‘Idol’ Top 7 Redux Recap: Once More, With Feeling
Last week on "American Idol," judges' pet Jessica Sanchez shockingly received the fewest votes, but of course the judges saved her. They in fact bumrushed the stage and wrestled the microphone out of Jessica's hand before she'd even made it through the first verse of her (apparently unnecessary) Judges' Save song. It was a dramatic moment, for sure, so naturally producers milked it for all it was worth, opening this Wednesday's "Idol" top seven redux show with what felt like 10 minutes of ominously scored, grainy, slow-motion footage replaying last week's events. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler's slo-mo expressions of shock-horror. J.Lo's slo-mo high-heeled sprint across the stage. Slo-mo scenes of Jessica lying shell-shocked on a backstage fainting couch, watching a rebroadcast of her near-elimination through frightened Keane-painting eyes. It was all a little much, really.
The point of all this drama was probably to create some sort of rising-from-ashes story arc for Jessica, an arc that would be completed when she inevitably returned to the "Idol" stage and sang her redemption song. But come on now, did Jessica really need to be redeemed? The girl had never given a dud performance this entire season. And this week was certainly no different--Jessica was fantastic. ("Everyone in America knows you can sing, if they didn't know before," said Steven during his Jessica critique; J.Lo declared, "I'm glad we had a save and used it on you"; and Randy Jackson said, "I hope America shows up and votes for you this week.") But will America vote for Jessica? I still think all this manipulation by "Idol" producers could backfire on her in the long run. Viewers don't like to be told whom to vote for (and they certainly don't like being called "idiots" by the judges because they voted for someone else), so I don't think all this blatant favoritism and extra screen time did Jessica any favors. She may be safe for a few more weeks, and she definitely deserves to be--but we may see her in the bottom three again, if the producers and judges keep shoving her down viewers' proverbial throats and a backlash ensues.
Anyhoo, speaking of throats, all seven contestants, including Jessica, sang their little throats inside-out this Wednesday, each taking on two songs (a number-one Billboard hit of the past 10 years, and an old soul classic), in what was THE most music-filled "Idol" episode ever. (What, no movie-premiere junkets? No Tommy Hilfiger fittings? No hometown visits? No will.i.am? No filler? How refreshing.) There was a lot of music packed into the episode's two hours, so let's get the recapping underway, shall we?
A lot of people thought Hollie would get eliminated last Thursday, and considering last week's harsh Hollie critiques, that is probably what the producers and judges wanted. So this week, the show's powers-that-be did their best to orchestrate that outcome, putting poor Hollie in the always tricky kiss-of-death spot. (This season's most recent "Idol" castoff, DeAndre Brackensick, went home when he sang first.) But I don't know for sure if Hollie will be in jeopardy this week--despite singing first, and despite doing Adele's "Rolling In The Deep," a song that Jimmy Iovine once publicly stated should never be covered on "Idol" again--because she was really on top of her game this Wednesday. This was possibly Hollie's best performance yet. "You finally did what America has been waiting for you to do. You finally came out of your shell. It was beautiful!" said Steven. "I am so happy right now! That's exactly what we've been waiting for. You did it!" squealed Jennifer. "I'm not gonna say that was perfect," hard-to-please Randy began, prompting a deserved chorus of audience boos, "but it was close to perfect!" Well, close is good enough. Hollie had a real moment here.
The judges thought Hollie's second song, the soul classic "Son Of A Preacher Man," was even better than her first, but even though I thought it was a good effort, somehow this didn't wow me quite as much. Still, I had to give Hollie credit for not letting all her setbacks of the past few weeks get her down; she was a scrappy little fighter during this performance. "You were like, 'Yo, I will not be outdone on this show!' Dude, you worked it out," said Randy. "I really think that you're showing a new composure," said Jennifer. "I see it too," said Steven. "And hear it. I still think you could do even more." Maybe Hollie will get a chance to do more next week.
A few weeks ago, last season's "Idol" rocker James Durbin somewhat delusionally claimed that Colton's piano-hopping Paramore performance was a Durbin ripoff. So I had to wonder what the Durbs thought of Colton tonight. For his first performance, Colton gave metal a chance, so to speak, turning Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" into a hair-band power ballad. He belted out an accelerated version of the song on a stage bedecked with pyro, smoke, and a rock-chick backing band, while rocking some pink hair-streaks and red Loverboy pants. When I'd heard rumors that Colton was going to do the Gaga tune, I'd assumed he'd be back at his piano, so to watch him go the hard-rock route instead was a bit of shock--but in the best possible way. I loved Colton's unexpected spin on the song, and he was still, for lack of a better adjective, Dixon-esque, as opposed to Durbin-esque. ("I'm not changing who I am in any way, I'm just taking on a new monster," Colton explained.) "You are so in the zone right now. I love to see your interpretation. Job well done," said Randy. "Exciting, exciting performance!" exclaimed J.Lo. "Keep taking chances and risks," advised fellow rocker Steven.
