This is the 12th week of the season of American Idol. We're down to the top 10 contestants. We're more than halfway home. In other words, this is when I'm ready for it to be over.
This week's mentor and guest star is Usher, who's something like 17 times more talented than Miley Cyrus, what with his ability to sing, dance, and exhibit recognizable human emotions. The theme for the week was soul/R&B, but watching the episode you get the feeling that rather than pick a theme and then find an appropriate mentor, things were reverse engineered for commercial reasons: The fact that Usher's new album came out the day this episode aired was not, by any stretch, a happy coincidence. He was a nice enough mentor during the taped bits, too, offering legitimate advice and criticisms to the contestants.
The most telling was his time with Tim Urban, whose sweeping bowl cut is meant to distract from his lack of talent. These brief pre-recorded bits featuring the mentor and singer are supposed to be filler, but Usher couldn't even fake his way through this one, opting to try and get Tim to actually put some heart into his song only to watch his efforts fail. If a nonchalant guest star can't even feign enthusiasm for this kid, he has to be pretty bad.
And he was. Despite strong competition for the title of worst song of the night, Tim Urban's plain, lifeless cover of Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" was the undisputed loser. He didn't even have the good sense to listen to the judges' comments with any real attention, just giggled the whole time. Simon threw up his hands and said, "It doesn't matter. You're gonna smile, the audience is gonna vote for you, and you'll be here next week, so good job."
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The other weak singers were the ones you'd expect. Didi's half-dead "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" was amazingly dull, and she even tried to explain it away by saying she's not an R&B singer and didn't know what to do this week. Meanwhile, Katie's "Chain of Fools" was just a bit beyond her age limit. She's 17, and she doesn't yet have the chops to pull off an Aretha Franklin tune.
Crystal's "Midnight Train to Georgia" was good but not her best, mostly because she mistakenly took Kara's advice from last week and ditched her guitar. Simon, as always, had the critique with the most wisdom when he warned her not to change who she is. The same went for Casey's "Hold On, I'm Coming," which was good but safe, and didn't seem to stretch him as much as his cover of "Heaven" did a few weeks back. The best singers of the night actually included Lee and Andrew, both of who had been trailing for weeks. Lee's "Treat Her Like a Lady" had more energy and suited his voice better than anything he's done this season, and Andrew's acoustic-based version of Chris Brown's "Forever" was the kind of midtempo pop remake he's best at. However, the best singer of the night was probably Big Mike, doing India.Arie's "Ready for Love" on his guitar and positively owning. Modern soul is his wheelhouse, and weeks like this show that he's going to be in it for the long haul.
That said, couldn't we just skip the long haul? Cut Didi, Tim, Katie, and Aaron, and we've got a ballgame. This thing isn't going to get interesting until the top five, anyway.