American Idol: Idol Gives [Nickel]Back

This is "Idol Gives Back" week, which means a curious mix of legitimate charity and Hollywood puffery: Money gets donated for worthy causes, but we also have to pretend like Fergie is an artist. So it made sense that the top seven contestants came down on both sides of the fence, with some giving bland and forgettable performances but others doing something really, honestly good.

This was also the first competition episode to fit inside an hour time slot, which is a nice reminder that we're closing in on the home stretch. As a result, a lot of the banter between Ryan and the judges was cut, and obvious time constraints as the evening wore on meant that judges' comments had to be shortened so the episode wouldn't run into Glee time. In line with the altruistic theme of the week, the singers were tasked with picking inspirational songs with the help of mentor Alicia Keys, which they did with varying degrees of success.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of the whole night was what the contestants classified as "inspirational." Casey did Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," which at this point is more a dated campaign anthem than anything else, though he sang it well enough. Aaron warbled his way through "I Believe I Can Fly" (which, despite my fervent hopes, never morphed into "Piss on You"), while Tim choked on "Better Days," which is a Goo Goo Dolls song. I don't have anything personal against the Goo Goo Dolls, but couldn't Tim come up with something more grandly inspirational? Something written before 2006? He seemed to get a bit better last week, but this week was back to sub-par karaoke. I really hope he goes home.

The night was also a rare misstep for Big Mike, who covered a Nickelback tune, "Hero," from the first Spider-Man movie. I'd hoped he would go with "A Change Is Gonna Come," then I remembered that Lilly Scott sang that weeks and weeks ago. Still, a classic R&B number would've been better for Mike's voice than the Creed-lite stylings of Nickelback, and the judges let him know it. Siobhan's treacly "When You Believe" was a reminder that The Prince of Egypt was a terrible movie with an awful soundtrack that should never be mentioned again.

Lee's cover of "The Boxer" was a strong rendition, and proof that he'll be around a while, but of course, Crystal took the night with a cover of "People Get Ready," a gospel-based track from 1965 that's been covered by dozens of artists and was the perfect showcase for her voice. She even broke into tears at the end when she caught her dad's eye in the audience, but that just sealed the judges' love for her even more. We've still got a few weeks left, but at this point, it really feels like Crystal's show to lose.

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson