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American Idol recap: The Power of Good Cry

On a night where not all inspirational performances prove equal, Crystal and Lee continue to distance themselves from the pack

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Crystal Bowersox Cry
Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup

American Idol

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

Big girls don’t cry. Or at least that’s what Frankie Valli, Fergie, and even season 9’s Robot Girl Contestant have sung with varying degrees of believability.

Lucky for us, then, that Crystal Bowersox is not a girl, but rather, a full-grown woman. And she proved that point tonight by putting down her armor, entering the Idoldome in an emotionally naked state, and delivering a rendition of the Impressions’ ”People Get Ready” that, if American Idol were played like Monopoly, would be the equivalent of getting a ”Go directly to the Nokia. Do not pass ‘Go,’ do not collect $200” card.

Even those who’ve accused MamaSox of rarely straying from variations on an Earth-goddess theme would have to admit that the season 9 front-runner shook things up tonight by performing without an instrument and rocking a slinky black gown with a plunging neckline (no small cause for applause, given the general lack of sartorial excitement over the past eight weeks of live performances). And as Crystal kicked things off with an a capella first verse that already had the emotions at a serious simmer, there was a palpable sense in the air that we were witnessing something special.

The world-weariness in Crystal’s voice tonight — the way her instrument quavered with emotion when she reached for a high note, the way she dissipated to almost a whisper while delivering phrases like ”have pity on those whose chances grow thinner” — perfectly fit the mood of the Curtis Mayfield-penned spiritual anthem she’d chosen. But a funny thing happened as the young mother reached her final set of runs and sailed toward the finish line: Suddenly, that reliably pitch-perfect voice of hers began to break, tears began to pour from her eyes, and the last few bars of the song dissolved into soft sobs. Crystal covered her face, whispered a ”sorry” into the mic, then tried to lighten the mood by asking an audience member for a pair of shades. I know there’ll be naysayers who call this performance unprofessional at best, or calculated at worst, but I think they’re missing the point: I’ll sacrifice bit of vocal perfection any day if it means I get to experience genuine emotional release in the process. Crystal had her dad in the audience, her homemade antique mic stand on the stage, and an actual message of inspiration in her heart. There are worse circumstances under which one can lose one’s composure, no? (I’ll start the confessional by admitting I once began blubbering while relating the story of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to my mother-in-law. #IBlameTheWine!)

My only complaint is this: Why, at the end of the episode when Ryan is reviewing the contestants’ phone numbers, does Idol insist on showing dress-rehearsal footage instead of going to the instant replay of the actual live performance?

Thousands of sports telecasts per year (not to mention Dancing With the Stars) manage to pull it off: So what excuse do Idol‘s producers have? Veteran watchers know this is show policy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if casual viewers see a clear discrepancy like Crystal’s tears suddenly evaporating during the instant replay and wonder if the fix is in, or that something foul is afoot.

NEXT: Lee is just a poor boy though his story’s seldom told