Welcome to another week of “American Idol,” as the show begins to sweat under the pressure of filling two hours despite a reduced number of contestants and performances. The speculation is that in addition to this week’s theme — the nebulous songs from the “Idol” singers’ idols — performances, we’re also going to be group numbers inflicted upon us.
I feel like a lot of the season is finally laying itself out.
Barring weirdness, Heejun Han, DeAndre Brackensick and Elise Testone will be the next three singers voted off. The judges wouldn’t use the save on Heejun or DeAndre, but if the time is right, they may use it on Elise. If something really, really strange happened and Jessica Sanchez, Phillip Phillips, Colton Dixon or Joshua Ledet were voted out in the next three or four weeks, all would be guaranteed the Judges’ Save, while Skylar Laine would probably get the save, unless she follows up last week’s so-so performance with a couple more duds. That leaves Hollie Cavanagh somewhere right in the middle, unlikely to require the save, but also probably unlikely to get it.
Does that sound about right? Let’s get down to tonight’s recap:
Singer: Colton Dixon
My Take: Colton is honored that Stevie Nicks knows who he is. And Stevie Nicks is honored that Colton didn’t have to pretend to know who she is. Colton is singing very intently to Jesus tonight. On one hand, this is a song that a LOT of the audience isn’t going to know. On the other hand, this is a song that one large segment of the audience will probably know very well. Colton is in ultra-nasally, ultra-intense mode. He’s touching his heart and pointing to the sky throughout and he ENDS THE PERFORMANCE ON HIS KNEES. Wow. Personally? I’m not especially comfortable with this. Contestants on “Idol” have strongly professed their faith without kneeling in prayer at the end. This is an audacious performance and I know exactly why he did it. The judges aren’t going to dare say anything critical about that performance.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You are a dream come true for a judge on ‘Idol,'” Steven Tyler says, raving at Colton’s star quality. “What a way to start the show. It was so emotional,” J-Lo raves. “I believe you and every song you choose and every lyric,” Randy raves, saying that Colton doesn’t hide it. “That performance was unbelievable,” Randy adds, noting that there are nine people left and Colton wants to win. “He wants to win! He wants to win!” says Randy, who vowed he’d no longer say contestants are “in it to win it.” Colton starts to cry, calling this his favorite worship song. J-Lo is crying with him. Seriously? After *that* Ryan promises that Skylar is going to “show off her sassy side.” Colton is evil and he’s brilliant.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: “Gunpowder and Lead”
My Take: This is a bad piece of show placement. This performance is poorly suited to follow what Colton did. Spectacularly. It’s Skylar singing a song that’s too old for her in a way that’s too slavishly stuck to the Miranda Lambert original. This is fine honky-tonk karaoke, but it’s still karaoke. We’ve also seen Skylar do this jumpy, up-tempo country thing before and it seemed fresher the first time she did it (and we’ve even heard her sing *this* song before). She’s only singing a little and the song mostly just requires her to spit out lyrics, which she does reasonably well. She gets lost in the paces down the stretch. Lyrics forgotten? Out of breath? Not clear. I’ll say this about Skylar: She’s a better version of what Lauren Alaina was last year. But the degree of “belief” that Colton put into his performance is lacking here. And how could it not be?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo likes the “unbridled” energy of the Skylar’s part of the show, thinking it was a perfect song choice. “Skylar, that was over-the-top,” Steven says, also calling it beautiful. Randy also loved it and calls her “a powerhouse singer,” though he wishes (or suggests) Skylar would have told more of the story of the song.
Singer: Colton Dixon, Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips
Song: “Landslide” and other Fleetwood Mac stuff
My Take: Ew. This is not a good format variation. I understand why they had to try it, but it’s still silly and unnecessarily “Voice”-esque. Also, why did the put the three genuinely musical contestants in the same group? This isn’t all that horrible, but I don’t trust anybody in any of the other groups to be capable of singing harmonies, whereas all three of these people *are* able to sing harmonies. So really, I dislike the trios not because of the performance by this trio, but because of what it’s sure to mean for all subsequent trios. Really, I’d like to just hear Elise sing Fleetwood Mac alone. To me, she easily wins this Battle.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “That was most excellent,” Steven says. Nobody else gets to judge, because this isn’t a judging performance.
