‘Idol’ Top 3 Recap: Jessica Stumbles, Joshua Soars, Phillip Segers
At one time it seemed that "American Idol" Season 11's arguably two most technically proficient singers, Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez, were destined to make it to the finale. But based on this Wednesday's crucial top three performance show, only half of that prediction is about to come true.
While Joshua unsurprisingly delivered the standout vocal performance of Wednesday night with his fiery Mary J. Blige cover, the usually flawless Jessica rather surprisingly stumbled on all three of her songs, and she even received some tough criticism from her biggest fan on the judging panel, Randy Jackson. (He dismissed her final performance of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" with "I liked it, but I didn't love it," and griped that she really never had a "moment moment.") It's possible that this was because of her sore throat (which was--CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT!--not mentioned on the air), or because of a couple song choices that were unfortunately out of her control. But whatever the reason, this development of course cleared the way for the already unstoppable Phillip Phillips, who, granted, received some really harsh comments for his second song--but memorably closed the night with what Randy actually said was the best Phillip performance yet.
Phillip's seemingly in-the-bag advancement to next week's finale, and Jessica's probable third-place defeat, will likely reinvigorate debate over whether female contestants are doomed on "Idol," or whether anyone other than a "WGWG" (white guy with guitar) will ever win this show again--a debate in which I've heartily partaken, many times. But let's put the conspiracy-theorizing aside for a second: The simple fact of the matter is, Jessica, as talented as she may be, just was n0t at her best this week, when it counted most. However, regardless of what happens, she should still be proud that she went further than any other Judges' Save recipient in "Idol" history...and if Jimmy Iovine makes good on his earlier promises, she'll probably land a record deal anyway. She certainly deserves one.
And as for that whole WGWG thing? Well, Joshua Ledet should not be counted out just yet. Even if "Idol" remains a man's, man's, man's world...we still don't know which man will win Season 11.
So Wednesday, each contestant sang three songs: one picked by the judges, one of their own choosing, and one selected by in-house mentor Iovine. And here's how everyone, including Jessica, did...
JUDGES' CHOICE: "I'd Rather Go Blind," Etta James
This was a somewhat predictable choice for an old-fashioned balladeer like Joshua; I would have preferred something a little more contemporary, something a little more unexpected, which would have let him put more of his own stamp on a song. This Etta classic simply wasn't much of a challenge for Joshua, and it was nothing we hadn't seen and heard from him before. That's not to say it wasn't an amazing performance--of course it was. But the problem with Joshua is he has simply set the bar too high for himself now, and this song didn't allow him to set it any higher. The judges roundly praised Joshua, as would be expected (and gave him his lucky 13th standing ovation of the season), with Steven Tyler appropriately calling this "another Joshua moment" and adding: "Out of 70,000, there's only one American Idol, and you sang like that one tonight." Jennifer Lopez admitted that the judges had gone with a totally within-the-box song pick, saying, "We just fed you what we know you would feed back to us." (Er, was that a good thing?) Randy's critique was the oddest, as he said, "You're such a classic stylist, and this fits you so like a glove--hopefully in the future, you can bring that back into modern times." Um, so if that is Randy's hope for Joshua, then why didn't the judges choose a more modern song for him now? Weird.
CONTESTANT'S CHOICE: "Imagine," John Lennon
Once again my hopes for unpredictability from Joshua were dashed when he went with this overdone "Idol" staple, one that is still associated in many viewers' minds with David Archuleta's landmark performance from Season 7. Joshua explained that he picked the tune because its message connected with him when he heard it on the radio this week, not because it was a big, belty song--and while I admired his intentions, I still didn't think this was the point in the game for him to start holding back. Joshua didn't receive a standing ovation this time, but the judges still adored this effort. Steven called it "another thank-you-God moment," Randy said it was "brilliant," and J.Lo actually praised Joshua's restraint, saying, "It was a pulled-back and controlled performance for you, which I know is the hardest thing for you to do."
IOVINE'S CHOICE: "No More Drama," Mary J. Blige
Luckily, Joshua did NOT pull back one bit for his final performance, and he delivered the first genuine "wow moment" of the night. "I figured he could use another moment," reasoned Jimmy, further proving that he is "Idol's" most valuable player and the only one who really knows what he's doing on this show. This was a genius song choice for Joshua: It had the drama, of course, that allowed him to "just go off," but more importantly...IT WAS MODERN. As Joshua tore into the song, tearing off his jacket in the process, he really seemed like a current and relevant R&B "divo" (as in, like a male diva). Forget about no more drama--I couldn't get enough of Joshua's drama, and neither could the studio audience members, among them many members of this season's top 13. (Joshua's bestie Hollie Cavanagh was practically in tears, and Skylar Laine was even bowing down.) This was awesome, and it was the performance that--unless that "God" Steven was referring to earlier decides to forsake this season--totally clinched Joshua's rightful spot in next week's finale. "At this point, it doesn't matter what you do; you have laid everything on this stage that there is to lay," raved Randy. "You have this perfect marriage of knowing exactly what you're doing and letting go at the same time," said Jennifer. "I watched you and I felt the last 40 years of the music business," said Steven. Whoa, Steven can actually remember the last 40 years? Ha. But I understood what Steven meant. This performance was the perfect past/present/future musical blend that I'd wanted all along from Joshua.