Ah, yes, friends, last night was Lennon/McCartney night, but alas, no one broke out a little "Yellow Submarine." Nor was there a single tribute paid to Wings. Shocking! While there weren't any huge musical abortions onstage last night, there also weren't a lot of performances that had me particularly jazzed or that seemed particularly revelatory. It was an entertaining night if not a particularly riveting night.
Okay, here's the thing about last night. Many of the singers were accused of being old-fashioned, and it kind of got me thinking. They were being asked to sing songs that are, in some cases, nearly 50 years old. Yeah. Fifty! While the music of the Beatles has aged quite well, the truth still remains that, because of the work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, pop music has evolved and gone in directions that do make a song like, say, "Can't Buy Me Love" seem a little "moldy" unless it falls into a set of incredibly competent and skilled hands. The singers who seemed to have the most success last night went with later Beatles songs or, in the case of Casey James, a Lennon solo song -- songs that benefited from the groundwork laid by the early Beatles catalog but evolved beyond those early roots.
Over the course of the past couple weeks, we've managed to weed out the more inconsistent performers and don't have a lot of potential train wrecks left. Tim Urban and Katie Stevens aren't particularly inspiring performers, but they're no worse than a lot of other people who've made it this far in past years. I would honestly take either of them over, say, Carmen Rasmussen or Jon Peter Lewis. We have solid performers here, but, with one or two exceptions, they're not all that interesting or groundbreaking. When you add to it the fact that they are given a collection of sacred songs, they're on some pretty rough ground. As Tim Urban pointed out last night, the music of the Beatles is pretty untouchable and "making it your own" borders on sacrilegious if not done with the right combination of reverence and ego. If the judges want contemporary artists, they need to start pushing these kids to tackle contemporary music rather than expecting them (in some cases with next to no formal music training) to take 50 year old songs and make them modern. Otherwise, these kids are never going to be able to compete with the likes of Rihanna and will be forever consigned to the albeit lucrative "adult contemporary" market.
Enough editorializing. On to the rankings!
1. Crystal Bowersox ("Come Together") Didgeridoo. 'Nuff said. Other than it was nice to see Crystal a little looser, having a little more fun, and letting her personality shine through. Seriously, I know that chick, and if I didn't buy a phatty grilled cheese from her, perhaps I sold her a hemp necklace at Big Cypress.
2. Casey James ("Jealous Guy") If you follow the Simon rules of ranking, yes, Casey probably was the best last night in that his performance of "Jealous Guy" displayed the greatest improvement from first performance to last performance. If you just look at sheer performance and don't let consistency be a handicap, Crystal still gets the edge. I do, though, think last night was Casey's finest performance. It was sincere and infused with an emotion that wasn't just "Hey, y'all, let's get drunk and go listen to Casey's band play down at the pub!" I think it was wise of Casey to tackle a solo Lennon tune, one that doesn't quite live in our pop cultural consciousness the way that the Beatles tunes do. It allowed him to be inventive without being self-indulgent. It was a lovely, lovely performance.
3. Siobhan Magnus ("Across the Universe") Last week, I ranked Siobhan in the bottom three, although I did it with a heavy heart. I love this kid. Something about her touches my heart. Maybe it's the nerdy glasses or that awkward way she has about her in interview packages. Whatever the case is, I like this girl. I thought her performance of "Across the Universe" last night was lovely. It showed tremendous range and restraint and allowed Siobhan to showcase her voice in a way that she hasn't been able to since, perhaps, "House of the Rising Sun" during the semi-finals. I know that the judges are looking for an Idol with commercial potential and that's why they come down on someone like Siobhan for her "sleepy" rendition of a lovely, decidedly non-commercial song. In terms of sheer musical artistry, though, Siobhan proved herself a gifted powerhouse. She and Crystal are the only two performers that I get excited to see on Tuesday night, wondering what they're going to bust out. They appeal to the two different sides of my musical personality. Crystal speaks to the hippie chick who spent the majority of her 20's following Phish around the country and going to any other jam band concert she could find. Siobhan speaks to the alterna-chick who loves discovering new and different music that's off the beaten pack. These two women are making this show interesting this season, a season that many describe as "meh" at best.
