Television

American Idol: Week #9, The Top Six

With bunch-spoiling apple Tim Urban removed, everybody suddenly got better, making this week's vote a tough call after a round of solid Shania from everyone.

Well, the Urban Legend is gone. It was quite a run for Tim Urban, a guy with no real singing ability to speak of and who didn't make the original cut to begin with. (Remember, he was a last-second replacement for shaggy orphan Chris Golightly, who was disqualified for bearing false witness, or some such malarkey.) A home-schooled, Bible-studied, teetotaling Texan, Tim was the perfect candidate for Sarah Palin's America, where actual competence is far less important than mythical value identification. Finally, however, Turbo ran out of dumb luck, and what a difference it made this week. With one bunch-spoiling apple removed, everybody suddenly got better, making this week's vote a tough call after a round of solid Shania from everyone.

Then again, maybe it's the fact that Shania Twain's songs are timelessly catchy and that her brand of country-pop is the kind of music that anyone seems to be able to have a hit with, and at least four of the final six are a good fit for today's contemporary country scene. Hey, is it me, or was Shania a far better mentor when she was still married to Mutt Lange? Without him, she just seems like a regular, boring old mentor. But I'm sure she wrote all those songs herself.

Crystal rules. Have I said that yet in this post? Last week, it seemed like the whole competition should have been over after Crystal forced the other singers to shotgun a final, decisive round of her folk-soul whup-ass. Two weeks ago, Crystal threatened to quit the show. After Crystal's performance last week, all of the others should quit. This is like watching the '96 Chicago Bulls pick off one team at a time, and even if Bowersox gets the stomach flu like Jordan did, she'll still outshoot the rest of that jazz. Then again, this is American Idol, where logic is often whimsy's bitch, so you never know. Here were the evening's findings:

Lee benefited from singing what might be the best Shania song of them all, “You're Still the One”. It was a song that fit Lee pretty well, especially since he can hardly pass for a country interpreter. Then again, I'm not sure how Shania pulled that off either. That Mutt, I tell you. Anyway, what more can we say about D? I've had problems with his persona, but he has broken out of the stocking-capped dorm-stoner vibe and separated himself from the Jack Johnson or Dave Matthews comparisons, mostly by displaying vocal chops that those guys would trade their hookahs for. Expect Lee to keep cruising.

Michael sang “It Only Hurts When I Breathe” and delivered an emotional take...Nipsey Russell! That's it! I've been trying to pinpoint who Big Mike sounds like when he sings up in that brassy whine of his, and Nipsey Russell, the poet laureate of '70s game shows. There's a point at the end of every Mike performance when the song retards to a big note and Mike throws his head back and lets the vibrato fly, his mouth quivering spectacularly. This week, Simon described such theatricality as a bit “wet”. The other judges couldn't get a handle on the British slang, so Simon offered a simple explanation: “It's the opposite of dry”. Easy to understand, but the other judges were still befuddled. Sheesh, what's the opposite of “smart”, Kara?

Casey sang “Don't”, easily the best he's sounded to date. It was an important week for Casey to climb back in after finishing in the bottom three last week, which knocked the wind out of him when it was announced. Casey is so much more convincing and compelling as an artist when he's sitting, strumming, and singing a great ballad, as opposed to the Jonny Lang electric mode that has consistently felt stilted. Country week was good to Casey, launching him back up to runner-up status. Hey, if a goober like Bucky Covington can hit big on the country charts, Casey ought to be playing the Opry by Fall.

Crystal. Being the clear favorite only means that the pressure increases each week to deliver, even to keep topping yourself each week. With that in mind, Crystal sang “No One Needs to Know Right Now”, stripped down to a string-band arrangement. It was a cool sound for her, as she managed to be different again after we thought we'd seen about every side from her she had. The judges, however, were less enthusiastic, with Kara prattling on about finding a “place of truth” in the song. Whatever. If Crystal ever makes an Americana album that sounds like this, I'll take two. (But psst, Crystal: Ease off the backtalk. Voters hate it.)

Aaron finally gets the country week he's been waiting for, his real comfort zone. In fact, it's the only zone he's got. If he doesn't shine here, he's screwed. He picked “It's In the Way You Love Me”, and it wasn't perfect. He laid an egg with one of the big notes, and he forced his voice up into his septum throughout. But, hey, with county music, that's where the money is. “You really felt those words”, Kara informed him. Aaron replied that he was singing it for his mother. That's sweet, Oedipus. That line was worth your weight in text votes. Aaron doesn't weigh enough to donate blood, so he won't rocket to the top of leaderboard, but he'll be around next week.

Siobhan sang “Any Man of Mine”, prancing through the audience in full country-jamboree schmaltz. Vocally, it was full of rickety lines that lagged behind the beat, and just when you thought it was safe to the let the dog back inside the house, The Scream returned, more ridiculous than you remember. Plus, her outfits are getting distracting. This week, she was dressed like Minnie Pearl turning tricks in the East Village. Once again, I'm at odds with the judges, who seemed to be colluding ahead of time to drag down Crystal and prop up Siobhan in order to spice things up down the homestretch.

Who will be in the Final Five? Last week, I predicted the ousting of Michael. I was wrong, but surely his number is up this time. His was the most forgettable of tonight's set, and even the judges won't be able to save Big Mike this time.

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