Elvis. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. This year’s batch of “Idol” theme weeks have been pretty aspirational, to say the least. What’s on deck, “The Songs of Jesus"? Hopefully that will come next week; last night they trudged their way through the songs of the great Frank Sinatra.
My dialing finger has been retired since Siobhan’s elimination, only making appearances for matters of great importance, like ordering pizza or calling psychic hotlines. But last night my finger hovered precariously over the familiar keypad, ready to vote again after being let down so many times this season.
And then I realized that Harry Connick Jr. wasn’t really a contestant.
Yes, the multiple Grammy winner was on hand to help the Idols navigate the world of swank. (Of course, the kids probably knew him better as “Leo” from “Will & Grace.”) As guest mentor, i-Connick (ha!) went above and beyond his duties, cracking jokes while writing the arrangements himself and playing backup piano. He even took over for Seacrest at the top of the show by announcing that “This … is American Idol!” (A welcome change, if you ask me.)
Yes, “Idol” could use some star power and, let’s face it, real musicianship. But I’m not so sure that the one-hour Connick infomercial was the best way to achieve that. For one thing, all I could think about was how much better I-Connick is at singing and “swaggering” (and hosting, apparently) than everyone else who was onstage last night. The Idols, already saddled with an unfamiliar genre, came across as crestfallen and never seemed to step out of his shadow.
Part of that may have been due to I-Connick’s overenthusiasm to be the Best Mentor Ever. I don’t remember anyone else ever sitting down to compose arrangements for five different contestants. It was generous on his part but I don’t think it served the contestants well. My first thought was, “How are they gonna make the song their own if they’re being told how to interpret it?” Granted, Connick’s arrangements are undoubtedly better than anything any of the Idols could come up with. But isn’t the competition partially based on “artistry?” (Or maybe that was just last year’s buzzword.)
A killer arrangement, retro-chic clothes and a full backing orchestra is not all it takes to be a Rat Packer. (Clearly you need an alcohol problem and ties to the mob, too.) Most of all, you need attitude and that’s what was really missing.
AARON KELLY — “Fly Me to the Moon”
Little Aaron Kelly, I don’t know how you’ve survived this long, but you’re quickly becoming my favorite. (Of course, there are slim pickings this year, but I don’t think that dampens the endorsement.) This kid has such a great voice and he really looked the part with his slicked back hair and vest with tie. But come on, judges! How come no one has once mentioned the distracting hip-sway-bendy-knee dance move?! I cannot be the only one who has noticed this. You’re a nice kid, Aaron. Smile once in a while! This could be a step towards developing that “charisma” the judges think you’re missing. As far as the “swagger,” though, I’d stay away from that. Take Aaron Kelly and add swagger and you’ve got a talented Justin Beiber. And nobody is prepared to deal with the cockiness that would ensue from that.
CASEY JAMES — “Blue Skies”
Casey was so out of his element that he didn’t even embrace the wardrobe possibilities. No fedora. No tie, even. The biggest thing that was missing, though? The guitar. Week after week, James has hidden behind his instrument but last night the genre didn’t allow it. Simon said that he “came off embarrassed and awkward,” while Ellen called him stiff. He always looks embarrassed, though. (Don’t even get me started on the group sing!) While Kelly doesn’t smile enough, James smiles too much. And it’s not a smile that screams confidence. Instead, it says something more like, “Is this OK? Am I doing this right?” His demeanor did nothing for his singing, either. Remember when they used this song in that Claritin ad a few years back? Well, Casey, made that jingle singer sound like Mariah Carey by comparison.
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX — “Summer Wind”
Wow, who knew that the perfect accessory to an evening gown was a face piercing? Bowersox looked as elegant as one can possibly look while still sporting a ginormous sunflower back tattoo. (Classy!) She claimed to have a deep connection to the lyrics but kept her mouth zipped, even when I-Connick tried to pry it out of her with the use of his hypnotizing blue eyes. (You can keep your OLD blue eyes, Sinatra; I’ll take these!) No matter, we all know it’s about her baby-daddy anyway. While Crystal is great on the belt, it’s the softer notes she needs to work on. Simon actually uttered the words “if you survive next week,” which could just be a ruse to set up the pretense of a tight competition. Kara mentioned something about “not losing yourself,” which was a bit annoying because you can’t ask the hippie chick to sing Sinatra to an arrangement she didn’t write and still expect her to be completely herself. That being said, I thought her rebuttal to the judges’ comments was a little arrogant. Save it for when you’re a real star, sweetie.
MICHAEL LYNCHE — “The Way You Look Tonight”
Big Mike really embraced the Rat Pat look with the fedora and the suit and the .. wallet with a chain? Anyway, as always, he was completely comfortable on stage and, as always, he sounded fabulous. In fact, he came off as the most confident performer of the night. And who doesn’t love that song? So why can’t I get on board the Big Mike Train? Perhaps it’s because I feel he should’ve been eliminated when his time was up. After all, if they hadn’t used the save on him, maybe they could’ve used it on Siobhan and then the remainder of the season wouldn’t be such a snorefest. Regardless of how wishy washy I am about Mike, I do admire his talent and his positivity. If anyone’s got the swagger, it’s this guy.
LEE DEWYZE — “That’s Life”
Like Casey, Lee has often been guilty of cowering behind his guitar. But not tonight! The effects of his personality transplant are showing up slowly but surely. This song just makes swagger imperative and DeWyze surprisingly pulled off the attitude. This was one case where I was happy with the fact that I-Connick did the arrangement, as who knows what kind of “current” version DeWyze would’ve come up with on his own. The judges seem to be setting us up for a Crystal/Lee showdown. In fact, Kara even encouraged him to believe that he could win by writing “I can win this thing” 100 times. Well it’s gonna take more than some mumbo jumbo from The Secret for him to “win this thing.” If Lee can continue to come out of his shell (and if Crystal can continue to do “just OK”), we may have a serious contender for the “Idol” crown.