We’re down to single digits on American Idol, and as the numbers fall, the stakes (and number of tears) rise. Last night the remaining singers were tasked with covering their idols, with the legendary Stevie Nicks serving as mentor. During rehearsals, Nicks warmed them up like a proud mother hen and even sang duets with a lucky few. It all resulted in a record five standing ovations from the judges. Find out if they earned them or if everyone just felt especially generous last night.
The number nine, conveniently, can be divided into three’s, so the contestants were split up into pop-medley trios as a bonus for … the viewers? But those were an afterthought. The draw was seeing these kids sing their heroes’ songs. They all (yes, all nine) delivered passionate performances while looking more stylish than ever. (Props to Tommy Hilfiger!) A few singers even brought themselves to tears, and you just KNOW JLo’s a sucker for that. It’s much harder for us to fill out that “Bad” category these days. Let’s see how they stacked up.
Jessica Sanchez did a deconstructed version (as they say on Top Chef ) of Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams.” Sanchez slowed it down into a dark ballad. When Bey sings, she huffs and puffs and blows your house down, and Jessica has the power to do that, too. But she wisely held back to fit this version. On this show you see great singing all the time, but the performance was great singing plus great creativity. As JLo said, Jessica may have given Beyoncé an “Unplugged” idea.
Jessica Sanchez, “Sweet Dreams”
Phillip Phillips performed Jonny Lang’s “Still Rainin’” with electric guitar in hand. Thankfully, he didn’t try to out-shred Lang. Phil’s voice is gritty and guttural without having that generic corporate rock faux-aggro sound, and it was locked in on this song. His style also allows him to disguise his mistakes. Thing is, he doesn’t make many. If you weren’t sold on him before, you should be. Even Stevie Nicks said if he were born in the right decade, he could’ve been a member of Fleetwood Mac.
Phillip Phillips, “Still Rainin’”
Elise Testone tried to do the impossible last night: Led Zeppelin’s howling “Whole Lotta Love.” People have been replicating Robert Plant’s wailing for decades, most to catastrophic effect. But Elise brought down the hammer of the gods with her cover, all while wearing Steven Tyler’s pants! Seriously, this rendition was better than most of the crap on that dreadful Led Zeppelin cover album, Encomium.
Elise Testone, “Whole Lotta Love”
Joshua Ledet sang Mariah Carey’s version of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You,” which Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine said is one of the five hardest pop songs to sing. Though Josh again sang himself hoarse (and to tears), believe it or not, it featured fewer vocal histrionics than usual. Joshua can sing a song straight-up and let the power of his gospel carry it.
Colton Dixon must be reading our ‘caps, because last week we said he gives off a Lifehouse vibe, and last night he performed “Everything” by Lifehouse. The song is one of those “reach for the arena ceiling” slow builds, and as expected, Colton sang through the arena ceiling (and cried). No bells and whistles here, just raw emotion and perfect pitch. Can’t go wrong with that formula.
Last week we got Erika 2.0 (though not for long), and this week we got Heejun Han 2.0, now with more earnestness! He performed Donny Hathaway’s version of “A Song For You” by Leon Russell. The new, serious Heejun came out with a spare arrangement, so there was nowhere to hide. And under those circumstances, he gave his best performance yet. Not to ruin his moment, but the question now is whether this was his ceiling. If so, his days could be numbered.
Magical singing elfkin Hollie Cavanagh performed Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel.” And she performed the Holy Jesus out of it! JLo agreed with us, but the two male judges gave it a big “meh.” It brought Stevie Nicks to tears in rehearsal! How can you deny that power? Sure, Nicks may be crazy, but still. Also, Hollie ditched the widow-chic look and was beautiful in her white dress.
DeAndre Brackensick covered “Sometimes I Cry” by Eric Benet. DeAndre worked some wonders with that falsetto, which reminded Randy and Steven of Prince. He prefaced the performance by saying he wants to be a pure R&B singer, and this was straight-up panty-dropping music. He may be able to give America a tingle in its collective no-no spots, but is that enough to carry him through the competition? We’re not so sure.
Country spark plug Skylar Laine chose to sing Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder & Lead.” It’s a wrathful kick-in-the-shin kind of a country tune, and that fits Skylar like a glove. Unfortunately, we found her voice a little nasal and drowned out in the melody. She was entertaining, but it gave us too much bombast and not enough craft. Everyone else last night found ways to make the songs showcase their voices; Skylar’s got lost in the song.
We’re also going to include the three trio medleys in this category. Colton, Elise and Phillip did a Stevie Nicks tribute, and theirs was the least awkward and most tailored to their voices. DeAndre, Heejun and Joshua did a medley of Michael Jackson songs. There were no major mistakes, but it felt stale and under-rehearsed (and JLo commented that they were lucky this wasn’t “So You Think You Can Dance”). Hollie, Skylar and Jessica did a Madonna mashup, which was also fine but clunky. Skylar’s voice matched up surprisingly well with Madge’s material, while Hollie’s sounded too operatic for the Material Girl’s sugary pop.
Two weeks in a row with no chum to feed you sharks out there.
Best of the night: The holy trinity of Jessica Sanchez, Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone. Can America please give Elise some love now?
Worst of the night: So, Jason Derulo made an appearance. Presented without comment:
Tonight: Live voting results and a performance by season 10 winner Smirkin’ Scotty McCreery