American Idol: Week #3, The Top 12

The shock, the denial, the pain, the guilt, the anger. Still waiting for the acceptance. It’s been a rough week for American Idol after a devastating week of cuts, for a season that can hardly afford it. Last time out, I called for Paige, Katie, Tim, and Aaron to go home. All four survived to make the Top 12, which is a drag, but not nearly as suckful as missing out on a few more weeks of Katelyn Epperly, Todrick Hall, and especially Alex Lambert and Lilly Scott. Fans of both Alex and Lilly have been doing everything from circulating petitions to organizing boycotts, reflecting the general outrage over how America could’ve gotten it so wrong. There hasn’t been this much righteous indignation over voting in this country since hanging chads.

I still don’t think Vote for the Worst is influential enough to swing this thing, by the way, mostly because I refuse to believe there are that many people out there who are devoted to malicious, mean-spirited, bottom-feeding. What kind of person is driven to disappoint the largest possible number of people, anyway? Yes, there are thousands of VTFW voters out there, but total Idol votes number in the millions. It’s much more plausible that Lilly suffered from the three-way-split in the girl-with-a-guitar vote that broke heavily to Crystal and Didi this time. Tim received glowing praise from the judges last week, which played way more into his making the cut. Mike, Casey, Lee, and Andrew all have different niches and voting bases, so when the judges heaped the praise on Tim, it sealed Alex’s fate at the cute-guitar-playing-shaggy-haired-teen-boy fangirls gravitated toward Tim.

Hey, you know what would go a long way to solve this problem? Change the voting rules of the show to Vote for the Worst. That is, callers should decide each week who should be eliminated, Survivor style. You’d vote each week for the singer you don’t want to see next week, and the one with the most votes goes home. The fans of the top contestants are heavily fractured, but a vast majority can agree on the worst performance, like Paige’s last week, who would never have made the Top 12 under such a voting structure. If American Idol wants to shake things up and endure Simon’s exit, plus increase the chances of ending up with the best singers each week, they’ll reverse the voting scheme next time out. Take it to the streets!

But for now, we march on. Tuesday saw the opening of the big stage—and a big improvement, visually—for Rolling Stones Night. I’ve been looking forward to seeing these kids dismantle classic Stones tunes, and I had carefully calibrated which songs they should play, which I’ll reveal below, knowing full well there was no chance that most of these would actually be chosen. In honor of the Top 12, here were the evening’s Tops.

Top of the Pops: Crystal again demonstrated with her safe-but-sturdy version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that this is a three-horse race, between Crystal, Shioban, and Casey. With Alex and Lilly out, everyone else is currently tied for last. (Should have sung: “Tumbling Dice”.)

Top Corn: With Katelyn out, we need a new cornball, and it looks like it’s Michael. His soul-daddy take on “Miss You” was over the top, with Big Mike kicking and shimmying and throwing his head back. He may be the hardest-working of the current candidates, but I’m not sure why the judges seem so crazy about him. When you close your eyes, Mike’s voice has a sort of throttled tone, and when you open them, Mike is the size of a Chevy Suburban. (Should have sung: “Sway”.)

Top E-ZPASS: I like listening to Didi sing, but on Tuesday she received much more praise than she deserved for her white-knuckle version of “Play with Fire”. It was probably the evening’s most unexpected pick, but she flubbed the words, sounded shaky, slipped out of tune, and stared at the camera unconvincingly. Conspiracy theory: The judges and producers huddled together pre-show and decided that they can’t afford to lose Didi and therefore would prop her up with praise no matter what. (Should have sung: “Factory Girl”.)

Top Stiff: Casey James sang “It’s All Over Now”, back in his Kenny Wayne Shepherd electric country-blues mode. Simon’s advice: “Be a star”. That’s a tall order for Casey since he’s not yet Crystal-comfortable on stage. He needs to lower that mike stand, step one foot forward, and lean into it with hustle and energy. Yo, Casey–watch some old Springsteen clips. (Should have sung: “Sweet Virginia”.)

Top Tights: Lacey’s leggings totally rocked. She looked cuter last night with a decidedly ‘80s, Pat Benatar sensibility. The Brown Clown took on “Ruby Tuesday” with a funny little arrangement, rushing through “stillI’mgonnamissyou”, backed by a string quartet. Amazingly, Lacey’s gone from clearly worst to middle of the pack in the last two weeks. (Should have sung: “Sympathy for the Devil”.)

Top Bore: Andrew Garcia, again. He chose “Gimme Shelter”, one of Mick’s shoutiest, bitchiest vocals, and, while Andrew looked better last night, he sang the song in a key too low and sounded amateurish and unfamiliar with the song. (Should have sung: “Straight Up”. Just kidding. He should have sung “Can’t Be Seen”.)

Top Close Call: Just before Katie Stevens performed, Ryan Seacrest asked Katie to name the Rolling Stones’ lead signer. Fortunately, she avoided a cringe moment by answering correctly. She should have fired back, “Can you name the drummer?” and put the heat back on Mr. Music Expert. By they way, her version of “Wild Horses” was good enough to help ease the suffering of losing Katelyn, if not Lilly. She also offered up the night’s funniest soundbite in her lead-in: “Hopefully, [I] will put Connecticut on the map”. Take that, Yale! (Should have sung: “Winter”.)

Top White Bread: Tim Urban’s “reggae” version of “Under My Thumb” was ridiculous, the least convincing genre exercise since Pat Boone went metal. Tim seems to be taking on Lilly’s jazz-warble vocal affectations in her absence, and Simon was right: This was blasphemy to a true Stones fan. (Should have sung: “Let It Bleed”.)

Top Acid Trip: Shioban Magnus’s performance-art “Paint It, Black” set-piece was truly bizarre, like Edward Scissorhands being led to the gas chamber. Simon praised it but predicted that a lot people were going to hate it. I came close to hating it, partly because “Paint It, Black” is the most nauseating Stones song ever. The judges declared it the standout performance of the night, but that scream was fit to peel that black paint, and, like Shioban perhaps, wasn’t all there. (Should have sung: “Look What the Cat Dragged In”.)

Top Improvement: I’ll ease off of my scathing dismissal of Lee Dewyze this week. His parents, in the lead-in, remembered Lee as a boy who offered to sing for them as long as they didn’t look at him. It was a sweet story, but also a good idea, so I tried it, and I liked him a lot better that way. He sang “Beast of Burden”—good pick. I hate the way he mumbles, but it was easily his best performance yet. He’s a recordable artist, even though he’ll never have the kind of performance charisma to make him a genuine rock contender. (Should have sung: “Rip This Joint”.)

Top Survivor: Paige recovered not only from her sorry showing last week, but from seething hordes decrying her existence, and a nasty bout of laryngitis, to provide a pretty good rendition of “Honky Tonk Women”. It was solid enough to justify her spot in the Top 12 as a singer who provides some diversity in the field. Paige 4ever! (Should have sung: “Undercover of the Night”.)

Top Who Are You Kidding?: Little Aaron sang “Angie”, and it was a pretty good vocal, a sharp upturn from last week. But, at 16, this guy has no idea what he’s singing about. I don’t want to watch a children’s singing contest. The attempt at making him look older and hipper by giving him a messy goose-grease hairstyle was unintentionally funny. He looked like a boy scout who was dragged out of his tent in the middle of the night. (Should have sung: “Blinded By Love”.)

Wednesday night, we cut to 11. Who should go? I’ll be happy if it’s anyone other than Crystal, Shioban, Casey, or Didi. But, as a survival of the fittest vocalist, the weakest link here is Tim Urban. See you next week.