American Idol 9 Finals First Impressions.

Ah, final two! Cue the ridiculously melodramatic “showdown” analogies, the intense background track and the “I’m ______ and I am the next American Idol” clips!

So, last week, Crystal was pretty meh while Lee brought the house down. How did the two 24-year-olds (Crystal is only 24?!) do this week, the most important week of all (although according to Simon, every week is the most important week ever in their wee young lives)?

1. Contestant’s favourite

Lee DeWyze – The Boxer – I actually thought the original live performance was overrated but the studio recording of this song is hands down my fave recording of the entire season. He seemed to lose some of that emotional outpouring in this week’s rendition though. He sounded decent and the arrangement was pretty good but somehow it felt like he was disconnected from it (which is weird considering this is the song that made him break down into tears during homecoming). Still, it was a decent vocal, if a tad underwhelming this time. B

Crystal Bowersox – Me and Bobby McGee – It’s a very different choice from Lee’s but, while DeWyze didn’t really deliver on the selling point of his song (the poignant emotion), Crystal absolutely brought out the best of hers. It was fun, it was energetic and the singing was spot on. I’m not sure how viable it would be as a single given the current state of pop music, contrary to Randy, but still really solid. Round 1 to Mamasox. A-

2. Executive producer’s choice

Lee – Everybody Hurts – A lot of people on the forums have lambasted the choice and the arrangement and, while I agree that the song doesn’t really have much going for it in terms of showboating on a vocal competition like this, I thought Lee actually did pretty good with it. The ending was perhaps cheesy and sentimentalised (a far cry from the stoic original), it actually fit this song better (and maybe I do like cheese). He did have a couple of slight pitch problems and it still wasn’t a big enough bang for this stage in the contest but this was pretty good all the same. B+

Crystal – Black Velvet – Clive Davis totally wants her to win – this was a perfect choice for her! A slow, sultry start building up to the rock anthem chorus and the explosive ending, the song, which sits comfortably in her niche but is perhaps one of the possible choices for the Idol stage, allowed her to rip a new one and her confidence was in full bear too. She actually had more pitch problems in this one song than I’ve ever heard her sing (which brings the score down a little) but in terms of raw, throated power and sass, she brought it out in full force. A-

3. Winner’s single

Lee – Beautiful Day – I understand that the contestants got to choose their own singles and I’m puzzled as to why Lee, who has usually made great choices, would choose a song immortalized not only by the rock band who first sang it, but also by World Idol Kurt Nilsen (who is undeniably a better vocalist than Lee). On paper, though, it could still have worked. There were the requisite rock-concert-lights, the backing singers, the dramatic instrumentation and, in typical Lee fashion, the slightly-reworked melody (although in this case I thought it was actually a little off)  and he was singing his little lungs out but somehow, despite all the glitz, it lacked that bit of explosive power. It wasn’t bad by any chance and would have probably been best of the night in several other episodes but tonight it just seemed a little been-there-heard-that (and a tad pitchy). And the judges basically also gave him their condolences for not winning, already. B+

Crystal – Up to the Mountain – Wow, she really saved the best for last, eh? Probably one of the least cheesy and most different winner’s single if it does get released (it’s definitely no “This is my Now”) and she absolutely killed on it. An almost perfect vocal, huge amounts of emotion (without being too slow or draggy) and the perfect arrangement with the best possible climaxes to end this entire season. Unlike many people online, I didn’t think her little speech to Simon was sucking up, even if it did come off a little irksome. The cold joke about being beside herself Ryan Seacrest kinda saved her, though. A+

Last week I mentioned that, coming off a couple of weeks of decent-but-not-showstopping performances with a string of good songs, Lee chose the right time to re-peak in the competition. I think I spoke too early. Crystal chose the right time to re-peak. She’d been coasting the past few weeks but she absolutely owned the show this week and, even though Lee wasn’t particularly bad, he just came off looking the less consummate performer.

My dichotomy between the two of them remains the same, though: My personal cup of tea is still Lee while the person I think should win is still Crystal.

Just like how I thought Bo should actually have taken the crown over Carrie even though I liked her more (although she was the destined one that season anyway), I think Crystal should take the crown simply because she is a better, more complete performer. It’s not just her strong vocals or her confidence and presence on stage. A recap I read also mentioned how, although Lee could churn out great performance, it always came out pretty rehearsed and practised while Crystal basically just sounds like she’s spontaneously singing the song on stage for the first time ever (even if it isn’t the case), an observation I find keen.

The one downside to Crystal is that, while she’s an awesome performer and singer, I just don’t think that her chosen niche is one that would sell records nowadays. Perhaps ten or twenty years ago she would have made it really huge but I just don’t think her music would appeal to the Lady-Gaga, Kesha, Beyonce-loving people who make up most of the moneyspenders in record shops…

…which is something I think Lee has an edge over Crystal for. He might not be as good a singer or performer as her (or as good as David Cook or even Kris Allen) but his chosen genre is way more relevant and marketable to the current pop audience and his whole bad-boy-turned-good with the decent looks would probably endear him more to the spenders than Crystal’s hippie, free-the-world-with-music vibe. Of course, that’s not to say that Lee would make a better Idol in terms of selling out concerts.

While Lee is a decent performer, I do think that his strengths lie not in live performances but in studio recordings. Some of his covers were undeniably great but I thought several of the live ones were actually overrated, even if he is my favourite. I think that the studio recordings, done where he doesn’t have to basically yell out every single note like during the live shows, allow him to show a much more earnest, emotional edge that basically transform the songs. Like I’ve mentioned before, his studio recordings are by far my favourite this season and the only ones I would actually pay for and that ‘The Boxer’ was my absolute fave.

Of course, at the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference. I feel Crystal should win because she is, to put it simply, the best this season. And she’d probably need the win more, to help her all she can in getting more listeners and people who’d buy her albums. Yet, I prefer Lee because his style and his music is just what I like more than Crystal’s (a subset of music I often find boring and too monotonous).

Still, though (and even though DialIdol is predicting a Lee win), I hope Crystal wins tomorrow, not only because she deserves and would really benefit from the win, but also because the backlash against Lee if he won would be pretty big, seeing as he’s been one of the more polarizing contestants this season. We’ll see tomorrow.

To sum it up:

Who I think should win: Crystal > DeWyze
Who I prefer more: DeWyze > Crystal

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