American Idol 2010: The final 9 take on Elvis’ greatest hits

You know what I love about [[Ryan Seacrest]]? It’s the infinite number of ways he can say “This…is [[American Idol (2010 Series)|American Idol]]”. Each week I’m wondering where the inflections will be. I bet he practices that in his bathroom every morning.

But tonight’s show is all about one thing: The King. That’s right, this is American Idol’s Elvis week. There’s plenty of material to choose from, but it’s all tainted by the definitive style of Mr Presley himself. How will the contestants compare? The pressure’s on this week, as Two Finalists Must Die!!! OK, maybe not die, but two will be eliminated to compensate for the judge’s saving Michael Lynche last week.

Helping them aspire to greatness is the man who helps keep the mascara industry in business in these tough financial times: let’s have a round of applause for Mr Adam Lambert. Not quite the King, and I’m not gonna mar this intro with any ‘queen’ jokes, OK?

Actually, screw Lambert – anyone else notice Sue Sylvester sitting in the audience? I was trying to wave at her through my television, until Seacrest snaps my attention back with his comment to Lambert: “Well, my tongue’s not nearly as talented as yours.” They must’ve been comparing tongue technique while I wasn’t watching…

Crystal Bowersox

Lambert has advised [[Crystal Bowersox]] to come out playing electric guitar. She gives us a pretty gutsy gospel vocal on a Presley song called Saved. She’s truly fantastic, the complete package. But where the judges are slating other contestants for not being contemporary enough, Crystal has a particularly retro feel that they’ve glossed over every week. My big question at this point is what sort of music is she going to release to the charts if she wins?

[[Randy Jackson]]: Every week, I know I say this like a broken record. But that’s the way to come out and give it up. You had energy, it was dope. You got this whole cool blues vibe goin’ on. I thought I was listening to somebody’s record. It could have been the second coming of Bonnie Raitt or something. [[Ellen DeGeneres]]: I’m so tired of telling you how great you are. Are there any birthdays in the audience we should celebrate. Fantastic, Crystal. [[Kara DioGuardi]]: It’s another solid performance from Crystal, it is. I love that you picked it, the lyrics were kinda controversial for that time. I love the up-tempo, I feel your personality comes across more and the arrangement, the switch up gave some drama. [[Simon Cowell]]: That was a lyric I could personally relate to: the lying, the cheating… What I loved about that was that you didn’t choose an obvious song. You chose something which suited you. You put your own slant on it, and most importantly you didn’t fall into the karaoke trap, which a lot of people are going to do tonight. For that reason – original, sounded great and congratulations once again.

Andrew Garcia

Dead man walking, [[Andrew Garcia]], has taken an Elvis classic – Hound Dog. Lambert didn’t pull his punches when mentoring Andrew – he straight out called it a boring performance. This is pure lounge, right down to the handkerchief pinned to his jacket pocket. Are you supposed to pin those things on the outside? It should be obvious to anyone with working ears that American Idol is not the place for Andrew Garcia to be singing. He’s out of his comfort zone and floundering terribly.

Randy: I hate to say this, but Simon Cowell kind of predicted it earlier. That was not good karaoke. I didn’t like it, I didn’t get it at all. This is Elvis, one of the greatest ever. Ellen: I have your back too, because I wish you had put a little bit more swagger into it, you put a little bit into it and I liked how much your changed it. And I think you needed to do something like this, and I thought you pulled it off. Kara: It’s Elvis. You gotta own it. He owned the stage. And I felt liek the mic was your crutch almost – you were dragging it around as opposed to opening up and owning the performance. There were some nice places where you changed up the melody, but I wanted to feel more from that performance. Swagger like you’re really up there to be a star, it really is your last performance, and I didn’t get that from you. Simon: It was lazy, unpredictable and like when you see one of these musicals. There’s always one part in it which nobody really wants to see and hear. And that was the part. It didn’t feel like the star performance. It feels like all of your coolness has been sucked out of you now. I really didn’t get it.

Tim Urban

The kid we’re calling “Teflon” [[Tim Urban]] returns with a rendition of Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, a beautiful Elvis ballad that’s bound to win the girlie vote. Adam Lambert praises his ‘pretty’ rendition. I remember Elvis performing this one in the Blue Hawaii movie, and it was quite a romantic moment in the movie – just Elvis and a tinkly little music box. Tim’s version – for me –  is a bit of a simpering, unimaginative singer/songwriter-by-numbers attempt. Not bad, but was never going to blow me away. A bit of research might have helped him approach it with more passion.

