There were many dark and torturous moments in last night's American Idol. If forced to pick just one, I would have to go with the selection of Miley Cyrus as this week's "mentor" to the singers. The mentor thing, I am gathering, is a regular feature in which a recording artist stops by to listen to the singers practice, tells them vague but unfailingly positive things that do nothing to actually prepare them for performance night, and then disappears until a results-show appearance with his/her latest single or big hit. Miley Cyrus is easily one of the most unsettling people I have ever seen. She talks in a flat and rapid monotone like Mike Teevee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and seems to have no genuine personality other than what's been built for her over years on the Disney Channel. I kind of pity her.
The singers themselves did just as you'd expect, right down the line. Of the eleven contestants that began the night, only two showed any real power, and it's the same two as in weeks past: Crystal Bowersox and Michael Lynche. Crystal finally sang a Janis Joplin song, opting for "Me and Bobby McGee," and knocked it out of the park. Kara, inexplicably, asked her to think of doing a song without her guitar, which is the kind of foolish, just-to-fill-the-air comment that Kara seems prone to making. Simon, consistently the best judge of both talent and commercial prospects, told her not to change a thing. Big Mike's "When a Man Loves a Woman" was smooth and soulful, and while not quite as compelling as Crystal, he clearly knows what kind of performer he wants to be. That's a big accomplishment.
Everyone else ranged from mediocre to tragic, as if Miley Cyrus' visit hadn't helped them get better at all. The theme of the night was "Billboard No. 1s," so singers had a wealth of songs to draw from, though most opted for tunes that didn't match their ranges or personas. Andrew's come so far from the quirky singer-songwriter vibe he started out with that it was both shocking and disappointing to see him with a cheeseball cover of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." But he's got a good shot to stick around, if only because Paige Miles' version of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" was so abysmal that everyone had to look better by comparison. Even weirder was her odd way of defending the performance by saying that she'd had fun, though she admitted to major pitch problems. At this stage, pitch issues like that are a no-go. Similarly, Tim Urban's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was a trainwreck. Would that they could send home three or four people this week instead of just one.
I'm pretty sure that this kid Aaron is sticking around, though. He did Aerosmith's daringly awful "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," but his Rascal Flatts personality is the perfect fit for bad ballads, and the judges know that's his wheelhouse. I don't think he can win, or should, but I bet he makes it to the top five or so.
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For now, I can only wait and wonder who will stay and who will go. And, more importantly, what manner of pop star will be foisted on contestant and viewer alike in the coming weeks. Maybe having Miley Cyrus on this early means we'll get a legit artist later, right? ... Right?