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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2010

Bowersox moves on, and we say good-bye to another struggling 'Idol' contestant

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.

No surprise, Crystal Bowersox is moving on to the top 10 of this season's American Idol. That also means Bowersox will be on the Idol tour this summer, earning some extra cash and, no doubt, more industry opportunities if she doesn't take the Idol crown.

It wasn't a surprise who won't be joining her or the other nine remaining Idol contestants. Paige Miles, 24, of Houston, was sent home by viewers after her dreadful performance of "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins and later covered by Mariah Carey.

Kara said it was the worst vocal performance by Paige so far and maybe the worst of the season. Of course, that was before Kara had seen many of the other performers sing on the Tuesday Night Massacre, in which a lot of really good songs were murdered by some average singers. It was simply dreadful.

Joining Paige in the bottom three were 20-year-old Tim Duncan from Duncanville, Texas, and, in a real surprise, 17-year-old Katie Stevens from Middlebury, Conn. I say it was a real surprise because it was Katie's best performance so far, beginning with a smart song choice in Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry." The judges loved her too.

And then there was 24-year-old Andrew Garcia from Moreno Valley, Calif., who almost ruined "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" forever for me. Andrew took the Marvin Gaye Motown classic and drained the life and soul out of it. The judges agreed, and yet when it came down to he and Katie for the final seat in the bottom three, he was safe.

If I were Katie , I would be worried. And a bit upset.

So, next week is R&B/soul night, featuring Usher as mentor to the performers. It ought to be interesting. On Tuesday, Crystal teased to the judges that she might be taking the stage without her guitar. That's a risky move, but it will certainly shake things up for her.

And, in case you missed it, you can read my thoughts on all the performances Tuesday night below.

It's 2015 and you're at a record store or are on iTunes and you want to buy a new album. You've got a choice between the 11 remaining performers on American Idol. Who do you pick? Who among this group is likely to have progressed as an artist that you want to support him/her in another five years?

That should be the question viewers ask themselves before voting each week for an American Idol contestant: who shows the most potential as a true artist?

If that's what the competition is really about — and not the popularity contest many of us think it is — then you might as well crown Crystal Bowersox now as season nine champ.

Watch video of Crystal Bowersox from last night's performance

Out of everyone who sang last night, who do you really envision as a serious performer, and not some "Man, you're really good. What are you doing singing karaoke in this place?" kind of performer, which is mostly what we had last night.

In an American Idol showcase of devolving talent, Crystal has become the savior of season nine.

Honestly, last night was maybe a new low for American Idol in terms of performances. In a show that's supposed to be about finding musical talent, the biggest question this year has become: Who's the worst in a mostly rotten bunch? Seriously, how do you choose from the fetid performances that stank up the stage and American living rooms last night?

Paige Miles looking dazed and confused as she struggled to find anything that sounded remotely in key during a musically tragic performance of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds."

Didi Benami foolishly attempting the guise of torch singer in a cover of Linda Ronstadt's pop-rock anthem, "You're No Good," which proved to be worse than you imagine it to be.

Tim Urban providing the biggest unintentional laughs of the season so far with a hilariously awful Freddie Mercury impersonation for Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." It was like a friend had too much to drink at a bar, grabbed a mic, and belted this song during karaoke night.

Andrew Garcia causing Marvin Gaye to roll over in his grave as he bungled a soulless version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." It was so bad that last night's celebrity mentor, Miley Cyrus, looked bored to tears (or maybe she was just sad for him) when the camera cut to her during Andrew's performance.

So, there's your bottom four, America. Choose wisely, because you'll be sending three of them back onstage next week. Or, perhaps, in something like the mercy rule in softball, American Idol producers will give the show's judges the ability to kick someone else off the competition addition to who received the fewest votes. Sort of "the viewers voted Paige Miles off this week, but we're sending Tim Urban packing as well." No one would complain.

So, that was the ugly part of the American Idol, which is really what most people will be buzzing about anyway. But what about the highlights?

Well, again, Crystal was hands-down the best last night. She's becoming the only one on the show consistently worth watching.

Last week, Siobhan Magnus stole some of Crystal's thunder and attention by busting out the big pipes on a very showy "Paint it Black." The judges loved it, and judging by the subsequent buzz about her performance, so did many viewers.

This week Siobhan predictably went to the big note again -- how could you not see that scream coming? -- for Stevie Wonder's funky "Superstition." Only, she omitted the funk, dulled the song's tempo to a slow bore, and then -- surprise! -- opened wide for the end-song squawk that's become her calling card. Perhaps it was an effort to wake up everyone who lost interest in her performance by then.

The shriek/screech/squawk has become a gimmick for Siobhan that you expect to see every week. But in football, how many times do you see an offense run a gimmick play — other than Boise State? It's something coaches bust out every now and then to catch opposing defenses off guard, surprise them, mix it up. But any successful coach knows you can't rely on gimmicks to win.

Siobhan, who has a big, powerful voice and said last night she loves to use it, should spend time watching NFL films.

She needs to learn to save the Hail Mary vocals for when it's needed. And right now, she doesn't need it. She would do just fine on the show by not overpowering the songs, especially when competing against such a weak crop of Idol contestants. Frankly, if Siobhan had been REALLY smart, she would've saved the "wow moment," as the judges like to call it, for the top five or even top 3 as a strategy move, a quick to garner buzz when it really mattered.

