Watching the top three, and observing how much the show wants one to win, after the jump.
Do we even need this show? It would appear that it's Lee and Crystal in the final, with Casey sent home this week, and performances at this stage don't usually make much difference. The lines are drawn. But we have to go through the motions anyway.
Two songs: one chosen by contestant, one by judges. Casey picks "OK, It's All Right With Me." Mellow but he doesn't seem precisely in synch with the instrumental backing. And the song's not much. Too mellow for a point where you're supposed to be kicking it up. Not as low-key as that campfire performance a week ago but still nothing to cheer about. Randy says the song was kind of just all right with him, and you can't do a safe and easy song. And I am thinking Casey knows there's nothing he can do to change the outcome, so he might as well kick back. Ellen's disappointed. Kara faults him for picking a song that's a first-listen for a lot of people. Simon compares it to the salad with a dinner, and that there needs to be something more substantial.
Crystal picks "Come to My Window." Asked what's most important tonight, she says, "Have fun." Craven Ryan adds, "And get votes, right?" Capable Crystal, although a little screechy in spots. No goosebumps, just steady professionalism and a good voice. Randy says we're looking for a winner; he did not love the arrangement but did like the vocal, which rose above the arrangement. Ellen thinks it was a good song choice and Melissa E. would be very proud. Kara agrees that she got lost in the arrangement but still a good vocal. Gee, these guys are awfully tepid; Kara hopes she has a moment later. Simon says that from day one Crystal has not compromised herself as an artist, doing "what is you" and she probably made the right choice.
Lee, "Simple Man." Bleating almost immediately. Not crazy about it but it's the first performance tonight that feels like what's expected at this point in the competition -- in a mechanical way, still oddly understated. Randy calls it a brilliant song choice and he sounded amazing. Ellen says it shows he took this seriously. Kara says he showed everything he's got. Which, then, isn't much. But she gave round one to Lee. Simon thought the song choice was on the money after the others were OK, and that Lee crushed the other two performers.
I've said before that the show wants Lee to win because he's more malleable than Crystal, and the judges' remarks make me feel that all the more. It feels to me tonight as if everyone, not just Casey, is on automatic pilot.
After a break, three judges plus Ryan are standing in huggish form, with Ellen sitting. Ellen looks peeved at the exclusion as we go to contestant-homecoming footage.
Randy and Kara pick John Mayer's "Daughters" for Casey; Kara notes that Casey's audience is "women and girls." But it shows the limits of Casey's vocal ability; he sounds muddy for long stretches and -- surprising considering what Casey's niche has been -- less bluesy even than Mayer. This should change no minds. Randy favorable. Ellen thought it was "beautiful for you." Kara thought it showed the more artistic side of Casey, pats herself and Randy for choosing the song, and "you did a good job." Simon thought it was better than his previous song but that it was a lazy arrangement. Kara disagrees; bickering ensues.
Ellen chooses "Maybe I'm Amazed" for Crystal. She could kill on that song. And ... she does. Damn. Couple of holy-crap turns in there. Best performance so far tonight. Randy calls it a great song and great vocal and "we've got somebody else in it to win it." Ellen says she couldn't have asked for more. Kara says she showed parts of her voice we haven't heard, and it paid off. Simon says she proved she's got soul and it was terrific.
But Lee still gets to close, and Simon is picking his song. Which is "Hallelujah." Oh, God, what a warhorse. But Simon says it will show he has the potential to be a great artist. And it's such a blatant pimping to viewers. String section, backup chorus, white spotlights -- total production push for Lee. And still in the end a bland performance. Randy says he's been waiting all season for someone to throw down a real gauntlet and -- how telling is this -- that Simon "set you up." Ellen says it was stunning. Oh, please, I am going to ralph. Kara says "you are what this show is all about" -- yeah, seizing on a non-threatening personality who when asked to jump will say, "How high?" Simon is very very very proud of him.
It's as if last year they realized that the audience is never going to choose an Adam Lambert over a Kris Allen, so they might as well give them another Kris.
And tonight, as far as I can see, changed nothing. Lee and Crystal in the final, and the show will try to shove Lee down our throats.