Recap: ‘American Idol’ Top 8 Performances – It’s ’80s Night

Welcome to another largely inappropriate theme night for “American Idol.” 

DeAndre Brackensick, Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavangh, Skylar Laine and Joshua Ledet don’t remember much of the ’90s, so expecting ’80s Night to generate another four or five standing ovations is probably folly.

Also, we have the failure of “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” to blame for a show featuring four duets as filler to pad out the full two hours.

Anyway, sit back and enjoy… ’80s Night.

Singer: DeAndre Brackensick
Song: “I Like It”
My Take: Eric Benet last week. DeBarge this week. DeAndre definitely knows who he is. Corny. He begins his performance sitting in the crowd next to a young lady who would have worn a longer skirt if she’d know that a camera was going to be between her legs to start the telecast. This is goofy. He’s just bopping up a storm and squealing and tossing his hair. It’s dilemma, it’s delimit, it’s deluxe, it’s DeAndre. That was just plain silly. DeAndre’s fans will love this. DeAndre’s haters will roll their eyes agressively. And I’ll just wonder why we had to have an upskirt shot to begin the performance.The crowd is pleased and DeAndre tosses his hair one last time as a reward.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I like it. I like it a lot,” J-Lo says, making a sophisticated reference to the title of the song. She’s so enthusiastic that she even raves about the successful tossing of his hair. “Totally captivating,” Steve Tyler says, calling him “exception.” Randy Jackson imagines some sort of world in which El DeBarge was happily watching that performance on TV.

Singer: Elise Testone
Song: “I Want To Know What Love Is”
My Take: I’m glad Elise didn’t do “Halleluyah.” She may have knocked it out of the park, but she just would have been the millionth person to cover that Leonard Cohen song. This she’s at least trying to make a song her own (well, her own and Foreigner’s). Unfortunately, the beginning of the song is really rough. Is she having trouble with hearing the music? Is she just unsure of the early melody? She’s off on both the notes and the rhythm. When she reaches the chorus, she’s much better, but that infectious emotional connection she had last week isn’t quite there. Elise just isn’t good enough at covering up and and covering over tough patches. She could be selling this and nobody would know how messy it is, but her energy is draining as the song progresses. And what’s up with the idiotic clock motif going on in the background? And why is she joined by a crisscrossing chorus of background singers in the end? That, to me, was not what I wanted it to be. At all.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven Tyler didn’t think the song was the right choice, but he loves her voice. Uh-oh. “You look beautiful tonight,” J-Lo says. Even Elise knows that’s a problem. J-Lo felt Elise’s heart, even if it wasn’t exactly right. Randy correctly observes that she never hit the pitch. The audience’s boos are half-hearted. Kids, I think we’re seeing a developing Judges’ Save situation.

Singer: Colton Dixon & Skylar Laine
Song: “Islands in the Stream”
My Take: Please. Somebody tell Colton that if you’re duet with somebody, you should look at the person you’re singing to. Skylar’s trying, but Colton’s entirely unaware that she exists. Since Colton was determined to make this duet into a solo competition, “The Voice”-style, I’ve gotta give this Battle to Skylar by a wide margin. Go away, Colton.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy politely says that the song was “very sweet and very nice.” He raves, “I actually enjoyed that.” J-Lo says Colton was the perfect partner. Steven Tyler says that it was “a match made in heaven.” J-Lo and Steven Tyler are both wrong. And Ryan Seacrest suggesting there was chemistry is laughable.

Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “That’s All”
My Take: I’m disappointed that Phil-Phil didn’t recruit Reed Green to come play the drums for this Genesis cover. With the help of his brother on guitar, Phil-Phil has given “That’s All” a bit of a bluesy growl. Yes. That means he’s given it a Phil-Phil spin. Is there a sameness to his interpretations at this point? Well, yeah. I wonder if this week might have been the right week to do something softer and more purely melodic, without the growling. He had the latitude of actually knowing something about the decade and he could have dug something up to expose his softer side? Dunno. This is a song I like and I like Phil-Phil’s version, but maybe the first three performances of the night have drained a lot of my energy?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “I love your individuality,” Tyler says, urging Phil-Phil to keep it up. J-Lo interestingly blames Phil-Phil’s brother for playing too loud. Randy loved it and thought it was a great song choice. Phil-Phil’s brother comes out and drawls something about Phil-Phil being true to himself.

Singer: Hollie Cavanagh & DeAndre Brackensick
Song: “I’m So Excited”
My Take: So, um, Holle’s wearing a see-thru white top with black hearts, a black bra and black leather pants? What fresh hell is this? And is Tommy Hilfiger responsible? The most interesting thing about this performance — beyond DeAndre’s hair-tossing — is that Hollie’s not as embarrassingly awful with up-tempo material as I feared she would be. Pseudo-kudos.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler calls it a beautiful duet and urges Hollie to continue to get so excited. J-Lo also praises Hollie for letting go. Randy loved it. Why must we hear from all three judges about each duet? And why Ryan doing interview segments after each performance? Oh right. “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” is to blame.

Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
My Take: Joshua is taking “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” to church. Or at least a gospel choir precedes him on the stage. He’s submerged in fog and there are fake candles everywhere. You know what Joshua Ledet should have sung this week? Ray Parker’s “Ghostbusters.” But anyway… This has been rendered largely unrecognizable, or at least unrecognizable from the Simply Red version Joshua’s allegedly covering. Joshua starts quietly and he builds and he builds and he builds. I referenced Jacob Lusk last week, but Joshua’s got a much better sense of organic musical arcing than Jacob did. Jacob would start songs wacky and get wackier and wackier. Joshua’s better at finding a logical progression to justify when the runs come at the end. This is far and away the night’s most technically impressive performance so far.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: This is tonight’s first standing ovation. “We asked for a powerhouse performance and that’s what we got,” gushes J-Lo. “How can someone sing like you at your age?” Tyler asks. Randy wanted to stand up from the beginning to the end. Randy says that Joshua’s got to have it.

Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “How Will I Know?”
My Take: Doesn’t it seem like Jessica sings Whitney Houston every week? Maybe not. Like DeAndre, she begins her performance from deep in the heart of the crowd. Fortunately, nobody’s panties are exposed this time. This is Jessica’s first time doing up-temp since the “Turn the Beat Around” disaster of the Top 11. This is better than that. She still doesn’t have her breathing right when it comes to simultaneously singing and moving. As a result, I spend much of the performance inhaling and exhaling on her behalf. The combination of walking-and-talking may cause effort for Jessica, but hitting the notes? That’s the easy part. “Turn The Beat Around” left me with some doubts about Jessica’s ability to step out of her comfort zone, but this is reassuring. She may not be perfect, but she’s proficient and she looks relaxed and happy.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “That’s two powerhouse vocals in a row,” says J-Lo, who wanted to stand, but couldn’t get Randy to join her. Tyler says that everything Jessica does is beautiful and great. Randy had the pleasure of working on the original and tells Ryan that Jessica also has to have it.

Singer: Elise Testone & Phillip Phillips
Song: Stop Dragging My Heart Around”
My Take: This is closer to a real duet. Elise and Phillip are, after all, the old musical pros of this competition and even if there’s no attempt at direct chemistry between them, they have solid vocal chemistry. That was far, far better than the night’s first two duets.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy welcomes Elise back. J-Lo… um… something. “Outstanding,” Steve says.

Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: “What a Feeling”
My Take: Uh-oh! There’s no power going to the keyboard. LIVE TV! Vamp, Seacrest! Vamp! Is this our second keytar performance of the evening? Somebody thinks that’s all that existed in the ’80s, musically. Remember how on “I’m So Excited” I wrote, “Hollie’s not as embarrassingly awful with up-tempo material as I feared she would be.” Yeah, this is exactly what I was fearing. She’s got absolutely no idea how to modulate her voice to a non-ballad tempo. It’s shout-y from the first moment to the last, notes missing everywhere. She has no nuance and no sense of the liberation that the song speaks to. There actually are lyrics to the song. And they build to something. You’d never know it from listening to Hollie. She does, I should note, strut like a champion. But this is not a good mix of vocal style and song choice.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “Your pitch was all over the place. I’m so sorry to tell you,” Tyler says. J-Lo thinks that it sounded “musical-lite” rather than like a pop song and that Hollie’s overly intellectualizing this process. Randy tells Hollie that she needs to stop thinking, because her voice is amazing.

Singer: Jessica Sanchez & Joshua Ledet
Song: “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me”
My Take: This is decent as well. Jessica and Joshua can both sing, so even if they’re battling through some cheesy choreography, this is kinda charming and effective. The end, where they’re both doing competing runs, and yet complementing each other entirely, really works. They also look like this is fun for them. I think some of that is related to both of them having completed their solos already. This is a performance that screams, “No pressure, let’s just do this” in a good way.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges stand. Randy calls this one of the greatest performances he’s seen on the show. J-Lo says she was watching the two of them and thinking, “Final?” It defied judging for Steven.

Singer: Colton Dixon
Song: “Time After Time”
My Take: Did Colton’s deskunkification pass by without comment this week? That’s crazy. As for this performance? I have weirdly little to say. It’s just fine. I don’t love the arrangement, which has taken the gentleness out of the song. The vocal range has also been trimmed to almost nothing. Before the Coldplay touch at the end, there’s very little singing. The winner of the performance is definitely the drummer and not Colton. Then again, for Colton this is an improvement over his dismal duet performance. So… Dunno. Meh-plus?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler says he’s ready to record an album. J-Lo thought it was a journey. Randy puts Colton with Phil-Phil and Joshua in terms of singers making songs their own. Colton gives full credit to Quiet Drive for the arrangement. Definite points to Colton there.

Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: “Wind Beneath My Wings”
My Take: Skylar misses her gun. “Nine to Five” was the predictable song choice. “Wind Beneath My Wings” is the choice which, theoretically, could prove that Skylar can sing. But will it? Why yes! The eagle flying into the video screen behind her may be the worst thing in the history of the AV universe. But the performance is simultaneously straight-forward, but also appropriately countryfied. It shows range, sincerity and it shows that Skylar is capable of telling a story in song. It’s a good way to end the show. And the judges are standing. By my count, that was only their third standing ovation of the night.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy thinks this was Skylar’s best performance to date. J-Lo, on the edge of tears, thinks Skylar can sing with the best of anybody here. Tyler thinks this is the beginning of a great career.

TONIGHT’S BEST: Joshua Ledet gets bonus points for both a very good solo and a very good duet. Skylar definitely had a stand-out solo, but she was stuck in a weak duet. Phil-Phil had a good duet and a good solo. Jessica had a very good duet and an OK solo. Etc.

TONIGHT’S WORST: DeAndre’s just gonna be at the bottom of my list as long as he’s around. I’m sorry, but his style is not one I’m able to appreciate. At all. But if you wanna like him? Good on you. And, actually, Elise’s solo tonight was bottom-of-the-heap along with Hollie’s.

IN DANGER: I think that’s your Bottom 3: Elise, DeAndre and Hollie. I think Elise’s margin-for-error was too slim for a performance like her solo and I think she gets voted out. The judges will, however, save her. A bigger question would be if the judges would save DeAndre. I don’t have an answer to that. J-Lo would want to and I suspect J-Lo gets her way. So we’ll see…

What do you think?