First of all, let me admit that I am predisposed not to like Harry Connick Jr. The dislike is entirely personal, fueled by a December working as a Radio Shack cashier at Lakeforest Mall in Maryland, a full month in which the stereos all played Harry Connick CDs on a loop. I still have nightmares where all I hear is nothing but two hours of “It Had to Be You.”
But I do not blame him for Tuesday’s “American Idol” performances, in which he coached the five remaining finalists through Frank Sinatra week. He tried his best, working on all the arrangements and even backing the contestants onstage, along with members of his band. “You think Shania Twain was up here doing this?” he said as part of the pre-performance video.
No, she was not. So more power to you, Harry Connick Jr. You set the new standard as the best guest mentor of the season.
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Before the performances began, Frank Sinatra’s daughters, Nancy and Tina, presented one of their father’s monogrammed handkerchiefs as a gift for Simon Cowell. Why he got the gift is beyond me since he’s a short-timer anyway, but he treasured the present and held it very close the rest of the night.
Sadly, however, the hanky was an appropriate gesture, since it could have been used to clean up the mess most of the singers made of their Sinatra tunes.
But before I get into the singers, I have a public service announcement: Randy Jackson, stop booing Simon during the introductions! You do it every week, and it isn’t funny anymore. Just stop. If you’re mad at him for some reason, just meet him in the back alley after the show and settle things that way.
Anyway, the judges have clearly made up their minds about who they would like to see go home, and that is Casey James. This despite the fact that James turned down a gig that paid $50 and a free meal, just to remain on Tuesday’s show. Where’s the gratitude? If that were an all-you-can-eat offer, it deserved serious consideration.
He sang “Blue Skies,” and even Kara DioGuardi broke away from her cougar story line to say, “At least you held some notes … but the bad news is, you kind of sound like a lamb.” Then Ryan Seacrest asked Connick for his opinion, and the mentor noted that James had killed it two hours prior in rehearsal, which does the contestant no good at all.
Odds are pretty good that he will go, and if so, he deserves it. But he isn’t the only one.
I blame myself for Aaron Kelly. In the past, I’ve thought the judges had been mean to the teenagers on the show, and I’ve criticized them for slamming kids who will go straight from the “Idol” stage to math class once they get kicked off.
It’s obvious the judges all listen to my every word and took the criticism to heart because they are treating Kelly as if he’s a fragile flower who will wither and die if he’s criticized, and now I’m sorry I even brought the issue up in the first place.
“You do try hard, and I’m going to give you that,” Simon told him after a very high-school talent-show version of “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Really, Simon? That’s the best you can do? Are you going to give him a cup of water, orange slices and a plastic trophy for participation like they do after the final game of a youth soccer season? Because that’s what you and the rest of the judges are treating Aaron like — like a little kid who has to be praised regardless of how he does.
The judges didn’t like Crystal Bowersox’s “Summer Wind” for reasons I don’t really understand. But the great thing about her is that she couldn’t care less what they think. She has a reason for everything she does on stage and will tell you what that reason is. And if the judges don’t like it she’ll just shrug her shoulders and move on. If and when she gets voted off, it won’t be because she wasn’t true to herself and tried to become something she isn’t.
And they loved Michael Lynche and “The Way You Look Tonight,” which I understand even less than the Bowersox criticism. The best you can say about it was that he sounded like the lead singer of a really good wedding band, since that is the usual scenario in which that song is played, but Randy gushed as if it were something new and exciting. Lynche should be safe, but only because the bar at the bottom was set really low.
That leaves us with Lee Dewyze. The former paint salesman — you can tell the show is stacking the deck for him, since they remind us of those humble blue-collar origins all the time nowadays — closed the show with “That’s Life.” Ellen DeGeneres said, “I think if this were the last night of performances, you would have just won the whole thing.”
I agree that Dewyze was the best of the night, though I am getting irritated at the criticism that he looks as if he’s lacking confidence. Do I wish he had more of the Chris Daughtry swagger? Sure, but it’s May already, so I’ve given up hoping that he’ll develop it at this point. Maybe during the summer tour. Or, who knows, maybe next week, since he’ll surely stick around at least that long.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.