‘American Idol’ struggles to come together
After Nielsen numbers revealed this week that top dog “American Idol” had dropped to second place behind “Dancing With the Stars” for the first time, the singing competition’s producers were no doubt hoping that a dose of songs from the world’s most popular band might boost ratings.
Unfortunately, instead of an evening promising “We Can Work It Out” in order to “Come Together,” many contestants seemed to be embracing an “I’m Only Sleeping” vibe.
Yes, once again “American Idol” opened up the Lennon/McCartney catalog to the nine finalists. Note: not “The Beatles” catalog — but “Lennon/McCartney.” So those viewers hoping to witness someone warbling through a version of Ringo’s “Don’t Pass Me By” were sure to be dissatisfied.
As in past years, the arrangements proved to be the challenging part of Beatles week. More often it’s been a battle of finding an appropriate song to match a particular artist — especially a tune that hadn’t been bludgeoned to death by past “Idol” hopefuls.
Aaron Kelly (performing “The Long and Winding Road”) and Katie Stevens (“Let It Be”) opened the show with late-era ballads. Despite their collective youth — their combined ages barely surpass 30 — their choices veered toward old-fashioned … and slow. (At times my mind wandered to the point I became more interested in the undulating Fox 4 weather graphic that squeezed the screen.) Luckily, Kelly and Stevens both sang with conviction, which freed them from the impression they were merely playing dress-up.
Andrew Garcia (“Can’t Buy Me Love”) tried to give a makeover to one of the Fab Four’s earlier, boppier tunes. The result was a hodgepodge of musical styles fighting for attention. As if making a critical statement, Garcia played with his back to the judges. Far from an embarrassment, he was equally far from entertaining.
Michael Lynche (“Eleanor Rigby”) went the opposite route of the first two singers. He turned the pulsating string quartet classic into an overblown Vegas showcase. While the judges heaped accolades on Big Mike, I thought it was phenomenally yucky. Tasteless. Kind of boring.
Just as Kris Allen and Carly Smithson had done previously, Crystal Bowersox (“Come Together”) opted for a Beatles selection that has yet to shine on “Idol.” Instead of the swampy, slinky groove of the original, she went the Bonnie Raitt route. This was made all the more madcap by employing a sideman playing a didgeridoo, the droning aboriginal instrument of Australia. It didn’t fit in the slightest, but it didn’t necessarily kill any of Bowersox’s momentum, either.
Everyone favorite jovial punching bag, Tim Urban (“All My Lovin'”), ditched the stage histrionics and strapped on a Gibson ES-335 for a surprisingly inspired version of an early Beatles ditty. It worked so well that even judge Simon Cowell begrudgingly approved. (What are the odds that so many of this season’s contestants are pretty impressive guitarists?)
Casey James (“Jealous Guy”) was the odd man out, choosing a Lennon solo song … that wasn’t even “Imagine.” And he got a perm. The other thing permanent might be James after this performance. Previously skating by on his looks and his road-hardened musicianship, the vocalist delivered the night’s best performance with a song that revealed a depth and connection with the material that none of his fellow contestants were able to match.
Bringing everyone back down to sleepytime mode was Siobhan Magnus (“Across the Universe”). Seated, decked out like Little Bo Peep and radiating “crazy,” Magnus attempted to turn one of John Lennon’s trippy guru tracks into a heartfelt torch song. Although not entirely successful, she was engagingly weird … even without her patented screaming.
It’s never a good idea to whittle a 7-minute Beatles anthem down to 3 minutes. (Remember when Michael Johns tried it with “A Day in the Life?) But that’s exactly what Lee Dewyze (“Hey Jude”) attempted with his version of the band’s most popular song. The normally reliable Dewyze seemed a tad lost during the performance, with only his gravelly delivery to bail him out. Then things became spectacularly surreal during the “na-na-na” part when a kilted Scotsman descended from the stage’s staircase with bleating bagpipes.
Didgeridoo? Bagpipes? I’m hoping next week Siobhan Magnus finds a way to introduce a Theremin …
Bottom three: Andrew Garcia, Michael Lynche and Tim Urban.
Going home: Andrew Garcia. It’s not that he was bad, just mildly disappointing. He also selected the most forgettable and simplistic of these nine Beatles songs.