Colton's soul song, a Something Corporate/Lifehouse-ish piano version of Earth, Wind & Fire's disco hit "September," certainly was a risk. I thought it was a risk that paid off--he changed up the song entirely and made it his own--but the judges must have gotten some memo saying it was Colton's turn to get thrown under the bus this week, because they really were hard on him. "This is the point of the competition where you have to pick the just-right song to show off your voice. I think your voice is more powerful that this song," grumbled Steven. J.Lo and Randy agreed that it was a bad song choice, with Randy even suggesting that doing some Lil Wayne would have been a better way to go. Apparently Randy forgot that the theme was OLD soul music, or maybe he thought Lil Wayne started recording music in 1972. Whatever Randy's reasoning was, I didn't understand why he and the judges were so rough on Colton. This was another strong performance from him, and he deserved a little credit.
"Elise has a vacation home in the bottom three," mentor Jimmy Iovine joked rudely, though he later understandably expressed confusion over why a talented lady like Elise hasn't managed to amass as devoted a fanbase as some of the other contestants. I've been feeling similar confusion all season, since Elise is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, though, I fear that a performance like her first one, a cover of Alicia Keys's "No One," might not be enough to keep her out of the bottom three again. The normally serious and stern-faced singer actually radiated joy as her electric Haley Reinhart "Rhiannon" fan whipped her golden lioness locks, but as was the case on Whitney Houston Night (the first night that Elise was in the bottom), this soul song didn't totally suit Elise's rocker style. I preferred the "Whole Lotta Love" Elise from a few weeks ago. However, the judges loved this effort. "What we push others to do as far as letting go, you do it so naturally. I got my first goosies of the night," said J.Lo. "This is a great song, you sang it great, and you stayed with the melody for change. This is one that just sings itself," said Randy. (Note to Randy: Elise always stays with the melody. Shut up.) Only Steven seemed to share my reservations about Elise's song choice. "I love you, baby. I love the grit. You have such a beautiful voice for a better chorus," he said. "But you sang your little tushie off." I agree, she did. But I am still worried for her. Let's hope her confession that she was sad about her dog being sick earned her some sympathy votes. Hey, whatever it takes, right? This woman simply should not go home in seventh place.
For her second song, Elise did "Let's Get It On" while seductively sprawled across a white '70s sofa. Unlike the other female contestants left on this show, Elise is a WOMAN, not a girl, and that really helped her here--she was straight-up sexy. "I think that song struck a note with every man in America. You broke some more hearts," Steven remarked with a leer. The other two judges' critiques, however, were way off the mark. First of all, Randy told Elise, "You're not really sure what exactly works for your voice," despite the fact that Elise has been gigging in bands for years. Then Randy credited "Let's Get It On" to Al Green instead of Marvin Gaye. Jennifer, additionally, actually referred to Elise's Zeppelin cover from a few weeks ago, "Whole Lotta Love," as "Somebody To Love," which is actually a Queen song. J.Lo also criticized Elise for being too cold and unemotional, when just earlier in the episode Jennifer had praised Elise for being a natural at "letting go." How are these people judges on a music show? Put Jimmy Iovine in one of their seats already.
Ripping a page straight from the Kris Allen Playbook, for his first number, P-Squared took an R&B hit, Usher's "U Got It Bad," and rocked it up. It was brilliant. I swear, if I had never heard the original before, I would have never guessed it was an Usher song. This was just enough of a departure from Phillip's past few performances (last Wednesday, Jennifer had warned him that he was starting to sound the same from week to week), yet it was still very him, and he still "Phillip Phillips'd" the song. The judges, Jennifer included, all gave him a standing ovation. "That was so sexy! That was sexy, baby!" purred J.Lo. "Dude, I smile every week that I see you, because I love that we have a true artist this year on the stage," said Randy. And Steven said, "With you, we never know what we're gonna get." I didn't really agree with Steven on that point--I think with Phillip, you know EXACTLY what you're going to get--but hey, that's precisely Phillip's appeal. Even when he switches it up a little, he's still the P-Squared we all know and love.
For his second song, "In The Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett, Phillip switched it up again by doing something he once swore he'd never do: He didn't play guitar! And he once and for all proved that he could survive without it--that his instrument is not a crutch. This was another great performance from Phillip. "Exactly what you need is what you have. That's what it's about. Be who you are!" said Randy, somewhat convolutedly but enthusiastically. "You make me wanna go up there and do that two-step with you," said an increasingly flirtatious J.Lo. (Should Casper Smart be jealous?) And Steven called Phillip "brilliantly awkward, man." But he meant that as a compliment. Hey, at least Steven didn't call this performance "beautiful," right?
