American Idol: Twice the Twain

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There's an unmistakable air of fatigue in the American Idol proceedings at this point in the season: "Idol Gives Back," which raised $45 million for worthy causes, has come and gone; the judges' save has been used; and we're down to just six contestants, which means we're rounding the home stretch even if the end isn't quite in sight. The lack of imagination and effort plagued the performances and the musical choices this week, as mentor/cougar/sometime corset-wearer Shania Twain descended from her Canadian palace to instruct the Idol contestants in the best way to perform really clunky pop-country. Even Crystal Bowersox, the odds-on favorite to win this thing, had an off week. It was just rough all around.

I knew we were in for a potentially rough time when Ryan said, "We are celebrating a very special songbook tonight: the music of Shania Twain." Things just got weirder from there. Really, though: They couldn't get anyone else? Shania already acted as a guest judge during the audition process. It reminded me of the way Victoria Beckham did a guest judge stint this year and then returned on "Idol Gives Back." It's as if the Idol producers got their talent in some kind of package deal that made it cheaper to just re-use them throughout the season.

Lee led off with "You're Still the One," and it was one of the better songs of the evening. He's definitely finding his groove as the throaty rock-ballad guy in the mold of Gavin DeGraw, and he'll hopefully stick around. Big Mike's "It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing" was fine enough, but nothing tremendous. Casey actually took it up a step with "Don't!" (which for some reason has an exclamation point in it), a ballad from Shania's later years that no one seems to remember but which served him well.

Then it was Crystal's turn, and unfortunately, her cover of "No One Needs to Know" was weak and forgettable, with awkward guitar rhythms in the intro and a weird balance that left her voice drowned by the backing vocalists. After that, Aaron came out and landed a solid performance -- soupy modern-country ballads are his specialty -- with "You're Still the One." However, he changed the line "It's in the way we make love" to "It's in the way you show love," which seemed like a good change (there's no way a virginal high schooler was gonna pull that one off) until he told judges he'd done that largely because he was singing the song to his mom, which is the creepiest framing for a love song since "Sister" really turned out to be about that guy's sister.

Siobhan ended the night with "Any Man of Mine," and her performance was flat, dull, and showed no hint of any clear personality. I'm not talking marketability; I'm saying she's just like some triple-carboned copy of a hipster cliché, just a pile of flannel and horn-rimmed glasses with no idea how to emotionally connect with an audience. Yet the judges ate it up, as if wanting me to question the very notion of a just moral universe. (Which I now do.) I say Siobhan should go home this week based on her performance and also on track record: Over the past few months, she's done the least of the remaining singers to set herself apart and prove she's got the skill to go all the way. Here's hoping America's fickle teens voted my way.

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