"American Idol" has often gotten flak for dusting off oldies songbooks filled with tunes that its very young contestants can't connect with--and that younger viewers, sadly, do not know. Apparently producer Nigel Lythgoe finally got that memo, so this week the top seven contestants actually sang relevant songs from THIS decade--as in, nothing that dated farther back than 2010. Whether or not this week's guest mentor, Akon, is still that relevant to music nowadays was up for debate (seriously, does Jimmy Iovine only have three celebrity phone numbers in his rolodex?)...but the top seven's performances did feel cool and current, and anyone who was still experiencing painful flashbacks to this season's horrendously hokey '50s Night was probably thrilled with this week's theme. I know I was.
So along with solo performances, the top seven teamed up as duos and trios, and this included a duet of original Idol Kelly Clarkson's famous country ballad with Jason Aldean, "Don't You Wanna Stay," by Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine. Colton and Skylar's "Islands In The Stream" duet last week had spurred totally silly rumors about their supposed showmance, and they were once again forced to defend themselves against such gossip this week, after Steven Tyler somewhat ickily told them, "You just made love singing to each other!" Colton and Skylar looked positively horrified, and Colton pointed out that he would wisely never date a girl who carries a gun (Skylar is an expert hunter). Yes, this was a cute television moment--but "Idol" producers, who last season tirelessly tried to turn Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina into some sort of made-for-TV item, really need to give it a rest now.
Actually, if any showmance must go on this "Idol" season, it should be between Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips, who shared terrific onstage chemistry last week during their Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty cover, and this week dueted on the coolest and most current song of Wednesday's modern-themed episode, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." Seriously, these two just need to make babies together soon--or at least make an album together.
But there can only be one winner of "American Idol," so let's concentrate on this week's solo performances. Here's how everyone did this Wednesday:
Skylar Laine - This season's resident country kid did a song by another country Idol, Season 5's Kellie Pickler, "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You." It really gave a good idea of the direction in which Skylar could take her career--and for the first time this season, she played guitar, too! I do fear that Skylar's kiss-of-death slot, opening the show, will hurt her this week (she got the coveted pimp spot last week), but this was another undeniably solid performance from a real country girl. "What a perfect way to start the show!" said Jennifer Lopez. "This is what you love, this is what you should do--you could have a hit with that. That was crazy hot and crazy good!" raved Randy Jackson. And then Steven made it clear that he believes this may be a girls' season after all, declaring as only he could, "The crows may crow, but the hens deliver the goods!" Very true, because Skylar definitely didn't lay an egg tonight.
Colton Dixon - I don't always agree with Jimmy Iovine (his comparison of Colton to Phillip this week was annoying, for starters), but I do have to say, Jimmy was totally right when he advised Colton to sing Skyler Grey's "Love The Way You Lie" instead of Breaking Benjamin's lesser-known "I Will Not Bow." (Wow, a fake Skylar romance, a sister named Schyler, and a Skyler cover...see a pattern with Colton here?) Anyway, Skyler Grey's song was perfect for Colton, as he played it on a pristine white piano surrounded by fluffy white clouds--how fitting that this season's devout Christian rocker got such a heavenly setup. I personally was in heaven when Colton was singing, because this was yet another fantastic and distinctive performance from him. "You always surprise me with your approach to the notes. You do it in your way. It's so signature to you," said J.Lo. "You are such a rare talent, man. You could have recorded that now and not had to do overdubs--that's how good it was," said Steven. "It showed your sensitivity. I love that you started it like a lullaby. I love where your heart and mind goes," Randy raved. I personally hope that Colton's heart, mind, voice, and ivory-tickling fingers go all the way to the finale.
Jessica Sanchez - Jessica took on diva Jazmine Sullivan's "Stuttering," but she sure didn't stutter here. This was actually her best performance since "I Will Always Love You." She was classy, mature--and I hate to say it since she's only sweet 16, but she was even a tiny bit sultry. "I loved the arrangement that you did with the song; it was kind of like Shirley Murdock. You really set the bar high tonight," said Randy. "Every time I hear you sing, I forget where I am," said Steven (although, let's be honest, Steven probably forgets where he is pretty often). Jennifer's critique was a little weird too, when she called this a "Joshua-type performance"--sort of a backhanded compliment, or at least more of a compliment to Joshua than to Jessica herself. But Joshua is an amazing singer, so I'm sure J.Lo meant that in the best possible way.
Joshua Ledet - Speaking of Joshua-type performances, ironically, Joshua veered away from his usual churchy balladry this week, doing the uptempo Bruno Mars jam "Runaway Baby" instead. I was worried that this tactic might backfire on him--we all remember that when balladeer Pia Toscano went uptempo last season, she ended up going home--but Joshua, aka "Mantasia," seemed to get a pre-performance boost from a video birthday greeting from his idol Fantasia, and then he hit that stage like Bruno on Grammy night. I absolutely loved how fun and young and superfly and energetic he seemed, especially since the last time he'd appeared on the "Idol" stage, on last week's results show, he'd been sickly and light-headed. The judges gave Joshua another well-deserved standing ovation (I've actually lost track of how many standing ovations Joshua has earned this season), with J.Lo raving, "It's not just about the vocals, it's about being a performer--that's what you do"; Steven saying, "You can sell a song like a work of art--every time you sing a song, you sell it"; and Randy calling this an "unbelievable performance." Joshua may run away with the "Idol" title this season, if he can keep giving standout performances like this.
