The American Idol judges were right. Last night wasn't Crystal Bowersox's best performance.
Her low-key version of Shania Twain's “No One Needs to Know” was good, but certainly not great, a hallmark of most of her competition on the show thus far.
The trouble for Crystal is, the same wasn't true of everyone else on the show last night.
In fact, the five remaining Idol finalists were praised for their versions of Shania songs, the theme for the evening. And none of them went country in their arrangements the way Crystal did, either. Instead, most focused on Shania's crossover pop appeal, and/or found a way to drain the twang from the songs.
Crystal, though, went for a rootsy, Americana-vibe in her version of “Know One Needs to Know,” complete with a double bass, snare drum, and steel and electric guitar, adding some playful vocals to help sell the song's “sweet love story,” as she called it.
“I definitely can relate to that,” she said prior to her performance. “Really this song is a message to my boyfriend. I'm just dropping hints here and there. He'll man up one of these days.”
Her performance may have been personal, but Randy said it reminded him of the bluegrass-country band Nickel Creek.
“It wasn't my favorite performance, but I love you, and I love seeing you try different things and kind of mix it up,” he said. “I'm happy somebody tonight is doing more of a country version of one of Shania's songs.”
Crystal: “It's country week, so do country.”
Ellen: “There's nothing you can't do, you have a great voice. It was not my favorite performance of yours, either. But that's like saying what's your least favorite color of the rainbow. You're just brilliant and you'll always be good, but it wasn't my favorite performance.”
Kara: “I agree with the guys. It's kind of impossible for you not to be good. You're always coming from a place of truth and it always feels honest. It was believable and that's why I always respond to you. Was it your best? No. But you're still amazing.”
Crystal: "It's not as big as the other performances. But bigger isn't always better, y'know."
Simon: “OK, shocker. We don't like Crystal this week. I think that's really the story. I thought it was limp. It was very much something you would expect – and I've seen this happen before — when you're in a coffee shop and they hire a band to sing to you and you don't particularly want them to. [Boos from crowd] And that's kind of what it reminded me of. I didn't feel any conviction from you, and I thought the song [turns to Shania, who's a few feet from him in the audience], sorry Shania, was a little bit forgettable compared to some of the other songs. This is the only week where I haven't actually really liked your performance, I'm afraid.”
Ryan then asked Crystal about Simon's criticism about a lack of conviction from her in the performance.
“Conviction, I don't think so, because he's right there,” Crystal said, pointing to her boyfriend. “I don't know, I grew up listening to country music and classic rock and this is … I don't know. Bigger isn't always better. I really enjoyed this. I had a great time with this performance. And I'm glad that the band was here with me.
Crystal never really looked comfortable onstage, maybe because of the song's message to her boyfriend. Her peppy vocals provided some needed spirit and fun to the tune, but the performance wasn't particularly inspiring.
Yes, as Crystal said, she wanted to tone it down this week. And as an artist, she again proved to be far superior to any of the other contestants who mostly stayed with safe, poppy arrangements of the songs. But there's no getting around that it was an off night for Crystal — especially coming off of last week's standout performance of the season.
Everyone on the show is entitled to an off night — many this season have had more than one. But what should worry Crystal and her fans is the timing. There are only six contestants remaining. There is no save anymore by the judges. And the five other contestants had good to really good performances.
Crystal has never been in the bottom three; however, until last week, neither had Casey James. But the lackluster performance by the 27-year-old blues singer-guitarist proved to be “a much, much needed wake-up call,” as Simon said. And this week Casey responded with an inspired performance that stressed his vocal abilities as something other than a barroom blues singer. The judges deemed it his best of the season.
It was the opposite for Crystal.
So, does that mean she's going home?
Based on previous performances, probably not; certainly not if her fans supported her last night, as they've always done. Crystal, by all accounts, seems to be among the leaders among the contestants with the most votes each week.
But don't be too surprised if Crystal ends up in the bottom three. American Idol viewers have short memories, and at this point in the show, you're often only as good as your last performance.
And last night, Crystal was only good. Hopefully for her, it's good enough.