Well, here we are readers. The end of my first full season of watching and reviewing American Idol, and ironically Simon Cowell’s last season as a judge. I’ll continue to argue against the haters – this is what a singing competition should be. Sure, Idol’s got its flaws, but this season was at least a serious attempt to find a world-class singer from a bunch of unknowns.
Playing to a packed Nokia Theatre, Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze must perform three songs to win over the voting public: one of their own choosing, one by producer Simon Fuller and then the song that will be their winners’ song. I must say, both contenders looked fabulously confident onstage, even if Crystal managed to drop her microphone en route!
So, without any further ado, let’s get started on the performances. Leave your comments below, as always!
Lee sings The Boxer
Perhaps the American Idol turning point for [[Lee DeWyze]] was his performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer. It’s the same song he performed at his homecoming last week, so he’s had time to perfect the vocal on this one. You know the drill by now – Lee gives it everything his gravelly voice can give while strumming away on his acoustic guitar.
On the downside, it’s a tad too sleepy for my tastes, and I still prefer the original Simon & Garfunkel version which is more idiosyncratic than Lee’s straightforward rock delivery can handle.
- [[Randy Jackson]]: A great way to start it off dude. I think this night is gonna come down to a duel to the finish. I’m not sure it was like a real energetic, exciting kind of thing but it was a nice song, you sounded nice doing it. But come on man, pick it up, pick it up. Get some more energy going.
- [[Ellen DeGeneres]]: Lee, I couldn’t be prouder if I’d birthed you myself. I actually think you did that better than you did the first time. And I thought you did pretty good the first time.
- [[Kara DioGuardi]]: I agree with randy a little. You gotta punch harder. I wanna see you come even more. But a meaningful song, something that tells your story. So for that it was very believable and I love that you were connected to it.
- [[Simon Cowell]]: I’ve gotta be honest with you Lee. This is the big one, right? So I would expect a lot more passion, excitement. That was a kiss on the cheek when I want a kiss on the lips. Not from you, but you know what I’m saying. It’s got to be more than that.
Crystal sings Me And Bobby McGee
Going straight back to her comfort zone, [[Crystal Bowersox]] brings on a favourite from Billboard #1 hits week – Me And Bobby McGee. Fantastic song, and she’s back on top form tonight. A little bit screechy in places – we’ll put that down to the excitement of the evening. She certainly kicked ass harder than Lee did with his first song.
I feel slightly more invested in Crystal because of kooky shit like that mic stand that she insists on bringing with her everywhere. And compared with Lee, I think she brings something different to the American Idol buffet. Lee comes across as a safe choice – if America choose him – whereas Crystal looks like she’s got some kick in her. Spirit. Fire. Whatever cliche you want to call it.
- Randy: Round one. Duel to the finish. It started out a little slow for me, but you picked it up near the middle. And by the end, it was back to that Crystal that we’ve known and grown to love. I’ll tell you what, I hope you make a record like that. I thought it was dope, dude.
- Ellen: I’ve said it before…I think you just are so compelling on stage. You and that guitar filling up this entire room and drawing us in like this. Stunning.
- Kara: I loved it when you first did it, and I loved it tonight. You told us so much about you as an artist, and you have fire in your belly tonight. Go for it.
- Simon: This brought me back to the time when we absolutely fell in love with you. And I think the last three or four weeks it hasn’t been great. This is you, back on your best. And you know what? We’ve got a competition tonight. That was terrific.
Lee sings Everybody Hurts
So, a song choice directly from Simon Fuller – he commands Lee to sing REM’s Everybody Hurts. I could go on about throaty vocals, but this actually exposes Lee as a bit of a one-trick pony. He’s not capable of creating emotion in songs beyond ‘rock voice’. It’s good, but it’s not great. And I feel like he brings every song to the same place.
- Randy: That was definitely better. I could feel your passion…it started off a little pitchy in the first couple of bars, but you pulled it together. And I could feel that Lee that I love by the end. I liked that man, it was a lot better.
- Ellen: I felt like you went off a couple of times, but I don’t care about that, it’s really about the performance. A couple of times you really, really got into it and I was like “here we go, this is exciting” and then you pulled back again. You could feel everybody get excited when you did that, and then you pulled back. So I wanna see more of that from you.
- Kara: Lee, what makes you great as a performer is that you’re emotionally accessible. And that I can feel every word that your saying and that you’re telling a story. It wasn’t a perfect vocal, but I love that about you.
- Simon: Lee, I thought that was a brilliant choice of song for you. You went a little bit off-melody in parts. I think what I’m feeling from you tonight Lee – and I understand this – is that you’re nervous. And you’ve got another song to come. I think you’ve got to really understand what this night can do in terms of changing your life. And when you come out for your last performance, I want a 10 out of 10. Because you’re capable of it.
