American Idol: YouTube Saves The Day

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So close to never having to listen to any of you ever again. At least until next year.
Here's the thing, dog: My cable went out about 20 minutes before American Idol started. A lengthy call with a Comcast tech named Edgar yielded the knowledge that there's apparently a weak signal plaguing my TV or box, and every channel below 13 displayed a black screen with no sound. Even when others came back, channel 9 -- Fox -- held firm in its resistance to return to service. The problem carried over to programs I wanted to record on Fox, as well, meaning I wasn't able to watch Idol live or time-shifted.

But! Thanks to some enterprising YouTubers willing to skirt piracy issues, I was able to watch the performance clips from the episode, which turned out to be a great way to get the relevant information without having to wade through the banter, tangents, and other padding that detracts from the main event. So while I didn't suffer experience the episode in full, I did get to see the two remaining contestants take their last three swings at the crown. Based on what I saw, I think -- and hope -- that Crystal takes it.

Lee and Crystal each sang three songs last night: one of their choosing, one at the behest of overlord Simon Fuller, and one that was dubbed their "coronation song" and would be their first released single if they win. The performances alternated between contestants so they could make the requisite costume changes, but I saw them in chunks, so that's what you'll get.

Lee's three songs proved that he's a nice guy but a mostly forgettable performer. There's no doubt he's grown more on the show than Crystal: While she started great and mostly stayed there, Lee learned late in the game to smile more and connect with the audience, creating a better sense of momentum in his run-up to the final. But his performances were too overwrought and dependent on a bombast meant to be a shorthand for legitimate emotion. He started off with "The Boxer," which was fair (his truncated version cut out the whores on 7th Avenue, sadly), but his version of "Everybody Hurts" was dreadful. Too heavy, too orchestrated, and too overblown. He screamed when Michael Stipe mourned, and he leaned on a backing choir when R.E.M. instead conveyed a quiet beauty. Lee's final song was U2's "Beautiful Day," a sad selection that overlooks the fact that U2 hasn't put out a good album since 1987. His average performance of a sub-par song unfortunately cemented an image of Lee as a middling cover artist.

Crystal, on the other hand, had a good night. She trotted out "Me and Bobby McGee" again, as well as "Black Velvet," and won over every judge on the last one, even though Simon said he's usually "allergic" to that song. Her closer, though, was when she won the room. She did "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)," and the gospel feel was a perfect fit for her voice and style. (In a not at all surprising bit of synergy, the song has also been performed by Kelly Clarkson on "Idol Gives Back" and by Susan Boyle on her debut album, both women who owe their careers to Simon Cowell.) Everyone loved it, and it can't be a coincidence that she got to close the show, as if the producers wanted to give her every last boost possible in the minds of the voters. She also got to wish Simon well before receiving his notes, and he returned the favor, saying, "Since this is gonna be the final critique I'm ever gonna give, I would just like to say: that was outstanding."

In their final judgments, it seemed like the judges split their comments for Lee between asking for more power and just generally wishing him well, while they basically just heaped praise on Crystal. Maybe she's the safe or obvious choice, but she's also the right one. She's just better at this. Soon enough, we'll know if America agrees.


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