Adam Lambert and Elvis Presley certainly wouldn’t seem out of place in the pantheon of great flavor combinations. Like chocolate and peanut butter, mushrooms and bacon, lobster and (mmm) butter before them, there’s a tangy, cosmic harmony in the two singers’ high-haired, hip-swiveling, big-voiced, glitter-bomb styles. Unfortunately for tonight’s episode of American Idol, nine other ingredients got added to the Adam-Elvis batter, and not all of ’em proved pleasing to the palate.
Oh, sure, I’d get back in line for another helping of Lee DeWyze’s ”A Little Less Conversation” or Crystal Bowersox’s ”Saved,” but the bulk of the Top 9 (Version 2.0) performances sat like day-old, soggy corn flakes in the bottom of a cereal bowl. A teenage boy raised a white flag before he’d sung a single bar of ”Blue Suede Shoes,” his disdain for the evening’s Ye Olde Songboook barely concealed. A pretty teenager doing her best Pinocchio impression — she really is human, dammit! — awkwardly bopped her head in a weak display of ”swagger.” And after pretending to pick his nose for the camera (what better way to show America you’ve got ”personality”?), a young father exhaustedly dragged his mic stand around the stage like Tony Dovolani pulling Kate Gosselin through a paso doble.
No, this was not a great night of musical entertainment. Just don’t blame the inexplicably polarizing Mr. Lambert, an impish (and deliciously coiffed) presence who sagely noted that the nine remaining finalists needed to ”wake up a little bit,” then succinctly summed up the particular performance problems each of the season 9 combatants was experiencing.
Ken Warwick & Co. must accept some culpability, though, for saddling the Idol hopefuls with the treacherous Elvis theme; for every timeless classic (i.e. ”Can’t Help Falling in Love”) there’s a precious museum relic (i.e. ”Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” Casey? Srsly?) that not even a team of Timbalands and Linda Perrys could make current. And consider that in addition to Elvis Night, the additional four weeks of season 9 finals have found Idol reaching back — way back — to tackle the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and a list of R&B tracks mostly older than Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens combined. Don’t adjust your AM dial, folks! The steady stream of Golden Oldies is not an accident at all!
Which is not to say that Lee DeWyze’s ”A Little Less Conversation” wouldn’t fit right in at modern radio. I loved the way his acoustic guitar was front-and-center in the arrangement without turning it into coffeehouse piffle. There was something bracing and randy in Lee’s gruff delivery — his inner caveman dispensing with the niceties and demanding physical satisfaction — but Kara was right that the Chicago rocker should’ve infused a little more playful flirtation into his performance. Even a hint of a smile (which Adam suggested) or a raised eyebrow would’ve helped drive home the song’s sexual undertones, and made it more accessible in the process. Simon’s ridiculous retort — ”what do you want, kittens?” — was yet another ”throw-the-critique-out-with-the-Kara-taunting” moment that proved neither entertaining, nor helpful to Lee’s artistic development. Dude may be reluctant to play the heartthrob role, but if he wants to lay claim to a title held by David Cook and Kris Allen, then it’s time to lose the soul patch (along with a button or two) and understand that there’s a difference between telling the audience ”I’m enjoying this; I’m smiling” and actually making us believe it.
NEXT: It’s to put on the Bowesox PJs and not worry about the children