American Idol: Week #5, The Top Ten

Going into Tuesday night, we were down to the Top Ten, and perhaps for the first time since the season began, voters finally axed the right singer. Paige Miles was pretty sore when her name was called, and you can’t blame her since she was so close to making the big tour. Nor, however, can you blame America’s speed-dialers and repeat texters, who liked everyone else better, including the much-maligned Tim Urban (barely). In any case, it’s time to turn the Paige so that the real bloodletting can begin, as the finalists start truly wishing the worst for each other. The stakes go up each week, knowing that the closer you get, the meaner your agent is going to be. That is, for every Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, there’s a Kellie Pickler and a Chris Daughtry out there who are also tipping with fifties these days.

One of the season’s most surprising developments, in a season full of them, is the fact that the boys, in the Top Ten, outnumber the girls six to four, especially given pre-season projections that the girls would run away with it. But here we are, and three or four of the boys stepped up even further on Tuesday. In fact, after Tuesday, the competition seems tighter than ever, with at least six of the singers having legitimate shots at winning the whole thing. So instead of coasting, knowing that the tour is set and that the odds of winning are long, everyone appears to be in it to win it and might even have improved enough to, in the final few weeks, salvage what has been a heavily derided year. R&B lothario Usher was on hand, by the way, to coach the Top Tenners, as each chose a tune from the great R&B hitlist. In honor of the Top Ten, here were the night’s Top Ten moments.

1. Didi Gets Sad, Old-Fashioned, and Pissed. Benami is the greatest crier in Idol history, even breaking down in front of Usher when rehearsing for him. However, when the judges carved up her tone-deaf, rushed, off-hand version of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, she stared them down with a cold, steely leer that signaled an intention to kill. It was a terrible look for her, also, as she was dolled up like an Old Hollywood starlet. Next week, you can bet it all on the return of jeans and the guitar. That is, if she survives at all.

2. Siobhan Stinks. Margus Mania took a step back this week when she opened the show with a shaky, boring, ugly attempt at singing Shaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”. Nerves seemed to get the best of her, but Simon—who had a particularly strong night behind the table—got it right: It was a mess and Siobhan has exhausted the appeal of “The Scream”. Plus, she looked ridiculous, like the daughter of Zeus dressed by the Salvation Army. Margus proved Tuesday that even this season’s frontrunners are always just one step away from the abyss.

3. A Mouse Takes on an Elephant. The whole idea of Tim Urban choosing Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” is enough to make you crawl under the bed until it’s over. Then again, if your idea of entertainment is squirm-inducing embarrassment, then this was your favorite performance of the night. The worst part wasn’t even the vocal—which was average by high-school musical standards—but rather Tim’s rigor-mortis stage movements. Simon summed it up, though: Everyone already knows this guy is no good, but he’ll get his share of votes anyway. Ain’t that America.

4. How Big is Katie? Sooo Big! Katie Stevens is, to her credit, getting better, both as a vocalist and as a reasonably convincing performer—her take on “Chain of Fools” was pretty sol-d, but wholly forgettable. She’s clearly too young to hang, however, needing both more vocal training and a few more years to lose her baby fat. She’s trying so hard to be a big girl that her straining is transparent and unconvincing. It’s hard to imagine who, beyond her hometown base, is still casting votes for her.

5. Aaron Gets Pimped. Another week, another goofy hair experiment for Aaron. It’s all an attempt to make him look older and therefore cooler, obviously, but Ellen won’t let us forget: “If I had that much confidence when I was 11…”. Good one. Tonight, Aaron looked like Ed Grimley with his checkered shirt and dramatic cowlick. His performance was, like Katie’s, sturdy but pedestrian, but one has the sense that Aaron has cornered a young, Christian, rural vote that’s keeping him at the front of the pack, voting for him because he seems nice and doesn’t have any tattoos.

6. Crystal Leaves Her Comfort Zone. If Tim Urban’s farce of the week was the most awkward performance, Crystal’s piano-opening to “Midnight Train to Georgia” was the night’s white-knuckle moment. She was all gussied up in a dress, heavy makeup, and heels, and I held my breath, as she looked and sounded positively petrified at the keys. The performance was strained from start to finish, hitting wide of the mark on a song that should have been a perfect fit for Crystal. No matter—as Ellen magniloquently stated, Crystal is “never not good”. It’ll still come as a shock if she’s not the last singer standing at season’s end.

7. Casey Cracks a Smile. In fact, Casey’s wide perma-grin during his performance is getting a little annoying, as is his tendency to clip his lines, never sustaining notes for more than a second. And did he screw up the bridge to “Hold On, I’m Coming”? The good news is that, beyond Crystal, no one has been as consistently solid as Casey. Not sure if we’ve soon an honest-to-god home run from him, but at least the Mighty Casey has not yet struck out, and that’s as good as this season has gotten.

8. Lee Makes Dewyze Choice. Lee was purportedly suffering from walking pneumonia, but after his rollicking rendition of “Treat Her Like a Lady”, it might have been a case of rocking pneumonia or perhaps the boogie-woogie flu. Of all of this year’s contestants, I’ve probably been the hardest on the extremely awkward Dewyze, but his genuinely shy and earnest demeanor is finally starting to make inroads with me. I still think his Dave-Matthews mannerisms and sinusitis vocals are overrated, but I agree with the judges that last night’s performance shot him into the heart of the best-chance contenders.

9. Big Mike Will Now Accept Your Love. Bringing the guitar back out—good move—and taking a seat—ditto—for an India Arie cover was the ticket Lynche needed to get back into this thing. He found an interesting tone on song, sort of a Sade vibe, and Simon was right—it’s the first time Mike looked like a viable artist who could have legs beyond this show. Also, this dude flashed a formidable range this week, not only in his tender, tasteful reading, but in his impressively high but controlled vocal range.

10. Surprise: Andrew Kills. After weeks of getting brutally lambasted as the season’s biggest disappointment, Garcia clawed all the way back to the top with a single performance, a captivating, groovy adaptation of Chris Brown’s “Forever”. It’s easily his best performance ever and is the comeback of the year. All of the sudden, he again looks like the guy odds-makers had winning the competition during Hollywood Week.

So who goes home Wednesday? It should be Tim. If not Tim, Katie. Everyone else is all knotted up, meaning that this week was one that galvanized some momentum and suspense. See you next week.