Randy: This may surprise you, I actually liked it! Ellen: The first time I took a shot of tequila, I didn’t know if I’d like it or not. Then I took another, then I took another, and I really enjoyed it. That’s how I feel about you. I can’t help falling in love with you Tim. I thought that was beautiful. Kara: Probably my favourite Tim performance ever. It was authentic, real, from your heart, current, singer/songwriter. And you didn’t have to do a lot, you didn’t have to move all over the stage, because it was that meaningful. Simon: Did I see Ryan dancing in the background? That was very beautiful, that part. You have managed to from zero to hero in two weeks. You don’t need much: you and the guitar, good song. Very clean arrangement, you’re growing in confidence.

Lee DeWyze

Everybody’s lining up to attack [[Lee DeWyze]]’s slightly stiff stage performances. Perhaps Adam’s the guy to loosen Lee up a bit and bring out his inner flamboyant singer. DeWyze is performing A Little Less Conversation tonight. He puts in an impassioned vocal on this one, which has elements of country and some great rock riffs in it.

Randy: You are definitely in the zone, dude! Another great, amazing performance. I loved the guitar copying the rhythm stuff, I love where your voice is. Very good. Ellen: You made that so current. That really sounded like a brand new song. And I like that you’re engaging with the audience more, there’s more confidence. Every single time you show more confidence and own that stage. You get better and better and better. Kara: I’ve never seen you ever go for it vocally like you did tonight. You really went for it. And I loved it. An intensity that I’ve never seen from you. The only thing I wish is: a little bit lighter, playful. You get very serious. But the vocal was fire. Simon: When you say playful, what do you want? Kittens? It was about nailing the song. That was on the money full stop.

Aaron Kelly

[[Aaron Kelly]]’s singing Blue Suede Shoes tonight, but Lambert has reservations that Aaron doesn’t believe in himself. You’d think with Aaron’s talent for country-style singing and the rockabilly nature of this song that it would be a great pairing. It’s not. Possibly his weakest moment on American Idol, in my opinion. And that ending? My ears are bleeding.

Randy: For me it started off kinda weird, I didn’t like the first part. But when you broke into the half time with the whole blues thing, I think it fit your voice a lot better. I wish you’d done the whole song that way. Ellen: I thought of all the songs to pick, it’s probably the most iconic Elvis song. I thought that was a big song to take on. So I have to give you an A for effort. And I thought you did a really good job. I don’t think you got all the way there, but you did a really good job. Kara: Aaron, you’re out of your comfort zone, and I like it. You seemed younger. You had some nerves, because you’re a little bit scared of the song. That worked for you – I think it pushed you, it gave you that growl, it gave you that edge. It felt more current and young for you and I’ve been lacking that. Simon: I don’t think it made you younger. I think it did the opposite for you. It’s a very old-fashioned song, a very old-fashioned arrangement. Look, it was what it was, which was somebody at a high school doing a concert at the end. There’s nothing wrong with it in that context, what’s frustrating is that you didn’t make it young. It was very karaoke. Unlike Crystal and Lee and even Tim, I think you failed to do that. And it felt like you were dressing up for the part.

Siobhan Magnus

When I hear [[Siobhan Magnus]] is doing a cover of Suspicious Minds, I find myself racking my brain to see if there’s a screaming part in it. Hopefully not. She’s wearing her hair up tonight. It’s fascinating how much her appearance changes depending on how she wears her hair. OK, my verdict on this performance? Boring. Sounded good when she went into the middle bit, but then she built up to her trademark scream. We didn’t need the scream though. That’s played out. Predictable.

Randy: You took a couple of risks tonight. I kind of liked the whole Supremes-ish intro to the thing…when you broke into the halftime part, the slower part is where you really came alive for me and I heard those big vocals. I’ve been missing those vocals for weeks, and I’m happy they’re back. That girl can sing, right there. Ellen: You look fabulous. You look great. And I agree, I liked the second half more than I liked the first half. I really do miss that from you. I know you’re getting mixed messages like “too much” and “back off”, but that really is what you do best. You really have a beautiful voice, I like it a lot. Kara: I feel like you guys are picking up on this like Siobhan has two voices. The first part of that performance is one voice, the second part is this crazy screaming thing. And it’s getting confusing for me. I’m sorry, I wasn’t crazy about it. Simon: To me, it was like you were put in a time machine and you came back in twenty years time. This was like a completely different person. I thought the first part of the song was terrible. And even when you hit some of those big notes later on, you didn’t quite hit the notes this time. So it sounded to me very erratic, very screechy, and I kind of feel that you’ve lost who you were two or three weeks ago. But this was not one of your best performances.

