OFFSTAGE: Keith Urban Praises Idol Guys

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Once again, Keith Urban is proving what I have been saying all along: Even when he’s mean, he’s nice. During Thursday night’s (Feb. 28) American Idol — the second half of the men’s sudden death round — his critiques of the contestants who were eliminated must have made them feel like they were this close to making the cut.

And the ones who did make the cut received effusive praise from Urban after their performances.

When Lazaro Arbos had the guts to take on Urban’s “Tonight I Wanna Cry,” Urban’s first remark was, “Gosh, that’s a beautiful song. Thank you so much for doing that song. It’s very flattering.” But he did have to admit it was not such a good song choice for Arbos. “This is the thing: You’re a really great singer, period,” he said. “It’s a tricky song because it can’t be done too fast. It’s easy to get lost in it. But despite that, you’ve got this spirit that burns through your vocal so beautifully, and I felt that tonight.”

And when Burnell Taylor sang John Legend’s “This Time” with plenty of powerful piano, Urban went on and on about what he wasn’t going to tell Taylor. “I sat here thinking about the particular little critiquey stuff. But what was happening the whole time I was thinking about all that nonsense … I kept thinking this was so strikingly original,” he said. “The way you move, the way you phrase, your cadence. Your singing style is so incredibly original that, in the end, I just went, ’I’m just connected to this whole thing from beginning to end.'”

Cortez Shaw did David Guetta’s “Titanium,” and Urban seemed to love that, as well. “I’m just gonna say, you guys love the big notes, don’t you? That was crazy high. That was a really bold and brave move to tackle that song into a ballad form like that because there is nowhere to hide,” he said. “In the end, there was total redemption.”

When youth minister and worship curator Vincent Powell did Lenny Williams’ “’Cause I Love You,” Urban just said, “That was crazy. Preach on, Brother Vincent. I loved it.”

And Nick Boddington, who sang James Morrison’s “Say Something Now” so perfectly, got Urban’s shortest and sweetest praise of the night. “You know, there’s a timbre in your voice that I love,” he said. “It’s so easy to listen to.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.