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American Idol: Smile And Nod

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This week on American Idol the contestants were singing the songs of Frank Sinatra. There is something about the big band style of music that manages to bring out the best in most of the contestants. And last night was probably my favorite week out of the entire season for various reasons (some good, some snarky), which we will get to.

First off, I loved, loved, loved Harry Connick Jr. as the Idols' mentor this week. In my book, he is by far the best mentor that has ever been on Idol. He seemed to really get into the role of mentor and did the arrangement of the contestants' songs himself. I liked this, because Sinatra's music really stands on its own, and the heart of all the songs' melodies stayed intact.

The Top Five with Harry Connick Jr.Up first was Aaron Kelly, who sang "Fly Me To The Moon." I may be in the minority about this, but I loved his performance last night. I thought his voice sounded fantastic. Harry said during his mentoring session that he really liked Aaron and that "he has such a sweet voice."

What I did think was missing from Aaron's performance was some swagger. He did move around the stage some, but he still really didn't manage to own the space. The judges mentioned this as well. They also thought that his performance was not as good as the week prior. Simon Cowell told Aaron by way of comparison to Sinatra, "if he were a lion, you are just a mouse."

Aaron has the likability factor going for him. With Siobhan Magnus' unfortunate elimination last week, I can see Aaron sliding into the Top Three in a couple of weeks.

Up next was Casey James who sang "Blue Skies" sans guitar. This would be one of the many reasons I enjoyed this week. None of the contestants were not allowed to play an instrument. The time had finally come to see what Casey was made of without holding onto his security blanket.

Before rolling out Casey's pre-performance footage, Ryan Seacrest talked to him briefly about one of his friends who was not aware he was even on Idol and had called him up about playing an upcoming gig. I find it odd that one of his friends wouldn't know he's on Idol. It's one thing to not own a TV, but I hear you can still find things out by word of mouth.

Harry said during the mentoring session, "I could tell by the way Casey sang [the song], that it wasn't about the lyrics as much." This would explain why during most of Casey's performances this season, the emotional connection seemed non-existent.

Casey's performance, in short, was awful. He stayed in one spot throughout the entire performance. It was uncomfortable to watch. But, what did it over for me were two big notes at the end of his performance. The longer he held on to the notes, the more awful they sounded. It was just bad. All season I have been saying that Casey is a much better guitar player than he is a singer. I don't think it's a coincidence that the first performance he does sans guitar turned out to be a complete train wreck. (I guess I may have been onto something all this time. Just saying…)

The judges definitely had their say about Casey's performance. Randy Jackson said, "For me, this was like the worst performance, dude." Ellen DeGeneres tried to dodge her critique with some comic relief, but in the end sucked it up and told him that the performance was not good. Kara DioGuardi lost her chance at ever seeing Casey again by telling him, "You kind of sound like a lamb." She then told him to get the vibrato under control. Simon told him that he looked embarrassed and awkward throughout the entire performance. He put the final nail in Casey's coffin by adding, "The good news is that you have a booking for next week," referring to the phone call Casey had received from his friend. Oh snap. I still can't believe Simon went there. After Ryan gave out the voting numbers, Harry told Casey "you killed it a couple hours ago." Oh Harry, you don't have to lie to kick it.

Crystal Bowersox was up next with "Summer Wind." Her session with Harry went very well. He told her, "There's nothing I need to tell you."

I thought Crystal's performance was pretty good. She sounded fantastic as usual. She looked fantastic. Her dress, her hair, her make-up all looked really great. Again, her performance was pretty subdued this week, I really hope she goes uptempo in the upcoming weeks, because she can still stay true to herself and rock out.

The judges reacted pretty much the way they did the week before. Randy and Ellen said it was good, but not as good, and wasn't her best performance. Kara said that she liked Crystal's phrasing. Simon told her that he thought the song choice was rather indulgent. He also said that she needs to start giving it her all in her performances and "using the opportunity to nail it week, after week, after week." Simon also told her, "It's not about singing for yourself anymore." That statement I completely agree with. Idol is the opportunity to get your name out there. It is probably one of the best platforms a talented up-and-coming singer can get.

