Wait a minute. Weren’t there supposed to be bagpipes too?
I have to ask that question, because Lee DeWyze’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” seemed to have just about everything elsealthough to be fair, there was no didgeridoo. I was waiting for Lee to break out his old pal in the kilt who marched down the steps and played backup on “Hey Jude” earlier this season. But I guess that would have been overkill.
Oh, but "Hallelujah" was a MOMENT, Idol-style. Cue the strings! Open the panels and send in the chorus! Kettle drum roll and blow those horns! All in a minute and 47 seconds!
Jeff Buckley, who recorded one of the most famous versions of the song, has said (BLASPHEMY ALERT AHEAD), "Whoever listens carefully to ‘Hallelujah’ will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth. The hallelujah is not a homage to a worshipped person, idol or god, but the hallelujah of the orgasm. It's an ode to life and love."
I’m not sure that’s necessarily what Leonard Cohen had in mind and can state with almost absolute certainty that Lee wasn’t thinking about orgasms when he was on the private jet and got Simon’s text decree to perform the song. But a big finish was definitely part of the plan, and that's what we got. I like Lee. And his “Hallelujah” vocals, or at least those I could extract from the din, were perfectly good. But the whole thing was so schmaltzy that it was another reminder of the wide chasm between the demands of being an artist and the reality of being a contestant on American Idol—an issue that goes beyond Jamie Foxx’s distribution of t-shirts.
I blame Simon for this one. As right as he often is in his critiques, he also loves to play Svengali. Witness his creation of the Fabio Four, the pop opera quartet Il Divo. Last night he helped turn Mr. DeWyze into Lee Divo and positively oozed smug satisfaction with the results. In the process, he may have guaranteed Lee a spot in the finals, which was, of course, the goal. But hoo boy, did it all feel contrived and transparent.
It also seemed to directly contradict one of Simon’s stated goals from earlier in the season. When he was asked about what the show was looking for this year, Simon said he’d love to find “somebody who’s relevant rather than just a contest winner.”
From what I can tell, Lee's performance last night was all about winning a contest, because I’m still trying to figure out what’s so relevant about kettle drums. But Simon gave Lee his MOMENT and Lee did his part, as well as his growly, foot-stomp thing on “Simple Man.” So unless all those girls and women who Kara identified as Casey’s voting demographic turn out in droves, it looks like Lee vs. Crystal Bowersox in the finals.
In recent weeks, Casey James has shown an inability to play the contestant game, and that happened again last night. His choice of Eric Hutchinson’s “OK, It’s Alright With Me” seemed no better-suited for this stage of Idol than “Mrs. Robinson” or “Blue Skies.” He sounded good, and also did well on John Mayer’s “Daughters,” but Kara didn’t do him any favors with that one. As Simon knows, for all his noble talk about artistry and relevance, we’re down to the shameless pandering stage of the competition.
I give Crystal credit for trying to find a middle ground. Singing Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window” may seem predictable and somewhat safe, but it also carried considerable risks. The song is a natural one for her, and by singing it she didn’t shy away from the inevitable comparisons to Etheridge. At first I didn’t think she matched up, but when I listened to it again, the song helped reveal part of what distinguishes Crystal. For all her ability to belt it out, she has a sweetness and softness to balance out her power. That’s what she later showed off on “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which was like a guided tour through her full singing repertoire.
So we’re really getting down to it. And may the best artist win—if that isn’t too much of a contradiction.