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American Idol recap: Windfall of the House of Usher

The season 9 contestants (finally!) show some heart and soul with the help of their R&B-week mentor

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Michael Becker/PictureGroup

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

American Idol is kind of like an axe murderer in a horror-movie franchise. Just when you think it’s good and dead, and you’re ready to walk away from it and start your life anew, it lurches into the upright position, clutches you by the ankle, and drags you back to your inevitable fate — sitting on the couch every Tuesday and Wednesday night from now through the end of May.

Oh, go ahead and scream all you want — no one’s paying attention. Everyone’s too riveted by the sequence of unexpected events that occurred during tonight’s Top 10 performance telecast: Ellen DeGeneres stepped up her critique game, offering her most pointed and useful feedback since Hollywood Week. Ryan Seacrest did everything but kick Didi Benami in the shins to try to activate her tear ducts. Lee Dewyze transformed into a legitimate front-runner (even if he’s still totally unaware of it). Crystal Bowersox put down her guitar and tickled the ivories, and was (mostly) quite lovely doing so. Plus, Anita Baker’s biggest hit got indoctrinated into a chilling cult of smiles. And Big Mike Lynche’s bare arms of terror lunged indiscriminately toward any contestant experiencing emotional turmoil and/or caught in a stationary position.

Okay, so maybe not every one of those talking points belongs in the ”positives” column. But with the first 25 episodes of season 9 playing out like Friday the 13th Part Bazillion: Jason Eats a Bowl of Lukewarm Oatmeal, Then Lies Down for a Nap, you’ve got to cheer any kind of forward momentum. Or, as Kara noted at the end of Andrew Garcia’s vastly improved performance tonight, there’s plenty of time to hop back aboard the Nitpick Express next week. But now, I say it’s time to hand out some awards!

Best Performance (That Strangely Resulted in Little or No Confidence Boost): Lee Dewyze For the last five weeks of live shows, Lee Dewyze has been performing with the pitch and conviction of a typical sixth-place finisher. But tonight, while possibly battling walking pneumonia (as Ryan seemed to suggest), Lee finally resembled a contestant with a chance to take home the season 9 crown.

It didn’t hurt that relentlessly propulsive ”Treat Her Like a Lady” was the perfect match for Lee’s gruff instrument, which always seems to sound best when it’s not laboring over drawn-out notes. But more importantly, the shy Chicago guy found a new level of emotional connectedness with his material. When the song shifted lyrical gears from romantic instruction manual to overt warning — ”if you fail to do this/don’t blame her if she looks my way” — there was a threat in Lee’s voice that resonated more passionately than even the Cornelius Brothers’ original managed to do. I kind of wish Lee hadn’t clipped the final note of his song, but Simon was right when he told the contestant ”this may be the night your life changed forever.” It’s just a shame this dark-horse-to-front-runner transformation seemed to make Lee’s eyes widen with terror, to force him to bite down on his guitar pick to, I don’t know what, fight back a sudden rush of bile, perhaps? As Usher told him in his mentoring session, ”If you don’t believe it, [your audience] won’t.” What Lee needs to practice over the next seven days is owning and inhabiting that reality as surely as he does his songs.

NEXT: ”Teflon Tim” is not a compliment