Crystal sings Black Velvet
Another great choice – Simon Fuller gives Crystal the old Allanah Myles classic Black Velvet. The backing isn’t quite as bluesy as it needs to be. The song’s not as good a fit for Crystal as I’d thought it would be, and she’s sort of drowned out by an overly bassy backing band. She finishes off with a glory note that would make Siobhan Magnus green with envy. I’m slightly disappointed.
- Randy: This is what I’m talking about. This is what I fell in love with from day one. Mama Sox is in it to win it. That was hot.
- Ellen: And the wardrobe changes – it’s like a Cher concert in here. I know you a little bit, so I know that was hard walking down the stairs much less singing and doing that. That was fantastic, and I give you that.
- Kara: Crystal, tonight is the night to give it your all, to kill yourself on that stage, to hit those notes you’ve never tried to hit. And that’s what you were doing. You want it, you can tell. That’s what tonight is all about.
- Simon: I had a little bit of a problem, because I’m almost allergic to that song because I’ve heard it in auditions so many times where people have absolutely murdered it. But I’ve got to tell you, you took that song and you absolutely nailed it. I’m very impressed.
Final round: Lee sings Beautiful Day
With Bono currently crocked with a back injury, you can get your fix with Lee’s winner’s single. He’s covering U2’s Beautiful Day. Guitarless, he looks uncomfortable up on the stage there. He mangles those big notes. There’s a string section on stage with him, and lots of swirly circle-the-singer camera work, but from where I’m sitting this wasn’t wonderful.
- Randy: Once again it started off a little interesting. I always love seeing you walk or dance while you’re singing, coz it’s not what you do. I feel you man, I feel you. But by the middle of the song, when you hit the high notes in the chorus you started getting your groove back. And that’s the Lee that I love and remember, the guy with the big strong rock voice. Good on you man, good on you.
- Ellen: Watching you grow to where you are right now, standing on the stage making it this far, and actually taking it in. I was watching your eyes and you were fully present for that song, taking in every bit of these people’s energy. And I love that you were able to do that. I’m so proud of you, you did a great job.
- Kara: Lee, I think you got swallowed up a bit in that song. You had some good moments and some not so good moments. But I want to say this about you. You’ve grown the most on this show, you have one of the most commercial voices of the season, and you deserve to be here tonight.
- Simon: I think you made the most of it. I felt a lot more effort. Look, this is my final time I’m ever gonna judge this show. I just want to say about you is that this is what this competition was designed for. Somebody who needs a break, having a normal job, working in a paint shop. You’ve worked hard and remained a nice person throughout, and I genuinely wish the best for you. You’re a great guy.
Final round: Crystal sings Up To The Mountain
Thank Allah for not making Crystal sing Beautiful Day! She’s singing Up To The Mountain, a Patty Griffin song that’s been widely covered, including by American Idol’s first winner, Miss [[Kelly Clarkson]]. This plays to every one of Crystal’s many strengths – gentle acoustic work, a soothing gospel choir behind her as she builds up to strong peaks and more subtle troughs. This is what I like with Crystal over Lee – she’s got a lot more control over her voice. It’s like Lee’s two tone and Crystal can use a full spectrum of musical colour. If you know what I mean. Fabulous.
The audience are rapturous and even Randy sounds humbled as he begins his commentary…
- Randy: Culminating our ninth season on this show, seeing my boy Simon here leaving the panel, this is what this show is about. An amazing song by an amazing singer, and I’m telling you what, I’m so proud of you man. This is one of the greatest performances and one of your best moments at the perfect time on this show. That was incredible.
- Ellen: You know you’re always looking for someone unique, someone that we don’t already have out there. And I cannot compare you to one person, a contemporary artist right now. You are in a league of your own. You have a beautiful voice, beautiful voice, so clear and it just pulls you in. If you’re making an album, I’m gonna buy it, if you’re going on tour, I go on tour and watch you, if you’re making a salad I’ll eat it. You’re just so so good and I’m happy to be a part of witnessing the rise of your career.
- Kara: This was a very important song for you tonight. If I have one criticism or critique for you it’s been that at times your walls have been up. You haven’t been able to really see what’s going on inside of you. And tonight, that’s all I could see. You were completely emotionally invested in that song, unlike any other night. And for me, you really blossomed just with that song. Amazing. Congratulations.
- Simon: (Crystal interjects before Simon’s comments to thank him for his comments and insights) Since it’s becoming a bit of a lovefest tonight, I thought that was by far the best performance and song of the night. And since this is going to be the final critique I’m ever going to give, I’d like to say that was outstanding.
Will Young plays out the show with Leave Right Now, which has been the elimination anthem for this season. We see a montage of the auditions and the finalists, and sit in stunned horror when we realise we’ve already forgotten many of their names. I had trouble recalling Tim Urban’s name for a moment, and still can’t remember the hippy girl who got eliminated quite early on, who many people thought was as good as Crystal.
Tomorrow night’s going to be a tear-jerker as not only does the winner (Crystal, IMO) get crowned, but there’ll be some amazing festivities to celebrate Simon Cowell’s time on the show. Hankies at the ready!