”What have you done for me lately?” Janet Jackson asked a wayward lover in her classic 1986 single and video (the latter costarring a young hoofer named Paula Abdul). But tonight, Janet could just as easily have been delivering that burning question to the eight remaining female contestants of American Idol‘s ninth season. Because while conventional wisdom might have led us all to believe that tonight’s semifinal performances were supposed to be nothing more than a formality, a televised exercise in sweeping Didi Benami and Lacey Brown from the reality TV dustpan, that pair of fiesty warblers refused to go quietly into the Hefty Cinch Sak of obscurity.
Yep, just like that, the prospect of Thursday night’s high-stakes game of musical chairs has become a heckuva lot more intriguing. Oh, sure, Siobhan Magnus, Crystal Bowersox, and probably even Lilly Scott already have ”reserved” signs on their respective Silver Stools of Doom, but that still leaves us with five ladies duking it out for three coveted Top 12 positions. And for now, we’re left wondering: Will Idol voters ooh and aah over Lacey making like Hugh Jackman in The Prestige and suddenly pulling an in-tune vocal from her hat? Will Katelyn become a victim of the raised expectations brought on by her splendid Coldplay cover last week? What types of tears are worth more votes: Those of a confused teenager, jumping through flaming hoops in a desperate attempt to impress a quartet of wealthy pillocks, or those of an emotionally fragile adult whose waterworks can be guaranteed in good times and in bad? Finally, is it acceptable to perform the old jazz standard ”Smile” with anything but a Crest-white beam on one’s mug? (And should we serve a stint in musical purgatory — where listening options are limited to the collected Idol works of Camile Velasco, Kevin Covais, and Janay Castine — just for asking the question?)
Before we delve into those weighty matters, though, let’s look at the two mortal locks for Top 12 status — and more than likely, the Top 10 Idol Summer Tour: Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus (a.k.a. Simon’s Anointed Child and That Other Chick Who’s Threatening to Mess Everything Up For Him).
Crystal certainly earned the judges’ effusive praise tonight after a soulful spin on Tracy Chapman’s ”Give Me One Reason” that had all the grit and flavor of an unwashed pack of organic spinach. (Weird metaphor, I know, but I’ve developed a food allergy to my favorite leafy green, and sometimes I get a little wistful, y’know?) Oh sure, I grimaced a little when I realized the dreadlocked mama was going to cover a ditty already tackled by Jordin Sparks in season 6 and Kristen McNamara in season 8, but Crystal obliterated comparisons to her Idol predecessors by infusing the song with a sense of sexual yearning that (dare I say!) made it even more intense than Chapman’s original. I loved how Crystal wasn’t afraid to let certain notes drift by on a whisper, while delivering others in a husky growl — perfectly capturing the ebb and flow of the narrator’s conflicted feelings. And as Crystal plucked away at her electric guitar and she riffed mightily over the final verse, she exhibited more inherent musicality than most of her season 9 competitors combined.
NEXT: Siobhan’s ”Rising” performance