Hollie Cavanagh - I was a little surprised that sweet, mousy, cutesy Hollie decided to take on "Perfect," a song by the tough, brash, and occasionally F-word-spewing Pink. I am not sure if "Perfect" was the perfect song choice for Hollie, really. This effort was certainly better than her awkward, floundering "Flashdance" cover last week--Hollie was graceful and mature, she looked gorgeous, and her final power notes at the end were impressive--but her rendition still didn't quite measure up to the triumph and gumption of Pink's feisty, anthemic original. Jennifer had encouraging words for Hollie, saying, "I feel you fighting and wanting to be perfect...it's not always about that, but you sang beautifully tonight, and you should be proud of yourself. I'm rooting for you." Steven and Randy were not rooting for Hollie, however. "It's not about being perfect. It wasn't perfect tonight for me," Steven barked uncharacteristically harshly (no "beautiful, just beautiful" from him tonight)--and the studio became uneasily pindrop-silent, like the set of an E.F. Hutton commercial or something, as Hollie stood there, looking crestfallen. Randy was a little nicer, trying to ease the tension by saying, "No, it wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than where you were last week. You kind of redeemed yourself." But this was faint praise. Hollie was in the bottom three last week, and unfortunately, I don't think this performance redeemed her quite enough to keep her safe this week.
Phillip Phillips - Just like the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach the judges had with last year's Scotty McCreery, so far this season the judges have unanimously praised Phillip for staying in his lane and staying true to himself. When he wore two gray shirts after Tommy Hilfiger advised him not to wear gray at all, the judges cheered him on. When he ignored guest mentor Diddy's advice to put down his guitar, they cheered again. But I knew they'd pull a switcharoo on Phillip eventually, since his performances do tend to sound the same from week to week. (He "Phillip Phillips'd" his song this week too, which is another way of saying he turned it into a Dave Matthews jam.) And this was the week when the judges finally pulled the switch. After Phillip did a perfectly good (if hardly wheel-reinventing) cover of Maroon 5's "Give A Little More," Steven praised him for sticking to the melody a little more than usual, but J.Lo griped, "I was a little bit underwhelmed, for the Phillip Phillips that I love. I've seen this performance a couple of times. I want to see you kind of break out." Randy agreed, "I don't think it was that kind of a wow moment." So, will Phillip hit the stage next week wearing a neon magenta shirt and playing, say, a keytar? Or will he fight back and come out in THREE shades of gray, strumming a double-necked guitar? We shall see, because despite his lackluster critique, I doubt he's going anywhere just yet.
Elise Testone - Elise doesn't always bring in the big votes (she was in the bottom three last week, and it wasn't her first time), but she does have one big celebrity fan who might help this talented lady prevail this week: Before her performance, she received a video greeting from Jason Segel, who told her, "I'm sitting at home rooting for you. I think you're amazing!" You know, that Jason is one wise, wise man. Elise is amazing, and her show-closing piano performance of Lady Gaga's "You And I" was a stunner, on par with the lovely semifinals cover of Adele's "One And Only" that got her into the top 13 in the first place. She started the song off quietly, but by the end she was off her piano bench and having an evangelical "Hey Jude"/"Let It Be"-style moment, and hopefully this was enough to save her for another week. (Ever notice how often Elise snags the pimp spot? It seems obvious that the producers, much like Jason Segel, adore her--even if some voters don't.) "America, Elise is back! That was a perfect song for you and a perfect time for that vocal. You needed a 'moment,' and you got one tonight," proclaimed Randy. "You took a song that is so simple and effortless, and you turned it into genius," said Steven. "You let go, but you kept control at the same time, and that is when you are at your best--because there's no one who can sing like you," said J.Lo. You know, last year's comeback kid Haley Reinhart, who had to fight all the way to the top three, was the first Idol to sing "You And I"--and I'm hoping that Elise can follow a similar trajectory this season. It's clear that, like Haley, Elise is a fighter.
So now, it is prediction time. With only seven singers left, and all of them so strong, this is a tough call. So far this season, Colton, Phillip, and Jessica have managed to avoid the bottom three entirely, and I think that trend will continue this week. It seems obvious that Hollie and Skylar will be in the bottom two--because Hollie's performance was arguably the weakest of the night, and because Skylar sang first--but who will join them on the chopping block? Neither Elise nor Joshua deserve to be there. But perhaps that's a moot point, because I think it's likely that Hollie will go home this week. And if any one of the other six is the lowest vote-getter instead, then that all-important Judges' Save may very well get put to good use this Thursday.
Until then, Parker out.