Tuesday night's episode of American Idol was like a sandwich where only the bun was worth eating.
Casey James and Lee DeWyze kicked off "Idol Gives Back" week with solid covers of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" and Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer," respectively.
As usual, James' performance was technically sound, but his stage presence was very stiff and seemingly robotic. Meanwhile DeWyze had another terrific performance with "The Boxer."
I wish DeWyze would've started the song off softer and slower in the beginning, but overall I think his version of the song was great. I also think DeWyze has discovered that he has a unique ability - singing the heck out of songs with refrains that have no words. Two of his best performances of the season, "The Boxer" and The Beatles' "Hey Jude," have wordless refrains. "Lie la lie" in "The Boxer" and "Na, Na, Na, NaNaNaNa" in "Hey Jude." He makes the meaningless syllables sound meaningful and that means a lot during a week when the contestants were supposed to sing inspirational songs.
The next three performers - Tim Urban, Aaron Kelly, and Siobhan Magnus - will hopefully be in the Bottom 3 on Wednesday night, and deservingly so.
Simon told Urban he went from "zero to hero" last week. After undoubtedly spending the days since smiling his impenetrable smile, he unfortunately unclenched his teeth long enough to butcher the Goo Goo Dolls' "Better Days" and fall back into the ranks of the numerically challenged.
Kelly followed with a cheesy cover of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." It was somewhat entertaining to watch a scrawny teenager from Sonestown, Pa singing a song written by 43-year-old from the South Side of Chicago who has had numerous run-ins with the law. But I could barely listen to him squeak his way through the song that always makes me think about Looney Tunes characters playing basketball with Michael Jordan. (It was the on soundtrack for "Space Jam"). The end of the song was slightly better than the rest, but not good enough to keep him out of the Bottom 3.
Magnus then attempted a song from the "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack - "When You Believe" by Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston - and failed miserably. She thankfully used more of her soft, upper range this week. But she still ventured into her inconsistent lower tones and the sound of her huffing to force out her words was very distracting. The entire performance was a train wreck, from the song's arrangement to her bizarre outfit, which had fake butterflies hanging all over it for some reason.
Even though Michael Lynche sang the third straight "inspirational" song that was featured on a major motion picture soundtrack with Chad Kroeger & Josey Scott's "Hero" from 2002's "Spider-Man," his performance served at the bottom of the top portion of the sandwich's bun. He has an opposite problem from James. He has so much stage presence that it hurts the technical quality of his singing and guitar playing. But he was still a breath of fresh air when compared to the previous three.
And Crystal Bowersox topped off the sandwich with a cover of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions' "People Get Ready" that is surely going to be the most talked about performance of the next week. Bowersox burst into tears at the end of her performance following a week of rumors that Ryan Seacrest had to talk her out of quitting the show.
I initially hoped that Bowersox's tears were brought on by the meaning of the song, which was inspired by the 1963 civil rights march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world that he had a dream for equality.
But Bowersox revealed to Seacrest after her performance that her tears were simply the result of her father sitting in the audience. I don't mean to disparage what it meant for her to have her father there... emotion is emotion. And in music, sometimes it doesn't matter what the words are as long and the artist performs the song with emotion. (See my DeWyze critique above).
And for the record Kara, Bowersox is called "Mamma Sox" because she is a mother and her last name ends with the syllable "sox." Not because she "schooled" all the other contestants. If that was the case, she'd be "Teacher Sox" or "Professor Sox." So nice effort Kara, but try again.
My "lock" to go home this week is Urban. Hopefully, "Idol Gives Back" week will give something back to the Idol viewers - Urban getting set home, finally. But with the teenaged voters still enamored with him, this could be asking for too much. Like when I asked Santa for an XBOX 360 and got socks instead.