Michael Lynche

[[Michael Lynche|Big Mike]] returns from being ‘saved’ (in a non-religious sense) with a considerably safer song choice of In The Ghetto – one of my own favourite Elvis songs. Lambert comments that Lynche is an amazing singer who deserves to get right to the end of the competition. And Big Mike totally redeems himself. I actually got chills when he sang the “People don’t you understand…” line. I’d buy this version. Fantastic. Vote for Big Mike, America!

Randy: The song was a little sleepy for me, but this is a singing competition and those vocals were hot baby. Ellen: I’m glad we saved you. Kara: A beautiful song. You definitely sang it well. Simon: we’re running out of time, so we haven’t got much to say. But it was a million, billion times better than last week, and one of my favourite performances that you’ve done. It was a terrific choice of song. Congratulations.

* I’m glad Simon pointed out that they were out of time, because I was worried for a second about how short the comments were!

Katie Stevens

Never heard this Elvis song before – Baby, what You Want Me To Do? I love the concept that [[Katie Stevens]] is confused by the judges’ comments and the song is asking them what they want from her! She walks out onto the stage a far more confident young woman than we’ve seen recently. Fantastic vocal – she’s finally sorted out the singing in tune thing, and that was a brilliantly ballsy performance in places!

Randy: Katie’s getting a little sassy, letting all the vibes out. Nice vocals, nice. That was entertaining! Ellen: That was a very horny song, there were a lot of horns in it. A lot of horns in it. Man, you can sing! That was great. Kara: Katie, you just showed us judges. I think you just showed us girl. Good job. Simon: For me, I just found it very loud, a bit annoying. I just didn’t like the song very much. Look, they liked it, so it doesn’t matter what I think.

Casey James

Closing out the show tonight is one of my top three – [[Casey James]]. Casey’s selected Lawdy Miss Clawdy. Lambert – possibly one of the most hands-on mentors this season? – gives him some great constructive advice for how to perform it. Just like Crystal at the top of the show, Casey has everything nailed down – flawless vocals, rockin’ (yes, I said rockin’) arrangement and a confident performance.

Randy: You definitely in the zone. I didn’t see anything different, but it’s another solid performance from you man. Ellen: I agree, I love your voice. You look great. You look comfortable surrounded by a whole sea of women over there. It wasn’t as exciting as I would liked to have seen, but you’re always good. Kara: Casey, we know what you’re capable of. You have brilliance and that just really fell short for me. There’s so much more to you. I want to see that next week. Simon: I’m going to call that one – bearing in mind this was Elvis – a wasted opportunity with a song that was completely forgettable. But your vocal was good.

End of the night factoids

My bottom three: Siobhan Magnus (for redundant screaming), Andrew Garcia (put him out of his misery, please) and Aaron Kelly (weak performance, I don’t see him winning this).

Surprise comeback: Katie Stevens – I’d written her off a couple of weeks ago, but she was a sassy, confident performer. Screw Tim Urban, at least Katie gave a performance with balls. Or horns.

Seacrest gaffe of the evening: So much to choose from – the Glee cast doing the “L” on his forehead, getting his mother to introduce Tim Urban. But the stand-out moment was when he claimed Brian Dunkleman would be co-presenting Idol Gives Back next week! Half the audience don’t remember Dunkleman, and the half that do probably thought it was in bad taste (he was the American Idol co-presenter back in the first series, but wasn’t invited back!)

Worst song choice of the night: Aaron Kelly’s Blue Suede Shoes, without a doubt. He just couldn’t carry that song.

Final thoughts: When you look back at the dawn of modern rock – like Elvis Presley or even The Beatles, those guys had nothing to vibe off. No record-breaking musicians to copy or performances to inspire them. Yet even now, watching an Elvis performance, you can see how confident he was, even in the early days when he was doing some pretty controversial stuff. When you watch the Idols doing the same songs, sometimes it’s disappointing that they don’t perform the same way – they have decades of classic performances to draw from. I often wonder, do contestants on reality TV talent shows feel music in the same way that rock legends of yore did? Leave me a comment, tell me what you think…

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