.... by pulling out a variety of my favorite songs.
Yup, more than once I let out an audible groan before a performer began singing when his choice for the night was announced and I realized that he would be performing a song that I adore. Ray LaMontaigne's "Trouble"? Check. Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah"? Check. Queen's "Somebody to Love"? Check. Kate Bush/Maxwell's "This Woman's Work"? CHECK! For the most part, I wasn't horrified by the treatment my favorite songs received but wasn't particularly dazzled until . . . until . . . until . . . .
Okay, let's just address the elephant in the room (and that's not a comment on the size of the performer in question here) and just get to the rankings.
1. Mike Lynche -- As Mike began his song last night, I was ready to hate. I absolutely love "This Woman's Work." It's one of those songs that frequently move me to tears, particularly if I'm listening to Kate Bush's version. Mike hit those initial falsetto notes, and I admit that I rolled my eyes a little. I am a Big Mike fan, but I just didn't think he had it in him to do this song justice. By the middle of the performance, though, I had tears streaming down my face. I literally felt like I was watching the birth of a star. It was a powerful, powerful performance. And I loved that look of confidence on Mike's face at the end when he turned to face the judges. As a performer, you KNOW when you've hit it out of the ballpark and it's an exhilarating feeling and at that point, faked humility would have been just that -- fake. Last night was the first time I thought that there was a chance for a guy to win this after all.
The problem is that Mike may be the ONLY guy with a chance to win this. As Alan Sepinwall wrote last night, there was Big Mike and then there was everyone else. And sadly, everyone else was only moderately impressive. I have no idea who may be in danger tonight -- I could see any one of the seven other guys hitting the bricks as any impact their performance may have had was shattered the second Big Mike took the stage. But here are my kind of gut responses to how they panned out.
2. Casey James -- I don't know that Casey's performance of Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me" was particularly interesting. My sis said it was a bit karaoke (good karaoke, but karaoke nonetheless). I appreciated his mellow vibe, and I think he's got a marketability about him that will do him well regardless of how he ends up. (I mean, Bucky Covington has a decent recording career, so that means anyone can!) I do think Casey is heading for the big stage, though, based largely on the fact that he seems like a nice guy, he's very attractive, and he's really the only one rocking a good country-rock vibe that America likes to reserve a spot for in the top 12. (See Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington, Michael Sarver, etc.)
3. Alex Lambert -- Alex tackled a favorite of mine -- "Trouble." It was a competent performance. The problem I had with it (outside of his hair) was it felt a little clean. It was like a puppy playing guard dog. Listen to LaMontaigne's performance and there's a grit and growl there that was lacking in Alex's performance. Again, though, it was competent and he is likable and so I think his spot in the top 12 is pretty secure at this point.
4. Andrew Garcia -- I worry for Andrew. I personally liked his stripped down, acoustic re-imagining of Christina Aguilara's "Genie in a Bottle." Was it as memorable as his "Straight Up"? Oh, God, no! However, I think it's a bit unfair to continually hold Andrew to that standard. Last night, he did pretty much what the judges told him to do -- he took a cheesy pop hit and turned it into a groovy guitar jam. The unfortunate thing is that "Genie in a Bottle" is not quite as strong of a song as "Straight Up." There were no real vocal challenges there. I wish he'd maybe gone for something like "Baby One More Time" or "Oops I Did It Again" or (if he's dead set on Christina Aguilara) "Come On Over" -- great pop songs that would offer a little more musically.
5. Lee Dewyze -- It wasn't the strongest way to open the show, and I worry for Lee, too. "Fireflies" is a catchy little tune if you hear it on the radio (or catch it on pre-dawn VH1, which is how I discovered the song during speech season), but there was no real wow there. Going first probably hurt Lee, too. I mostly rank him in my top 6 to get another dig in at my sis who has decided she loathes the guy -- right down to the "douchey" way he spells his name.
6. Tim Urban -- Talk about improvement. Urban's "Hallelujah", again, was flawed in that it was too clean at times, but the kid is a fighter. He has been bloodied over and over again by the judges, but when it mattered most, he proved he's in it to, well, maybe not win it but at least make it into the top 12. I think this kid is the little engine that could and will keep chugging along for another week or two before the quality of competition (and having to go up against the far superior ladies) will do him in.
7. Todrick Hall -- The relative competence of the others last night makes me think that Todrick Hall will be the next victim of the Idol Ethnic Cleansing going on this season. It's not that Todrick's "Somebody to Love" was bad. It was okay. The problem, to me, is that Todrick doesn't always seem particularly likable. America likes their Idols charming and humble (which would explain Kris Allen beating Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks beating Blake Lewis, Ruben Studdard beating Clay Aiken, etc.) And then, of course, Simon brings out the "musical theatre" card and that kind of seals poor Todrick's fate. (Although, as my sister pointed out, there hasn't been an Idol more theatrical than Adam Lambert and Simon practically bl, well, loved that guy a lot!)
8. Aaron Kelly -- And then we have Aaron. I really found his performance of "Already There" kind of dull. And I totally got where Kara was coming from -- the song was too big and too old for the kid. And it's not like Simon hasn't made similar charges. How many times has he questioned a kid for singing a big love song? Aaron is not ready for the big Idol stage, and he needs to be sent home more out of mercy than anything else. Like Katie Stevens, I am sure there are thousands of high school musical directors who would kill to get their hands on that kid. Hell, I'm loading the rifle right now!