"With the cooperation of law enforcement, we discovered information that left us with no choice but to eliminate one of our own from the competition. When you're doing a live show, anything can happen. THIS is 'American Idol'!"
That was the cold open of this Wednesday's "Idol" show, as intoned to full dramatic effect by an overly earnest-looking Ryan Seacrest...before Ryan of course took almost 90 minutes to get around to making the announcement everyone was waiting to hear. Yes, many viewers tuned in to "Idol" this week not to see this season's remaining finalists warble songs of the '80s and '90s, but to find out just what happened to one of those contestants, who'd never warble on the show again. On Tuesday evening, news had broken on TMZ that Jermaine Jones, the "gentle giant" and sweet self-declared mama's boy who was brought back to the show at the last minute as a "surprise," had been disqualified for being dishonest about his not-so-gentle alleged criminal past. So on Wednesday, "Idol" fans were eager to learn just how this scandal would be addressed, especially since TMZ had titillatingly reported that footage of Jermaine's confrontation with the show's producers would actually air on Wednesday night's performance show.
So towards the end of Wednesday's episode, Jermaine was finally called in to speak on camera with "Idol's" stern-faced executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick (in a pre-taped segment from Tuesday), about his many past criminal claims, which include public nuisance and obstruction of justice stemming from a fight at a Howard Johnson Hotel in New Jersey, hindering apprehension, driving on a suspended license, disorderly conduct with an open container, and giving fake names to the police in two instances. Jermaine briefly claimed that the Howard Johnson incident had not been violent at all, but just a misunderstanding, before sheepishly explaining that he hadn't come clean with the show before because, "I was scared, nervous. I didn't want to get judged. I didn't want to get penalized for anything that happened in the past." But Nigel told him, "We are not allowed to have anyone with an outstanding warrant on the program, and you have four of them against you."
"We have to let you go, I'm afraid," said Ken. "It's the end of the road."
For someone who had recently been accused of having a violent temper, Jermaine took the news extremely calmly, graciously thanking Nigel and Ken for the opportunity and leaving the show without any crazy scene. I actually felt bad for the guy. The vibe of this entire segment felt icky, invasive, exploitative, and just plain wrong. But at least the show did air some footage of Jermaine's Tuesday rehearsal of Linda Rondstadt and James Ingram's "Somewhere Out There," which was surprisingly strong, so viewers could remember him for his singing, and not just for this scandal.
This was hardly the first time a contestant had been eliminated from "American Idol" for allegedly covering up a shady past. (Conversely, other previous contestants with criminal records were allowed to remain on the show, because they had been forthcoming). However, this was only the second time in "Idol" history that a contestant had been disqualified this late in the season, after making the top 12 finals, and this time, the situation was handled very differently. Way back in Season 2, Corey Clark was disqualified during the top 10 week, but in that case, Corey simply abruptly vanished from the show, and his reaction to the news was never shown; whatever went down between him and the show's producers was kept tastefully private. So filming and airing Jermaine's conversation with Nigel and Ken was definitely an "Idol" first.
But suffering in the ratings--as "Idol" surprisingly is this year--is an "Idol" first, too. And I'm pretty sure Nigel and Ken knew, or at least hoped, that this big bombshell would inspire curious rubberneckers to tune in this week. Conspiracy theorists like myself and Shirley Halperin at The Hollywood Reporter have even speculated that this "shocker" was staged from the get-go, before Jermaine even returned to the show, since "Idol's" usual extensive background checks should have easily uncovered Jermaine's multiple arrests and outstanding warrants from just last year.
Sadly, all this Jermaine drama took some focus away from the other 11 contestants, all of whom had worked hard and played by the rules, and some of whom delivered strong performances this week. (One, by Joshua Ledet, was actually declared THE best "Idol" performance of all time by Jennifer Lopez, so it's unfortunate that Jermaine's exit, not Joshua's triumphant tour de force, is what people will be talking about this week.) Many viewers were wondering if any of the other 11 contestants would be cut this Thursday--when Corey Clark was disqualified in Season 2, no one was voted off on that week's results show--but apparently the elimination issue is being handled differently this time as well. Ryan announced that YES, a singer WILL be voted off this week, thus fast-tracking this season to its all-important top 10. So hopefully viewers did pay actual attention to the performances of the remaining top 11 this evening, because this week's vote will be a crucial one.
