Saturday, May 22, 2010

American Idol Top 3

At last, the long expected Final 2 of Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze is set. For the first time ever, two Midwesterners will compete for the title of "American Idol" and while the winner for the first time will hail from a state that was won by a Democrat in the last Presidential election (though Ohio did go Red the last time the GOP won), there is of course some particular interest to me because Lee is basically from my hometown. I caught a little bit on YouTube of his emotional homecoming last week to the Chicago suburbs and got a kick out of seeing some local politicians, including Arlington Heights Trustee Tom Hayes, front and center as part of the festivities.

As someone who has watched every season of American Idol though, this is legitimately the first time I did not have a committed preference going into the Finale. I really do not care who wins this year. I certainly will not do what I did the last two seasons and cast a few votes. I probably will not watch the show live, (though hopefully I will not need to be watching hockey on Tuesday night).

Basically from Hollywood, I thought that Crystal was going to be the best of the season, and in the early portions, she certainly proved it and I never thought I would not want to see her win. However, she has fallen a bit off her previous pace in recent weeks, while Lee, (though not always terrific) has shown growth in the competition and as will be discussed below, was the best one in the Final 3 and is going into the Finale with a great deal of momentum. That, and the hometown factor, sort of make me root a bit for him, but also, I am a bit taken aback at the pimping he has been getting from the judges and the show leading up to and including this week. That sort of thing usually backfires on the contestant. Crystal was the front-runner all season, but now is perceived as the underdog. Either American Idol really wants Lee, thinking he is the more commercial and radio friendly singer, who they can also greater mold to suit their needs, or it is all a deliberate set-up to generate a backlash and deliver the win to Crystal after all.

It certainly will be different to not "endorse" a candidate in the Finale. My track record is pretty good. In every season but one, I think the rightful winner was elected. In every season but one (different than the one where I think the better performer got passed over), the person I have wanted to win going in, would wind up having the better evening in my view. So, while I may have been openly supporting Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Bo, Taylor, Jordin, Archie, and Kris, I just am unable to really pick someone here.

In any event, I can talk about it some more next week in what will be my (thankfully) final post on American Idol Season 9. Before that though, let's look back to this past week, where Texan Casey James was introduced to a bus. Perhaps a bus named Syesha considering the terrible song choice the judges gave him. At times this season, I found Casey to be the best singer of the whole bunch, but he seemed sort of non chalant at times, including what he picked as his own song choice this week, so one cannot really shed too many tears about his not making it into the Finale. Crystal has at times played the game well and now Lee really looks like he wants it, so they deserve to face off for the crown.

Round 1- Songs They Picked For Themselves, Assuming American Idol Producers Did Not Really Have Final Say:

Casey James, -"Ok, It's Allright With Me"

Never heard this song before and like he has done most of the season, Casey gave another "ok" and "allright" performance. It just was not very memorable and did not do much to motivate anyone, beyond his already dedicated fanbase to cast a vote for him. Casey probably knew he had no real chance going into this week though, so maybe he just wanted to do the kind of music he felt most comfortable with. He is an extremely talented guitarist and a usually good singer, and while I really like a lot of his blues rock sensibilities, he probably is not going to be selling out many arenas in the years ahead. Grade B

Crystal Bowersox- "Come To My Window"

When they announced what her song choice would be, I was pretty excited. This could have been stellar for her, and I thought it was a smart strategic decision to pick a pretty well-known song that suited her style. I thought it was really good at parts, but it was not in the same league as Melissa Etheridge's original and probably generated some unfortunate comparisons for Crystal. The harmonica playing (along with the guitar) which Crystal had not attempted since Top 24 week, might have made her seem a bit distracted throughout the number. It could have been a "moment", but instead was just more like a "few seconds." Grade B+

Lee DeWyze- "Simple Man"

Always good to hear some Skynyrd on American Idol, and I think this was the best performance of the evening. Like the two who proceeded him, Lee also accompanied himself on guitar, but his vocals really seemed spot on. That is something that has sometimes eluded Lee in live performances. One of his strengths all season, which has helped him overcome the occasional pitchiness and bad notes has been how believable and "genuine" he is on certain songs and this was certainly an example. Watching how emotional he was at his trip back to the burbs, I think has really made a lot of people relate to him even more and want to see him win, considering where he started from. Interestingly enough, a few days after this performance, I came across a clip of Lee on YouTube singing this very song at some local karoake place. It was decent enough, though far from as good as he was on the Idol stage, and after it was over, the pre-Idol Lee demonstrated his approval of the performance by shouting out a very non-family friendly expletive. For his sake, he better not do that on Wednesday night if he wins! Grade A-

My rankings for this Round would ultimately wind up being the same for the Second Round and thus overall evening, (pretty sure a first for me on Idol non-Finale) and so I will present it at the end.

