Top 8 Men - American Idol
That was vital to get out of the way, because Wednesday night’s show, the final one before this season’s top 12 is determined, was among the oddest in “Idol” history, a extremely unsettling and chaotic microcosm of all of this cursed season’s idiosyncrasies. So rather than revisit the performances — the best of which still didn’t touch Crystal Bowersox or Siobhan Magnus — it’s more important to map out the show’s supreme concerns.
1. Kara’s emotional well-being. After Michael Lynche’s impressive-but-still-a-bit-brutish performance of the Maxwell version of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” Kara DioGuardi gave her critique through tears, talking far more about being a childless woman than about Mr. Lynche’s vocals. Thus far this season, she’s been more than a wild card, unseated from her role as sensible music intellect and thrust into the tart vacuum left by Paula Abdul’s departure. Her commentary has been unpredictable and, at times, unstable. And moreover, worrying: with each show, as her footing becomes less stable, Kara is reduced even further to caricature.
2. Ellen’s mute mouth. She started out as a force, but since her early appearances during Hollywood Week, Ellen DeGeneres has minimized herself, or been minimized by producers. She’s bland and barely clever, and needs to abandon her extended banana metaphor for describing the evolution of Alex Lambert: it’s beyond uncomfortable. Maybe she’s backing off out of respect for the show’s traditional power structure, but if so, she’s the only one; even Randy has been offering cogent advice this season. Her most troubling moment to date came on Wednesday’s show, when she ran out from behind the judge’s table to hug Tim Urban after his middling take on “Hallelujah.” As difficult as it was to watch Kara be reduced to tears, it was somehow odder to see Ellen, a wise and sly talent, reduced to shtick.
3. Ryan’s sharp tongue. This season, Ryan Seacrest has emerged as a de facto fifth member of the judging panel, not by evaluating the performers, but by second-guessing the judges’ comments, asking them pointed follow-up questions clearly designed to curry favor with viewers who find the critiques harsh. Up until this year, Mr. Seacrest’s best asset has been his neutrality: he might have shared personal jokes with the judges, but he never interfered with their opinions. Now, he’s a virtual advocate, or public defender, on a show that’s always better without a buffer.
4. The heartbreak of Andrew Garcia. Covering Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” was, as Simon Cowell accurately said, “desperate.” The way to recapture the energy Mr. Garcia had during his audition isn’t to cover another overtly-pop song in winking fashion (not that this week’s performance had much of a wink to it). As Randy Jackson, of all people, noted, Mr. Garcia doesn’t have the range or flexibility to take on a song so big: “You made us feel like the whole song was three notes,” he said. Instead, Mr. Garcia should go back to his roots. On YouTube, there are several clips of him singing contemporary pop and R&B songs with inventive arrangements: any one of those would have been a more apt choice for Mr. Garcia, who has in the last three weeks undermined almost everything he’d previously done so well.