Anyway, the 11 contestants who did compete on Wednesday's show sang songs from the years they were born. (Side note: Only three of those contestants performed selections from the '80s, since almost all of this season's hopefuls were born IN THE NINTIES. Feel old now?) Here's how they did during what had to have been an emotional and stressful night:
Phillip Phillips - Covering the Black Crowes' "Hard To Handle" from 1990 (yes, I know it was originally done by Otis Redding long before 1990, but apparently remakes are fair game on "Idol"), Phillip was in surprisingly fit form considering that he'd just had kidney surgery last Thursday. But some of his fire seemed to have dimmed, and I felt the performance kind of flat-lined. It wasn't a bad effort, but it was not nearly as memorable as his performances from the past two weeks. The judges, however, all enjoyed this. Jennifer, shocked that Phillip had recovered from his operation so quickly, told him, "It just goes to prove, this is so natural for you, it's in every cell of your body." Randy Jackson suggested this was the type of music P-Squared should release as a single post-"Idol." Steven Tyler cautioned, "Watch your melody" (a concern Randy had with Phillip's "In The Air Tonight"), but overall thought Phillip was "very good." Will "very good" cut it? I am sure Phillip, a clear fan favorite, is safe for now, but if he keeps delivering performances like this, he may eventually forfeit his frontrunner status.
Jessica Sanchez - Jessica sang "Turn The Beat Around"--NOT the Vicki Sue Robinson '70s disco original, of course, but the 1995 Gloria Estefan version. (Side note: WHY did so many contestants do remakes of remakes this evening? A lot of great original music came out in the '80s and '90s, you know.) After Jessica's "I Will Always Love You" triumph last week, this was a letdown; much like last season's Pia Toscano, Jessica apparently falters when she steps outside of her ballady comfort zone. She just seemed false and forced, especially when she did that little winky "are you ready?" Shania-like aside. It was just...I don't know, cloying. "I love your voice, but you can't stray too far from what you sing the best, which is ballads. The rhythm was a little shady," said an unusually critical Steven. (Steven loved Jessica's silver disco pants, though.) "You're one of the greatest singers in the competition, so I feel we should steer you in the right direction--this song doesn't allow you to show what you do," said Randy. J.Lo thought Jessica's trademark vibrato didn't work with the syncopated song and "lagged a little bit behind so it lost some of the energy." I was getting flashbacks to Pia throughout Jessica's entire critique. Egad, will Jessica go home in ninth place and be this season's token shocker elimination? She may be, if she keeps giving performances and getting critiques like these.
Heejun Han - Again, I have to ask: WHY does someone so funny and entertaining offstage always choose such deadly-dull songs week after week? Here's one contestant who SHOULD get out of the ballad zone. Heejun sang Richard Marx's treacly 1989 ballad "Right Here Waiting," and when he was onstage, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Or just fall asleep. This was just plain boring. Heejun should realize that his goofy offstage antics alone will not keep America voting for him forever, and that he needs to step it up, and mix it up, during his live performances. I mean, at this point, I could more easily imagine myself buying a comedy album from Heejun than any actual music. "Dude, for me, I didn't enjoy this at all. It was pitchy all over the place. It felt like you were out of breath the whole time," grumbled Randy. "I could tell that you were struggling, but you started fighting and towards the end it got really beautiful for me," said a more forgiving J.Lo. Steven told him, "I love your voice no matter what," but also agreed that Heejun did not nail this. This was no laughing matter--I think Heejun could be in jeopardy this week.
Elise Testone - As the show's "old lady," born way back in 1983 (note my sarcasm, please), Elise had a plethora of cool early-MTV tunes to choose from, but decided to cover Al Green's classic "Let's Stay Together," which was covered in '83 by Tina Turner. Again, the whole remake-of-a-remake thing irked me, but that was the only thing I didn't totally love about Elise's performance. My girl totally redeemed herself after her awkward Whitney Houston cover and scary brush with elimination last week, and I was thrilled. Starting the song Fabulous Baker Boys-style sitting atop a piano, Elise was in full-on torch-singer mode, and she was surprisingly convincing. And sexy! Simply put, Elise is a woman, not a girl, and her experience made the sultry song come alive. "You got beauty and soul. I just love you so much, man," gushed Steven. "That was showing America who Elise is! That was right on every single level!" said Jennifer. "America, Elise is back!" howled Randy. I guess Elise chose her song wisely this week, after all.
Deandre Brackensick - Uh-oh. Guys, I am worried for Deandre this week. I like the kid, and I loved his fun and sassy Stevie Wonder cover last week, but Jimmy Iovine really wronged Deandre with the suggestion/demand that he do "Endless Love" (again, not the original, but the 1994 Mariah Carey/Luther Vandross version). Deandre is no Mariah or Luther, and he really struggled with this. I so preferred Deandre in "Master Blaster" mode. This was just weak, and his pitchy falsetto actually reminded me of--dare I say it?--Corey Clark. "You sang that beautifully, but I think Jimmy steered you wrong. I didn't think it was the right song for you," Jennifer said. (Well, at least the second half of her critique was right.) "I love you as an artist, but I also don't think it was the right song for you," said Steven. "It was boring and very safe for you, I feel, at the wrong time [of the season]," said Randy." I bet Deandre is really bummed that the show is still going ahead with eliminations this week.
