Michael Slezak
May 11, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox; Inset: Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesMovies wouldn’t be the same without music, Ryan Seacrest declared at the top of tonight’s American Idol episode. And likewise, season 9 wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t walk away with just the slightest hint of disappointment at the end of every performance-show telecast.

I know, I know, I’ve sounded like a broken record all season, getting lost in a fog of “season 8/7/6/5/whatever” nostalgia. But it’s frustrating when you’re down to just four contestants — pretty talented folks, all of ’em — who don’t seem to inherently understand that every performance on the Idol stage might be their final one. Where’s the competitive fire? Where’s that hunger so innate to every one of the contestants who cracked my countdown of the 20 Greatest Idol Performances of All Time? And what’s up with the song choices?

Actually, I can’t blame Lee, Crystal, Big Mike, and Casey for my latter gripe. While Simon, Randy, Kara, and the nice comedian lady complained to the contestants about the peculiar lineup of ditties, they should’ve been pointing a finger at Ken Warwick & Co. A Fox publicist earlier this week reminded me that contestants aren’t required to choose from the 50 suggested “Songs of the Cinema” currently streaming under the American Idol banner at iTunes, but it’s telling that all six tracks performed tonight could be found on that list. In other words, I’m guessing the Idol wannabes were at the very least strongly encouraged to select from a pool that included “Beauty and the Beast,” “Eye of the Freakin’ Tiger,” and “Lose Yourself” (a song that would probably result in instantaneous elimination). Idol brass declined my invitation to get on the phone and discuss this season’s less-than-inventive themes and song clearances earlier this week, but you can bet I’ll be putting in another request tomorrow. Until then, you can reach me at 1-800-MY-HEART-WILL-GO-ON.

Not that there weren’t a few very cool moments tonight, as well as a couple elephants in the room that were completely ignored, but I’ll save all my positive, negative, and conspiracy theorist observations for my full TV Watch recap, which will post tomorrow morning on EW.com. [UPDATE: Here it is!] Until then, head on down to the comments and discuss who’s going home tomorrow (Michael or Casey?) and share which performances you enjoyed most. And to get all my Idol news and commentary, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

Tonight’s Set List

Lee DeWyze: Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose”

Michael Lynche: Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There”

Crystal Bowersox & Lee DeWyze: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s “Falling Slowly”

Casey James: Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”

Crystal Bowersox: Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright”

Michael Lynche & Casey James: Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”

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