With only four performers left on American Idol, the producers threw two wrenches into the mix. First, the final contestants would have to sing duets with each other — a nifty device started last year. Second, they’d have to endure the bombastic mentoring of the insufferable Jamie Foxx — a not-so-nifty device also started last year. The result was an uneven movie-themed episode which perhaps did not speak highly to Mr. Foxx’s mentoring skills. On the other hand, the Oscar winning thespian proved that he IS quite adept at launching a short-lived t-shirt meme. You see, as a way of motivating the kids, he brought two groups of shirts for the singers. One set said “Contestant” and the other “Artist.” Foxx would then dole out a shirt to each singer as he saw fit, but who were we kidding? Of course he’d give everyone an “Artist” shirt (except Big Mike, who managed to be the only one all night to be stuck with a lowly “Contestant” shirt. Sucka).
In the wake of this gimmicky little approach, the judges spent the entire night framing their critiques in t-shirt terms, which was sort of amusing, but a little annoying. However, it wasn’t quite as annoying as the bulk of Jamie Foxx’s mentoring, which predictably featured a surfeit of histrionic silliness and a dearth of constructive criticism. The actor, who appeared skinnier and a touch more aged than usual, attacked each contestant with such techniques as the old “I’m gonna get right in your face like Michael Mann (WHO I WORKED WITH)” and the “we gonna dance together to loosen you up.” In the end, Jamie Foxx was all sound and fury signifying nothing because with perhaps the exception of Crystal, all the singers he mentored pretty much flopped. At least he didn’t bust out the Ray impersonation though. For that we can be thankful.
Movie night kicked off with Lee DeWyze, who took on Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose,” perhaps one of the few positive things to come out of Batman Forever. Now here’s the thing. I actually really like the song, and there was a time in my youth when I was obsessed with it (sort of strange and embarrassing, I know). That being said, this was not the song for Lee. He did nothing with the arrangement to make it distinctly Lee-ish (that is, jam band-ish, DMB-esque). Lee just sang it as is, and by singing it as is, we were left with nothing to do but notice how much gruffer and less pleasant his voice is compared to Seal’s. As Kara later said, the song has all sorts of idiosyncrasies, often going from lows to highs to lows again, and Lee’s voice just wasn’t cut out it for it — at least not in the arrangement he provided us (which by the by featured some ridiculous brass section. Not a smart move). The entire thing was uninspired, and thankfully, the judges pretty much reamed him for it. Not a good way to start movie night (assuming we’re ignoring all the Jamie Foxx babbling).
Personally, I didn’t know why Lee didn’t choose a song more suited for him. “The Sound of Silence” from The Graduate immediately sprung to mind, but as we later saw, that movie had been claimed by Casey James, but more on that later. For now, let’s move on to our next contestant: BIG MIKE. How I looked forward to his face-to-face with Jamie Foxx. This would be the ultimate meeting of two bombastic performers. I thought the two of them together would make me want to jump from my balcony, but shockingly, Big Mike was rather subdued in the presence of Foxx. Chalk it up to being star struck or perhaps just some uncomfortable gas, but whatever it was, Mike seemed a touch ill-at-ease.
Maybe that’s also because Big Mike was singing a song from Free Willy. Yes, stepping into the shoes of Michael Jackson, Michael Lynche sang “Will You Be There,” which is certainly one of MJ’s best songs post-Dangerous. The problem with it in terms of American Idol is that the tune is a slow build. It’s gets bigger and bigger and bigger, ultimately culminating in a gospel crescendo that if done right can be exhilarating. However, with only a minute and a half (or whatever the time restrictions are) to perform the song, Mike had to excise a good chunk of the music, thus making the song go from beginning to end without the crucial middle stage. The end result was a gospel hubbub with no momentum, and while Mike sounded fine, the performance came off as weird and oddly emotionless. Like Lee before him, Mike was panned by the judges (who took a few moments to make Free Willy and just “Willy” jokes in general). I’d say Mike was better than Lee, but so far, nothing was winning me over.
At this point in the evening, we then came upon our first duet, which came from the movie Once. Lee and Crystal strummed guitars at each other and sang “Falling Slowly,” which was somewhat brilliant. I wish I could say I was totally swept up in the moment, but the camerawork was so distracting that I spent more energy wishing the director would tell the Steadycam operator to take a seat than actually enjoying the performance itself. Seriously, it was two minutes of swirling motion, mixed with occasional zooms in and out of each singer. It was some of the worst direction this show has ever seen, and it came at the detriment of a lovely performance. Oh well.
The judges gave Crystal and Lee high marks, and no surprise there. That’s probably because someone with half a brain in their head assigned a song to these guys that would actually WORK. It was far better than the rest of the dopey choices of the evening, which continued with Casey James, singing from the aforementioned film, The Graduate. I was really crossing my fingers that he’d choose “The Sound of Silence,” as that haunting and powerful song is truly an all-time classic that would be absolutely perfectly fitted for the stage. Instead, however, Casey went the predictable route with “Mrs. Robinson.” Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great song too — but I’m not sure it’s a smart choice for a competition. “Mrs. Robinson” isn’t the type of tune that can sell a singer (as opposed to “THE SOUND OF GODDAMN SILENCE.”) Making matters worse was that Casey took the song and made it slightly twee with a lil guitar (or was it a ukulele?). In the end, he sounded pleasant but not unlike something you’d hear at a beachside bar. Something of a fail for him. So many better options out there (ie. any of the Eddie Vedder stuff from Into The Wild).
The bizarro choices continued with Crystal Bowersox, who went for — wait for it, wait for it — a Kenny Loggins song from Caddyshack. NOT expecting that. Singing “I’m Alright,” Crystal turned my expectations on their head. She was actually pretty awesome and managed to take a fun but generally forgettable pop ditty from the eighties and inject a whole lot of bluesy soul into it. I agreed with Ellen and Kara, who both stated that she actually improved the song. It was by far the best solo performance of the night, but again, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the evening could have been with better song choices overall.
Finally, the hour closed out with a lovely duet by Casey and Michael. The two sang “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman,” and quite honestly, they were pretty awesome together. Their mismatched voices actually complemented each other quite nicely, and once again, the duets proved more engaging, entertaining, and well-executed than anything else on the show.
So now who goes home? The final four is when crazy things can happen (cough, Chris Daughtry, cough). I’d like to think that Crystal is safe, but honestly, it’s a total toss-up. Maybe it’s Casey’s last night? Or maybe Lee’s? Or perhaps Mike’s? That really narrows it down, I know. I’d say that based on performance alone, Lee deserves to get the boot. Besides, at this point he has the least star power. Crystal’s got the talent, Mike has charisma, and Casey has sex appeal. Lee has… a Chicago accent?
I guess we’ll see how it all shakes out. What did you think about the final four? Who should go home? Who will go home? What would have been some better song choices?