I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T admit this as a Person Who Writes About Entertainment, but I’m willfully ignorant about Shania Twain.
Here are a few of the scraps of information I do know:
» From about 1998 to 2002, I couldn’t turn on Mix 107.3 without hearing at least one of those songs. Which is when I learned to avoid Mix 107.3.
» Her comments about former semi-finalist John Park‘s “beautiful bottom end” — and her assertion that he had “a nice tone down there” — nearly made Park’s audition the season’s most awkwardly inappropriate. Until this happened.
And that’s about it. I watched her episode of “Behind the Music” in ’98, but the details of it have disappeared into the ether that’s also consumed most of what I ostensibly learned from the college classes I was also taking in ’98.
She seems like a likable enough gal with one heck of a voice, but her music, sorry, don’t impress me much. So on this, the evening that celebrates her songbook, I’m laying my bias out there: full disclosure. Just like they do on Fox News.
But while I’m approaching the week’s performances with apprehension, I’m also hopeful that the contestants could have a trick or two up their sleeves to make the night a bit more enjoyable.
Already in their favor: the lighting in the show’s first moments that makes Seacrest look like he dribbled all over his chin. How can a show go wrong after that?
The players: Crystal Bowersox, Casey James, Michael Lynche, Siobhan Magnus, Aaron Kelly and Lee Dewyze.
I had hoped that Lee would sing “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” but alas, he chooses “Still the One.”
It’s a safe song with a safe arrangement that’s safety safe safe safe. From a contestant like Lee who has a wonderfully expressive voice and who appears to be gaining strength as an “Idol” contender, I find myself wanting more. A tweaked arrangement? A slight changeup? Sure, surprise me. Something more than just a straight cover, please.
He sounds great. And the song is the song. But the combination leaves me a bit bored.
“This is one of my favorite songs of all time,” Randy says. “It started out a little pitchy … midways through the song, you found a way to make it your own.”
“I think you did better than a pretty good job,” Ellen says. “I say ‘all aboard the Shania Twain.'”
“The sound of your voice on every song makes it song so relevant,” Kara says. “Look how far you’ve come.”
“I agree with everything everybody said,” Simon says. “I thought that was absolutely the perfect song out of Shania’s catalogue [for you to do].”
His song: “It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing.” Shania’s advice to him: make sure to connect to the song — don’t rely on impressive vocals to deliver the goods.
Say what you like about Big Mike — and I know he’s got his detractors out there — but dude can sing. And that reverberating whirlwind of a voice he’s got whips through this song with its full fury.
I think it’s one of his best performances, mostly because in addition to it being well-sung, it shows Big Mike in a place of vulnerability rather than bombastic self-satisfaction. It’s a big improvement, and I can only hope it’s permanent.
“You did a great job,” Randy says, “and you’re really in the zone of who you are.”
“It felt like Luther Vandross,” Ellen says. “I felt your emotion, I felt you get into it…. I thought it was beautiful.”
“I always feel that you go to that place that relates to you,” Kara says. “You changed [the melody] enough that you put your mark on it. Great job.”
Simon agrees with Ellen’s comparison of Mike to Luther Vandross. “I thought the performance, however, was a little bit wet.”
“What do you mean ‘wet’?” Randy asks.
“It was a little bit girly for you,” Simon says.
Seacrest talks a bit with Shania, who says she got teary-eyed during Mike’s performance. Which means her eyes were what? That’s right — wet. It all comes full circle.
Casey sings “Don’t” — and during his rehearsal with Shania, it sounds like she can’t help but sing along just a bit. It was just a second or two, but wow do their voices mesh well. There’s a great duet in there somewhere.
Performing solo, though, Casey vows to bring something to this song he hasn’t shown us yet. He does: his best work to date.
So many of Casey’s performances have been so emotionless, so wooden that the intensity he packs into this song is as magical a moment as when Pinocchio becomes a real boy.
There’s a whole new level to his voice when he connects with a song like this. The last time he did was with John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy,” but this rendition strikes me as even slightly better than that one. It’s not loud, it’s not forced, it’s not packed with guitar heroics. It’s just a song very, very well interpreted.
“For me, this is one of the best Casey James performances ever,” Randy says. “This could be a great thing in your wheelhouse.”
“You sang that like that’s really where you belong,” Ellen says. “I actually think it’s your best performance that you’ve done to date.”
“Artists do not hide the good, the bad, the ugly — they show it all,” Kara says. “That’s what you need to do, and if you keep doing it, you’ll be at the front of this competition.”
“Last week was a much, much needed wakeup call for you,” Simon says. “I actually agree with Randy — I think this is probably your best performance so far. … I suggest you come down here and give this one [Shania] a kiss on the lips.”
He gives her a hug instead. Leave it to Casey to breathe a little decorum to a moment that would otherwise lack it. He’s getting good at that on this show.
Crystal sings “No One Needs to Know” — which she says is a message to her boyfriend. “He’ll man up one of these days.”
The song itself is perfect for Crystal — and a fitting yang to the yin of her emotional performance last week. It’s a simple, sweet, lilting interpretation that boasts a few high-note runs just to remind us that Crystal’s got range in that voice as well as power. She’s a delight every single week.
“I thought it wasn’t my favorite performance,” Randy says. “But I love you, and I love seeing you try different things.”
“I say it every week — there’s just nothing you can’t do,” Ellen says. “It wasn’t my favorite performance of yours either, but that’s like saying what’s your least-favorite color of the rainbow.”
“It’s impossible for you not to be good,” Kara says. “It was believable, but that’s why I always respond to you.”
“Shocker: we don’t like Crystal this week — I think that’s really the story,” Simon says. “It was limp. It was very much something you’d expect … when you’re in a coffee shop and they hire a band to sing to you when you don’t particularly want them to.”
You know who doesn’t particularly want to be where he is? Crystal’s boyfriend, who, of course, gets needled by Seacrest. Poor guy.
Aaron’s song is “You’ve Got a Way,” and Shania urges confidence as he sings.
He delivers — it might be his best vocal of the season. But his performance still bothers me.
I’ve grown to like Aaron’s voice, but each week he seems to get increasingly earnest in his delivery. Not necessarily emotionally connected. Not necessarily listenable. Just earnest. And after last week’s maudlin performance of “I Believe I Can Fly,” this week’s tearjerker feels like overkill.
The judges, however, seem to be bowled over.
“Dude, this is definitely your wheelhouse,” Randy says. “I think you did a really good job.”
“This is gonna be tough,” Ellen says. “Everybody is doing well. … The amount of emotion and depth that you showed … good job.”
“It was like you really felt those words,” Kara says, before making me squirm in my seat as she talks about how she thinks it was smart that Aaron altered a lyric in the song about “making love,” since of course nobody knew anything about that kind of stuff at 17.
Then, just as Simon’s reaching for his cougar joke of choice, Aaron unintentionally hikes the discomfort factor several notches by revealing he sang the song for his mom. After the uncontrollable shuddering stops, I hear Simon say this:
“I think the last two or three weeks, you’ve really struggled,” Simon says. “However, tonight, you were like a different artist. This is the kind of record, if you’re gonna make records, you should make.”
That’s right, Aaron. Make records, not love.
She sings Shania’s hit “Any Man of Mine” with requisite sass, although her romping around the stage and the audience is just as distracting as it is crowd-pumping.
Siobhan’s voice is like none other when it gets warmed up, but there’s this spot in her lower register that seems to dominate each time she starts a song that’s so muted it’s almost difficult to hear, and certainly tough to listen to. It’s one of the elements of her performance style I like least, and it seems particularly prominent during this performance.
Nonetheless, the peppier tune is a welcome addition to Siobhan’s oeuvre, and I can’t help but enjoy the reappearance of her patented Big Note™ at the end of the song.
“I loved it,” Randy says.
“Way to pull the Shania Twain into the station,” Ellen says. “Fantastic.”
“Guess who’s back?” Kara says.
“I really, really liked that song,” Simon says. “I thought the song was perfect. I thought the screaming at the end … it sounded almost as if you were giving birth at the end there.”
So here’s a switch: Crystal is not at the top of my favorites list this week; that spot belongs to Casey with his mesmerizing bit of song delivery. I think Crystal did well enough, as did Lee, who maybe I gave too hard a time to, but it’s only because I care.
Siobhan got more praise from the judges than I’d have handed her myself, but I thought she did all right. I even thought Michael and Aaron were head and shoulders better than they have been in weeks.
I think Casey’s in a stronger position than last week, so he might avoid the bottom three. Crystal, despite a mild scolding from Simon, still has too much heft to descend to the bottom of the pack yet. So could this be the first week that either Lee or Siobhan see the bottom three? I think it might.
I think Michael and Aaron are definitely headed there, despite their strong efforts — and I think it’s one of them who will, in the end, get the boot. It’s a toss up, but I’ll shoot for Aaron. I think Michael was good enough this week that his fans will be out in force, and I don’t think Aaron has the staying power to overcome that.
But my confidence level in this prediction is very, very low. As Ellen said, this is going to be a tough week. And I get the feeling that we could be in for a surprise.
» COMING UP: Results await us on Wednesday night, when the top six become five. I’ll have a recap Thursday morning, then an installment from our Idols on “Idol” crew later in the day. Find all that here at ExpressNightOut.com/idol.
Between then and now, what did you think about the performances? Who’s headed home? Who do you think might win the whole shebang? Let me know in the comments section below.
Photos courtesy Fox