It’s a night of Doubt Deja Vu on FOX’s “American Idol.”
For the second straight week, we’re getting performances from this season’s Top 7, following last week’s shocking elimination and not-so-shocking save of Jessica Sanchez. And after we hear performances from the Top 7, we’re gonna turn right around and hear another set of performances from the Top 7.
Yup. “Idol” is figuring we’re gonna fit in 14 performances tonight.
Could be crazy.
Ryan Seacrest begins the show by paying tribute to Dick Clark. The audience seems unsure whether or not to clap for Dick, but eventually they decide it’s appropriate.
“I know that he’s in a better place, saying ‘Hey, let’s get on the with the show.’ You got it, boss.” I’ll admit it. I got a little sniffly.
We’re getting two performances tonight, as promised. The first will be from 2000-to-the-present. The second will be a soul classic. Let’s see how this goes.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: “Rolling in the Deep”
My Take: Hollie takes on the biggest name in contemporary music’s biggest song in her quest to avoid elimination this week. It’s a ballsy choice and it ends up being surprisingly effective. Hollie isn’t going to redefine “Rolling in the Deep” covers. She’s just the latest in a long line of people resinging Adele.. What she is, though, is noticably more determined and confident than she’s been in past weeks. Is it a bit shout-y? Absolutely. Is she as good with the grace notes as with the big notes? Absolutely not. But I would have expected something much worse here. Instead, that was very respectable and even admirable in places. I preferred Haley Reinhart’s more distinctive and personal cover of the song from last season, but as straight-forward Adele knock-offs go, I don’t want to take credit from Hollie.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You finally did what all of America was waiting for you to do,” says Steven Tyler, who can’t judge it. “I’m so happy right now,” Jennifer Lopez gushes. “I’m not going to say it was perfect, but it was close to perfect,” Randy Jackson says. The audience of idiots boos for “close to perfect.” He adds that this is the first time he’s sensed Hollie feeling it.
Singer: Colton Dixon
Song: “Bad Romance”
My Take: I don’t quite know why this was the song Colton picked in order to reclaim his rock element. Nor do I know why he’s being accompanied by vomiting gouts of fire. Joined by a white-glad backing band — the Asian guitar player deserves to have tumblr accounts dedicated to her — the effect isn’t really “rocker” so much as “glam,” which may be the same thing in Colton’s mind. But I should stop critiquing his alleged intentions and just praise what was an entertaining, engaged, nasally performance which definitely controlled the stage and put a slightly different spin on the song, even if it wasn’t a vocal powerhouse.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “We were just at the Colton Dixon concert,” Randy says, saying he loved the performance and loved the interpretation, even if it was arranged a little low. “It was an exciting, exciting performance,” J-Lo cheers, praising Colton’s character. “I know you’ve gotta get low to get high,” Steven Tyler says.
Singer: Elise Testone
Song: “No One”
My Take: This is one of two Alicia Keys songs we’re apparently getting this round (another Lady Gaga track is also coming). It’s an interesting choice for Elise not to attempt this one on the piano. It’s a strong, warm and freely adapted take on the song, made a bit distracting by the wind machine. Elise is singing on “American Idol” and not entering the BuyMore in slo-mo. But there’s a tremendous warmth, diction and vocal dexterity to what Elise is capable of doing and what she does here. I don’t know if this song pushes Elise in quite the same way “Rolling in the Deep” pushed Hollie. I think this is a more satisfying vocal than either of the night’s first two performances, but I can also see how it might look less impressive. I’m really not sure what Elise can do to avoid going home tomorrow, but it probably needed to be something bigger (not better) than this.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo loves seeing Elise’s eyes come alive. “You sang your little tushy off tonight,” Tyler says. “This is a great song. I think you sang it great,” Randy says. Elise tells America that her dog is sick and may not make it. This may be the first time a contestant has ever bucked for the, “I love my doggie” vote. It certainly can’t hurt, can it?
