The Top 3 had their grand homecomings on Wednesday night’s (May 16) episode of American Idol, so we got an interesting glimpse into their pre-fame lives. And we got three rounds of singing: the judges chose the songs in round one, the Idols chose their second, and Jimmy Iovine picked their final numbers. At this stage in the game you have to start thinking about marketability, and that was apparent in the choices. Joshua Ledet aimed to prove he’s not just an outdated soul crooner, that Phillip Phillips is more than a Dave Matthews retread, and that Jessica Sanchez can give moment-less songs a moment. Read on to see if they came through.
All three Idols got the presidential treatment for their hometown hero visits — private planes, police motorcades, glad-handing and all. Josh returned to Westlake, LA to a giant crawfish boil and the first sellout at the local arena. As for Jessica, she performed on an aircraft carrier (her dad’s in the Navy) and we learned she was a home-schooled dork (her words). As for Phil, he got a plate of nachos named after him at his favorite local haunt, and we saw that his dad is usually packin’ heat (sort of comes with the territory when you own a pawn shop).
But enough folksy family nonsense, let’s get judgy.
For Joshua Ledet’s final song, Jimmy pitched the juicy gopher ball of “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige, and Josh smashed it out of the park. The last minute or so was special, commanding, ferocious. This dude was born in the wrong decade, for real.
In a move that shows he’s got that Survivor scheming going on, Josh chose John Lennon‘s “Imagine” to prove he’s not a one-trick pony. Not to get all hyperbolic like the judges, but at times it was almost like hearing Stevie Wonder cover it. The amount of control Josh has developed in these final weeks is astounding and could lead to the title.
Joshua Ledet, “Imagine”
For Phillip Phillips’ last song, Jimmy chose Bob Seger‘s “We’ve Got Tonight,” which had us face-palming ourselves: “Duh, why hasn’t Phil done Seger yet?!” This delicate one could’ve gone either way, but Phil shocked the world here. It was slightly higher than we’re used to hearing him, and he was right on key and right on melody. Phil sounded like an actual, normal singer. Weird! And really good!
Phillip Phillips, “We’ve Got Tonight”
Though we would’ve liked to see Jimmy pick a bigger song for Jessica, his choice of “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 turned out wonderfully. Jessica was silky smooth, pitch perfect, and tone- perfect (drawing comparisons to little Michael Jackson). Expertly done.
Jessica Sanchez, “I’ll Be There”
For Phil’s first song, Steven Tyler chose the Madcon version of “Beggin’” by The Four Seasons, to see if he could carry a strong melody (which he did later with Seger). Phil gave the chorus his own flourish, but kept the core recognizable part. In that sense, it was basically like seeing an actual accomplished band cover a song. It was a focused, passionate take that got Steven to say Phil “could be a new age Boss, a new Springsteen.” We can’t say anything, on account of that earlier Stevie Wonder comment.
For the dealer’s choice round, Jessica made one of the ballsier picks with “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. It was a much more approachable song than her first (which we’ll get to) and she turned out a buttery smooth cover better than Steven’s version. Which he readily admitted: “You just took a great song and made it greater.” Can’t ask for higher praise than that from a song’s original singer. But that doesn’t mean Randy Jackson didn’t trot out his own high praise. This is not made up, he said “Yo, whoa, I’m like, yo. Aight.” That was actually our reaction when we heard she was THREE YEARS OLD when that song came out.
Randy picked Etta James‘ “I’d Rather Go Blind” for Joshua Ledet’s first song. Even though we’re suckers for the vintage microphone, this song didn’t do it for us. The first half was too low for Josh — granted, that was probably for the key change, after which he was in his wheelhouse. A few weeks ago, this makes it into the Good section, but it was too inconsistent for a late performance.
For his own choice, Phil selected “Disease” by Matchbox Twenty, accompanied by the sexy sax lady, as always. He gave a smoldering performance, letting the song do most of the talking. It was solid, but he didn’t seem to be pushing himself on this one. Again, a few weeks ago this is stamped with the Good label. Though the judges weren’t crazy about it, tween girl voters will be.
Commence more Jessica conspiracy theories: The judges pick a wheelhouse song for Josh and give him the auto standing O, then give Jessica the uber-delicate “My All” by Mariah Carey, and she bombs (relatively speaking). Verrrry fishy. The real problem here is that it’s hard to judge any Jessica performance without now comparing it to last week’s game-changer. Like Josh on his first song last night, she struggled with the low notes. But from there her voice never found its footing, sounding less like a vibrato and more warbly, searching for the right pitch and tone throughout.
Best of the night: Joshua Ledet’s “No More Drama” was good enough to land him in the finale, but that doesn’t always mean the votes will follow.
Worst of the night: This will strike a blow to the “we need a girl to win Idol” contingent, but it’s undeniable that Jessica’s first performance (“My All”) was one of her weakest of the season.