It was a Top 7 double dose on American Idol as the contestants each performed a hit from the 2000′s as well as a retro soul song. But overshadowing all that, and the drama of Jessica Sanchez‘s save, was the death of Dick Clark. So the show began with Ryan Seacrest saying a few words honoring his friend and mentor, before we got to the action. This week, we were spared the fashion montage and celebrity mentor, meaning it was two hours of all the singing and judging (and whatever it is that Steven Tyler does) that you could possibly handle.
Last night’s inspirational opening montage featured a T.S. Eliot quote about “the end,” which is well and good, but we’re pretty sure a lyric from Linkin Park’s “In The End” would’ve resonated more. Also, before we get to the performances, a quick note about Jennifer Lopez‘s getup. Hottest alien ever? You be the judge:
Phillip Phillips started out with a total curve ball: Usher‘s “U Got It Bad.” Phil (and the sexy sax lady) turned out a sultry little number, as Phil bent the song to his will, showing an evolution he was lacking last week. For his second song — Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” — Phil gave his version of a power vocal, and it was one of his more captivating performances. This is the kind of week-to-week growth the judges like to see.
Phillip Phillips, “In The Midnight Hour”
In last night’s least surprising storyline, Jessica Sanchez vindicated the judges’ save with two almost-flawless performances. First was a cover of “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys, in which Jessica stepped into Skylar Laine‘s angry/feisty territory. Next she performed Otis Redding’s version of “Try A Little Tenderness” by Ray Noble Orchestra. You guys, this was just WAY too mature and full of stank for her age! Outstanding. JLo was exactly right when she said Jessica is so good that she plays with songs. It’s kind of like when Superman was a kid and had no idea how freakish it was that he was lifting cars.
Jessica Sanchez, “Fallin’”
Joshua Ledet first performed Fantasia‘s “I Believe,” and as long as he sticks to these big songs, we’re sticking with him. This one earned him the requisite standing ovation from the judges. Then he performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and strayed dangerously close to over-singing territory, but managed to save that stuff for the climactic finish. Note to the judges: A standing ovation doesn’t mean anything if you do it every time…especially when you look pained as you’re getting up.
Skylar Laine started off with Lady Gaga‘s own country version of “Born This Way.” Skylar had trouble with a few of the lower notes in the beginning, but the verses were just chock full of country ‘TUDE to make up for it. We would’ve liked for her to balance that with a more sugary chorus, but we’re nitpicking. Plus, she absolutely obliterated the release at the end. Later, Skylar gave us a solid countrified version of Smokey Robinson’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” She’s such a convincing little spark plug, and as Randy Jackson noted, it’s a party every time she’s on stage. Parties are pretty much the key to America’s heart, so she’s safe.
Whatever was missing from Hollie Cavanagh‘s first song (which we’ll get to below), she scratched that itch with Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.” Initially we thought we’d get a cookie-cutter outing here, but in a rarity for Hollie, this was a commanding performance.
Colton Dixon put his rock spin on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” which was just begging to be remixed with some guitars and cymbal crashes. While his performance was spot-on, this was a strange case where the original pop version sounded more raw and subversive than the “edgy” rock remix. Since we know Colton is creative enough to boldly reshape songs (see below), our only qualm is that we wish he’d done something riskier with this one.
Colton Dixon, “Bad Romance” (Live on American Idol)
As Jimmy Iovine put it, Elise Testone “has a vacation home in the bottom three.” So she came out with the cannot-be-denied “No One” by Alicia Keys. Elise showed great control and held back any over-singing impulses, resulting in a compelling and even (we don’t say this often about Elise) sweet performance. In what cynics (read: we) would see as a savvy move, she informed America her dog is dying, thus securing all the dog lovers’ votes this week.
For her first song, Hollie had the unenviable task of singing Adele‘s “Rollin’ In The Deep.” Hollie vexes us. She can belt out this ultimate singer’s song, with few mistakes…and yet something doesn’t click. It’s almost like we’re sitting in on a voice coach showing people how to sing. There’s something missing on a visceral level.
So, yes, we said we wanted Colton to do a more off-the-wall reinvention, but his vision for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” just seemed to suck all the life out of the iconic original. It seemed like he reshaped it simply to please picky listeners like us by saying “Hey, look what I did to this song.” It was good, but it didn’t have that wow factor that he probably thought the arrangement would have.
Oh, Elise. Just when you take one step out of your bottom three vacation home, you fall right back in. With her rambunctious cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” all that restraint she demonstrated earlier was erased. In fact, she demonstrated the Josh “chew up the scenery” syndrome. That said, if the same exact thing had come out of Josh’s mouth, it probably would’ve earned him the world’s most labored standing ovation.
We’re retroactively putting America here (yeah, ALL OF YOU!) for trying to vote Jessica off the show last week. We hope you learned your lesson, nation.
Best of the night: Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez each gave two knockout performances.
Worst of the night: Elise Testone’s forced cover of “Let’s Get It On.”