Round 2- Songs Picked by the Judges (and I wish they still would have three rounds at this portion)

Casey James- "Daughters"

This John Mayer song was picked by the combo of Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson and is just not something I want to listen to. There was not much Casey could have done with it, besides a risky attempt to turn it into some sort of electric guitar jam. Kara said he picked it so Casey could appeal to his estrogen laden fan base, but Casey seemed to not have much enthusiasm for what they put him up there to do. It was the equivalent of Syesha Mercado being assigned the song about the penguins a couple years back. Grade B

Crystal Bowersox- "Maybe I'm Amazed"

Going into the evening, people thought that Ellen DeGeneres's selection for Crystal would be the highlight of the night. I certainly think this was a very strong performance by Crystal and showed why she belongs in the Finale. the song is a little "yelly" at parts, but that is how the original Paul McCartney version goes. Crystal also kept true to the original lyrics of the song by singing "I'm a man" and "you're a woman." I sort of chucked at a story I found the next day on the Drudge Report that seemed to think that American's Favorite Lesbian judge (excluding Elena Kagan?) had some sort of agenda. Others thought Crystal did the right thing by not turning the pronouns around. Changing them would have probably interrupted the rhythm of the lyrics though. Crystal should get some points for leaving her comfort zone by performing without any sort of instrument and walking into the crowd. Grade A-

Lee DeWyze- "Hallelujah"

Die-hard Idol fans were maybe a little disappointed with Simon Cowell's choice for Lee. Besides the fact that the retiring Idol judge is said to own publishing rights to this song (thus getting paid every time it is sung on television), it has been performed quite often on television in recent years. It was first done on the Idol stage a couple years ago when Jason Castro had a "moment" and then this very season when Tim Urban exceeded all expectations by not sucking on it.

So, there was some rightful skepticism about what Lee would do with it. One cannot say that Lee was not anything other than very good (nobody has yet to bomb on this tune on Idol yet). His earnestness and genuineness shone through and it was a nice "moment" for him. But come on, the choir joining him on stage (no bagpiper though) at the end and the over the top praise by the judges was maybe laying it on a little thick. There has to be some sort of agenda at play and after Wednesday, we will know perhaps it was an agenda to help Lee or to help Crystal. Grade A-

Final Three Rankings:

1. Lee DeWyze (2)
2. Crystal Bowersox (4)
3. Casey James (6)

Who Should Have Been Eliminated: Casey James
Who I Predicted Would Be Eliminated: Casey James
Who Was Eliminated: Casey James

My goodness, was this the first week the whole Finals that I called one correctly? It feels like that, but it was not exactly difficult this week.

One prediction I will make about the Finale is that Crystal will duet with Melissa Etheridge on Wednesday night (though probably not on "Come To My Window") I am not really sure who they will get to sing with Lee. If he had his wish, it would be Yuself Islam/Cat Stevens.

First though Tuesday will see them (I think) singing three songs each at the Nokia Theater.. Based on precedent, they will likely reprise one of their stronger performances from the season, followed by a preachy message song selected by producer Simon Fuller. Then, they will likely both have to sing the dreadfully cheesy "winner's song" that is all but certain to contain the words "proud", "heaven", "moment", "flying", and "magic rainbows." It has mattered in the past, but I do not know if either Crystal or Lee will be able to use the schmaltz to their advantage.

For a variety of factors, I think Lee is the now the more likely Finalist to win. Whomever it is though will probably be remembered for winning perhaps the weakest ever season of American Idol. They should also get credit though for a strong season, and for showing resiliency. While the ratings for the show may be down, whomever wins will have done what was needed to gain and rouse a fanbase to spend hours phoning and texting away. I just will not be one of them.

Last season's Finale between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert was considered pretty exciting, but nobody cried on stage when it was over. I am extremely confident that there be a gusher of tears after the Seacrest announcement and into the "coronation song" by either Crystal and Lee. They are both criers.