American Idol: Week #8, The Top Seven

Dear god, this show is still on. And I hate to be the one to say it, but we still have five more weeks. You now get the feeling that folks are sticking with the show only because they’re waiting to watch Glee. In any case, seven contestants remain, down to six tomorrow night after a special episode, Idol Gives Back and Boots Off Michael Lynche. This season has been rocky, to say the least, and watching the final seven line up for the evening’s show provided a sinking feeling. The cuts of Katelyn Epperly, Alex Lambert, Lilly Scott, etc., are really starting to come back and hurt.

Thankfully, we keep getting off-stage scuttlebutt every few days, and what rocked Idol Nation this week? Crystalgate! Word spread that Bowersox, the clear frontrunner, wanted to abruptly quit the show (“What’s the point?” she cried), but she was talked off the ledge by Ryan Seacrest (“You’ll be able to buy your mom a house!” he pleaded). No mention of the episode on Tuesday’s show, but the story did take attention away from Kara’s ongoing quest to be publicly nude. (First her bikini stunt on the show last year, then a Maxim spread a few weeks back, now the Allure “Nude Issue”). Tonight’s guest coach was Alicia Keys, who mentored the kids on the supremely vague theme, “inspirational songs”, the lamest producer’s move in a season full of them. Here’s what went down.

Casey James led off the show with a jazz-blues run through Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”, pushing a Gregg Allman growl about as hard as we’ve heard. Last week, it had become clear that Casey does the same thing every week, which is sinking Casey’s overall stock. There isn’t a whole lot Casey can do about it, however, given his limitations as a vocalist. He hasn’t sung a single song all season without his guitar, so the judges’ pleas for Casey to break out of his rut will be in vain. The judges, by the way, have run out of things to say (and trust me, I understand their plight), but this week they were especially useless. Ellen for example, offered, “It has to be great, and it wasn’t great”. You could see Casey thinking, “Thanks, comedienne, I’ll work on it”.

Lee Dewyze. We actually saw a slightly different side to Lee this week, and we also learned that Alicia Keys was unfamiliar with “The Boxer”. I very much hated the change Lee made to the melody on the first line; trying to improve on a Paul Simon melody is like deciding one of Monet’s water lillies needs touching up. Any version of “The Boxer” has a chance of being lovely, but Lee’s rendition wasn’t terribly moving. Still, the judges came unglued, with Simon offering what might have been his most effusive praise all season long. It’s clear that the judges would like to see a Crystal/Lee faceoff in the finals, which is starting to look very likely.

Tim Urban. How do you solve a problem like Turbo? The judges backed off the kudos for Timmy, even though his version of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days” was pretty much the same caliber that earned Tim admiration from the judges in the last few weeks. The producers/judges have probably played it about right, encouraging voters to keep Tim around as it has been good for the overall show, but having him reach the final five would be embarrassing. This week, he sang a song that fits him, but he resembled a singer in one of those mega-churches that have rock bands instead of choirs. Will the Turbine Engine continue to run? One more week?

Aaron Kelly. When Seacrest announced that he had survived the cut last week, he acted scared shitless, like he couldn’t bear to face one more Yoda joke backstage. But tonight, A. Kelly stepped up and sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” almost like a man. He was clearly trying to really bring it, singing hard and pulling out every vocal trick in his bag. He also looked about as good as he can, refreshingly free of bad hair gimmicks. Hard to believe: This song came out in ’96, and Aaron remembers singing it in pre-school.

Siobhan Margus. Marg has gone downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. This week, she came out dressed like a forest-pixie strumpet. The two-voice thing was back—heavy on the mike-abusing over-enunciation and heavy breathing—for a version of the Whitney/Mariah duet “When You Believe”. I liked her better than the judges, who are doing their best to do away with her, which might put her in trouble on Wednesday. Also killing her: Her assertive, philosophical windbaggery after Ryan’s questions. Her friends in the audience, however, remain awesome—this week, she apparently brought a group of deranged soccer rioters.

Michael Lynche. Big Mike held on to the guitar this week, flanked by a string ensemble, for Chad Kroeger’s “Hero”, a song that everyone hates. It was cluttered, overwrought, post-grunge drivel that didn’t do Michael any favors. In fact, since voters already passed on Mike two weeks ago, it’s hard to imagine he’s going to generate enough support this week to avoid the bottom of the heap.

Crystal Bowersox. Okay, wait—did you see that? Crystal broke down bawling at the end of “People Get Ready” during the live performance, but then when they played back the recap medley of the evening’s peformance clips, it was a totally different tears-free ending. Huh? What is much clearer is that Crystal’s dominance over this field is obvious and increasing. She’s the only contestant whose performances feel like watching a genuine pro, not someone auditioning and hanging on for dear life. It’s Crystal and then everyone else. We still have five weeks to go before we can crown her, so it makes sense to quote Crystal’s own words: What’s the point?