American Idol: The Top Three

For all of the heat American Idol has taken for this ninth season — “Worst season ever!” “Worst contestants ever!” “Ellen flopped!” “Paula 4ever!” — now that the show has boiled down to the top three, even the haters have to admit that we have the makings for a hot final. Yes, viewership is down this year, which doesn’t bode well for next season, but an expected Crystal vs. Lee showdown ought to make for some entertaining television by any of Idol’s past standards. Take the last time we had a Battle of the Sexes in the finale, when Blake Lewis lost to Jordin Sparks back in Season 6. (I’m still pissed that Melinda Doolittle didn’t win that year.) Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox are certainly easily as strong as that pairing and have careers ahead of them more worth paying attention to. Plus, they both continue to get stronger each week.

This scenario is, of course, assuming that voters axe Casey James this week. It definitely seems that everyone wants him gone, including the judges, who saddled him with John Mayer’s tender but lifeless ballad “Daughters” as the judges’ pick. James’s version of the song was serviceable, but was hampered by the same stilted performance style that has held him back all season, which might even be more pronounced now that he’s leaning so consciously away from his bleat. Casey’s comportment at the microphone finds an unlikely combination of nervous panic and wooden aloofness, and his offhand reading of Eric Hutchinson’s “OK, It’s Alright with Me”, his own choice Tuesday night, was a typically dull Casey moment. The final line, “I’m already gone”, was the evening’s most appropriate lyric. Casey could surprise, but it looks like he’s heading home, and that’s Cool.

Crystal Bowersox, on the other hand, hasn’t been close to elimination all season, pegged early as the one to beat, and Tuesday night she did enough to prove why. Her rendering of Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window”, with a Neil Young-ish harmonica opening, was fine — she has plenty in common sonically with Etheridge — but it was her blast-furnace version of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” that impressed. It didn’t hurt that “Maybe I’m Amazed” is, like, the greatest song ever, but Crystal dug deep and hit those big notes like Axl Freakin’ Rose. Siobhan Magnus’s screams were just novelties, but Crystal’s glass-cutting wail on Tuesday reached down through my crown chakra and bitch-slapped my soul. She sounded cool, looked cool, and I love that she didn’t change the “I’m a man” lines to fit her gender (and you know Ellen did, too).

The night, however, really belonged to Lee Dewyze, whose evolution from patchouli-scented mumbler to heartland belter has been the season’s most remarkable turnaround, and this week it looks like he has moved firmly into first place, at least according to my mother. His choice of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” was an ace pick, convincing me that Lee could make for a solid Southern-rocker (and also causing me to crave a can of Busch). But when Simon announced his pick for Lee, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, I nearly upchucked. Again with this song? Dear god, “Hallelujah” is badly overdone, and American Idol has been at the forefront of running it into the ground. But, okay, Lee’s version was pretty damned good, with a grand ending that sent everyone to the showers knowing that Dewyze is De-One.

Tune in next week for full coverage of the finale and a final season wrap-up.