4. Lee Dewyze ("Hey Jude") Let's address the elephant in the room -- the bag pipes. It was perhaps one of the most surreal moments in Idol history, right up there with Adam Lambert's Indian-styled "Ring of Fire" last season. I would have to say that I agree with Simon that the bagpipes kind of undercut what was an otherwise decent performance from Lee. He started off a tad shaky but then really went out big -- even with the bagpipes. My sis, who still is not a Lee fan, pointed out last night the thing that perhaps bugs her most about Lee -- he's a good vocalist but he's not a good singer. It was nice to see Lee loosen up a bit last night as a performer. For the first time, he really seemed to be enjoying himself up there and finally seemed to have the confidence that perhaps he could be making a trip to the Nokia. I still think he's a definite contender even though I'm rooting a little harder for it to be a Crystal-Siobhan showdown in May.
5. Katie Stevens ("Let It Be") I wasn't as enamored with Katie's performance as the judges were, and I'm getting very tired of the bickering between Simon and Kara over whether Katie should go R&B or country. (Kara wants a new Christina; Simon wants a new Taylor -- WE GET IT!) Regardless of which way she goes, Katie still lacks commercial appeal and letting her go much longer will be a huge, huge mistake, but eliminating her on the night where she gave probably her best performance would also be cruel. Wait until next week so we can see Adam Lambert try to Glambert her up a bit . . . and so I can laugh and laugh my ass off.
6. Andrew Garcia ("Can't Buy Me Love") I really don't have much to say about Andrew's performance. It was fun. It was competent. Ultimately, though, it was also kind of forgettable. Buried sort of in the middle of the show, it could be the first time we see Andrew in danger particularly since the weakest performances of the night belonged to a lovable teddy bear and two heartthrobs, one of whom is seemingly bulletproof.
7. Tim Urban ("All My Loving") Tim gave probably his best performance of the competition, for the first time showing a little spirit. When you look at the rest of the competition, though, he dwells low on the list and the time for his ouster has to be close. Don't you think that's why Simon praised him for his courage and for taking his critiques like a man? Be nice to the kid before he's sent home.
8. Michael Lynche ("Eleanor Rigby") How many of you out there have seen Liza With a Z? It's a fun, campy concert with Liza Minelli. I love it, particularly her cheesy, over the top performance of "Son of a Preacher Man" that strips the song of all its grit and soul. Michael's performance of "Eleanor Rigby" last night reminded me of just that. It was a performance from a variety show. I expected Cher to come out and start singing about someone being a "vamp and a tramp". Please, Mike, go back to the sensitive dude and stop the camp before it's too late!
9. Aaron Kelly ("The Long and Winding Road") Hands down, though, Aaron gave the weakest performance of the night. What a dreary way to start the show. I love this song, but it can be a real drudge in the wrong hands. And there were so many stronger choices that Aaron could have chosen that would have allowed him to continue playing his "Country Bieber Balladeer" role he's so intent on playing. Aaron may very well be safe from elimination if only because he probably benefits from the tween vote, but should he get eliminated, it raises an interesting question. Is Aaron Kelly worthy of the Judges' Save? He may be the first contestant where the save becomes a real issue. Despite some of the issues I've had with Aaron, the fact is that the kid has been largely consistent over the past several weeks and has one of the best shots at commercial success if he's managed properly. To me, though, the Judges' Save needs to be reserved for times when America really gets it wrong so that someone who would be worthy of a trip to the Nokia isn't denied it because of a capricious voting public. So then the question becomes is Aaron a likely contender to sing the "Victory Song of Schlock" in May? The answer to that, sadly, is no. If you look at the competition, there are probably five people likely to make it to the finals -- Crystal, Siobhan, Casey, Lee, and Mike. Aaron could perhaps pose a challenge to make the top five, but is he strong enough to take out four of those five people? Has Aaron given us a moment as moving as Mike's "This Woman's Work", as engaging as Lee's "Treat Her Like a Lady", as sensitive as Casey's "Jealous Guy", as mesmerizing as Siobhan's "Paint It Black", or as kick ass as anything Crystal has done this season? He's had some good performances, but nothing that I've felt compelled to discuss the next day around the proverbial water cooler . . . or download on i-tunes. I would argue in favor of saving Andrew before I would argue for Aaron if only because there's still the hope/potential that Andrew has another "Straight Up" in him -- and last week's "Forever" seems to tell us that maybe that moment is closer than we think. Should Aaron be the lowest vote getter (and despite the fact that he was the weakest of the night, I'm not sure he will be the one sent home), I urge the judges to "let it be" and let him go home.