Evangelicals rejoice! “Idol” led its broadcast with its resident Bible page-turner - and sported, as so many programs do now, both hashtags and contestant handles from the Twitters. The remaining nine contestants, helped on by mentor Stevie Nicks, did a bang-up job tonight. Here goes:
Colton Dixon (“Everything” - by Lifehouse) For sure, Colton’s faith is stepping in front of himself as a performer, and I now understand why producers had been (unsuccessfully) trying to back him off of mentioning it so much. Having said that, a “Christian Rock” American Idol would be a first, and not out of the realm of possibility. Still, the front end of the “worship” song was flat and untethered; really pretty bad, actually, the rest of the way, too. He was off-key most of the time and probably felt the song more than we did. The judges were SO off with their praise; Simon would have roundly panned that performance. Grade: D
Skylar Laine (“Gunpowder & Lead” - by Miranda Lambert) Skylar was able to stay in her wheelhouse with this country joint, but the choice was a bit indulgent in that it didn’t show any new territory with her vocals. She’s a good entertainer, there’s no doubt about that, especially following the boring and uninspired Colton. It was a fun ditty, though, if uninteresting. Grade: B-
Heejun Han (“A Song for You” - Donnie Hathaway) A newly serious Heejun hit the stage with the oft-covered, classic tune. The Asian Michael Bolton was tonally back on target, but he still irritates me with terrible - I mean awful - diction. But this was quite a week-to-week comeback from the train wreck he had with “My Life” last week. I thought it was good but I’m still checked out on Heejun from last week’s awful Billy Joel song. Seacrest was right: “Which Heejun are we gonna get?” Grade: B
Hollie Cavanagh (“Jesus Take the Wheel” - Carrie Underwood) Really personal moment with Stevie Nicks here - she lost her mother recently and urged Hollie to sing from her heart - and it visibly moved both of them. There’s something about this girl I can’t put my finger on - she’s gorgeous and obviously can sing. But her lower register, and possibly her nerves, get the better of her, as they did this week and last. Grade: B-
DeAndre Brackensick (“Sometimes I Cry” - Eric Benet) I brought the same baggage in this week with DeAndre as I did with Heejun, with basically the same impressions. The falsetto is just… exhausting. I’m sure it makes many of the ladies swoon, but I don’t get it. Again, the judges are standing for him and they are just totally off. Prince’s annoying affect is safe - for now. Grade: C
Jessica Sanchez (“Sweet Dreams” - Beyonce) You can really see the technician in this girl - very controlled and disciplined. Nice job on this song, even though I think the choice itself was a bit boring. I think she was going for nuanced, but it was not the best choice for that. Still, Randy was right in her “resolve” in turning the song into a ballad and being so deliberate each week. Well done, but there’s better stuff coming from her in later weeks. Grade: B+
Phil Phillips (“Still Rainin’” - Jonny Lang) Are we looking at the next member of Fleetwood Mac? Stevie Nicks basically offered it him, so who knows. Looking dapper in a jacket, Phil is always his own man on that stage, which is to be commended. And I agree that covering Jonny was a great choice, but I wouldn’t have chosen that song. He’s great though, even singing a one-dimensional tune. Grade: B
Joshua Ledet (“Without You” - Mariah Carey) Again, a consistent performer and looking dapper just like Phil. He really pulled the emotion out of the song - no small task given the material. A great arrangement with a terrific, emotional delivery. I guess I’m a bit partial to gospel, so take that with a grain. But he did a great job. JLo called Joshua a “phenom,” and she’s right. Grade: A-
Elise Testone (“Whole Lotta Love” - Led Zepplin) Part of the challenge of this competition is to win over folks with performances week-over-week, which is no small task in the age of small attention spans. Elise won over a ton of fans this week with this cover - unbelievable. She made a very difficult song look effortless - by far, by a freakin’ mile, the best of the night (sorry Joshua). This was the best of the season so far. She looked great, too. Grade: A
Predicted bottom three: Colton, Hollie, DeAndre (possibly Heejun as a wildcard)
JLo fashion grade: once again, A. Understated and unfussy. We dig that.