Singer: Heejun Han
Song: “A Song For You”
My Take: This is a new Heejun this week. He’s taking everything very seriously and Jimmy Iovine and Stevie Nicks are practically patting him on the head for how little personality he’s showing. Part of my hopes that Heejun is just winding everybody up for The Prank of the “Idol” Season and he’s going to launch into “Rump Shaker.” But no. He’s doing this VERY straight forward. And, in its own way, it’s every bit as brilliant as what Colton did. This is a flawless showcase for that Heejun tone that we loved in the early going. There’s no enunciation and phrasing to speak of, but melodically, it’s entirely pleasant. Because of how intentionally horrible he was last week, the judges are going to go out of their way to praise him this week and it’ll buy him an extra week or two. BRILLIANT. Did he even give a point to God at the end? Goodness. Brilliant.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Indeed, the judges give Heejun a standing ovation. “You did it. You turned it around,” says Tyler, who spanked Heejun publicly last week. “He is here because we know he can sing that way. That is the most beautiful tone, the most beautiful vibrato,” J-Lo raves, adding that he moves people. Randy doesn’t think it was perfect, but Randy loves his buttery, beautiful tone. Heejun gets emotional talking about how he doesn’t want to let his kids down or to let himself down. Yup. Heejun has earned himself another couple weeks. Well played.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: “Jesus Take the Wheel”
My Take: Hollie’s seeing Colton’s song *about* Jesus and raising it one song that literally talks about Jesus. Well-played, Hollie. I may have underestimated your devious powers. This is a far better overall presentation for Hollie. She’s been better styled, with straight hair and a simple white dress, though almost anything would be an improvement over last week’s bedazzled bustier. And unlike her somewhat robotic performances in recent weeks, there’s a clear emotional connection. She also continues to have only a spotty track record with the actual notes she’s supposed to be singing. Her voice is so big, but so untrained and she’s missing notes left and right, rarely landing anything on her first shot. Most of the improvements in this performance are external and aesthetic. Vocally, this is pretty predictable.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy thinks Hollie did “a really good job” and he tries pointing out her problems with her low range. The audience boos, but Randy’s right. Hollie also has problems with her high range. J-Lo disagrees with Randy’s criticisms of the missed notes. “It doesn’t matter about that stuff. It matters about your heart,” J-Lo says, calling it one of Hollie’s best. Tyler heard Hollie’s emotion and felt it, but he only thought the performance was OK and he wishes she’d chosen a different song.
Singer: DeAndre Brackensick
Song: “Sometimes I Cry”
My Take: This is one of those glorious pairings of singer and song inspiration that just make me giggle like a lunatic. It’s like somebody said, “I like Eric Benet, but is there any way he could be CHEESIER?” And somebody responded “Yes. Meet DeAndre Brackensick.” Anyway, there’s no point in commenting. He’s like a helium-voiced muppet tonight, hair bobbling wildly as he hovers over a foot of fog on the stage. His falsetto is singing in falsetto. It’s like he’s always singing from a little head perched on top of DeAndre’s head, but tonight it’s like the little head perched on top of DeAndre’s head has another little head perched on top of that head, just squeaking way. My reaction? This has to be a freaking joke. The judges’ reaction? Standing ovation. I said this from Week 1: DeAndre’s got his thing and he does it with impressive commitment and it’s not going to be my thing, so… yeah. But I definitely think this is a better song choice than he’s had for a few weeks.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “100 percent passion,” Tyler raves. “To me, you have one of the most special voices in the competition,” J-Lo says, calling this one of the most special voices in the competition. “That’s who you are and what you should be,” Randy cheers.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “Sweet Dreams”
My Take: Wow. There are doors everywhere. And there’s a harpist. And there’s fog. I get it. This is meant to represent a Dali/Satre/Freud dreamscape? Weird. Jessica has some pipes, yo. And unlikely Hollie Cavanagh, Jessica actually seems to know what to do with those pipes. Her only crime is going too big at times and there are definitely moments when it feels like Jessica may be trying to over-sing the competition, rather than out-singing them. But she’s technically impressive, far moreso than anybody else we’ve seen tonight. Naturally, this performance doesn’t get a standing ovation from the judges.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “It was a really, really beautiful rendition,” J-Lo gushes, saying that the performance left her wanting more. “I think you’re a star no matter what,” Tyler says. Randy loves Jessica’s maturity and her innate talent adding, “I think you’re one of the best singers I’ve heard in many years.”
