This is clearly the point in American Idol where the producers start spending a little more money. Now that we're down to the top 12 singers, we get a bigger stage and more taped pieces, and every performer has been given a makeover and better make-up. This is especially noticeable in the girls and Aaron Kelly. It's also the point in the season where the performance nights are given themes, with last night's being the music of the Rolling Stones. I was worried going in that many of my favorite Stones songs would be brutally murdered before my eyes. I was right to worry.
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None of the singers last night stood out in positive ways, only negative. What I mean is that there seemed to be a ceiling on quality, so that even the best singers only did okay, while several slid into the lower ranks with some really rough performances. Probably the worst of these was Tim Urban's reggae remix of "Under My Thumb," which took the song's strident beat and replaced it with something far less compelling. Lacey Brown's "Ruby Tuesday" was similarly bland and weary, but nothing hurt me like Aaron's cheeseball, pop-country take on "Angie." Idol is big on remaking songs as your own, but this is too much. No one should ever be rewarded for emulating Rascal Flatts.
The other weird remake of the night came from Paige. (Incidentally, I'm dropping any kind of tie to Houston for Paige, who apparently lived here for a while but claims Naples, Fla., as her homeland in every taped segment.) She chose "Honky Tonk Women," except is was redone as "Honky Tonk Woman" and all about pining for a honky tonk man. Either sing the song or get a new one; don't change the lyrics based on gender.
Even the predicted highlight of the evening, Crystal Bowersox, only gave a B+ performance, with "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The judges were right to say it was almost too easy, and done with a kind of bland commitment that should've had more intensity. The strongest singers were Didi, with "Play With Fire," and Siobhan, with an overheated but still powerful "Paint it Black."
If I had to guess who'd go: Andrew's "Gimme Shelter" was pretty uninteresting, as was Lee's "Beast of Burden." (Randy said he liked Lee's sound, calling it a cross between Rob Thomas and Dave Matthews, which take that how you want it.) They weren't the worst songs of the night, but those two guys are the least developed characters right now, and that makes it hard for voters and producers to invest in them. To win, you have to have a marketable persona, and these guys just don't cut it.