Shannon Magrane - Shannon, the youngest contestant left on the show, sang the 1995 Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men megahit "One Sweet Day," a huge song for her to take on after last week's disastrous Whitney Houston number. This was definitely better than last week's "I Have Nothing," and I give Shannon points for having the guts to sing such a big, big song. But...it was boring. Once again, Shannon played to "Idol's" conservative base, which will probably keep her safe this week, but I'd love to see this barely-16-year-old be more current. The judges didn't seem that bored with Shannon, however, with J.Lo saying, "I thought you did a great job! I'm impressed!" and Steven saying, "I think you sing your best when you don't try so hard." Even Randy, who never misses an opportunity to mention that Mariah is his supposed BFF, gave Shannon props. "I was terrified [at first], like, don't take on the big monster [song], oh no! But you're here because we like you. You're fearless. This girl's got something going on up here!"
Colton Dixon - Okay, if Colton hadn't been my favorite already, he would be now. The skunk-haired emo-rocker brought me just a little closer to my dream of an "American Idol" '80s Power Ballad Night by covering the obscure 1991 White Lion song "Broken Heart," and it was just awesome. It was the first real standout performance of the evening, and I loved how he took such a song-choice risk. Talk about fearless! Steven thought it was "the wrong song for your voice and your passion; I didn't feel the song go anywhere," but Randy thought it was "dope," and J.Lo spoke for millions of female viewers when she told Colton, "I think you look pretty when you sing." But Colton's more than just a pretty face. This guy's not going anywhere for a while.
Erika Van Pelt - Singing Bryan Adams's 1985 ballad "Heaven," EVP demonstrated just how a ballad can be exciting. Erika gave this song her all, and I really thought she was magnificent. Plus, she'd undergone some sort of magical makeover--no more purple prom dresses with black hosiery for her--that made her look like an actual star. I was genuinely surprised that Steven and Jennifer weren't feeling this performance--both of them complained about the supposedly fussy arrangement--but at least Randy gave Erika an "eight out of 10," so hopefully that'll be enough to carry her through to the next round. I can really see this girl growing in the competition, if she's able to stick around.
Skylar Laine - This season's spunky cowgirl insisted on singing Bonnie Raitt's "Love Sneaking Up On You" from 1994, despite the fact that Jimmy Iovine didn't want her to. But considering how Jimmy's recent song suggestions derailed Deandre and Elise, Skylar was wise to stick to her guns. Once again, she totally nailed it, and was totally Skylar. "You have so much heart and soul. I haven't heard you sing a song bad yet," gushed Steven. "You really killed that," said Jennifer. "It didn't matter about the song; you came out and rocked it!" added Randy. It's beginning to look like we may have a country girl in the "Idol" finale for a second season in a row.
Joshua Ledet - Okay, this was amazing. Joshua's "When A Man Loves A Woman"--a cover of the 1992 Michael Bolton version, naturally--was Bolton done right. (I hope Heejun was paying close attention.) The man had soul oozing out of his pores. Is it possible that for the first time since 2003, a male African-American soul singer will make the finale--and even win? If Joshua can keep singing like this, then heck yes, it could happen. The judges gave him a much-deserved standing ovation, with Steven declaring, "That was so good, we were [standing] up halfway through!" Said Randy, "That was phenomenal, incredible on every level!" And J.Lo even declared this "the best thing I've ever seen on 'American Idol.'" As I mentioned many paragraphs ago, "Idol" viewers should be talking about Joshua's fantastic performance, not about some made-for-TV disqualification scandal, this week.
Hollie Cavanagh - "Little Miss Tinkerbell" took on 1993's challenging "The Power Of Love" by the almighty Celine Dion, and while I again wished she'd get away from the snoozy pageant balladry favored by so many of the girls this season, there was no denying that this was a great performance, very classic "Idol." It was amazing to see how much confidence tiny Hollie had on that big stage, considering how nervous and skittish she'd been when she'd first tried out for the show in Season 10. While the three judges admitted there were a few minor pitch issues, they were mostly glowing with praise for Hollie. "You and Joshua: They really saved the best for last," said Jennifer. "I don't know where your voice comes from; it's from heaven above," mused Steven. "You were definitely in your wheelhouse," said Randy. And Hollie may be wheeling her little self all the way to the finale, too--she definitely has a good shot.
So now, it is prediction time. Who will be in the bottom three? My guess is it'll be Deandre, Heejun, and possibly Erika (who, like Deandre, was a Wild Card pick to begin with, and was additionally one of the lowest female vote-getters last week). As for who will be eliminated, I think it will be Deandre (Heejun will probably coast on his popularity and personality for a couple more weeks, at least), though I will be sad to see that talented kid get cut right before his big chance to go on the Idols Live Tour this summer.
Tune in Thursday to find out if I'm right! Until then, Parker out.