It was do or die on American Idol tonight, with everything on the line for Crystal Bowersox, Lee Dewyze and Casey James, and we... couldn't stop thinking about last year.
Any season would have been rough following the rise of Adam Lambert—whether you liked him or not, he was someone to talk about—but this one has been largely devoid of punch-packing performances and moments that made you want to drop everything and grab your own copy from iTunes.
While we weren't expecting a whole lot from the first round, where the semifinalists performed songs they picked themselves, we held out a modicum of hope for round two, when they do judges' picks.
And sure enough, Simon Cowell proved once again that he knows what the hell he's doing and is going to be damn tough to replace.
Round 1: The long-locked hottie looked 100 percent more comfortable singing Eric Hutchinson's "OK, It's Alright With Me," big-boy guitar in hand, than he did last week. But a year after Kris Allen charmed America with his acoustic "Heartless" and Adam blew the roof off of U2's "One," this performance was really no big deal at all. It was "too safe and easy" for Randy Jackson, disappointing for Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres, and Simon said it sounded more like Casey was "busking for a couple of dollars" rather than competing on what could be the most important night of his life so far.
Round 2: He did a very serviceable impression of John Mayer with "Daughters," the tune handpicked for him by Kara and Randy. Kara really wants the contestants' hearts to bleed all over the place, doesn't she? "This fit you like a glove," Randy said, unsurprisingly. "Lots of daughters, mothers and, who knows, sons will be voting for you," added Ellen. Kara liked seeing Casey's artistic side, but Simon was bored by the song's lazy climax. Let's just say, an exchange ensued between him and Kara.
Round 1: She definitely didn't offer up a better version of Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window"—a really amazing song, when you stop to think. But it was a really good, fitting choice—better than Casey's, for sure—and Crystal was really into it, even throwing in a little mouth harp along with the guitar. Randy thought she rode above a funky arrangement with her vocal, and Simon did his annual applauding of someone's unwillingness to compromise who they are as an artist. "Melissa would be very proud of you," Ellen said.
Round 2: Way to go, Ellen, who picked Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" for the former street performer, whose voice must have really rattled the subway tunnels back in the day. We were definitely not expecting her to ditch the guitar and stroll around; the pipes went to both screamy and soft places that we've never even heard before, so the whole thing was a surprise. "You may be thanking Ellen next week for putting you in the final. That was terrific," Simon said. Randy deemed Crystal "in it to win it" as well.
Round 1: The new front-runner rocked out, arena- not karaoke-style, to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" and gave a stellar performance from first note to last. "That's what we're talking about—you took this thing seriously," Ellen said (though we have to wonder, does she really think Crystal and poor Casey aren't serious?). "Round one goes to Lee," opined Kara. "I don't think you've won round one," Simon said, probably wondering who Kara thinks she is for usurping his job as head referee. "I think you just crushed the other two."
Round 2: Just when we had given up hope of being truly dazzled tonight, Simon went and selected Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which made Justin Timberlake look like a Neil Youngian genius when he performed it on the big Haiti telethon a few months ago (just to reference a more recent cover of the much-covered classic). And Lee did an amazing job, guaranteeing himself a spot in the finals if not the title of American Idol right then and there. "An incredible, epic moment," Kara called it.
Who would you like to see duke it out in next week's finale?
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