American Idol Redeems Itself...Almost

Last week, the Top 11 finalists took on Billboard #1s, and guided by the deep wisdom of Miley Cyrus (who ironically has yet to score a #1 song) delivered one of the worst performance episodes in Idol's 9 season history. Choosing from a list of over 1000 #1 hits, you'd think the remaining finalists could have been a little more original; of the eleven songs performed, five have been performed multiple times on the Idol stage ("Against All Odds" is now the most performed song in Idol history, hitting a total tally of seven, thanks to Paige Miles' abysmal interpretation).

Cyrstal Bowersox, in a night of dreary, awful singing, proved once again she is the only contestant who knows how to choose a song that suits her, accentuates her strengths, and allows her to deliver believable a performance. Her rousing performance of "Me & Bobby McGee" was, in a word, brilliant. But one performance alone can't save the sinking ship that is Season 9.

Last night, however, might have. With some middle players stepping up to the plate and some underdogs exceeding expectations, Season 9's Top 10 performance episode almost made me forget the horror of last week...almost (Honestly, one doesn't easily forget Paige's painful warbling or Tim Urban's Disney-tastic slide...*shudder*).

As 17 Tracks resident Idol expert, each week I will break down each performance in roughly 75 words or less and offer an Idol report card of sorts, grading each contestant's overall performance. Exciting, right?

TOP 10
This week's theme: R&B.
Mentor: Usher (offering surprisingly articulate and pointed criticism)

1. Siobahn Magnus, "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan
Poor Siobahn. After an uncharacteristically pitchy, all-around off performance, she looked visibly defeated when the judges harshly criticized everything from her wardrobe to her routine wails during the final bars of the song. Despite this one misstep, our favorite glassblower has been consistently strong and delightfully polarizing all season-- we all have our off nights, right? B-

2. Casey James, "Hold On, I'm Coming" by Sam & Dave
The panel is always split with him, but this week I side with the ladies: there's no denying Casey possesses some genuine talent, but he is too one-note and predictable. Technically speaking, he lacks connection to his breath, clipping every note and displaying an uneven, shaky vibrato. He's consistently good, but easily forgettable. B-

3. Michael Lynce, "Ready for Love" by India.Arie
One of the best vocalists of the lot, Michael's biggest set-back has been his corny onstage antics (fist pumps, pointing up, outstretched arms, etc.). This week, by sitting down with his guitar he delivered a much more subdued, emotional performance and as Simon proclaimed, finally looked like a legit contender. While he bears the chops to sing just about anything in tune, his image as a relevant recording artist is still questionable. A-

4. Didi Benami, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin
Dear fragile, fragile Didi. You have one of the most compelling, beautiful voices this season (have you heard her recording of "Play with Fire"!!?) but you are so misguided in your song choices, wardrobe, and overall presentation. Your thin voice cannot handle big, robust ballads, yet week after week you stumble over yet another. When you are on, you are sensational; when you are off, you are very, very off. Last night, unfortunately, proved the latter. Love, 17 Tracks. C-

5. Tim Urban, "Sweet Love" by Anita Baker
With his unbearably amateur, high school talent show performance, Tim has thoroughly solidified his position as "Vote for the Worst"'s primary candidate. That's all I can think to say...except maybe to echo Ellen's most useful feedback to date: "WHY!?" D-

6. Andrew Garcia, "Forever" by Chris Brown
A.Gar! You finally lived up to the hype! You finally chose a song that didn't completely smother you! And you sang it mostly in tune! But most of all, you proved once and for all that you don't belong on a the big stage, but are better suited for a life as a Youtube artist, arranging cute acoustic renditions of fun pop songs! Yaaay for you! B+

7. Katie Stevens, "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
First the positive: her intonation has improved significantly the past few weeks and she seems a lot more confident and assured as a performer. And although her take on a Fergie song last week was a step in the right direction, by tackling Aretha's belty classic this week she leaves a lot to be desired in terms of artistry, creativity and originality. But kudos for exceeding expectations, however low they might have been. B-

8. Lee Dewyze, "Treat Her Like A Lady" by The Cornelius Brothers
Clearly the standout performance of the night, Lee showed huge improvement both vocally and in his connection to us as an audience. Was it just me or did I actually witness Lee exude a bit of confidence and stage presence? He has this incredible natural gift and when he sings the right song, he's one of the best. Here's hoping Simon was right and last night truly was the turning point in his life/career/Idol journey. A-

9. Crystal Bowersox, "Midnight Train To Georgia" by Gladys Knight
Even her weakest performance shines through as one of the best of the night. I'm proud of her for taking a risk and putting down the guitar, and taking on something a little more difficult and out of her comfort zone. This shows she is growing as an artist and is really in this to compete. Parts of the performance were fantastic, and others were pretty shaky (particularly at the piano), but regardless, thank goodness she's in this competition. B+

10. Aaron Kelly, "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers
This was one of Kris Allen's best moments last season, one that ultimately led him to dethrone Adam Lambert and steal the Idol crown. Aaron Kelly's version was considerably less affective. In fact, it was his weakest performance in weeks and actually reminded me why I didn't like him in the first place; like Katie, he lacks artistry. He can sing big, sappy country ballads all day long, but until he learns to connect and convey genuine emotion (think "Angie" just two weeks ago) consistently, he'll only be remembered as the boy determined to bring back 90's fashion. C+

Bottom Three: Tim Urban, Katie Stevens, Didi Benami Who will go: Tim Urban

Tune in to American Idol tonight on Fox for this week's results.


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