week's finale is Lee." Hearing the news, Lee all but collapsed. Crystal and Casey smiled and congratulated him.
It was down to Casey and Crystal. Ryan said, "Joining Lee for a shot at the title is Crystal Bowersox." Crystal seemed surprised, "I'm safe? I'm safe?" she repeated. She hugged Casey and told him, "Keep praying" (or "playing," which probably makes more sense). Joining Lee near the couches, he gave her a hug that picked her up off her feet.
Casey said it's been an amazing journey and he's so honored he's here. He sang one last time, the John Mayer song "Daughters." For this, he was really relaxed, as if relieved the pressure was finally over. He walked into the audience and put an arm around a girl holding a sign for him. Then he walked by the judges, greeting each of them, clasped hands with some in the audience and, in what must have been a prearranged move, picked up a little girl, carried her to the second stage, and finished the song with her sitting (looking nervous) on his lap. Crystal looked sad as she listened to his swan song. He hugged the judges as his good-bye montage rolled. [VIDEO OF CASEY'S ELIMINATION]
Why was it Casey's turn to leave? He started out the season strong, with performances that surprised an audience who had seen little of him during the audition weeks except for the very silly moment where Kara and guest judge Victoria Beckham demanded he take his shirt off. He could sing! He was cute and talented! How could anyone stop him?
The answer is that Casey stopped himself. Perhaps after he first appeared in the bottom two for the first time, or maybe even before that, it seemed like he'd lost his drive. When the judges started giving him conflicting advice -- one week loving his guitar licks, the next demanding "emotional honesty" and a focus on his vocals -- he seemed to grow confused. He tried to give them what he wanted, but his heart wasn't truly in it. Casey isn't a folk singer, comfortable with nothing but a guitar and a microphone. He lives for the excitement of fronting a band, and he feeds off the energy of high-octane blues-rock songs.
The good news is that, now that his Idol run is over, he'll be free to do that. In fact, as the third-place finisher he'll probably be much freer to put out the kind of album he wants to make, without being forced to record one of the typically insipid singles foisted on the winner.
I think Casey has a great future in the blues-rock genre. Like Kenny Wayne Shepard or Jonny Lang, he can play the music he loves and forge for himself a very successful career.
The pop scene isn't for everyone.