This Week, a Genre Foreign to the Idols: Soul

Which made it the perfect theme for “Idol’s” weakest set of contestants ever

FInally, the real theme weeks begin!

Let’s be honest; last week’s “Billboard Number Ones” was a little off the mark in the creativity department. Come to think of it, so were most of the performances. But when Seacrest announced last week that the Idols would be tackling R&B, I had high hopes that it would be an interesting show.
Now, R&B is not really my thing. It just doesn’t have the pizzazz of showtunes, the grit of country or the, uh, Gaga-ness of pop. The beauty of it, though, is that R&B is not really the contestants’ “thing,” either. Due to the blatant lack of diversity this season, there are only two or three Idols left who may actually go on to record an R&B album.
The genre does, after all, feature hard-to-sing songs filled with runs and high notes and soul … which makes it the perfect theme for “Idol’s” weakest set of contestants ever!
SIOBHAN MAGNUS — “Through the Fire” by Chaka Khan
The guest mentor, Usher, was so taken with Siobhan’s voice that his only advice to her was wardrobe-related. (Interestingly enough, he didn’t tell her to wear sunglasses … all the time…even indoors.) Siobhan ignored his suggestions to tame down her wardrobe, though, and instead sported boots that resembled a double leg brace for a spaceman. (Perhaps Buzz Aldrin can use them if he gets injured on “DWTS”?)  Maybe these two should’ve spent less time talking fashion and more time on vocals. No matter how hideous her outfit was, it didn’t distract from the fact that this was her worst performance of the season. (To be fair, her worst performance is still better than many of the contestants’ best.) The higher notes on the chorus sounded like yelling and the screaming at the end just didn’t work. Too bad she’d already had a shining moment with Aretha’s “Think,” because that would’ve been the perfect song choice for this week’s theme.
CASEY JAMES — “Hold On, I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave
“It’s not gonna get any closer to the blues than R&B,” said Casey. Uh, you do realize, Casey, that the “B” in R&B stands for “blues,” right? I didn’t think so. Just stick to looking pretty and strumming that guitar. (Oh, and take your shirt off again while you’re at it.) The fact that Casey sang a song that has never been done on “Idol” is remarkable in itself. Perhaps that should be the next theme night. Last night’s band setting complete with horns and backup singers really fit James. His guitar playing and vocals made him seem like a real rock star, too. What doesn’t scream “rock star” to me though? That perma-grin. I’ve mentioned it before and I can’t believe the judges haven’t touched on it. Rock stars don’t have to have a smile the whole time they’re singing. They should be brooding. This ain’t a Disneyland stage show!
MICHAEL LYNCHE — “Ready for Love” by india.arie
There may have been a little more pressure on Big Mike to do well, as he is one of the few who could actually record an R&B album. Usher told him to project and try connect with everyone in the audience.  He did a good job, as this felt very intimate to me. I’m sure it was even more “intimate” for the judges and the mosh pit, who only got to see Lynche’s backside perform. (BTW, this rear view did not stop the pit from swaying their hands in unison as if they were at an NKOTB show.) What I enjoyed about this performance was there was nothing flashy about it — no dramatic flailing about the stage or big loud notes. It was just Lynche and his guitar, proving that he can do soft and sensitive as well as big and powerful. He keeps changing it up but I never feel confused about who he is as an artist; he just comes off as versatile. One thing that did confuse me? When the cameras cut to his family and they were all white. For a second there I thought I was watching “The Blind Side” (poor Sandra Bullock!), but then I remembered that his wife is white, and it all fell into place.
DIDI BENAMI — “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin
It was really moving (and kind of awkward) when Didi got really emotional while singing for Usher. Maybe she should’ve done Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional?” Benami looked stunning in her floor-length glittery gown and while I thought she could’ve added some bigger dynamics at the end, I felt that, once again, the judges were uberrough on her. I don’t get what they seem to have against her; please tell me what I’m missing. I absolutely love her voice and her look. In fact, she is one of the few Idols whose album I would actually buy. Kara was confused because she thought that Didi was a singer-songwriter. Well, guess what, Kara? everyone on this season of “Idol” is a singer-songwriter! Maybe the girl was just trying to differentiate herself. Sheesh. And could Ryan have been any more tasteless while pumping her for information on why the song made her emotional? She obviously didn’t want to talk about her dead friend and break down on the “American Idol” stage. You’d think Ryan, of all people, would understand what a mess it is when you cry with while wearing fake lashes!