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “U Got It Bad”
My Take: It’s a risky and intriguing choice for Phil-Phil. It’s a song he’s taking great liberties with and the jazz sax, bongos and bass accompaniment initially feel a bit odd. It’s definitely a softer side of Phil-Phil, with the growling parlayed into a clear and jazzy sense of yearning, rather than his usual urgency. It’s a tight, emotional and strong performance. Some people may want it to build to something a bit bigger, but it works and it reminds us all of how well Phil-Phil does when he gets to do this kind of top-to-bottom overhaul on a song. I wish he’d done a bit more of this, week-to-week. The judges give him the night’s first standing ovation.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven babbles incoherently. “That was so sexy,” J-Lo says. Phil-Phil blushes. Randy calls Phil-Phil “original” and tells him not to listen to anybody because he knows who he is. Randy also calls Phil-Phil da bomb. “She always makes me blush,” Phil-Phil says of The Lovely Ms Lopez.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
My Take: Jimmy’s interpretations of performance are often excellent, but his interpretation of “Idol” voting is pretty superficial and clueless. Surrounded by hovering umbrellas and up to her knees in fog, Jessica does or second Alicia Keys joint of the young evening. If we leave aside Jimmy’s conviction that Jessica needed to do something to avoid being in the Bottom again, this is another vocally excellent Jessica Sanchez performance, precise, excellent and instantly ready to walk into a recording studio. But did Jessica do anything different here? Was this a more soulful or emotional Jessica? Not a chance. Jessica’s not robotic, but she’s contained, which is part of why she’s so excellent. She did not let anything go here, or not anything more than she has all season. She did what she does. That ought to have been enough last week, but if it wasn’t enough last week, this doesn’t transcend.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven says that Jessica released passion, which is silly. “I’m so glad that you’re still here with us,” J-Lo says. Randy asks Alicia Keys to call him to confirm how good Jessica was. “I thought you guys didn’t want me to sing because you didn’t like me,” Jessica says, somewhat disingenuously, recalling last week’s Save.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: “Born This Way”
My Take: I don’t really like Skylar as a storyteller. Her phrasing and enunciation often seems lazy, sacrificing unquestionable spirit for selling lyrics and word choice. This song is quintessential Skylar, then. It’s mumbly throughout and there are weird emphasis and pronunciation choices, but the energy and conviction and country growl never falter. So… Yeah.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I never heard that version. I love that version of the song for you,” J-Lo says, going with “amazing” and “perfect” as adjectives. “Skylar, I’m just so glad you were born that way,” Tyler says meaninglessly. “You are just so beyond ready to me,” Randy says.
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: “I Believe”
My Take: Mantasia does Fantasia. I’m so relieved by the stripped down stage-craft. It’s just Joshua, his red smoking jacket and the microphone. No fog. No background singers until the chorus. Then, of course, everything goes nuts, with intersecting spotlights and a parting “Idol” insignia. There’s a little more melody-searching than I like from Joshua, but part of that is because he’s got the triumphant scale of Fantasia’s coronation song so very right and he’s clearly emotional. The judges stand, which seems a bit overboard, but I rarely object to giving Joshua love. And let’s be honest: Joshua’s going to SLAY the vintage soul portion of the evening. That’s what we’re all waiting for.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy felt like Joshua held back and he praises him for true growth. J-Lo calls Joshua “sweet cutie” and tells him he leaves it on the stage every time. Steven tells Joshua that he could sing the phone book. Somehow, this makes the audience laugh.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: “Son of a Preacher Man”
My Take: Hollie’s got the support of Liverpool Football Club. Should we really be reminding voters that Hollie is gunning to be our “Transplanted American Idol”? Meanwhile, it’s interesting that “Idol” had already chosen to be paying tribute to Don Cornelius on the day of Dick Clark’s passing. Hollie’s a good fit for this Dusty Springfield song for a variety of reasons. When I saw this on the tip sheet, though, I’d really hoped that Elise would be doing it. She’d have done better. Hollie is, once again, absolutely more confident than we’ve seen previously. She also closes very well. In between? The performance is rather dry and soulless. Hollie was always going to struggle with this part of the theme, but this was, once again, not a disaster. Go Hollie. Faint praise is better than no praise at all.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Both J-Lo and Randy think this was better than Hollie’s first performance. I disagree. I bought that first performance. This, I didn’t quite buy. Tyler liked Hollie, but he wants her to push a bit further. He also talks about how he closes his eyes and pictures Hollie doing stuff. Hmmm… Yeah.
Singer: Colton Dixon
My Take: Colton’s just mocking DeAndre Brackensick, isn’t he? You know that DeAndre’s sitting at home dreaming of the all-falsetto “September” he was born to do, while Colton has decided to basically sing Coldplay’s “September,” complete with faux-evocative cyber-leaves falling on the video monitor, with a tree at center stage. It’s not a dreadul cheat of the theme, but this definitely isn’t the conventional “soul” version of this song and, in fact, it isn’t very soulful at all. This is another performance that I wish had built just a bit more. He kept it much too basic, much too emo. “September” soars, yo. This “September” is land-locked.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I think your voice is a lot more powerful for that song,” Steven says. J-Lo praises Colton for making the song his own, but she doesn’t seem to think it was entirely successful. Randy suggests that Colton flipped the song, but didn’t flip it dramatically enough.
