American Idol: Week #4, The Top 11

Okay, raise your hand if you miss Lacey. Me too! It was clear from Tuesday’s Top 11 debacle, a show that will decide the Top Ten and the subsequent summer tour participants, that Lacey was gone too soon. She did show up on Letterman the other night, sitting in with Paul and the band, holding her own with Dave’s quips, and singing a nice, fluttery version of “What a Wonderful World”. Paul put a friendly spin on her getting voted off: “She doesn’t have to go on the tour! That’s the best thing!”

But, of course, the tour is huge, as most of these kids will never again play an arena as long as they live, and Lacey along with this week’s reject will miss out on a nice payday, a survey of major-market Radissons, and the chance to pose for copious tour merch. In a perfect Idol world, those t-shirts would feature, along with Lacey, the visages of Katelyn Epperly, Lilly Scott, and Alex Lambert cuddling with six others. As cruel fate would have it, however, we’re going to be stuck with some combination of Paige Miles, Tim Urban, Andrew Garcia, Aaron Miles, and Katie Stevens, which isn’t exactly the gorgeous thought that would have this year’s concert promotors rubbing their hands together.

The voting debacle that has jettisoned some of the season’s most-promising performers was a subject of the night’s lead-in. After a bodiless announcer introduced the judges and Ryan — the show continues to tinker with the format — Ryan prompted the judges to offer PSAs about the importance of voting. Randy and Ellen, especially, seemed downright desperate with the knowledge that audiences have gotten things badly wrong and have aligned the worst Top Ten in the show’s history, a nightmare for a show trying to survive while its best-loved judges exit like rats from a burning barn. But onward we trudge, and it’s not all dismal—some genuine talent remains, and on Tuesday, the singers had to choose from any song to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. With that in mind, here’s what was Hot about Tuesday:

Hot Guest Judge: Miley Cyrus was on hand to offer advice to the contestants in her clipped Kate-Hepburn patter. The singers were wiggling before the mystery guest showed up—who will it be? Neil Diamond? Paul Anka? Barry Manilow? No, after scratching the itch of the show’s Baby Boomers in the past, Idol brought in a singer more familiar to the contestants, even though Cyrus has not had a #1 hit of her own yet. But once she hopped off the plane at LAX, everyone was all, “Who’s that chick who’s rockin’ kicks”? (Does that line mean that her music kicks ass or that she’s wearing cool shoes?)

Hot There’s Just an Empty Space: Paige Miles. Randy summed it up: “It was terrible”. She took Phil Collins’ splendid ballad “Against All Odds” and turned it into a rushed, tone-deaf, out-of-tune, uncontrolled pile of kitten barf. Paige sounds okay when she belts things out in her power zone, but on the soft, feathery stuff, she’s awful. Her chances of making the Top Ten? Her song choice’s title says it all.

Hot Total BS: Lee Dewzye sang the Box Tops’ “The Letter”, and no one bothered to mention that Alex Chilton just died!! I mean, “The Letter” was such an obscure pick among the thousands of #1 singles since 1958, that I figured his choice must have been precisely in response to Chilton’s passing. But not a word, not even from Randy, who should know better. Besides that embarrasing omission, Lee was better than usual, offering up a version of “The Letter” that mixed Vegas schmaltz and Stax punch. The judges all loved it, except Simon, but it’s the first makeover from Dewyze that gave him the least bit of pizazz.

Hot Yerr Out!: Tim Urban did a little baseball slide across the stage, which was appropriate because he may indeed be heading home after another crapola performance, this time on Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. It was bound to be boring since Urban can’t sing, so he should have at least held on to the guitar and turned it into a little rockabilly performance. As it was, however, the slide and his crowd-slapping was the only thing mildly interesting about it. The supportive shrieks from the girls in the crowd, however, indicate that we may not have seen the last of the Urban Legend.

