Two episodes into American Idol‘s season 9 semifinals, and I’m ready to ask my doctor for a Xanax prescription. And once I’ve calmed my own panic attacks caused by the (mostly) subpar performances from the 24 kids competing for the right to star in an adorable 2011 Ford campaign, I’m going to be seriously tempted to administer some pharmaceutical aid to the contestants as well.
Indeed, after Tuesday’s literally shaky start by the Top 12 women — here’s hoping poor Janell Wheeler won’t be operating any heavy equipment this week with those trembling hands of hers! — a dozen male contestants took to the stage tonight to try to disprove Randy and Simon’s recent press tour declaring the season 9 crown will ultimately rest on the head of a lady. Unfortunately for the guys (and for all of us), the telecast’s menu was filled not with for genuine charisma and unique, powerful singing, but rather the deadly combination of random rearrangements, feeble falsettos, and murderous melisma — not to mention a miming exhibition and the debut of a contro-ver-see-ahhhl bolero jacket with tails!
Since we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, let’s cut directly to a breakdown of each of tonight’s performances — in descending order from best to worst — with occasional breaks to talk about the maddeningly mixed messages being spewed by Simon, Randy, Kara, and Ellen. ”Hey, be yourself — until we want you to be someone else!” ”Stick with the melody — but don’t be a copycat!” ”You were horrible tonight — but you’re really great!” Of course, one contestant in particular had to put up with so much nonsense from behind the judges’ table that I almost bumped his grade up from a B to a B+ just for enduring it all with grace and a sense of humor. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a (respectful) round of applause for….
Casey James: B Okay, let’s face some hard truths here. Were there times tonight when Casey’s bleaty tone resembled that of Theodore the Chipmunk sitting on the dryer during a spin cycle? Sure. And no way will anyone on the planet convince me that Bryan Adams’ ”Heaven” is an appropriate first choice for any purpose outside a high-school prom theme in 1987. But those reservations aside, I must admit Casey was the only contestant tonight who took the stage with quiet confidence and nailed every last note of a song that actually suited his voice. He’s like Ace Young 2.0 — only without the crippling seriousness and the arsenal of bum notes.
It’s just a shame that while Casey was one of the few guys to make the telecast worthwhile, he didn’t wind up getting any real respect from the judges both during and after his performance. Kara and Randy — apparently filled with the burning desire to prove that they can easily assume the imbecilic mid-performance shenanigans once associated with Simon and Paula — locked arms in a ridiculous swaying motion that caused Casey to nervously laugh during his opening verse. I loved how Ellen bluntly chided her colleagues when, after an obligatory ”Kara thinks you’re hot” joke, she noted, ”I’m sorry that everything was going on [during your performance], ’cause it was not fair.” I mean, just because Casey is clearly okay with playing up his sex-symbol status — chilling out on a stool and strumming his chest hair, er, his guitar — doesn’t mean he should have to endure a series of unfunny zingers about how Kara wants to ”make music” with him. The only plus side of the back-and-forth, in fact, was Ryan’s brilliant post-critique quip: ”Looking ahead at the schedule, as you know tomorrow [is] results, and then Friday is Kara’s H.R. meeting. It’ll be a two-hour live event.” And as for next Wednesday, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll be hearing from….
NEXT: Get sweet on Andrew Garcia’s ”Sugar We’re Going Down”