Staring down Season 9's Top 50 some five months ago, it's easy to see how someone such as Casey James could have gotten written off early on and not be taken seriously as a contender for the "American Idol" crown. Sure, the Fort Worth native was a looker, and he made no apologies for it, going so far as to take off his shirt mid-audition, but weeks into the competition, we had yet to see the true charming nature of Casey, or appreciate the man's masterful guitar skills. In fact, whether he goes home this week (one "Idol" panel has already predicted his exit) or advances to the final two, Casey James' legacy will be that he was hands down the best musician to ever take the "Idol" stage — and possibly the best-looking, too.
So how did this blues- and country-rock-loving Texan wade through scores of "Bad Romance" belting pop wannabes to end up here, in an acoustic threesome with Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox? One week and a little more than 33% chance away from the finale?
Since the Top 24, it has been an uphill climb for 27-year-old Casey, with a couple of stumbles along the way (ahem, Sinatra night), but not very big ones. That's because, for Casey, there's nothing more natural than being on a stage with a top-notch band backing him up. It's what he was put on this earth to do, which is why he's already won the respect of many former "Idols" and is sure to impress some big names to come — John Mayer might even pipe in this week.
I remember when Casey first described an average day in his life back home, where eight hours of playing guitar was the norm, not the exception. I thought he was kidding, but when it comes to making music, the always jovial Mr. James, staring deep with those ocean-blue eyes, couldn't be more serious.
So he's got the musicians' vote, the country contingent will likely throw its weight behind the last Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving Southerner standing and, of course, there's the never-to-be-discounted demographic: the cougars (and likely a good chunk of the kittens, too) who've played no small part in bringing Casey this far, which brings me to my main point: Don't count out Casey. He might not have Crystal's near-perfect vocals or the guttural strength of Lee's delivery, but what Casey lacks in volume, he makes up for in heart and inventiveness. Look no further than "Jealous Guy" from six weeks ago (video below), which will go down as one of the 10 best "Idol" performances ever — at least in this "Idol" blogger's book.
If Casey goes home this week, he, like last year's third-place finisher Danny Gokey, should have no problem scoring a major label deal for a country record and will, in no time, be out on tour opening for the likes of Keith Urban or Lady Antebellum. And I've said it before, if being a frontman isn't in the cards, they'll be pounding on his door for session work.
So don't cry for Casey if the whole "Idol" thing doesn't work out. For someone with his talent, it's a means to an end. And if he does go all the way, Idol Tracker would like to go on record as saying: We knew it all along.
What do you think? Does Casey have what it takes to be the next American Idol?
– Shirley Halperin
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Photo: Casey James in January. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox / PictureGroup