'American Idol' Top 3: Judges' Choice (and We're Not Just Talking About Crystal & Lee)
'American Idol' Top 3: Judges' Choice (and We're Not Just Talking About Crystal & Lee)
Abbey Simmons
Abbey Simmons
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Tonight on American Idol: Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox perform the judges' and their personal song selections ... while some tall, handsome fella with a guitar plays warm-up sets in between.  At least, that must be how it feels to be Casey James tonight, the invisible Idol. A Lee vs. Crystal finale seems all but certain, as it has for almost the entire season.

Join the Discussion: What was the best and worst performances of season 9?

But let's not put the cart before the horse. After all, stranger things have happened around finale time on American Idol before:

kris-allen-shocked1.jpg"Who, me?"

So watch along with me tonight as the Top 3 contenders take the stage and we get one step closer to crowning this season's American Idol.

As you know, Casey, Crystal and Lee will be singing songs both of their and the judges' choosing. As you may or may not know, the evening would be so much better (and 100% "Hallelujah" free) if you or I had chosen the songs for the contestants:

First up tonight in the "anti-pimp spot" is, not at all surprisingly, the red-headed stepchild of the Top 3: Casey James.
Casey James' Choice: "Okay, It's Alright With Me" by Eric Hutchinson

Casey says he chose this slight bluesy tune because it sounds like something he'd write for himself. Happily that translates into one of Casey's loosest and most natural performances of the season ... no barnyard bleating to be found. Unfortunately, even though Casey owns the song, there's just not enough "oomph" to it or the performance.

Tonight, Casey seemed like an established artist standing on that stage, which is good in some respects, but it also meant he wasn't fighting for it. While I think people Casey wants to impress (like studio executives and bands looking for lead guitarists) will be impressed with the performance, the Idol audience and judges won't be. It just wasn't the song or performance that was going to help Casey climb a mountain of an uphill battle to the finale.

Simon Says: "I think that was a dud song choice I'm afraid, but you sounded good."

Safe, Shaky, or Should be Packing: Should Be Packing

Crystal Bowersox's Choice: "Come to my Window" by Melissa Ethridge

Crystal says she's chosen the song because it's been a long time favorite of hers .... which is never ever a good reason to pick a song, but I admit the choice suits Cyrstal.

Just like her first performance on the Idol stage, Crystal has brought out the old mouth harp for tonight's performance. She's also sped up "Come to my Window" to the point that it almost sounds like it's in fast forward. It is distracting, to say the least. However, even with  the tempo issues, Crystal's song choice and performance is dreads and shoulders above Casey's. And that's mostly because the song shows off not only the kind of artist that Crystal could be, but her power and passion as a performer. Still, "Come to my Window" was not the moment she or I were hoping the song would be.

Simon Says:  "From the very first day to now in the semi-final, you haven't compromised yourself as an artist. You came out here and just decided to do what is you. It's a very honest performance and I think you probably made the right choice, congratulations."

Safe, Shaky, or Should be Packing: Safe

Lee Dewyze's Choice: "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

I suggested this song for Casey, but I am cetainly interested to see how Lee performs it. Where I'm standing, the song alone could provide a moment for Lee, but we'll have to see if he lives up to "Simple Man's" potential. Lee says he chose "Simple Man" because every lyric speaks true to him.

Also, it should be noted, if American Idol was decided on audience screaming and interuptions of "I love you," Lee would be the winner hands down.

But back to the performance at hand. Lee looks like a different man on stage tonight, with an easy smile and a confidence previously unseen. He's somehow both stripped down and made "Simple Man" a bigger rocker than the original. Gone with the nerves are also Lee's usual sour notes -- it wasn't absolutely perfect, but it's as close as Lee gets live. It is a great song choice and an equally great performance and the audience seems to agree, they are again going crazy for Lee. Combine the cheering and the performance itself and it's clear that right now, season 9 of American Idol is Lee's to lose.

While "Simple Man" didn't leave me with the goosebumps that I was hoping for, but still the strongest performance of the night and arguably Lee's best (or second best) of the season.

Simon Says: "That song was absolutely on the money. I don't think you won round one, I think you just crushed the other two."

Safe, Shaky, or Should be Packing: Safest of them all

On to Judges' Choice >>

(Image courtesy of FOX)