Jessica didn't really need all the hype, drama, and fanfare surrounding her "comeback" this week. Don't call it a comeback, actually (as LL Cool J might say). Jessica's own Alicia Keys cover, "Fallin'," was strong enough to stand on its own, without the judges and producers having to hop up on soapboxes and preach on and on about the brilliance of Jessica and her Beyonce-esque alter ego, Bebe Chez. This was a mature and fiery performance that belied Jessica/Bebe's 16 years, and the crowd went wild for her. "Your talent is otherworldly to me!" howled her biggest fan, Randy, who on last week's "Idol" results show had disrespectfully declared Jessica the "best singer in America" while the other six contestants just stood there looking like chumps (again, that did Jessica no favors). "I don't even know if you know how good you really are!" Does America know now? We shall see.
For her soul song, Jessica did Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness," and Bebe Chez came out to play. Jessica was almost growling on the song, and she almost seemed as womanly as the 12-years-her-senior Elise. "God almighty, bless my soul, she's done it again!" declared Steven. Randy, surprisingly, offered some mild criticism, advising Jessica to try to connect with her songs more emotionally, and J.Lo agreed, warning, "Just the voice is not going to do it." It was a rare moment of lucidity from both J.Lo and Randy, and it slightly redeemed them both after they'd failed to recall the titles of popular Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye songs. I think Jessica did pretty well for a 16-year-old, actually, but it's a fact that younger contestants with less life experience usually do struggle with emotional connection. I think Jessica should just let Bebe Chez do all the singing from now on, and let Bebe take over.
Skylar did the "Country Road" version of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" for her first song, and she OWNED. "If I wanna make it country, baby, that's okay," she drawled--and really, it was more than okay. The "Skylar Stomp" was in full effect here, and Skylar stomped all over her competition. "Oh my God, I love that version! A more perfect song for you does not exist!" exclaimed J.Lo. "I am so glad that you were born that way. You're giving all the other girls a run for their money," said Steven. "That crossover appeal that you have--to hear you sing that, you put your own spin on it. You are so beyond ready to me!" said Randy. Skylar was definitely born to do this. And maybe even born to win.
On her second number, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," Skylar was accompanied by what appeared to be the fiddle player from Sons Of Sylvia (aka "Next Great American Band" winners and occasional Carrie Underwood associates the Clark Brothers), but it was Skylar who dominated the proceedings once again. This was another killer performance from the girl that I think has the best chance of winning Season 11 and breaking the female curse on this show. "You have no problem connecting," Randy pointed out. "You do what you do. Every time you come onstage, it's a party!" Said Jennifer, "We love your spunkiness! You are doing a really great job up there." And Steven raved, "You're like a wild horse that refuses to be tamed. You're something else!" Something awesome, actually.
For his first song, "Mantasia" covered his idol Fantasia, doing her Season 3 coronation song, "I Believe." Was this foreshadowing of perhaps his own coronation in just a few weeks? Steven called this performance "just another stepping stone to you winning this whole thing," but I'm not so sure. This was a great performance, yes, but Joshua seemed a little weary--or, as Iovine worded it, a little "deer in headlights." I felt like some of the fire had gone out inside Joshua, just when he needed to fire it up the most. (He was in the bottom three last week, which was almost as shocking as the whole Jessica scandal.) But the judges saw that Joshua still had some fire left in him. "You leave it all on the stage every single time. It's amazing to watch. I feel blessed that we get to watch you," said Jennifer. And Randy even said, "I hope that America shows up for you tonight, because I think you are truly one of the most talented singers the show has ever had." Clearly Randy is still hoping for a Jessica/Joshua finale.
For his final song in the pimp spot, Joshua did Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," a true classic that seemed perfect for his gospel style. But something seemed missing here. I just thought this was going to be a little more epic, a bit BIGGER, more of a "moment." But of course, it was still stellar, and the judges found no fault with it at all. "You have stretched your voice to the limits of soul. Your voice climbs inside of everyone and changes them," mused Steven. And J.Lo cried out, "America, don't send this boy home! Please!" Well, her begging didn't work when she asked America to save DeAndre, but maybe it will work this time.
So now, it is prediction time. I honestly can't confidently predict a bottom three; really, any configuration would be almost as jaw-dropping as least week's results. I do suspect that Colton and Hollie might be in trouble, but I will sadly say that I think it is my girl Elise who will ultimately go home. I wish there was another Judges' Save lying around that could be used on her, because she deserves it--but unfortunately, her time is probably up.
Side note: The classic soul portion of Wednesday's episode was dedicated to "Soul Train" and that show's legendary founder, Don Cornelius, bizarrely and coincidentally on the same day that Cornelius's peer (and Ryan Seacrest's "Rockin' New Year's Eve" predecessor), "American Bandstand's" Dick Clark, died at age 82. So Ryan fittingly started "Idol's" most music-filled episode ever with a tribute to Clark, saying: "We can't begin tonight without acknowledging the passing of a television pioneer and my dear friend, Dick Clark. Without Dick, a show like this would not exist...I know that he is in a better place, saying, 'Hey, let's get on with the show, okay?"
And the show will go on Thursday night, and hopefully it will do Dick proud. Until then, Parker out.