Tuesday's showdown between Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze for all the American Idol marbles was, as usual, part retread and part final audition for 19 Entertainment glory.
Each finalist had three chances to charm the judges and impress America into picking up the phone for them, the first round a chance to resing their favorite song from weeks past and the second round devoted to songs picked by Idol creator Simon Fuller.
Finally, the third round was for trotting out the tune that will be the winner's first single. And guess what?! It wasn't some corny "My Destiny" nonsense this year. Lee had to tackle U2 and Crystal was saddled with a song already recorded by both Kelly Clarkson and Susan Boyle.
So, for all intents and purposes, who already won?
• Lee has become a new man over the past two weeks. So close to the title he can taste it and entering the night as the subject of Simon Cowell's recalibrated winner predictions, the 24-year-old paint store clerk chose "The Boxer" from inspirational-tunes week for his encore and managed to improve upon his original version. He just sounded more confident, more excited and more like, shall we say, a winner. "A great way to start it off, dude," Randy Jackson said (too bad we can't say the same for Randy), though he admitted that it was a bit low-energy for his taste. Kara DioGuardi and Simon thought the same, with Simon calling it "a kiss on the cheek when I want a kiss on the lips." But Ellen DeGeneres thought that he topped his last performance, saying, "I couldn't be prouder if I birthed you myself."
• "Me and Bobby McGee" from Billboard No. 1's week was hands-down Crystal's finest moment of the season, so there was nothing to do better this time around in the way that Lee managed to outdo himself with his redo. But at this point, with the 24-year-old Ohio mom lagging in both the literal and proverbial polls recently, a reminder of why we loved her in the first place perfectly sufficed. "You know what, we've got a competition tonight, that was terrific," Simon said. "I loved it when you first did it, and I loved it tonight," Kara added.
• Here's a solution for the one or two people out there who object to Michael Stipe's timbre: Download Lee's version of "Everybody Hurts." It was great live, great piped through the TV, and we suspect that it's gonna be great cranked up to 11 in our cars. To be honest, we could have done without the backup singers, but that's Idol for you. All of the judges felt he went off the rails, melody and pitch-wise here, here and there, but Kara praised the "emotionally accessible" performance. Shocker, Simon thought it a "brilliant" song choice, but he told Lee he expected "a 10 out of 10" in round three.
• Just like the other Simon, Simon Fuller is successful for a reason. He plucked "Black Velvet" out of the ashes where so many Idol contestants have been burned before by the sultry standard, and sure enough, Crystal tore it up. She has the proper register for such a tune and she offered the version to beat for seasons to come. "Mama Sox is in it to win it!" rejoiced Randy. "Fantastic," Ellen called it. Kara topped her usual emotion-commotion by saying that that "tonight is the night to give it your all, to kill yourself on that stage" (and we're not even sure she was talking theoretically). Simon, who admittedly is "almost allergic" to that song because he's heard it butchered so many times, almost seemed surprised at how impressed he was. "That was really good," he said, eyes wide.
• Sure, U2's "Beautiful Day" is a fantastic song. But poor Lee, who had to try to have a Moment while performing it. That's a Super-Bowl-halftime-show, arena-crowds-on-their-feet staple that Bono sings the crap out of, and husky-voiced Lee was supposed to reinterpret it in some sort of new, rousing way? Unfair, we say.
• Crystal's challenge was different—she got a song that you will never hear during the Super Bowl halftime show. Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain" is a gorgeous song that's been recorded over and over again—and we're betting right now that Crystal's version is going to be next after a performance that was deemed "incredible" by Randy and "amazing" by Kara. "You are in a league of your own," Ellen told her, adding that she would buy any album that Crystal records, watch her concert if she goes on tour and, "if you make a salad, I'll eat it." Concluded Simon: "Since this is going to be the final critique I'm ever going to give, I would just like to say, that was outstanding."
The two-hour season finale is tomorrow, featuring this year's top 12, all sorts of special guests and, we're hoping, not too many crummy audition clips. (And we already miss Simon.)
But before we get to the results, who's the next American Idol in your book?
(Originally published May 25, 2010, at 6:05 p.m. PT)
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