Hot Illness: That laryngitis thing is turning into a great career move. Paige had her best week when she was sick last week, and now Aaron claimed to have that nasty laryngitis/tonsillitis hybrid that’s been going around. Whatever it is, it seemed to give Aaron that rougher edge he needs to help us verlook his twerpy image. Last night, Ellen joked that he was “in the third grade”, so maybe Aaron’s performance of “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” will get the Dora the Explorer vote this week. By the way, can’t wait for that full Aaron Sings Aersosmith album.

Hot It Was Only a Matter of Time: It was a forgone conclusion that Crystal Bowersox was going to roll out “Me and Bobby McGee”. It was a song she’s probably sung a thousand times in places like Rob’s basement around the hookah circle. Big ups to Kris Kristofferson, but this was essentially a Janis Joplin impression, so it didn’t take Crystal anywhere special. Still, we already know she’s the coolest and most fully-formed of all the contestants, and Randy nearly wet his pants praising her, so Mama Sox is in no danger of missing the tour. Bonus: She brings her own carpet.

Hot Rut: Michael Lynche’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” was predictably overwrought given Mike’s tiresome theatricality. He has very solid intonation as a vocalist, but his efforts to be emotionally gripping are getting cheesier and more obnoxious week after week. Lynche has come to epitomize this season’s stagnancy, as most of the performers have already dipped as far down into the cream of their talent as they can. In Michael’s case, he’s a decent-enough soul singer, but he’s nothing special.

Hot Finally, For the Love of God: It took this long for Simon to get around to stating the obvious: Andrew Garcia’s version of “Straight Up” during Hollywood Week wasn’t that great. I had to cover my face in embarrassment when Kara brought that song up again, but Simon stepped in as the badly needed raisonneur: “Maybe we overrated that moment”. No kidding. This dude’s had seven weeks to prove he’s worth our attention, and Tuesday’s sleepy, bunglesome “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was his worst moment yet. Not much longer will you be mine, AG.

Hot Most Improved: Katie Stevens is not one my faves, necessarily, but she’s had the most dramatic upswing over the last two weeks. Her take on Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (#1? Seriously?) wasn’t bad—either you like Katie’s throaty timbre by now or you don’t, but she is evolving into a fairly durable contestant, and she’s getting cuter. As Simon says, her improvement over the last few weeks is like “chalk and cheese”. (He was really bringing the British-isms last night. Full Stop.)

Hot Secret Nerd: I was reminded of an old Sam Kinison bit during Casey James’s turn. “It’s hip to be square?! Where’s that? The same place it’s hip to named Huey, I guess”. Yes, Casey got all Marty McFly on us by singing Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love”, a choice Simon decried. But Casey sounded pretty good although he threw away the verses in favor of the tougher chorus. He still doesn’t know how to stand at the mike—he looks like the sergeant just walked into the barracks, and his promise to move around the stage was relegated to three steps to his left at the end of the song.

Hot Insult: First Ryan mispronounced her name during her introduction, apologizing over the musical intro just before Didi started singing Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”. Next, Kara told her she was trying to be something that she’s not: Sexy. Then Simon pointed out the appropriateness of the song’s repetitive stanza with regards to her performance. Didi tried to fight back—not a good campaign move, traditionally—but I voted for her anyway. Her reedy tone has won me over, and we can ill-afford to lose ‘Nam at this stage of the game.

Hot Edvard Munch. Another week, another Magnus Opus. Tonight Shioban squirmed out in skin-tight stone-washed jeans and Beyond Thunderdome hair and sang a reliable version of Stevie’s “Superstitious”. The scream at the end—three weeks in a row now—has become the show’s most predictable moment; she has to do it every time now. But who’s complaining. She’s the show’s delightfully odd duck, the second-best singer, and, as evidenced by the cutaway shot to the audience, is friendly with a group of backwoods lumberjacks.

Wednesday night, we’ll find out who just misses the Top Ten. If there’s a god above, it’ll be Paige Miles who gets her walking papers. Tim stinks, sure, but they’ll parade him out on the tour for cute little duets, and the girls will squeal when he slides, which is more fun than anything Paige can offer us. See you next week. Until then, in honor of the Billboard charts, keep your feet on the ground (Tim), and keep reaching for that high note (Shioban).