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Published: Thursday, 3/25/2010

'American Idol' judges to Bowersox: Good peformance, but not as great as your talent level

In this publicity image released by Fox, the 12 female finalists for the ninth season of the reality singing competetion, "American Idol," seated from left, Katelyn Epperly, Lilly Scott, Ashley Rodriguez, Lacey Brown, Janell Wheeler, Haeley Vaughn and, standing from left, Didi Benami, Michelle Delamor, Katie Stevens, Crystal Bowersox, Paige Miles and  Soibhan Magnus, are shown. In this publicity image released by Fox, the 12 female finalists for the ninth season of the reality singing competetion, "American Idol," seated from left, Katelyn Epperly, Lilly Scott, Ashley Rodriguez, Lacey Brown, Janell Wheeler, Haeley Vaughn and, standing from left, Didi Benami, Michelle Delamor, Katie Stevens, Crystal Bowersox, Paige Miles and Soibhan Magnus, are shown.
PATRICK ECCLESTEIN / AP Enlarge

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.

So last night marked Crystal Bowersox's foray into the live performance stage of American Idol.

The Elliston, Ohio, resident represented herself well.

Dressed in dinner party casual — jeans, gray shirt, and a dark jacket — Crystal looked more like herself, like you remember her from the Chicago audition stage and the Hollywood round, than many of the other contestants. More importantly, she proved herself to be a better singer than many of the other 11 girls.

Her choice of song was "Hand in My Pocket" by Alanis Morissette, a smart piece of pop music and a smart and safe choice for Crystal. It's obvious that "Hand in My Pocket" is part of her regular setlist — the song was comfortable and polished, like a pair of favorite dress shoes — and she nailed it. Sometimes a triple is as good as a homerun.

In this publicity image released by Fox, the 12 male finalists for the ninth season of the reality singing competetion, "American Idol," front row from left, Andrew Garcia, John Park, Tyler Grady, Joe Munoz and Jermaine Sellers and, back row, from left, Lee Dewyze, Aaron Kelly, Tim Urban, Michael Lynche, Todrick Hall, Casey James and Alex Lambert, are shown. In this publicity image released by Fox, the 12 male finalists for the ninth season of the reality singing competetion, "American Idol," front row from left, Andrew Garcia, John Park, Tyler Grady, Joe Munoz and Jermaine Sellers and, back row, from left, Lee Dewyze, Aaron Kelly, Tim Urban, Michael Lynche, Todrick Hall, Casey James and Alex Lambert, are shown.
PATRICK ECCLESTEIN / AP Enlarge

What struck me the most about her performance was that she took a few seconds during her limited stage time to feature a harmonica solo. In a show about vocal talents, it's refreshing to see someone take the music equally seriously. Blowing the harp definitely gives her serious music cred, and no doubt won her some votes among the half-dozen musicians tuning in to the show.

It was also one of the only songs of the night you genuinely wanted to hear more of.

As for the critics, they were all in agreement on Crystal's talent and that they liked her performance, though Randy, Kara, and Simon thought she was capable of better.

Randy: "You're one of my favorites and one of my favorites tonight. I love your originality as an artist. I'm not even sure this was the right song for you ... I like you. I like your honesty ... I'm a fan."

Ellen: "I too am a fan of yours, and I think we are lucky that you decided to audition for Idol and be here because you add something fresh to the show. And if I'm at home watching, I'm voting for you because I want to see more of you."

Simon: "It was good. We like you, love your little baby, like your story. The truth is there are thousands of you doing this outside subway stations every day at the moment. If I met you in real life and heard that, I wouldn't stop in my tracks and go, You are the most original artist that I've ever heard. [AUDIENCE BOOS] That's the truth. Herein lies the problem, you doing an Alanis Morissette song is that you're doing a sound alike. You've got to do something which is you, not try to sound like somebody else."

Crystal replied: "They don't allow originals on the show, though."

Simon: "What I'm saying is that you could choose anybody. David Bowie or anybody and make it your version. And that's when people have done really well on the competition. They've done something that nobody else has done before. There are tens of thousands of girls in your position who have done that song."

Crystal: "David Bowie would be fun. I think that would be good."

Randy: "Yeah, that's a good idea."

Simon: "Something like that. But having said that, I'm trying not to be overcritical. I really, really like you and I think you're refreshing. You're going to do well."

Kara: "Crystal, you were good tonight. I think you have greatness in you, though. And I've seen moments of it in the past when you really build that performance. You have that ability to take us kind of on a journey when you're singing. I didn't see that in you tonight, but you have it in you. ... And I think what [Simon] is talking about is to not just be a coffee house performer, to bring it out, to fill the stage with that uniqueness that you already have. But there's no doubt in my mind that you're going to be here next year. [Corrects herself] Next week."

Tonight is the guys' turn, followed by the Thursday night results show in which two women and two men will be cut, leaving 20 contestants remaining.

As for some thoughts on how Crystal's competition fared ...

Paige Miles, "All Right Now": she tried to Tina Turner a Free song and it didn't work. A mixed bag of soaring and so-so.

Ashley Rodriguez, "Happy": comfortable on stage, but her presence wasn't enough to sell the song. And why perform a watered-down version of Leona Lewis?

Janell Wheeler, "What About Love": was blown out by her backup singers, not good when you're vying to win a singing contest. She has the look of an Idol, but her cover of the '80s Heart hit made me question her voice. The song sounded like something you'd hear in a lounge on a cruise ship.

Lilly Scott, "Fixing a Hole": brave and interesting choice. She put some Marilyn Monroe birthday song sex appeal into it and refreshed the Beatles classic — no small feat. The extended "hole" chorus bugged, though.

Katelyn Epperly, "Oh! Darling": the bad Meg Ryan 'do, circa When Harry Met Sally and fire engine-red lipstick were distracting, and her ho-hum performance of yet another Beatles song didn't do much to compensate.

Haeley Vaughn, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand": overpowered a silly little school-boy crush Beatles tune with her powerful chops; the girl can sing, no doubt, but she needs to choose material that complements those pipes.

Lacey Brown, "Landslide": a wreck, an acoustic pop classic drained of artistic expression, trapped somewhere between the Fleetwood Mac original and the Dixie Chicks cover. Hands-down the worst performance of the night.

Michelle Delamor, "Fallin' ": good but far from memorable; a safe song by a singer who'll probably stick around a few weeks before the competition really gets tough.

Didi Benami, "The Way I Am": the weepy waitress has made a nice impression so far, but her voice, while usually something that stands out, seemed to blend in tonight. Still, the Ingrid Michaelson cover should've worked better for her than it did, and I'm not sure why it didn't. Their vocal styles are quite similar. Perhaps this is one of those rare instances on Idol when the safe choice for a contestant proved otherwise.

Siobhan Magnus, "Wicked Game": some serious troubles at the beginning, but she redeemed herself — mostly — with the Chris Isaak falsetto, no small task. I'd love to see her cover Isaak's "Somebody's Crying" at some point in the show, but that would be too redundant.

Katie Stevens, "Feeling Good": the judges are right — a voice like hers doesn't come out of many 16 year olds. Still, she's not as polished as some of the other older contestants and it shows. If she had waited a few years, she might be able to win the whole thing. Pretty good, but pretty good won't keep her around for long.

And for fans of Crystal who want to support a hometown girl: call 1-866 IDOLS 11 (1 866 43657 11) or text the word "vote" to 5711.

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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