Now, if Siobhan's not careful, she's at risk of becoming a tired gimmick. And her look last night? She came across as a reject from Pretty in Pink or any other John Hughes teen comedy from the 1980s.

And speaking of predictable, there was "Big Mike" singing yet another song to his wife, this time Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman." It was a safe choice and he delivered a performance straight from a small Las Vegas casino lounge. I know, I lived in Vegas for eight years.

Katie Stevens and Aaron Kelly, the only teens left on the show, did well for themselves:

Katie was smart with her song choice, Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," and seemed much more comfortable onstage this week. She's showing considerable improvement from her struggles earlier this season. Aaron, who was suffering from tonsillitis, pulled off Aerosmith's poppy-cheesy balled "Don't Want to Miss a Thing."

Both Katie and Aaron have strong voices, but they lack polish and seasoning as singers. I really think if either of them had waited for five years or so before they auditioned for American Idol, had more experience onstage, and, frankly, in life, they would be serious contenders on the show.

The sleepy Lee Dewyze also had his best outing on the show this season, with a lively — at least, for him — performance of "The Letter" by the Box Tops. Strange song choice, but it kinda, sorta worked for him. Though, after rewatching it, I'm not so sold on it, or him, for that matter.

And finally there's the blues rocker, Casey James, who inexplicably tried to bring blues to Huey Lewis and the News and "The Power of Love." Yes, yet another cheesy pop song from a soundtrack, in this case Back to the Future. Three of the four judges liked Casey -- Ellen said it was the best vocal of the night. (Seriously. She said that. Which is what you get when you hire a comedian/talk show host as a judge on a music competition show.) But Simon, who remains the voice of sanity and authority on the show, said James failed to make the song current. "It was like listening to an '80s cover band." And a bad one at that.

As for Crystal ... when they said before the commercial break that she would be singing Janis Joplin, I knew it was "Me and Bobby McGee." It was Billboard No. 1 hits night on Idol, and I'm pretty sure that's Joplin's only No. 1. (I'll fact check that later -- right now, it's nearly 1:30 a.m. and I'm not going to bother.)

The song seemed such a safe and, let's be honest, predictable choice by Crystal, whose drawn numerous comparisons to Joplin already.

But then Crystal came out in a black dress and sandals, hair/dreads pulled up, looking every bit like she was on her way to a Phish concert. (Having been to a few Phish shows recently, I know what I'm talking about.) And there she stood, on a small rug on the big American Idol stage, with her familiar acoustic guitar.

And she let loose. Slowly, at first, before she poured it on thick, just as Miley Cyrus had encouraged her to do with the high notes. It was the kind of vocals that make you stop in your tracks and listen, especially considering the noise that came before her.

The judges were equally impressed:

Randy: America, the show's called American Idol. That's what is called being a star and a dope singer, right there. That's the way you do it. You come out here and slay it. You sing what's in your heart. People have been comparing you to Janis [Joplin] -- she's amazing, great. Dude, that's what it's about. I'm so happy now. This is what it's about. She's what it's about.

Ellen: "I was driving the other day and this song came on the radio and I thought of you immediately. I was like, "Oh, she should sing that song," then you're singing that today. I was so happy to hear that. Look, there's nothing wrong with that performance. You've got an amazing voice. You're consistently great. The only thing -- and I said it last week -- we're missing a bit of personality, which we saw last week. I feel like there's a little bit of something between you and us, the audience. I would love to see a little more. Even when people are going crazy, you're kind of standing there and you're kind of stoic. I'm sure it's nerves or whatever and you're kind of shy. But a little more connection ... take it in. These people love you. Take it in and respond."

Crystal: "I've got big plans for next week, if I'm still around."

Ellen: "OK, good. I think people, they want to share that with you and I want to see that you're receiving it because people are sending you a lot of love ... "

Crystal: "I'm getting it, I am. I really am."

Ellen: "Good, then give it back. Keep it going."

Kara: "It's interesting that you bring that point up because I heard you last week say something, "I've got a lot on my mind. I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking about that." Were you thinking about anything tonight during that performance?"

Crystal: "I let go."

Kara: "You did. Because I did feel more. I saw you smiling, I saw you moving a little bit more. I think too would you ever consider putting the guitar down for a performance?"

Crystal: "I just told Ellen that I have big plans for next week."

Kara: "Ohhhhh."

Crystal: "So, we'll see."

Kara: "I'm liking this because I think you may get more into it and free yourself, and I want to see you let go completely. Even more than this week."

Simon: "OK, well, I wouldn't change anything."

Randy: "Me either."

Simon: "Up until now we have listened to a karaoke competition. ... I've heard Pink sing that version of the song, which is one of the best versions I've ever heard, and that was as good as that in my opinion. Randy's right. This is about finding a recording artist. I've seen you progress over the last couple of weeks. You're doing your own thing. You're not sliding all over the stage, jumping into the crowd like we've seen before, gimmicky. You just took a song, nailed it, and your only gimmick is a carpet."

As much as the judges praised Crystal's performance last night, I was equally struck by something that didn't involve her singing.

At the close of the song, Crystal turned to the band, lowered the guitar neck to signify the song was over in a single snap, and then nodded in the band's direction. I don't recall anyone on last night's show doing that. I'm not saying the other performers aren't grateful for the band's work -- I'm sure they are. But Crystal — at least, from what I remember — was the only one to publicly acknowledge her appreciation.

That is the sign of a true artist. Someone who respects and appreciates the work of others that make him/her look good.

And that's why in five years, you'll be buying Crystal's new album.

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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