Last night the remaining nine contestants on American Idol stumbled through the catalogue of Elvis Presley, failing for the most part to make any of the King’s tunes their own. Season-eight runner-up Adam Lambert blessedly livened things up as a guest mentor, and he was actually a great tie-in to the week's theme since Elvis also wore mascara offstage and the networks won’t show Lambert doing certain things below the hips. Glambert kept the episode afloat by actually giving some honest feedback, saying this season has great singers but a lot of them need to “wake up let’s put on a show." (And after weeks of the judges wondering what the problem is with Andrew, it was a relief to have someone flat out tell him his singing was boring.)
The mentoring segments were filmed in Las Vegas, which added absolutely nothing to the episode but did allow Ryan to utter questionable lines like, “Let’s see what happened to Katie in Sin City ” And to make up for all the gay jokes in his wheelhouse that he would have liked to have been making last season (there was mid-season speculation, but Lambert didn’t publicly come out until after the season wrapped), Ryan made sure to tell Adam, “My tongue is not nearly as talented as yours you know what I mean, with singing! With singing!” Adam gracefully responded with one of those “please shut up” smiles you make when your mom tells your significant other about your potty-training travails.
Crystal Bowersox continues to impress and show growth. For the first time this season, she actually made a left-field song choice, singing an obscure (in Elvis terms) gospel-blues tune called “Saved.” Naturally, she nailed the vocals and arrangement, and her stage persona was more energetic, sassy, and comfortable than ever before. She’s one of the few contestants this season truly using the show as training for a real career later on. Simon said good things about her, but it was incredibly distracting watching Glee’s Jane Lynch in the background and wondering what she would say if she were at the judges’ table.
Andrew Garcia’s lounge-lizard re-conception of “Hound Dog” was the kind of thing that should have fallen into the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” category. Even more miserable than his languid singing was his lifeless performance, where he doddered around stage like an old man and dragged the mic with him like it was his IV stand. With two people going home tonight, it’s really time to bid him adieu. Ellen was the only judge who liked it, and explained to Ryan that she liked it because she liked it.
After weeks of excruciating Sanjaya-esque performances, Tim Urban surprisingly delivered one of the night’s most satisfying songs. Instead of sullying “Can’t Help Falling In Love” with his usual goofy bombast, he gently picked at his acoustic guitar and offered a restrained, understated take on the oft-covered tune that was actually a bit beautiful. Ellen likened him to tequila (because she regrets him the next morning?) but seemed to mean it as a compliment, and Simon indulged in an unforgivable cliché by saying Tim “went from zero to hero in two weeks.” Is Simon now writing eighties movie trailers on the side?
Lee DeWyze continued his bid to be named Bowersox's runner-up with a bluesy, growling version of “A Little Less Conversation.” He’s finally loosened up onstage to the point where he successfully inhabits each song. Kara still wanted him to smile more and hop around the stage on a pogo stick, but Simon reminded her that “it’s about nailing the song and that was on the money.” Watch it below.
Decked out in his Back to the Future Part II-version-of-the-future finest, Aaron Kelly took on “Blue Suede Shoes.” Lambert advised the 17-year-old to put some aggression into his performance, but Aaron just looked scared and hid under a nearby couch. His performance was solid but not memorable — the main problem was the hopelessly outdated backing blues music. Kara applauded him for moving out of his comfort zone, but Simon felt it was too old-fashioned. Jane Lynch sagely nodded along in the background.
Siobhan Magnus gave us the soft and screechy sides of her musical persona this week, and the resulting version of “Suspicious Minds” was enjoyable though not exactly relevant, much like her Billy Idol meets Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle. Lambert looked like he loved her performance more than the others, which makes sense: Her voice is lovely, powerful, and idiosyncratic in a way not unlike his own. Randy confusingly likened it to the Supremes, while Kara couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that Siobhan is one girl with two different singing styles. Simon told her she’s lost sight of who she is, but Siobhan wasted no time putting them back in their places. “Even I can’t pinpoint who or what I am, but I’ve always taken pride in that I don’t think it’s necessary to be labeled.” Shine on, you crazy diamond.
After his near-elimination last week, Michael Lynche sang “In the Ghetto” on Siobhan’s advice. Even though the arrangement was slow and bare-bones, it still came across as cheesy and a bit lame. Mike definitely should have taken Adam’s advice to ignore the judges and embrace his theatrical side — at least then he’d be entertaining instead of forgettable. The judges all give him terse praise, probably because they’re not quite ready to admit he may not have been worth the save.
Katie Stevens made an interesting song choice with “Baby What Do You Want Me to Do,” but she came nowhere near pouring her frustration with the judges into her singing, which was her stated aim. Adam correctly said “she needs to sell it more,” but all the non-Simon judges liked her grrr-face façade of anger. Simon told her it was boring and she shouted back at him, “What do you want me to do?” Get voted off the show soon, Katie. Is that so much to ask?
Casey James closed the night with an acceptably old-school blues take on “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” It was good MOR white blues, but that’s kind of like saying The Biggest Loser is good for immediately forgettable melodrama. Still, his vocals were fine and, as Ellen pointed out, he did look “comfortable surrounded by a sea of women.” But perhaps she just said that because she likes to watch the muscles in Kara's neck tense up.
Odds and sods moments:
Siobhan opined that Elvis is so compelling to her because he came from practically nothing and became one of the most successful performers ever. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make things trite, Ryan declared, “Yep, rags to riches.”
Katie Stevens explained anger to us: “It’s like UGH! Not aaahhhh.”
In the long-running Fox tradition of attempting to sabotage people by implying they’re terrorists, Seacrest introduced Tim Urban as “Turban.”
Seacrest joked that Brian Dunkleman would return next week for Idol Gives Back. No one in the audience seemed to recall who that was, which means his joke failed, but Seacrest still wins, since his former Idol co-host isn’t remembered well enough to function as a punchline.
Reminding us of the importance of voting, Ryan shouted, “You don’t want to lose your favorite, because that would suck!” at a frail old lady.
Tonight Adam Lambert returns to perform, and perhaps we will finally be rid of the oppressive mediocrity that is Andrew Garcia’s singing. And with the save gone, hopefully Siobhan or Casey won’t fall into the bottom two and be forced to shuffle off their Idol coil.
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak didn't appreciate "Kara's rote 'another solid performance from Crystal,' which made it seem like the season 9 front-runner's standard-operating excellence is something we should all take for granted, like involuntary breathing."
The AV Club's Claire Zulkey has reservations about Siobhan: "Isn't this the third week in a row where she's been off her game? And I didn't really like said game that much to begin with."