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American Idol musings: Casey James in trouble as mentor Harry Connick Jr. steps up

Casey-sinatra They don't have official scorecards, but it was obvious who the judges thought was going home tonight, after a surprisingly smooth American Idol performance episode centered on the music of Frank Sinatra.

Southern-friend axeman Casey James took the most barbs after a languid performance of Blue Skies which left judge Kara DioGuardi warning that he sounded like a braying lamb when holding out the long notes.

Unfortunately for James, DioGuardi's jab nailed his biggest problem: looking awkward and a bit out of his element trying to make O'l Blue Eyes' urbane style fit his jam band persona. Unable to hide behind his guitar or aw-shucks attitude, James stumbled badly at a time when he could least afford it.

He also had the bad luck to come up short on a night when so many other competitors were strong. The Idol hopefuls always score strongest when the theme nights offer a wealth of strong songs, and there's no better repository of stylish, well-crafted tunes than the Sinatra songbook.

Didn't hurt that mentor Harry Connick Jr. got involved in a way every celebrity mentor should -- crafting the arrangements for each singer's interpretation, coaching them through rehearsals and playing with them onstage during their performances Tuesday. I still hope to see somebody like Prince pull that off for more contemporary tunes, really mentoring the singers beyond a few words of praise.

(One more nitpick: Idol ran a bit long again, cutting off the synopsis of singers' performances that caps every episode. I hope Glee fans recording by DVR have wised up and added 10 minutes or so to every recording.)

Americanidol_top5 When the dust cleared, laid back rocker Lee Dewyze took the most praise for his take on a soaring That's Life; this guy might get the Kris Allen award for under-the-radar success on Idol. Whether it's a conscious strategy or not, Dewyze is playing the same game winners Allen and David Cook nailed in previous seasons -- keeping the performances solid and engaging until the end, when surprising the audience and judges counts most.

Which may now be "Big Mike" Lynche's biggest problem. The St. Pete-raised singer has been consistently comfortable and vocally assured since the competition started -- Tuesday's vocal gymnastics on The Way You Look Tonight were no exception -- but the judges and viewers may be getting too used to his skills. At this stage, pleasing surprises are a contestant's best weapon.

Crystal Bowersox and Aaron Kelly also offered quality takes on Summer Wind and Fly Me to the Moon respectively, leaving me convinces that poor Casey James may be in the cross hairs during the elimination episode tonight.

Which means he'll probably survive. because if there's anything I've learned in my time covering this year's Idol, it's that predicting how these voters will swing is the biggest folly of all.

Here's James' lamb-like performance:

   

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:07pm]

    

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