With the catalog of Billy Joel week hitting American Idol’s Top 10, we must resist the temptation to use “car wreck” metaphors to describe bad performances (see DeAndre, below). Tackling Billy Joel is no small undertaking; as someone who performed “New York State of Mind” way back in the day, he’s got complex melodies and iconic phrasing. Still, his songs offer great material for everyone - and it showed in many cases. Here is my take (in order of appearance):
DeAndre Brackensick - “Only the Good Die Young” Is MilliVanilli trending yet? (Answer: yes.) The judges are smoking the funny stuff on this one - DeAndre was terrible. DeAndre danced like Debbie Gibson and sang about as well, too. Seems like a sweet kid, but not in the top tier. Will be in the bottom three tomorrow night. Grade: D+
Erica Van Pelt - “New York State of Mind” F*cking HOT. Dig the new look, too. We’ll wait and see how the rest of the folks did, but one of the best of the night. Randy’s note about going for runs is right, too, in that she’s got terrific phrasing and is perhaps pulling some punches for later. JLo’s note about her being more expressive was great as well. This is a tough song to cover and she did it up nice. Grade: A-
Joshua Ledet - “She’s Got a Way” As Randy said, “never feel defeated” when you have talent like this. Really strange arrangement actually; I’ve been a fan of Joshua since the beginning, but I feel like this was an opportunity for subtlety that he didn’t take. I’m a huge gospel fan, too, but I really connected with what JLo said about the lyric - we as singers are obliged to tell the story, not just sing the song well. Decent job. He should get through to next week. Grade: B
Skylar Laine - “Shameless” Forget the song: I’d still like to know who the twink was in the trucker cap at the open. But I digress… Terrible style change fashion-wise - totally out of touch with her country roots. The song felt screechy to me and not all that interesting, and was flat at the front end. It leant itself to the country vibe, given the other covers of the song in that vein, but not delivered all that well. Grade: C+
Elise Testone - “Vienna” Bluesy, stellar, yummy. Talk about being rewarded for sticking to your guns… These mentors, largely, don’t know what the shit they’re talking about. Let’s not forget that they *almost steered her away from this song, and I still think - after a standing ovation from the judges - she may not garner boffo votes because of it. Still, one of the best of the nights and mad props for making an unfamiliar song personal and emotional. “I’m so happy for you! I just want to shake you and squeeze you.” Another nod to VAS from JLo. We appreciate your support of BentBlog and The Daily Slap. Best arrangement of the season thus far, too. Well done. Grade: A
Phil Phillips - “Movin’ Out” Everyone is staying true to themselves tonight - and it’s one of the takeaways from the evening. Excellent job on this joint. Phil rebuked the mentors and did a great job putting his spin on the song - and stayed on his mark style-wise. I might break from the pack a bit and say that he changed it up a bit too much for me. The song has so much groove in it already… some of it wasn’t needed. He can keep on being gray - it looks great on him. Grade: A-
Hollie Cavanaugh - “Honesty” Whoever dressed Hollie last week should be pounding the pavement for a new job this week. Regardless, she’s a bit of a frump so packaging that great voice seems like a challenge. Much better this week though, which gave her a leg up on a terrible arrangement. The performance did not survive that arrangement though, and it was hard to tell if it was her phrasing or what - but it wasn’t her best job. Grade: D+
Heejun Han - “My Life” Whoever is advising this kid, if anyone, should be on the street with last week’s dresser for Hollie. Bad Karaoke. Sharp, flat, bad diction, terrible arrangement. Entertaining doesn’t walk the dog in a singing competition - the judges were too kind. In danger of going home tomorrow. Grade: F
Jessica Sanchez - “Everybody Has a Dream” Once again, stellar. What can you say about a 16-year-old who sings like an established diva? “It takes consistency to win. You have a moment every time you step on that stage.” Randy was right, the mentors and the stylists did a great job all the way around. Fantastic. I’d only caution here that she’s so young, so unseasoned, that it might eventually catch up to her in terms of telling stories week after week. Again, I’m speechless with this budding talent. Stop the presses and give her a contract, now. Grade: A
Colton Dixon - “Piano Man” This song is ready to made as a cover for the radio. Period. Handsome and confident, he sang the song right in his wheelhouse. My only quibble here is that he squeezed his vocals a few too many times; where that technique should be the “color” of a performance, he went to it too many times. Still, Randy was right, the arrangement was simple and clean. “God use me” was tacky for those atheists among us; he apparently ignored producers’ plea to tone it down. Still, he’ll sail through. Grade: B+
Top performances: Phil, Jessica, Elise and EVP.
Predicted bottom three: DeAndre, Hollie and Skylar.
Other notes: JLo fashions were spot-on tonight. Grade: A. Plain, uncomplicated and beautiful. The mentors should, in large part, take a step back because they are really screwing up the contestants. Stop stepping in front of the performers and leading them down wrong paths.
See you tomorrow for results! This post also appears on BentBlog.com - make sure to check it out. - WP
Update: Well… I got one of three correct. And I meant to change my bottom-three prediction to Heejun, but I got distracted. Erica Van Pelt is the one who ended up excused from the competish - the wrong choice in my view. She’s a talented singer who didn’t have time to find herself. But like in all past years, one can never predict what America will do. Apparently EVP rejected JLo’s “unbalanced” comments in post-judging interviews. She’ll go on the summer tour, though.