Yes, last night was Shania Twain Night on American Idol. Blerg. I am not really much of a country music fan. There are some isolated country artists that I quite enjoy (Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood) and I've been known to jam out to some hot bluegrass jams, but as a genre, country really turns me off. Shania Twain has never been one of those country artists that have gotten a "pass" from me. I guess I tend to lump her into that mid-to-late 90's country "explosion" when suddenly everyone was going out line dancing and singing about boots being under other people's beds and talking about how Garth Brooks was better than the Beatles. Admittedly, Shania Twain herself seems like a good person and she gave some insightful coaching. Plus, several of the songs last night were pretty entertaining, but, with one exception, the songs I seemed to like best were the songs that got a de-countrification at the hands of the performer singing them.
Was last night a good night for Idol? I don't know . . .maybe? Several of the kids gave pretty strong performances and maybe rescued themselves from the judges' wrath. I have to admit, though, that I still kind of question choosing the Shania Twain catalog for a theme night. When you have a Beatles or Stones or Elvis night, there is some variety involved since all three had careers that either spanned decades or found them experimenting and branching out. I mean, the Beatles catalog extends from "She Loves You", which is pure pop perfection, to "Helter Skelter," which arguably helped lay the groundwork for hard rock's emergence in the 1970's. Elvis played around with rock and gospel and soul. The Stones lend themselves to a variety of interpretations at the hands of a variety of styles. Shania Twain is a pop country artist with only FIVE studio albums under her belt. She hasn't released a new album in eight years. So not only were the singers last night painted into the country corner but they were painted into a dated country corner. Why not just give the kids a country theme and let them pick from a catalog of country hits past and present with Shania Twain as their mentor? Why force 2/3 of the contestants to sing songs of the opposite gender that are likely out of their vocal range? Because ultimately, American Idol is a vocal torture chamber where thousands enter and only one emerges. It's like the vocal equivalent of The Hunger Games.
So enough of my rant and on to the rankings (which may shock you):
1. Lee Dewyze ("You're Still the One") It finally hit me last night what I like about Lee's voice. It reminds me of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. Seriously, close your eyes sometime when he's singing and tell me that doesn't sound like Adam Duritz. Once I realized that, of course, I started dreaming about Lee covering two of my favorite Counting Crows songs -- "Round Here" and "Anna Begins." Lee was probably helped last night, too, by the fact that this is the one Shania Twain song that I like, I really like. I am a sucker for a good love song, and I've always thought this was a beautifully written song. I loved it even more when Lee put that rock spin on it. I thought he brought so much passion and heart to the song, and I loved how the rasp of his voice gave the song a really raw, emotional feel. Hands down, this was my favorite of the night and probably the first Lee Dewyze song that I intend to go download.
2. Casey James ("Don't") Casey rebounded really nicely from last week's abomination. There's really not more to say than that. I've always sensed a country tinge to Casey's voice, and it seems like maybe this is a road that may garner him more success than the bluesy rock vibe he's been rocking up until now. I think Casey does best when he slows down a little and lays a little more of his heart out there than when he comes out and jams. He really showed some top three potential last night -- even if my sister thinks he needs to clean that shit under his lip up a little bit.
3. Crystal Bowersox ("No One Needs to Know") Crystal was sort of raked over the coals last night, and I think the judges really kind of missed what Crystal was trying to do. I appreciated that Crystal took a sort of rootsy country approach and played this light, playful song really cleanly and simply. It was a fun song, and it was nice to see Crystal so relaxed. I think she needed a performance like this after last week's "People Get Ready" to show that less strident, emotional side of her. Ultimately, I ranked Casey and Lee a little higher because I felt like they had more significant moments in terms of their artistic development while Crystal was just coasting -- not that that's a bad thing but I wanted to recognize their growth on a night when growth could have been a really difficult thing for them to achieve.
4. Siobhan Magnus ("Any Man of Mine") For me last night, there was the top three and then bottom three. I've kind of lumped the bottom three down here, and I give Siobhan the higher ranking of the three only because, despite her continued disappointments, I still like her, dammit. I have to admit, I am a little stunned that the judges were as effusive with their praise. I kind of found Siobhan's performance to be a hot mess. She seemed completely out of her element and that last scream was just jank to the millionth degree. My sis pointed out that Siobhan grins like an idiot through every performance and yeah, that's getting a little old too. Add to that the fact that this is probably one of the Shania Twain songs I loathe the most (after that song about boots being under people's beds), and it was just a miserable performance. So maybe I should knock her down a couple slots . . . nah!
5. Michael Lynche ("It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing") I am really over Big Mike. Over the past couple weeks, his personality has really started to grate on my nerves. I just always kind of feel like he's trying too hard. I thought he did a nice job of making the country theme work for him by putting a Luther Vandross spin on the song, but I agree with Simon that it was just a little much. Mike's gone from moving to melodramatic. That move, too, makes Mike seem less and less genuine.
6. Aaron Kelly ("You've Got a Way") Last night should have been Aaron's night, but his performance just did not work for me. Again, I am surprised that he received as much praise as he did. I thought last night's performance really exposed how weak his voice is. When you stand Aaron next to the other five performers left in the competition, he is clearly the weakest. He needs some time and some training to make his voice able to do the things that the songs he picks need it to do. He would have been wise to go with a smaller song. Plus, I am really tired of the Aaron ballads. He needs to show us something different because the ballads are getting stale and Star Search-y. Unfortunately, his time to show us that may be up.
Half of the contestants left have flirted with elimination by being in the bottom three. Half of the contestants left have been safe every week. I worry that those performers who have never been in danger may find themselves dancing on the cliff tonight -- I especially worry for Siobhan (who is now the choice of Vote for the Worst) and Crystal (one night of tepid judge response could be more damaging than they realize). Here's hoping our girls pull through and that it's one of the two genuinely weaker performers headed home.