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The rise of 'American Idol' finalist Lee DeWyze
By Kathleen Danes | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/25/2010 4:14 PM
 

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When TV viewers got their first glimpse of Lee DeWyze, the shy rocker could barely even look at the camera. Now he's one step away from being crowned the next "American Idol."

Here's how the Mount Prospect native went from reluctant auditioner to "Idol" front-runner in a contest that will be decided tonight, with the final performance show at 7 p.m. of Fox, and tomorrow.

First audition

Theme: Contestant's choice

What he sang: "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers

What the judges said: Besides the standard "You're going to Hollywood," not much else was aired.

What we said: "Mount Prospect native Lee DeWyze was glimpsed briefly during the final 'American Idol' audition episode."

Idol detail: Although DeWyze wasn't shown during the original Chicago auditions, he and Crystal Bowersox were highlighted back-to-back in a segment of the final audition episode, nicely foreshadowing the top two.

Idol buzz meter rating: 5

Hollywood week

What he sang: "One of Us" by Joan Osborne and "You Found Me" by The Fray

What the judges said: "You've got a big, powerful instrument," Kara DioGuardi said. "But I think you suffer from a lack of confidence."

What we said: "Whether DeWyze will muster up the stage presence the judges seem to find lacking, remains to be seen."

Idol detail: DeWyze made it to the Top 24.

Idol Buzz meter rating: 4

Top 12 men (Top 24)

Theme: Billboard Hot 100 Hits

What he sang: "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol

What the judges said: "I think this was the best performance by far. I think you'll do well in this competition," Simon Cowell noted.

What we said: "DeWyze has a lot riding on his time on 'American Idol.'"

Idol detail: In a group full of weak male semifinalists, DeWyze distinguished himself.

Idol buzz meter rating: 6

Top 10 men (Top 20)

Theme: Billboard Hot 100 Hits

What he sang: "Lips of an Angel" by Hinder

What the judges said: "You may be the one to beat in this competition," Cowell enthused. "You are the best singer and you are head and shoulders above everyone else."

What we said: "Though he admitted to struggling with nerves and pitch, all four judges loved the performance."

Idol detail: Hinder frontman Austin Winkler said DeWyze did his song proud.

Idol buzz meter rating: 7

Top 8 men (Top 16)

Theme: Billboard Hot 100 Hits

What he sang: "Fireflies" by Owl City

What the judges said: "You had a couple of pitch problems but that doesn't matter right now," Ellen DeGeneres said. "A lot of people like you. A lot of people are telling me they have crushes on you. You're adorable."

What we said: "Lee DeWyze didn't blow the 'American Idol' judges away on Wednesday, but he may just have sung his way into the next round."

Idol detail: Even if DeWyze's rendition wasn't spectacular, his song choice was. Performing a hit earned him cachet with the tween voting base.

Idol buzz meter rating: 6.5

Top 12 contestants

Theme: Rolling Stones

What he sang: "Beast of Burden"

What the judges said: "What's holding you back is your personality," Cowell noted. "... What I want to see, and I pray you're back next week, is for you to come on this stage, choose your song and have what I call 'a moment.'"

What we said: "For the second week in a row, DeWyze didn't come off as a top performer, but he certainly wasn't one of the bottom few."

Idol detail: Sometimes you've just got to be good enough to get through to the next week.

Idol Buzz meter rating: 4.5

Top 11 contestants

Theme: Billboard No. 1 hits

What he sang: "The Letter" by The Box Tops

What the judges said: "I've never heard you sound better or look more comfortable," Kara DioGuardi said. "You're finally owning the stage."

What we said: "If DeWyze thought Cowell was too harsh on him, he probably felt a little better after hearing the judges critique the two singers who followed him, who had some of the worst performances of the season so far."

Idol detail: DeWyze chose "The Letter" the same week legendary musician and Box Tops member Alex Chilton died.

Idol buzz meter rating: 5

Top 10 contestants

Theme: R&B/Soul

What he sang: "Treat Her Like a Lady" by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose

What the judges said: "I always believed in you," Cowell told DeWyze. "This was the night your life may have changed forever."

