It’s R&B and soul week on Idol. I’m hoping this means they’re performing songs by Cab Calloway, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles (and not Aretha Franklin, because no-one should touch that). I fear that it’s actually going to be Rihanna, Boyz II Men and Jodeci (and Whitney Houston, but no-one should touch that). Let’s find out together, shall we?
Instead of a mentor, they’ve provided a young man who they refer to only as ‘usher’, who will presumably check tickets, hand out programs and show people to their seats. Here are this week’s performances, in order from least loved to most bestest.
10. Didi Benami, aka the Senator’s Murdered Nanny
Didi’s thin reed voice is not at all suited to R&B. She has a nice voice, a folksy tone, but pitting it against the rich texture of Jimmy Ruffin on What Becomes of the Brokenhearted seems hopelessly ambitious, and she looks and sounds like Cheryl Crowe struggling under the weight of Isaac Hayes. I will give her this; she’s very game. If she survives this week, it can only get better from here. (Down 5.)
9. Andrew Garcia, aka Paul ab-Dull
Last week, Simon spoke truth unto Garcia; you are not as good as your one good moment, and we’re no longer even sure how good that moment was. Garcia needs to pull off a miracle to get back into my good books now. Singing Forever by Chris Brown is not going to fix anything. It sounded like a chewing gum commercial. And why is he giving Chris Brown any exposure? If you’re going to sing a soul song by a domestic abuser, sing Fool In Love! (No change.)
8. Siobhan Magnus, aka Madame Medusa
Some serious throwing back going on here with an 80s Chaka Khan song, Through The Fire. Siobhan goes period with the sort of 80s lounge singing style wherein you can never let your mouth close for fear that the lipgloss will cement. I think they must have fixed her hair with a magical can of vintage Aqua Net to get her into character. Unfortunately she sound awful; more Wrath of Khan than Chaka Khan. I thought last week was her off week, so I wasn’t prepared for this. (Down 6.)
7. Katie Stevens, aka Darth Mallrat
I said no Aretha. Didn’t I say, no Aretha? Katie has actually been at her best doing blues, which is inexplicable given that she has as much soul as a Pez dispenser. Yet this is not blues, this is Chain of Fools, and you don’t attempt to climb Mount Aretha without spare oxygen tanks. This girl has all the spare oxygen of a whoopee cushion. Watching her trying to give it some head bobbing sass is just cringeworthy. Don’t sass me, girl. If you haven’t done your homework, you’re staying behind. (Up 1.)
6. Lee DeWyse, aka Blue Collar Tofu
Lee sang Treat Her Like A Lady, and I don’t know where it’s from (it’s not the Celine Dion song, that’s for sure), but if this was ever an R&B song, he sanded off the sparkling blue paint, took out the white leather seats, and refitted it for the demolition derby. On the one hand, it was probably his best performance. On the other hand, I don’t remember any of his previous performances and I won’t remember this one. In a boring world, even hiccups seem exciting. (No change.)
5. Tim Urban, aka Mannequin Piss
You’re wondering what Tim is doing up here, aren’t you? It’s not because he was any good. It’s because he’s entertaining. I know he’s a troll, and I usually hate those (though he’s a pretty troll) - but it does make me laugh that Tim is still on the show. He never does well with the voters, but somehow he keeps scraping through, and his pretty little face and his weak little voice get flung at another genre that he doesn’t know, doesn’t feel, and cannot do. This week, hilariously, he sang Anita Baker’s Sweet Love, which is one of the great soul seduction numbers. Could he handle it? Not even close! Strained, tuneless and desparate. Let’s do opera next week! It can’t get any worse! In a year of duff contestants, Tim’s performances are now among the ones I most look forward to, and his upbeat responses to the judges’ brutal critiques are kind of charming. (Up 5.)
4. Aaron Kelly, aka the Second Trimester Kid
I literally forgot about the existence of Aaron Kelly. He was on last, and I nearly turned the TV off after Crystal. It was like the producers were telling me I could go home early. Kelly’s song was Ain’t No Sunshine, and the usher gave him some good advice; find something to do with the endless string of ‘I know’s, or we’re all just going to be sitting around waiting for you to unstick the needle. Kelly did OK. I have to start finding nice things to say about some of these contestants because I know I’m going to be stuck with them for a while, and I’m sure I’m stuck with Aaron for the long haul, so that’s the nice thing I have to say about Aaron Kelly. It was OK. A bit patchy. (Up 3.)
3. Casey James, aka Thin White Earl
Casey wins major points for bringing Sam & Dave’s Hold On, I’m Comin’ to the Idol stage, but he loses points for a milquetoast performance that walks a delicate path between gritty and smooth without ever committing to either redemptive path. I don’t think that song has ever sounded so peaches n’ cream. I suspect that Casey is lazy, and it’s beginning to annoy me. And this was the third best performance of the night. (Up 1.)
2. Mike Lynche, aka Always Big Mike
Mike sings soulful R&B every week. Give him a Christina Aguilera song and it would probably come out as soulful R&B. He’s cheesy, but he’s good at it. Given that this theme is deep into his comfort zone, it’s striking that he chooses to sing an obscure modern song and not something from the Smokey Robinson songbook; Ready for Love by India.Arie. As a result, he’s not as good as he’s been in past weeks, but he is instantly more commercial and less of a caricature, so it was probably a good idea. Simon’s comments bear out my suspicions; this is what they want from Mike. Less talent, more generic marketability. (No change.)
And with that, we are done with all the insipid performances, and we move on to the good stuff, by which I mean…
1. Crystal Bowersox, aka Buskerella
Midnight Train To Georgia! MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA, MOTHERNUDGER! Pinned behind a grand piano (you can’t just wheel one of those down to the platform at Grand Central Station, you know), Crystal seemed rattled at the start of the song, but as soon as she knew she was ditching the piano, she was able to swagger into position and take the room. While my brain couldn’t quite accept the sight of the Reverend Dame Bowersox in a red dress and heels, she sounded as great as ever, and I think she finally understands that she’s in a singing contest, and that she’s competing, and that she’s winning. Let’s hope that Siobhan Magnus comes back next week to put up a fight. (No change.)
The score at the end of the night, by my count, was six proper R&B songs out of ten, which is not bad going, but one of them was Aretha, and I was very clear about that, and most of the rest were performed by terrible singers. I assume Tim will continue to hold steady in the bottom three, and he’ll be joined this week by Didi and Andrew, possibly Siobhan, whom the judges would surely save. I hope we lose Andrew. I’ll be sorry if we lose Didi. I’ll be devastated if we lose Tim.