Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, season nine of “American Idol” is officially under way. Simon Cowell just threw out the first “you’re the one to beat” of the year.
That honor went to Crystal Bowersox, which is no great shock. She was her usual strong self this week, nailing Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” but beyond that the judges noted that her big selling point was that she knows herself and who she is as an artist.
Among the eight women remaining, only she and Lilly Scott can make that claim. Siobhan Magnus doesn’t quite have that sense of style, but she does have the confidence and she’s been very good every week.
There’s not much to say about any of them, especially since there will be plenty of chances to do so later. Barring a tremendous upset, they will occupy three of the six spots allocated to women in the 12-singer finals. The only sticking point may be the awful clip the producers ran for Siobhan during her end-of-the-show montage, perhaps the worst 10 seconds of her rehearsal recorded for posterity.
There’s a big gap between those three and the rest of the field, followed by an even larger gap, followed this week by the Grand Canyon. And speaking of the Grand Canyon, can we throw all the tapes of the episode-opening joke that had Ellen pretending to make out with Simon in there? Or does that violate EPA standards? Because if we could never see anything like that again, that would be great.
Anyway, the other singers who stepped up were the ones who had the farthest to go, while others slid backward to make things uncomfortably interesting for Thursday’s results show.
Katie Stevens is struggling, although she’s still likely to get enough votes to make the finals. The teenager is still trying to find her musical style, and as a result is taking all the advice the judges have to offer. The problem is that taking notes from the four on the podium only works if a) the judges are clear, and b) the singer can take advantage of it.
They told her to pick a younger song, so she sang “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson and turned it into something sad and gloomy. She has the best chance of catching the leaders, but as this week proved, she isn’t there yet.
Meanwhile, Didi Benami brought out the guitar for the first time since Hollywood, a brilliant move even though her playing wasn’t great because it calmed her down and gave her something to focus on besides the cameras and the band and the “pleasedon’tcrypleasedon’tcry” mantra that seems to go through her brain. The judges all loved her.
Simon even said, “Head and shoulders over anything else we've heard tonight ... the 'wow' moment was the whole performance.” Of course, he fell out of love with her as soon as Crystal took the stage, but that’s our Simon, changing his mind like a girl changes clothes.
One problem: If Ellen is going to keep cracking jokes like "Yes indeedy, Didi,” it’s probably best for everyone if she gets voted out now.
Didi could still go, but the other three singers are more at risk. Lacey Brown gave her best performance of the season, but that was a low bar to clear. Still, the judges seemed surprised and pleased, and she knows how to play to the cameras.
The two in the biggest trouble are Katelyn Epperly and Paige Miles. Katelyn sang “I Feel the Earth Move,” but spent the whole song behind the keyboard and didn’t get to stalk the stage like she could have. That helped make it forgettable.
Paige would have taken “forgettable,” but her rendition of “Smile” was coma-inducing. Simon threw the arrangement under the bus and Paige tepidly agreed, but that might not be enough to keep her on the show after this week.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at .