And of course Ryan baited Crystal during their post-performance interview and she once again wound up talking back to the judges. I just wanted to scream at her through my screen to shut up! I don't want to hear her talking back to the judges, I am sure the judges don't care for it, and she could cost herself the competition.

Crystal needs to realize that this is American Idol. It's great that she wants to stay true to herself and not get sucked in by the machine, but at some point, she is going to have to step up to bat and play ball. If she doesn't like what the judges are saying to her, she needs to try something new the next week, not bicker back and forth. It's not a conversation when you're completely on the defensive. She needs to call Tim Urban up and have him teach her how to smile and nod. The back talk to the judges needs to stop, because it's just obnoxious now.

Mike Lynche was next and he sang "The Way You Look Tonight." My first thought about his song choice was, "OH NO YOU DIDN'T!" It was during the Top Five of last season that current Idol winner Kris Allen sang the exact same song during Rat Pack Week. There were plenty of songs on the list that had not been previously sung on the show; why not just pick one that hadn't been done the year prior? He did a decent job with the performance. I'm not over the moon about it, like the judges were, but it was alright. Kris's performance from last year happens to be one of my very favorites. (But seriously Mike, stop singing songs by contestants that have won Idol.)

Lee Dewyze had the "pimp spot" last night and sang "That's Life." Harry said that his wife thinks Lee is really cute. He also said that after meeting Lee, that "he's like a new and improved version of me."

Lee had a fantastic performance. He seriously is just improving every week. Throughout the entire performance, he oozed swagger in his movement and in the tone of his voice. I was very impressed with his final note. It had nice tone and was on pitch. Randy said that he loved the performance. Ellen continued the sentiment by saying, "If this was the last night of performances, you would have just won the whole thing." Overstatement of the season, in my opinion. Kara told Lee, "You can win this thing." This comment leads me to believe that the judges are ready to jump ship on Crystal Bowersox and swim over to Lee Dewyze's team. Simon credited Harry for bringing out Lee's personality and confidence in the performance. Simon then told Lee that he "gave it 110 percent and by far, I think for all of us, the best performance of the night."

I do agree with Simon — Lee's performance was my favorite of the night. I thought he was nothing short of fantastic. I pretty much loved everything about Harry Connick Jr. last night. There's absolutely no pretense about him, he seemed so at ease with the contestants during their mentoring sessions. I loved that he worked out the arrangements for the contestants in a way that it still complemented their style of singing. What I loved even more was that instead of sitting and watching the show from the audience was that he was onstage playing the piano and organ behind them. Now that's a mentor. I think he has completely set the bar for what an Idol mentor should be and how involved they should get.

What did you think of the performances? Who do you think will be eliminated this week? And on a scale of one to ten, how in love with Harry Connick Jr. are you?

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.
  • Jim Remy

    Totally agree: Connick was the best mentor they’ve had.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I think the voting was right on once again. The voters are possibly looking at the totality of a contestant’s performances, not just the most recent one. Aaron, lovable as he is, always looked awkward moving on stage and doesn’t seem fully ready yet. He may be fantastic in a few years, but now he comes across as a kid playing grownup — a kid with a prodigious voice, to be sure, but not yet a complete performer.

    Casey had been off key on Tuesday, but in the group numbers Wednesday he was really good, a vast improvement. Connick’s arrangements and the harmony vocals were great in both group numbers — Manhattan Transfer-ish, even. [I don’t think they were lip synching this week…could be wrong about that.]

    Group numbers had been mostly embarrassing this season up to now. It was yet another reason to be glad Harry Connick was this week’s mentor.

    So now we have two smooth semi-pro crooners, Casey and Mike, who have been likable and reliable but not exciting, and two more original alt/indie/folk/rock performers, Crystal and Lee. It’s been clear since early in the season that they were the likely Top Two.

    Jamie Foxx and “Songs from the Cinema” sounds like a snooze, but I’ll be happy to be wrong about that.