TIM URBAN — “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker
You know it’s a bad season of “Idol” when the best compliment Randy can offer a Top 10 contestant is “at least you sang in tune.” It was all a bit lounge lizard. In fact, I almost wish Urban had come out wearing a powder blue tux. Let’s face it; it wouldn’t matter. As Simon so eloquently put it, “You’re gonna smile, the audience is gonna vote for you and you’re gonna be here next week.” That’s all probably true. But the judges have no one to blame but themselves. After a nationwide search of thousands of singers, they were the ones who chose this crop of misfits. And the tweens (and I) are the ones who decide who gets to stay in the competition. Too bad the tweens outnumber me by a few milllion.
ANDREW GARCIA — “Forever” by Chris Brown
Garcia finally redeemed himself. True, it was no “Straight Up,” but thank God it wasn’t “Genie in a Bottle,” either. In his best live performance yet, Garcia seemed laid back and comfortable. In fact, it reminded me a little of Kris Allen’s cover of “Heartless.” I still find him a little dull, though, and apparently I’m not alone. “As a person — and don’t take this the wrong way — you come over as very boring,” said Simon. How could anyone ever take that the wrong way? (Seriously, is there a right way to take it? Ouch.) To make up for his lack of personality, Garcia’s mom added a little spice to the show by getting out of her chair to confront Simon. I seriously thought she was gonna shank him. She is a former gang member, after all.
KATIE STEVENS–  “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin
I have to hand it to her. Little Katie Stevens looked great last night in her Snooki pouf and romper, as she sauntered around the stage and executed her “no you dit’ent” head jerks like a professional. She was another contestant who had more to prove tonight, as she sees herself as a pop R&B singer. Yes, her voice sounded great but Randy’s comparison to Christina Aguilera was insane. Stevens has pure raw talent but she needs to work on her personality and stage presence before she can even come close to X-tina. I think that she may be just a little too young for this competition. Perhaps she should’ve waited a few years? Drawing attention to her youth was the fact that, yet again, the song seemed a little too old for her. I would’ve liked “How Will I Know” by Whitney or maybe something from the Jackson 5.
LEE DEWYZE — “Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers
Simon said that Lee might just look back on last night and view it as the night that changed his life and this seemed to be the judges’ general consensus. Wow, dramatic much? Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with the original version of this song but I didn’t think this performance was “life changing.” Yes, the vocal was very good and I could definitely see it being played at some kind of festival for jam bands. But I have the same problem with Lee as I do with Garcia and some of the other contestants: they’re boring! I realize that we’re kind of grading on a curve this year but come on! 
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX — “MidnightTrain to Georgia” by Gladys Knight
Wow. Yes, it was impressive that Bowersox put down her guitar and that she wore heels. What really struck me, though, was her amazing voice, especially that falsetto note! The judges loved it, too, though Simon cautioned her against “letting the process suck the identity out of her.” I think that is judge-speak for “lose the lipstick and go back to the burlap.” Patchouli or perfume, heels or hemp, it doesn’t really matter at this point. There is hardly anyone who even comes close to competing with Crystal and no one has matched her consistency. It almost seems unfair and makes me question how she would’ve fared in a different “Idol” season against singers who were on more equal footing with her. Regardless, at this point an “Idol” victory for Bowersox would be about as surprising as Ricky Martin coming out of the closet. 
AARON KELLY — “Ain’t no Sunshine” by Bill Withers
I love Aaron’s voice but there is just no razzle dazzle to his performances (unless you count his patented hip-sway). And was he wearing his school clothes? If Bowersox can wear heels, surely Kelly can spruce it up a bit too! Like Katie Stevens, I think that Kelly is amazingly talented for his age. In fact, I prefer his voice to Katie’s. But, much like her, I think he may be a little too young for this competition. When I close my eyes, it sounds amazing. But when I open them again, I’m bored. Stage presence, people! It is something that can be learned. If only Madonna would mentor …