Singer: DeAndre Brackensick, Heejun Han, Joshua Ledet
Song: A Michael Jackson Medley
My Take: Yeah. This is what I feared. Poor Blanket.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “That was perfect,” J-Lo giggles nervously.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “Still Raining”
My Take: Wow. Phil-Phil actually does look like Lindsey Buckingham circa 1974. That’s a little freaky, actually. Kudos to Phil-Phil for bringing out his guitar and even playing some guitar on this Jonny Lang song, but also for being smart enough to let the professionals play lead guitar. It’s shows a certainly modesty that I appreciate. As fully engaged, broadly musical performances go, this is the night’s first standout. Like if this happened at a concert, I would be up and cheering along. Even Jessica with her acrobatics wouldn’t make me do more than clap politely. It’s a pretty Phil-Phil doesn’t get to perform more than once a week, because he’s the only person who brings this season to life. The judges are also on their feet.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “We’re standing up too much tonight. It’s crazy,” J-Lo says. Well, yes. You may want to take back that standing ovation for Heejun. “I feel like every song you sing, you own,” Tyler says. Jonny Lang is Randy’s friend, Randy claims. “I love you,” Randy tells Phil-Phil. Awkward! Phil-Phil can’t even muster an, “I like you a lot.”
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: “Without You”
My Take: There are trees all over the stage for this one. When did “American Idol” start requiring props? And what do the trees have to do with anything? I’m just waiting for this song to get to the chorus, because it’s not surprising that Joshua is fine on the verse. The first time around, it’s a very restrained chorus. And the second time through, Joshua goes absolutely, totally bonkers. He takes us to church. And then takes us to another church. Then he takes us to synagogue. And to mosque. It’s the most Jacob Lusk-y performance Jacob Lusk never gave. That means that the performance is going to polarize people and even I went back and forth as to whether I liked what Jacob Lusk did. But Jacob’s got an absurd range and while last week’s performance was lacking in emotion, this is a return to the fully connected Joshua of “When a Man Loves a Woman.” As he reaches the end, Joshua’s in tears. The judges stand again.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy figures Mariah Carey would be impressed with what Joshua did. “Dude. I love you. I love your voice,” Randy says. Love slut. Tyler loves that Joshua had an emotional breakdown at the end. “You’re a phenom. You’re an absolute angel from heaven,” J-Lo says, repeating “so beautiful, so beautiful, so beautiful” like an escaped mental patient.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine
Song: Some Madonna stuff in a blender.
My Take: There’s no reason for me to be evaluating these trios. This is silly, but at least the three women don’t look quite as horrifyingly awkward together as the Michael Jackson trio did.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “That was very fun. I loved that,” says Randy, who then loves five more things about the performance.
Singer: Elise Testone
Song: “Whole Lotta Love”
My Take: Elise totally grew up listening to Stevie Nicks. In the 1970s. Her giddy enthusiasm at dueting with Stevie — even poorly — is wildly endearing. You know what else is endearing? Elise’s Robert Plant meets Janis Joplin take on Led Zeppelin. It’s a ridiculously tough song to sing and at times it’s a bit too shrieky to be perfect, but she’s having so much fun and it’s utterly infectious. This is fabulously entertaining to both watch and listen to. And yet it takes a while before the judges get off their darned butts and give her the standing ovation she totally deserves.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “You made Robert Plant proud tonight,” Steven says. “That was some real rock star… stuff,” J-Lo cheers. “Everybody wants to do this thing. They want to win this thing,” Randy says. Yup. It’s utterly killing him not to say that Elise is in it to win it. Randy Jackson hasn’t stood up five times in one night since his glory days with Journey.
TONIGHT’S BEST: I’ve got Phil-Phil, Elise and Joshua, with Jessica a wee bit behind.
TONIGHT’S WORST: I’ve got DeAndre on his own at the bottom, but Hollie and Skylar also lagged a little bit.
IN DANGER: My Bottom Three prediction is DeAndre, Heejun and Hollie, with Heejun going home, despite his alleged redemption. Elise’s performance did guarantee, though, that if she’s voted out, she’ll get the Save.
What’d you think?