American Idol: The Final Four Go to the Movies

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The very idea of Songs of the Cinema week on American Idol made me flash back to countless Oscar shows and cover performances of mostly mediocre songs. And even worse, to renditions of all sorts of cutesy Disney ditties. Because the fact is, Oscar-winning songs tend to come from cartoons (seven from 1989-1999 alone!). They're showstoppers, but not in a good way.

You can cherry-pick exceptions: Bruce Springsteen won for “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bob Dylan for “Things Have Changed,” and even Eminem scored a win along the way. This year, Bad Blake and “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart managed to outlast two numbers from The Princess and the Frog. So maybe things have gotten better. But my sense has always been that movie songs are either too integral to the film to survive on their own or simply grafted on as a soundtrack sales device, a la all of those big, overproduced numbers from the 1980s.

Of course, I’m quite literal. Looking at the list of song choices for the contestants on iTunes, Song of the Cinema didn’t just mean Oscar winners. But even with an expanded field, the contestants weren’t exactly feasting on a Lennon-McCartney smorgasbord—not with “Arthur’s Theme” and “Eye of the Tiger” lingering on the list. And where was “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”? (The original Three 6 Mafia version, of course, not the Celine Dion power ballad.)

It’s probably time to retire the whole theme night thing, or at least move it to earlier in the season. Idol is a singing competition right? So why would you reach this point in the competition and restrict your top four artists (and/or contestants) to songs that by the theme's very definition make them adjuncts to another medium? Based on the eventual selections and the performances, the theme didn’t add up to a compelling show at the time of the season when the drama should be building.

I can’t say there were any clear winners last night, but here’s how they looked:

Crystal Bowersox: As Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler might put it, “ A Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. Single mother, big voice, the upstart from Ohio. Former busker now on the verge of the American Idol championship.” Many of us consider Caddyshack the foremost cinematic achievement of the past 50 years, yet it was still curious that Crystal opted for Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright.” She did alright, though, and changed up the song just enough freshen it.

Lee DeWyze: When Lee started on Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose,” from Batman Forever, I thought he was going to nail it. It ended up feeling rushed and rather sloppy, but it’s unlikely to hurt him. The kid has a great foot stomp.

Michael Lynche: Considering how intent he apparently is on getting his parade back in Florida, it’s a shame that Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” from Funny Girl, didn’t make the song list. If nothing else, Mike ensured a parade at Sea World by performing “Will You Be There” from Free Willy. I’m a sucker for both gospel choirs and orcas, so it worked—and Mike should squeeze by Casey and survive into next week.

Casey James: The Graduate is another personal favorite, and Casey’s rendition of “Mrs. Robinson” brought to mind a moment from the film: Benjamin Braddock tells his parents that he plans to marry Elaine Robinson, even though he acknowledges that she hates him, and Ben’s dad tells him that the idea “sounds pretty half-baked.” To which Ben replies, “Oh it’s not. It’s completely baked.” Casey’s performance? Somewhere between half- and completely baked, but definitely not fully realized. It certainly isn’t likely to score big votes. Maybe he wants to pick up that Tuesday night club gig for $50 and free chow after all.

The Duets: Both duets were more entertaining than the solo numbers. Crystal and Lee did a good job on “Falling Slowly,” from Once, although the arrangement came perilously close to bombastic: There's big, and there's too big. Also: Have you ever really known anyone who's seen Don Juan DeMarco? But “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” lives on as an Idol standard. Nice guitar by Casey, and he and Mike brought some life to the song. Casey had the tougher vocal section and Mike benefited from that, coming on sweetly during a more melodic part.

Other thoughts

… Simon needs to get out to the movies more often.

… As for Crystal’s boyfriend’s outfit of a volleyball T-shirt and flag pants, she should never have let him out of the hotel room wearing that. I know Judge Smails in Caddyshack would have considered it inappropriate attire for the Bushwood Country Club, not to mention national television.

… This is really random, but Casey’s teal leather jacket looks like something Sandra Bullock would have worn in The Blind Side.