What we said: "If Tuesday night does indeed mark the turning point in Lee DeWyze's life, he may have Usher to thank for that."

Idol detail: Guest mentor Usher's belief in him set the stage for a rollicking performance that the blogosphere was buzzing about the next day.

Idol Buzz meter rating: 8

Top 9 contestants

Theme: The Lennon/McCartney songbook

What he sang: "Hey Jude" (with bonus appearance by bagpiper)

What the judges said: "I thought you sounded great, you never lost your cool even when that guy from the parade showed up," Ellen DeGeneres cracked.

What we said: "The performance turned bizarre when a bagpiper showed up midway through the song."

Idol detail: The judges used their only save of the season on Michael Lynche, meaning no one was voted off.

Idol buzz meter rating: 6

Top 9 contestants

Theme: Elvis Presley

What he sang: "A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action"

What the judges said: "That was so current," DeGeneres noted. "It sounded like a brand-new song to me."

What we said: "DeWyze suffered few of the pitch problems that bedeviled him during last week's performance of 'Hey Jude,' owning the song and the stage."

Idol detail: DeWyze showed the kind of growth the judges and the audience like to see.

Idol buzz meter rating: 7

Top 7 contestants

Theme: Inspirational songs

What he sang: "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel

What the judges said: "That was sincere, emotional and inspirational. Brilliant. Good for you," Cowell told DeWyze.

What we said: "DeWyze's cover of ... 'The Boxer' was stripped down and soulful, leaving viewers with the impression he meant every word."

Idol detail: It seemed like DeWyze and Bowersox were the only contestants that bothered to show up, leading to early speculation they were locks for the top two.

Idol buzz meter rating: 8.5

Top 6 contestants

Theme: Shania Twain

What he sang: "You're Still the One"

What the judges said: "The sound of your voice makes it sound so relevant," DioGuardi gushed. "Good job."

What we said: "... DeWyze turned 'You're Still the One' into a bluesy affair that sounded as if it had been written just for him."

Idol detail: With a misstep by Bowersox, DeWyze took full advantage and looked more and more like he belonged on the "Idol" stage.

Idol Buzz meter rating: 8.5

Top 5 contestants

Theme: Frank Sinatra

What he sang: "That's Life"

What the judges said: "I want you to go home and write 100 times I can win this thing. Because that's the confidence you need," DioGuardi chided. "Because you can."

What we said: "The performance was bolstered by a snappy arrangement by guest mentor Harry Connick Jr."

Idol detail: Saved once again for the last slot, DeWyze appeared to be the only contestant capable derailing the Bowersox victory train.

Idol buzz meter rating: 8.5

Top 4 contestants

Theme: Songs from the cinema

What he sang: "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal from "Batman Forever" and "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová from "Once" (duet with Crystal Bowersox)

What the judges said on "Kiss From a Rose:" "You did nothing with the song," Randy Jackson complained. "It was OK and it was pitchy in spots."

On "Falling Slowly:" "It was not a good song," Cowell teased. "It was a fantastic song."

What we said: "Not only did the duets save 'American Idol' from paralyzing boredom, they also may have saved Mount Prospect rocker Lee DeWyze."

Idol detail: In a night full of strange song selections from an even stranger producer-provided list, pairing DeWyze with Bowersox led to the performance of the night.

Idol buzz meter rating: 6.5

Top 3 contestants

Theme: One contestant's choice, one judge's choice

What he sang: "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd for his choice and "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen as Simon Cowell's choice

What the judges said on "Simple Man:" "I think it was a brilliant song choice," Randy Jackson enthused. "Somebody here is feeling like they can win this."

On "Hallelujah:" "Lee, you are what this show is all about ... You are the heart of this show. ... You just owned the entire night," said DioGuardi.

What we said: "Fresh off his visit back home last Friday, the Mount Prospect rocker owned the 'American Idol' stage, looking as comfortable as he has all season."

Idol detail: The judges turned DeWyze from underdog into front-runner and sealed his invitation to the finale.

Idol buzz meter rating: 9