Singer: Elise Testone
Song: “Let’s Get It On”
My Take: It’s Sexy Time With Elise Testone. She’s even got a lounge-y couch to sing from. This is a side of Elise that I’m perfectly happy to see. She hasn’t really played the “sexy” card this season and surrounded by a cast of children, it really could have been a point of differentiation for her. This does, however, feel like a surrender to me. This isn’t going to sway undecided voters in her direction and she could have picked a soul song that really would have given her the chance to blow stuff up. This has soul and it has sex appeal, but it’s not nearly big enough for Elise to clear out the competition or to stand out from the field. I’ll say it again: Elise would have lit up the boards with “Son of a Preacher Man.” Or with a bunch of soul alternatives.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo wanted to see more emotion. Elise wants to pick a bit of a fight. Tyler even tells Elise that she had to find songs that kicked things up a notch. Sadly, the judges are right. “That song choice wasn’t really right for your voice,” Randy says. I don’t agree with that, per se. Then again, Randy also thinks Al Green sang “Let’s Get It On.” Elise does a good job of explaining her song-choice difficulties. It won’t help, though.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “In the Midnight Hour”
My Take: If “The Commitments” ever comes to Broadway, this is Phil-Phil submitting his audition tape. He’s even set the guitar aside and you can sense him trying to do a Jagger-esque strut, rather than just his normal contortions and twitch. So far, Phil-Phil is far and away the winner of the “soul” portion of our program. That was bluesy and soul-filled and successful. He left it all on the stage.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “Exactly what you need is always what you have,” Randy says confusingly. J-Lo even praises Phil-Phil’s dancing. She calls the performance “spontaneous and from the soul.” Tyler calls it “brilliantly awkward.”
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “Try a Little Tenderness”
My Take: Oh, I’m concerned by this. Because if you’re doing Otis, you have to be willing to let go. Joshua would have done this song right. [Joshua would do all of these songs right.] I don’t know what persona Jessica’s trying to do here, but it doesn’t feel right at all. The gender stuff is all wrong. The performativity is all wrong. The interaction with the bad and with the background singers is all wrong. And she just feels like a little girl with a big voice singing a song that means absolutely nothing to her. That was a black hole of well-sung nothingness.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler’s happy. J-Lo isn’t sure how to critique, but I get the feeling she didn’t connect. Randy says the same thing, nothing.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
My Take: Skylar is much more convincing with her soulful role-playing. I love Jessica, but Skylar is putting her to shame here in showcasing what it takes to simultaneously be young, but to sell a song about romantic difficulties and soul-aching pain. Did she hit as many big notes as Jessica? No. But I believed it.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy compares Skylar to Phil-Phil in terms of selling her brand. J-Lo talks about how the young girls respond to Skylar. “You’re like a wild horse who refuses to be tamed,” Tyler says.
Song: “A Change Is Gonna Come”
My Take: [I’ve said this in multiple platforms multiple times: “A Change Is Gonna Come” is my pick for the greatest popular song ever written. Period. Full stop. And I’ve also said at least once previously that I wanted to see Joshua Ledet sing Sam Cooke. I have a lot invested in this performance and it’s gonna break my heart if it sucks.] He’s going straight by-the-book, complete with the string introduction. I’d do away with the weird flirty-eye thing that Joshua’s doing with the camera. That’s not what this song is about. It’s also a song that’s all about the gradual build, so it takes a while for Joshua to get where he’s going. Frankly, I just hate this cut-and-paste version of the song. What Joshua did was fantastic and it was something that nobody else this season could have even contemplated doing, but it flowed horribly as a 90-second performance. I actually may buy the iTunes download for the full song, because I want to hear Joshua’s full cover, with the proper arc.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges stand. Tyler’s happy. J-Lo raves about Joshua’s restraint early. Randy’s right that this was a great song for Joshua, but I’m not sure I quite feel the rest of his praise.
TONIGHT’S BEST: Phil-Phil wins the night for me. I wish Joshua could have done his whole version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” so that I could put him at the very top. He’s still probably second place for me.
TONIGHT’S WORST: There was a lot of so-so-ness tonight. Elise was so-so. Colton was so-so. Hollie’s been down so long that “so-so” looks like up for her. And Jessica’s second performance was really bad.
WHO’S IN DANGER: Apparently because of Jermaine, the schedule allows us to only have a single-elimination tomorrow night? If that’s the case, it’ll be Elise going home. Hollie will join her in the Bottom and it’ll be interesting to see if maybe Colton makes his first appearance. But Elise is done, unless Hollie fans figure that their job is done after getting her out of the Bottom Three last week.
What do you think?