Tuesday night marked Adam Lambert’s triumphant return to “American Idol.” And much like any college freshman making an October appearance at his old high school, he was filled with advice and wisdom from the weeks he’s spent outside of the show’s cocoon and in the larger recording world.
He had the same basic lesson for everyone — show a little more energy. Given that the theme this week was the Elvis Presley songbook and that Lambert himself was so theatrical a year ago that Andrew Lloyd Webber would have been impressed, it was a natural message.
Unfortunately, Elvis is one of those singers who proves to be a much better match for some singers than for others, even after hearing the sage wisdom of last season’s runner-up. That likely means the end of the road for Andrew Garcia.
Garcia sang “Hound Dog” and changed it just enough to be irritating without making it his own. The judges are frustrated with him at this point because he doesn’t seem to get what they want him to do: strip songs down like he did in Hollywood, when it was just him and his guitar and a lot less hair gel.
On the other hand, they are warming to Tim Urban. It was interesting to see Urban follow immediately after Garcia because he’s everything Garcia is not — less skilled vocally for sure, but more aware of his strengths and weaknesses and what he needs to do to stick around.
He did what Garcia should have done by stripping down “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which caused the audience and the judges to swoon.
“I can’t help falling in love with you, Tim. That was beautiful,” Ellen DeGeneres gushed.
“You have managed to go from zero to hero in two weeks,” Simon Cowell added.
Anyone who saw that coming a month ago, call me. I’ll want your predictions the next time I go gamble in Vegas.
Also starring were the usual suspects. Lambert told Crystal Bowersox to go electric instead of acoustic for her guitar, but of course she could have played it on a xylophone and received raves for “Saved” because she’s really good. No surprise there.
It also wasn’t a surprise that Lee Dewyze did well, given the bluesy-rock style of vocals that lends itself well to Elvis covers, but it was still nice to see him nail “A Little Less Conversation.” “It was on the money. Full stop,” Simon said. And Dewyze continues to look more comfortable every week.
Michael Lynche played it very safe with “In the Ghetto,” sticking to a standard arrangement and not putting in a lot of bells and whistles. If he’s the low vote-getter again, which seems unlikely, at least he’ll go out with a strong vocal performance.
This will get me some more mean tweets from the Casey James fan club, which is a considerable number of folks, but I continue to be underwhelmed by him. The disappointing part of “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” wasn’t that it was bad, but that it was like every other James performance — technically solid, not outstanding and not memorable. This should have been a week for him to break out, like Dewyze, and instead he continues to just plod along in his comfort zone.
I really hope Siobhan Magnus sticks around because she’s always full of surprises. Her “Suspicious Minds” was not fantastic and brought forth criticism that she has two voices (look for “Siobhan Has Two Voices” in music theory bookstores near you this fall). But she’s always very good at showing personality when you least expect it.
For the second week in a row, she had a zinger for the judges, who said they weren’t sure the kind of artist she was. “I’ve always taken pride in that. If I can’t even label myself, I don’t think it’s necessary to even be labeled,” she replied. Shazam! Maybe Ryan Seacrest, who had a clumsy gibe at former co-host Brian Dunkleman right afterwards, could take notes on how to do that without sounding mean-spirited and petty.
That leaves the two teenagers, each of whom had some natural disadvantages. It’s hard to sing Elvis without sounding like a high-school talent show hopeful, which places each in some degree of danger.
Katie Stevens sang “Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do?” for the judges, and particularly for Simon. It’s pretty clear what the judges want her to do, which is pick a musical style and stick with it. But her frustration added energy to her performance.
That leaves Aaron Kelly, who went with “Blue Suede Shoes” in a way that Kara DioGuardi said made him sound younger and Simon said made him too old. Uh ... OK. It’s hard to tell what Kelly’s supposed to do with that, except to hope he’s one of the seven-highest vote-getters and has a chance to do better in the future.