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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Off-night for Crystal Bowersox proves 'Idol' competition far from over

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

Was it Crystal Bowersox's best night on American Idol?

Probably not. At least, that's what the judges had to say.

But, judging by audience reception to Crystal Tuesday night, it didn't matter what Simon and Co. opined.

The 24-year-old Elliston, Ohio, resident had those in the theater seats clapping and cheering for her long after she was finished with her bluesy-hymnal of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" during Rolling Stones theme night.

And maybe that was the problem. A bluesy-rock-folkie singing the bluesy-rock-and-roll kings is the perfect match. Everyone knew it — there was a reason she was the last to perform last night; Fox knew everyone wanted to see her sing the Stones.

But maybe expectations were too high for her this week, fueled equally by her crazy-good performances, fawning judges, and Internet buzz.

Simon picked up on that the during his critique.

"You came out here tonight 100 percent the clear favorite. And I think you chose a song which just didn't have what you needed, kind of the drama. And this is the first time where I think you were beaten by somebody, and that was Siobhan," he said. "I do."

To which Crystal replied, "She's amazing."

Simon continued: "And that's exactly what you've got to learn, is Just when you think you've got the competition in the pocket, you've got to dig deep. Week after week, you've got to come on that stage and you've got to kill."

"I haven't thought that I've got the competition at all," Crystal replied.

"No, but other people do," Simon said.

"But thank you for saying that," Crystal joked.

Simon's right, though. For weeks, Crystal has been praised, deservedly so, as the overall best in this year's mostly lackluster American Idol crop. She's certainly been the most consistent performer. But being touted as the best can be burdensome during a competition like Idol, where each week is do or die. It also stamps a target on your forehead for cynical viewers looking to be overly critical of you because you're on top; and by the competition, knowing who they have to beat.

Have no doubts, Crystal has some serious competition in Siobhan Magnus and, to a lesser degree, Michael "Big Mike" Lynche, who was declared the front runner last week by Ellen.

Siobhan floored everyone with a theatrical "Paint it Black," which caused Kara to compare her to Adam Lambert. Big Mike also drew praise for his "Miss You."

The trio, including Crystal, is unquestionably safe this week, unlike, say, Andrew Garcia, who is proving more and more each week that he doesn't belong in the top 12. His "Gimme Shelter," an obvious, better choice of song for Crystal, was neutered of any social relevance and angry edge. It was a 24-year-old pop singer performing a Stones song he thought was kinda cool but really with no concept of what the lyrics were about.

Kara alluded to the same thing.

"It's a song about war, written at Vietnam. I wanted to feel that from you, what you were talking about," she told Andrew. "I felt it at times, but most of the time I didn't. It was the connection that bothered me most about the performance."

Compared to that criticism, and the stinging critiques handed to Tim Urban and his quizzical reggae twist to "Under My Thumb," and the judge's comments to Crystal were pillow-soft suggestions, which they mostly were.

Randy, Ellen, and Kara mostly offered the same commentary thread: You're really talented, it wasn't your best night, but you're still one of the best.

Randy: "Listen, I don't think it was your best performance, there were a coupla problems in there. But let me tell you something, man. I love you, You are always great. I am always excited to see what you are going to do, and you didn't disappoint me tonight, even though it wasn't my favorite performance. But I still love you."

Ellen's critique, for once, though, actually had something to say other than a punchline, though it lead to that too.

Ellen: "Here''s the thing. You sing with such ease, it's so effortless with you and you really are born to be onstage. It's just so much fun to watch you. What I've been missing from you that I saw a little bit tonight is personality. And you started adding a little bit of that tonight and being playful."

Crystal: "I was thinking too much."

Ellen: "Well, stop thinking. No one should think. Remember that, kids. Really, just let yourself have fun onstage 'cause I started to see a little bit of personality and I love seeing that. So play more onstage 'cause the singing, you've got that."

Kara: "I agree with you [Ellen]. You're so comfortable up there I was starting to think, Wow, she thinks she's almost got this. It comes off a bit like that. But tonight you did, you loosened up a bit more. It wasn't your greatest vocal performance, but it just shows when you walk out, you're just so comfortable. And it's easy to watch. It really is."

Crystal is easy to watch. And her performance is effortless. But easy and effortless aren't going to win you the competition. And Crystal knows that. As she said, she wasn't in "the zone" last night.

Meanwhile, Siobahn was. And now there is the unmistakable feeling that the American Idol competition has really begun.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com

or call 419-724-6734.

LINK: For all of Kirk Baird's Culture Shock riffs



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