"American Idol" needed a shakeup, and on Wednesday night (March 3), Crystal Bowersox provided just the kick season nine has been missing. The Ohio native spent Tuesday night in the hospital, forcing a last-minute switch that had the guys performing a night early.
Luckily for her, she was first up, revealing to America that she has a kind of "square" twin brother, Carl, and that she carries around a butterfly-bedecked trinket bag. After some harsh comments for her Alanis Morissette cover last week, Bowersox went with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long as I Can See the Light," slapping a gospel spin on the classic-rock tune.
Showing no signs of illness, she took it to church, coming off like an indie-rock Janis Joplin over a Hammond organ and her gently strummed acoustic guitar. Whatever was ailing her didn't show onstage, as Bowersox powerfully nailed the vocals, looking confident and strong.
Simon praised her for not playing the sympathy card, admitting in a George Bush-ian way that he "misunderestimated" her talents based on last week, calling her vocal "incredible" and comparing the performance to the first time the panel realized they had a star on their hands with Kelly Clarkson. "You are the truth. You do what you do," Randy Jackson told her, praising Bowersox for keeping it real. Ellen DeGeneres called her gift "pure, raw, natural talent" and Kara DioGuardi said the Americana rock vibe was the right one for her and it took her to new heights on the show.
Country wannabe Haeley Vaughn had some ground to make up after last week's Beatles stumble, and the 16-year-old headband artist tried to do it with Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," slipping into a more comfortable groove with the country ballad. The vocals were still a bit shaky at points and her lisp was sometimes distracting, prompting Randy to deem it a pitchy disaster and say that he felt she had no connection to the song by a fellow teen. Kara added that the 16-year-old could use another year of working on her voice, and Simon said it was just a "complete and utter mess. ... There's a certain irony about you singing a song about climbing when you actually fell off."
Antique refurbisher Lacey Brown, 24, got buried by Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" last week, so she went with Kara's advice and sang Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me." Unfortunately for her, while the song was more in her wheelhouse, the vocals were mostly uneven, and Randy said it was the right song choice but sounded like a karaoke performance with nothing added to it. Cowell called it "marginally better" than last week, faulting her for not being memorable enough.
Another singer who needed some redemption was Katie Stevens, 17, who revealed she can say "give me a kiss" in six languages but who got the kiss-off last week with a musty Michael Bublé cover. This time, she chose Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On," doing an admirable, if somewhat forgettable, cover in which her vocals went from chesty growl to thin falsetto.
Ellen praised her voice but said it still felt a bit old. "I don't want to hear something I would hear in my dentist's office," DeGeneres told her. For Kara and Randy, the vocals needed to be more controlled and focused, but Simon was brutally honest, saying she needed more experience and had to figure out what kind of recording artist she wants to be.
Former middle school mascot-turned-cheerleader Didi Benami took a turn from her singer/songwriter soft spot to a soul space with Bill Withers' classic "Lean on Me," which she tried to imbue with some gospel grit courtesy of wild gesticulation, foot stomping and high, reedy notes.
It was no good for Randy, who felt it pointed out her imperfections rather than highlighting her strengths, and while Ellen loves her voice, presence and smile, it was not the right Withers choice in her mind. "It wasn't good, it really wasn't good," said Kara, who urged her to stay in the singer/songwriter lane and go for consistency.
Another singer who needed to prove something, children's choir director Michelle Delamor, tried to break out of her R&B cage with Creed's "With Arms Wide Open." She turned the turgid rock song into a breathy soul ballad that felt and sounded like a big gamble, thanks to a fistful of bum notes.
Randy loved her cute outfit and felt she had a great opportunity to switch it up but didn't do enough with the tune. Ellen thought it almost worked, forgetting for a minute that it was a rock song, while Kara said it was her favorite Delamor performance so far and that it was a risk that didn't always work vocally but was believable. Cowell agreed with Kara, giving her props for choosing an unusual song and doing her best to make it her own.
One of the singers who needed to work on her stagecraft was multi-instrumentalist Lilly Scott, who got props for her indie Beatles cover last week. So she tried it again, strapping on a 12-string guitar for Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." Her unique, quavering voice gave the song a modern edge and her folky redo showed some strong artistic chops.
What Randy loves about Scott is her individuality, and he liked how she nailed a very tough song. "I don't know what 'it' is, but you've got 'it,' " Ellen said. Kara agreed that it was the best performance of the night and that Scott had her moment. "You are gonna change the game," she promised, heaping praise for not trying to fit into a cookie-cutter style.
Rocking some giant doorknocker earrings and a sedate updo, Katelyn Epperly, who has aspirations of opening her own recording studio someday, went music geek with a solo piano version of Coldplay's "The Scientist." Transforming it into a jazzy torch song, Epperly made the tune her own, imbuing it with stirring emotion as she stared sad-eyed into the camera.
"I kind of love you," DioGuardi said. "You have an incredible instrument and you can do a lot of things with it, and that's your biggest problem." She counseled Epperly to stop jumping around from style to style each week and focus on figuring out who she is. Cowell called it a smart, contemporary song choice and advised her to be less corny. Ellen had her first Paula moment, praising Epperly's guitar work before correcting herself and saying the arrangement was just too snoozy and slow.
Paige Miles, 24, an avid crayon enthusiast who Simon said has the best voice of all the girls, curried some more favor with the judges by singing Kelly Clarkson's "Walk Away," a song co-written by Kara. The staccato R&B take on the tune highlighted Miles' scratchy, seductive vocals and strong, soulful howl.
Ellen loved how Miles changed it up and had fun with the song, even if it was just OK for Randy, who felt the landslide of words didn't allow Miles to show off her vocals enough. Though she liked the version, Kara said Miles' cheerful, smiling take didn't really fit the intent of the lyric that should have been a bit more angsty. "I think you're getting lost in these songs ... it's like the songs are overtaking you," Cowell said, suggesting she was picking the wrong tunes and needs to find one that will mark her as the one to beat.
The primo final spot belonged to former mohawked rocker Siobhan Magnus, 19, who ripped off a big chunk of danger with Aretha Franklin's "Think." Magnus proved she had the pipes to float the big soul classic, even if her stage presence was a bit odd at times and her gigantic power wail near song's end was startling.
"You are so bold and so fearless," Randy said, howling about her unhinged bravery. "It was dope!" Ellen couldn't have agreed more, and Kara was still smiling about the gigantic note, which Magnus said she learned how to hit while singing Clarkson songs in the shower. "You are such a strange person," Simon said as a compliment. "I thought there were parts of that song which were terrible, but that note was incredible."
After another rough week of highs and lows, two men and two women will go home on Thursday night.
What did you think of Wednesday night's performances? Who was your favorite? Who deserves to go home?