Wednesday night was a death match for the guys in a field that has, to this point, been defined by mediocrity. It’s safe to say that this week was a solid one for both girls and boys, and voters have successfully whittled the field down to an acceptable, if slightly underwhelming, final sixteen. What helped was saying adios last week to John Park and Jermaine Sellers, although in the case of Sellers, it was a major slap in God’s face.
I hate to raise an ugly subject, but how has race been a factor so far in the voting? While the judges did commendable work in offering a cross-section of ethnicity in the initial Top 24, voters have skewed very white since then. Last week alone, three of the four castaways were black (Sellers, Haely Vaughn, and Michelle Delamor), and the fourth was Park, an Asian-American. The week before, two of those sent home were Latin-Americans. The sole African-American girl, Paige Miles, faces almost-certain expulsion Thursday, and, of the guys, Todrick Hall has been hanging by a thread. Is Michael Lynche the Great Black Hope? Can we really chalk this up to colorblind merit? Has the viewer demographic changed since Ruben Studdard and Fantasia went the distance? Is someone going to say that this is related to the economy? What do you think? The phonelines are open.
In any case, the boys went big on Wednesday—big song choices, big performances, and, in some case, big turnarounds. Here were the night’s Biggests:
Biggest Goob: Lee Dewyze. He was pitchy, nasal, and awkward. Why do the judges give this guy such a pass, when he has zero performance charisma and can’t sing consistently in tune? Ellen last night: “You had some pitch problems, but I don’t think that matters”, which is like saying gay marriage is fine as long as it’s between members of the opposite sex. Lee is trying harder to get past his dorm-stoner vibe, and, yes, his voice sounds cool when he pushes it hard, but with the judges starting to doubt him, Lee’s momentum has, appropriately, stalled.
Biggest Sweetie-Pie: Half of Alex Lambert’s appeal is that bashful personality. His mullet is the trademark, like McCartney circa 1983 (Linda, not Paul), but he’s cornering the market as the most endearing personality of the boys. The bonus is that his frog-sultan voice is a stand-out. Last night’s performance of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” was a natural fit, almost an impression, which faltered a bit, but not enough to put the Little Lamb in trouble.
Biggest Redundancy: Another version of “Hallelujah”? Justin Timberlake on the Haiti telethon. k.d. lang at the Olympics. Enough already. Seriously, I heart Leonard Cohen, but can we retire this song for a couple of years? It is true that Tim Urban sang it much better than anyone would have thought. Hell, Ellen ran on stage and hugged him—how’s that for judging? The problem isn’t really Urban’s voice; it’s his ham-handed phrasing and over-enunciation. Still, this hairball has made the biggest Idol comeback since Randy’s post-gastric bypass weight gain. (Just kidding, Dawg. You know I’m a fan, right?)
Biggest Inevitability: Andrew Garcia is screwed. That now-legendary version of “Straight Up” was more surprising than awesome, but it stuck so deep in the craws of the judges that Garcia has been dead in the water ever since. It was no shock, then, that Garcia went back to another female candy-pop rewrite, this time a clumsy version of Xtina’s “Genie in a Bottle”. The judges after weeks of harping about it, forced him into a bizarre pigeon-hole as the dude with the neck tattoo, cardigan, chain-watch, and Charles Nelson Reilly glasses who sings teenage-girl pop covers. Simon called it desperate. You were begging for it, mate.
Biggest Stall: Casey James doesn’t have to do a whole lot to coast into the Top Ten and make the big tour. After his attempt at being a blues-rocking guitar slinger last week flopped, James sat back down and played the laid-back acoustic dude again. It may have exposed his limitations as much as anything, however. When he tries to be exciting, he’s not, and when he tries to be sensitive, his laid-back vocal delivery is underwhelming. It can’t be too long before Casey gives away the show’s biggest secret: He’s not much of a singer.
Biggest Repulsion: Aaron Kelly was wholly unpleasant Wednesday night. He ambled onstage like he was lost, and then once he sang, it was borderline horrendous. His voice sounded fatigued, so the tonal quality was grating, and he veered wildy around the notes for the evening’s cruddiest performance. While we’re at it, we might as well stop pretending that this kid’s Benjamin Button look is pop-star appropriate.
Biggest Lou Rawls: Todrick Hall finally had a performance worth crowing about after weeks of shanking his drives into the woods. There was never much doubt that Todrick was a true singer, but Simon is right about him—he’s a Broadway guy, with his trained voice, not to mention his fingerless gloves and puffy jacket. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s going to be impossible for him to elbow Alex or Casey or Michael out of the way. Wednesday, he took on Freddie Mercury, which takes queen-size balls, as the tweens at home marveled at the universal influence of Happy Feet.
Biggest: Michael Lynche. It’s quite a turnaround for Big Mike, considering that a few weeks ago, we thought he was a goner because his dad revealed his Top 24 secret. Now, he’s being touted as the guy to beat after his dramatic reading of Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work”. Randy stood. Kara cried. Mike has made everyone forget the bland guitar-strumming dude who auditioned, yet I’m still not as blown away as the judges appear to be. He has demonstrated that he’s a genuinely skilled singer and a confident performer, but his look, his movements on stage, his girth, his garden-variety vocal tone—I don’t see him moving mountains. Unless he leans against them. Mike isn’t morbidly obese like Ruben Studdard, but will America embrace a pop star who can bench press 600 pounds? Can you name another one?
Thursday’s cuts: It’s a tough call, but I think the strongest Top Six for the boys would be, in order: Alex, Michael, Casey, Todrick, Lee, and Andrew. That means Aaron and Tim would split. See you next week.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.