American Idol was looking to be a runaway win by Crystal Bowersox.
Back-to-back stumbles, though, have made the race much tighter.
A week ago Crystal struggled with a low-key song by country-pop artist Shania Twain. Last night it was Frank Sinatra that seemed to baffle the blues-folk singer.
Dressed in a black gown, and with guest mentor Harry Connick, Jr., on piano, Crystal was every bit the jazz club torch singer, something the 24-year-old single mom never really seemed comfortable with.
Her selection, "Summer Wind," was baffling as well. She suggested the song had a personal meaning, but it wasn't a good choice for her. A song with some lyrical and musical drama in it — "Send in the Clowns," perhaps — would've worked better.
The jazzy arrangements in "Summer Wind" overpowered her sleepy vocals at first, too, before she kicked it up a notch and the song found some life, as did her performance.
That was more or less what the judges told her as well.
Randy: "It was a great arrangement. It was one of your more subdued performances. I don't know if you did anything differently with it. It was OK, but It was a little sleepy for me."
Ellen: "At first it felt like you were swallowing every word and I was a little nervous. Then you started really singing and I wanted to see a little more of that when you were kind of starting to snap and I wanted you to loosen up a tiny bit more. But it's the only thing I missed. But man if I saw you for the first time I would never know you're that other girl too. You have so many different sides to you, you're so impressive."
Kara: "It's out of your element, but I kind of liked it. I did. I liked your phrasing and that's a really important thing this week. Frank Sinatra had impeccable phrasing, swing rhythm and you showed you could hold your own in that department so that's why I kind of liked it."
Simon: "I loved the song. I don't know if I would've chosen it for you though because it felt a little bit indulgent. The first half was too jazzy for me, too small nightclub and the second half obviously got a lot better. But I'm not going to lie and say this was one of your strongest performances. For you, Crystal, I think you've had two OK weeks. I think if you survive next week, it's like Randy said, now it's about being in it to win it. It's not about just singing for yourself anymore. It's about using this opportunity to nail it week after week after week. So I expect better."
Crystal: "I mean I always try to do what I think is best for the song and to me it's a sweet love story and you wouldn't sing it really big like that. If you were singing soflty to your lover, you'd sing it sweetly. And the song gets bigger as it goes on. I don't feel like I should sing really big notes because I'm on American Idol I think it should be about the music."
Simon: "I think it's about for whatever reason you chose it I'm just saying for you as an artist now you have one opportunity each week. I'm saying you have to use it in the best possible way and I'm giving you this advice to help you."
Crystal wasn't helped by the fact that she was followed by Michael "Big Mike" Lynche, with a strong performance of "The Way You Look Tonight." The judges loved it.
Then Lee DeWyze delivered his best performance of the season with "That's Life." The judges proclaimed it the best of the night. Ellen told him, "If this was the last night of performances, you just would have won the whole thing."
The good news for Crystal and her fans is that another off night by her only has her in the middle of the pack, with blues rocker Casey James at the bottom. Sinatra proved to be way too much for his limited vocal abilities — there's simply no power behind his voice.
But Lee and Big Mike really stepped it up this week. Crystal will be safe again — her fans proved their loyalty last week and they will again tonight. Plus, her performance isn't worth sending her home.
The other good news for Crystal is that last night was about as tough as it's going to get for her in terms of a theme night.
This time last season, the show selected the Rat Pack as its theme for the top 5. The next week was rock music, followed the rest of the way with judge and contestant selections. The year before that it was Neil Diamond in the top 5, before it got easier with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the top 4, and then the personal selections. Expect something similar this season.
Crystal should find herself in a more comfortable genre next week and to be back in the good graces of Simon, her one-time biggest fan on the show.
Meanwhile, Tuesday night proved the American Idol race has tightened up considerably.