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American Idol Recap: Miley Cyrus, World-Weary Tutor

Miley Cyrus stopped by to “mentor” the eleven remaining singers on last night’s episode of American Idol and was immediately upstaged by the top eleven parade that featured a fleeting glimpse of the poofy pompadour-mullet resting atop Siobhan Magnus’s head. It was like a lawnmower ran amok on the hairdo of someone from the band Poison, somehow working in elements of eighties futurism and the small braids of a Padawan learner.


Which is to say, it was awesome, even if it actually wasn't, for the following reasons:

1. As far as mainstream Idol viewers are concerned, she might as well have walked onstage and started panhandling. You gotta respect her for willfully alienating voters just because she felt like dressing like a gutter punk.


2. Her hair seemed to promise she would sing rockabilly, punk, and/or hair metal. She opted for a fairly faithful Stevie Wonder cover instead.


3. Siobhan is the most guileless person on the show, which makes her outrageous stage persona more compelling, though discordant.


The producers made us sit through every other performer before we finally got to gawk at the almost-hawk. Each singer chose a No. 1 hit from the Billboard Hot 100, but before every performance we were “treated to” a clip of Miley listening to their rehearsal and sharing her vast experiences with them.


Here’s the breakdown:


Lee DeWyze did “The Letter” by the Box Tops and jazzed it up with some big horn flourishes and vocal scatting. Of course, the song never needed this, and it wasn’t fun to listen to, but he did look happy and at least he’s finally venturing outside his frat-rock box. (He tried to take the judges' advice to let loose, which to him meant shaking his left hand back and forth throughout the performance. Trademark!) Simon could not imagine why he picked that song, and no one seemed at all aware that the Box Tops’ lead singer Alex Chilton (also of power-pop pioneers Big Star) just died last week.


Miley told Paige Miles she’s just as powerful when she sings softly as when she belts the notes out, and we all suffered for Miley’s miscalculation when Paige wheezed and croaked her way through Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds.” Laryngitis or not, it was painfully amateur and chances are she’s out tomorrow night. When Randy said it was terrible, the audience could barely muster up a "boo?"


While Tim Urban singing Queen sounds like a special circle of hell, it actually wasn’t cataclysmic — merely more vaudevillian than Maurice Chevalier. While bopping around to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” he ran past the front-row girls while touching their fingers and did a kitschy stage slide toward the camera: Even Zac Efron would have shaken his head in dismay. Kara thinks he needs to become a star before acting like one, but that’s not the best advice for a half-baked singer with a pretty face, since the texting tweens don’t know the difference.


Aaron Kelly originally auditioned with Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” so he squealed with delight when they met. After the rehearsal, lunchboxes were likely signed. The young Master Kelly came down with Paige's laryngitis this week, with a side order of tonsillitis, so his take on Aerosmith’s sentimental mush-fest "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" wasn’t great. But given that he could hardly speak, it was one of his more impressive performances by virtue of what he suffered through to do it. When it was over, Ryan put his arm around the little trooper and urged us to vote for David Archuleta, which was as snarky as Seacrest gets.


Crystal Bowersox’s "Miley moment" was a bit odd: The plastic teen idol mentoring the dreadlocked mama is kind of like Thomas Kinkade giving art lessons to Kiki Smith. Sure, he’s more popular, but … huh? Still, Bowersox asked Miley to join other “talented, beautiful women” in signing her guitar. Classy. Crystal surprised no one by choosing Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and nailed the tune’s freewheeling coda. What’s really to say with her? She’s a total pro who consistently delivers awesome. Simon told her she hollered the tune as well as P!nk did once upon a time long ago, and his eyes dance with $$ signs when he thinks of signing Crystal.


Michael Lynche sang Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” (you knew it was coming) and he certainly gave it his all, which is part of the problem: He has no sense of what to hold back. Hammy indulgence might be his modus operandi, but the rest of the world could probably use fewer falsettos. The judges essentially told him, “You know we love you, right? Now please stop annoying us.” (As for the hug tally, Big Mike lifted Miley clear off the ground two times. Adjust your scorecards.)


Andrew Garcia forgot the words to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” while singing to Miley, which either means he secretly loves her or should just give up on this whole music thing. As for the performance, the instrumentation was absurdly bombastic and Andrew enunciated each syllable as if he were giving dictation. Kara won’t relent on the idea that Andrew is struggling because he peaked early with “Straight Up,” but over a month of failures since then have made it clear that he’s simply not a great singer. Simon spoke truth to power ... rather, truth to Paula: “Maybe we just overrated that in hindsight.”


Katie Stevens finally delivered a strong performance with Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Her voice isn’t terribly original, but she’s proficient enough to put herself through another week and she does finally seem to be connecting with the material. Kara lavished her with praise for listening to Kara’s own suggestions from last week. Randy liked it but, you know, there were pitch problems …


Towering over Miley, Casey James awkwardly told her “I’m a big fan … of your dad,” and she noted that’s a compliment she typically doesn’t get. Maybe it was just the warm feelings engendered by Back to the Future nostalgia, but Casey’s energetic cover of Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” was exactly the kind of cheesy fun last night needed. The judges were split: Kara thought he’s ready to record an album (not true), while Simon declared he was hardly even trying (also not true). What is true, then? If you threw Casey back 55 years, Marvin Berry would be calling up his cousin Chuck to let him hear that new sound he was looking for.


Didi Benami was psyched to hear that even the great Miley Cyrus gets nervous onstage. Maybe it was those words of wisdom that got Didi to loosen up, which in her case meant swiveling her hips and stage-flirting with the bass player while vamping to Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.” Kara felt Didi shouldn’t have to play a part onstage, but if it allows her to get into a real groove, why not? It was hardly as disconcerting as the judges told her.


And finally, the most important part of the night: Siobhan’s wild hair. But first, we got a shot of Chi McBride from Human Target in the audience, who followed up on an audience cameo by Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsay — oh, the synergy! Let the Murdochs rejoice.


When Siobhan launched into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” we finally had enough time to soak in the hairdo (watch it below). Bon Jovi? Chia Pet? Blade Runner? Wendy and Lisa? When you realized the task of categorizing it was too imposing, you remembered Siobhan was singing a song. Her take on Stevie Wonder was surprisingly conventional (for her), but her voice is fabulous by default so it worked. The trademarked screech-note she gave at the end wasn’t one of her best, but compared to the Easter Parade before her it was a welcome relief. Miley gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up while Ryan forced Siobhan to admit she wouldn’t mind yowling her way through a whole song. At long last, Idol has found its Yoko Ono.


More Recaps:
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak can't believe that out of Paige Miles, Tim Urban, Katie Stevens, and Andrew Garcia, "three out of the four will be 'singing' for our 'pleasure' at North American concert venues from June to September."
The AV Club's Leonard Price enjoyed hearing Miley say "'People take me seriously because I take myself seriously.' That's a pretty grim life lesson waiting to happen, but I like to let life take its own course, so nobody tell her."
Television Without Pity's Joe R noticed that "Ellen still wants more personality from [Crystal], and why she can't be this nitpicky with the actual bad singers I have no idea."

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX