Idol Season 9: Top 9 -- Casey James Back In The Hunt To Win

Because David Letterman was sick, Didi Benami appeared on his show Tuesday. Again, they insisted on emphasizing she'd been kicked off the show and running Idol down. (Why have the contestants on the show if you hate it?) Didi was polite and sang Kara DioGuardi's "Terrified" to tentative if decent effect.

Then the Top 9 contestants on American Idol were given the keys to the greatest catalog in pop history: the tunes of Lennon and McCartney. The results were so-so, but Katie Stevens received more praise than ever from the judges (enjoy it while it lasts) while Casey James put himself back in the hunt for the finale.

Really, there's no excuse for not shining tonight (unless it was Crystal's cold). No matter what genre you love, the Beatles have a classic tune you can shine on. Country, rock, folk, funk, punk, pop, ballads, rockers, blues, gospel -- they've got it all. It's a shame the night wasn't filled with better performances.

AARON KELLY -- Sang "The Long and Winding Road," one of six Paul songs (John nabbed three). It's also one of three in the Paul vein of weighty anthemic ballads -- and all three get performed tonight. I am nutters about the Beatles but "The Long And Winding Road," "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude" are not songs I would recommend people tackle. All three have been covered many, many times by great artists...but rarely memorably. "Road," for example, is a very meandering tune and quite difficult to sing and I've never heard more than a passable cover. Aaron's youth is catching up with him. Here again he seemed a bit lost, though his raspy voice came through nicely. And a big, fan-pleasing note at the end should save him. Better than last week, but he's lost his groove. Mostly likely, he just needs to grow and mature and perform for five or ten years to get some seasoning and see what he might become.

KATIE STEVENS -- Sang -- yikes -- "Let It Be." Obviously not concerned with comparisons to Kris Allen (or Aretha Franklin's seminal take), she was immediately more focused and confident. Katie always gravitates to mature, older tunes so obviously this works for her and she clearly knows the tune inside and out, not to mention understanding the lyrics. It wasn't great but it was good and as good as she can do (at this age). This will be her peak. I understood Simon's comment about it being sort of country: it might have been an arrangement Trisha Yearwood would do.

ANDREW GARCIA -- Sang an anonymous version of "Can't Buy Me Love." (My favorite is a jazzy version by John Pizzarelli, which I do a killer performance of in the shower). He strummed his acoustic guitar so sparingly (and it was miked so low) that it looked like a prop. And his vocals were buried by the band. And his hair keeps getting taller every week. Flopping is not nearly as dangerous as being forgettable and Andrew was forgettable.

MICHAEL LYNCHE -- Sang "Eleanor Rigby," not in the style of Ray Charles (my favorite cover) or at least not exactly. It was ok and got better towards the end. Simon nailed it: it was musical theater-like. Randy said that was fine and referenced the TV show Glee. Kara insisted it could be played on the radio. (Maybe satellite radio, with hundreds of channels. Most radio today wouldn't even play the original if it were a new single.) A busy arrangement with a flashy vocal but hard to ever get a handle on emotionally.

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX -- Sang "Come Together," the first John song of the night. (Aerosmith has the best cover, though I am intrigued to hear the covers by Diana Ross solo and the Supremes on their own. Trippy!) I think she lost the lyrics for a moment in the middle (that's when she turned away), something none of the judges commented on. (Of course, the lyrics are Lewis Carroll-ian nonsense anyway.) And she has a cold. And the didgeridoo was actually distracting (if fun). But then she hit her groove and started to wail and it was fine. Kara finally mentioned Bonnie Raitt (isn't that the first time on-air they've made this obvious comparison?). Solid but not as good as I expect from her. (By the way, on the original recording, the song starts with a crazily catchy "ssshhhhummmpppppp" and to this day I have absolutely no idea how they got that sound. Can any Beatle fanatics enlighten me?)

TIM URBAN -- Sang "All My Loving," a tricky early tune with a chorus that sort of rambles down into a lower register and can be hard to sing effectively. (Out of a weak batch of covers, I'd pick the rather obscure but lovely Sara Mann version done for the great TV show American Dreams -- one of the girls could have killed with her slow, acoustic arrangement. Gosh I loved that show.) But Tim used a good spare arrangement (I wish he'd left the band out even more than he did) and mixed it up on the chorus so he could go higher and not get bogged down in that draggy section. Easily his best performance since "Hallelujah" and a clear home run for him. Like Katie, this is as good as it gets for him. Very Jason Mraz. Ellen and Simon agree with me. It's not just good for him, it's better than most of the other performances tonight -- not that he's suddenly a good singer. I find it extremely difficult to believe he didn't consciously wear his hair to echo the Beatles but what possible reason could he have for admitting cluelessness?

CASEY JAMES -- Early on it seemed like Casey and Crystal would be in the finale but after a few weeks of anonymous delivery the final four seemed the end of the road for him. Not any more. His performance of "Jealous Guy" (which The Strokes should do in a speeded-up, punk tempo) was excellent, by far the best of the night and the best by him so far. He had a ton of vibrato at first, but soon settled in and really delivered. As an artist, he seems a pretty lightweight spin on Stevie Ray Vaughan, but he could have what it takes to win the show. By the way, who knew they could do solo stuff?

SIOBHAN MAGNUS -- Sang "Across The Universe." Ellen namechecked a Rufus Wainwright cover as her favorite (I assume she means the one on the soundtrack to I Am Sam.) But my favorite is a live version with Rufus and Moby and Sean Lennon for a tribute concert. It's acoustic and lovely and just gorgeous. I'm simply not a fan of Siobhan as a singer (she always sounds like she has a stuffy nose to me) but many people smarter than me (like producer Steve Lillywhite) think she's special. Happily, she didn't wail away tonight, instead delivering a softer, quieter performance. That's all to the good, but it exposed her weaknesses as a singer even more as far as I'm concerned. She's a cool wacky person (though I do think, as others have said, she looks much cooler backstage with her dorky glasses than when she gets into "costume"). Bizarrely, a man kept shouting out during the show and instead of having security quietly take him out during a commercial if he refused to behave, they put him on camera and then invited him onstage.

LEE DEWYZE -- So is the new confident Lee a permanent fixture or will he settle back into timidity and confusion? The answer is...we don't know yet. Lee was certainly confident in his choice of how to present "Hey Jude." (Wilson Pickett does a rousing, soulful take that manages to deflate the song's inherent "bigness" and sidestep all the pomposity.) Lee brought in a bagpipe player for the finale Note to Lee; one bagpipe player is just silly; four or eight bagpipe players would have been cool. More interestingly, he recognized the heart of "Hey Jude" is the sing-along at the end and actually devoted much of his performance to the "na-na-na-na" section and kept urging the audience to sing along. I've often wondered why the contestants don't try to play to the audience more often like that, but maybe it's because Lee tried it and either they didn't bite or we couldn't hear them. (They certainly applauded at the end.) It was nutty and silly and not terribly good but in a crazy way it was pretty gutsy. Maybe he is more confident. But next week he needs to deliver, not just try.

Oh, the bottom three. So many possibilities. i actually think Tim and Katie will stay out of the bottom three for a change. I think the bottom three will be Aaron Kelly and Andrew Garcia and Siobhan Magnus. Is that possible? Tim's been in the bottom three every week and Katie's been in it the last two. They clearly have a weak fan base. Still, I say it'll be Aaron and Andrew and Siobhan, with Andrew and Aaron in the bottom two and Andrew going home. The judges would use their save for Aaron or Siobhan, but not Andrew. What do you think?

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