American Idol Top 3 Performance Night Recap: Feeling Right at Home(town)
We’ve reached that point in the American Idol season — after 37 episodes, hundreds of magnificently awful images in the backdrop oval, and what feels like 73 hours of nonsense critiques from Tweedle-Huh, Tweedle-Abs, and Tweedle-Yo — where I start hunting for conspriracy theories with the vigorousness of Skylar Laine tracking an eight-point buck in the woods. (Run, Bambi, run!) And this week’s Top 3 performance episode had ‘em in spades:
* There was Ryan Seacrest’s intro, touting Phillip Phillips and his hometown of LEEsburg, GA, which might’ve been a not-so-subtle reminder of the last growly-voiced, guitar-playing, untucked-shirt-wearing Idol winner Lee DeWyze, who hasn’t had a particularly noteworthy post-Idol run.
* There were Jimmy’s song choices for Jessica (“I’ll Be There”…in the finale?); Joshua (with the impassioned line “I choose to win!”); and Phillip (who had to sing the refrain, “We’ve got tonight. Who needs tomorrow?” Um, only a contestant who wants to perform at the Nokia next Tuesday).
* There were spangled shoulders on Joshua’s last shirt, spangled pockets on Jessica’s last jacket, but not a single spangle for Phillip Phillips (J.Lo: “Unless you count the twinkle in his eyes!)
* We had standing ovations from the judges for Joshua and Phillip, but none for Jessica.
* We had Jessica’s hometown-visit package including a trip to an empty stadium.
* Then again, Joshua wound up with the deadly leadoff performance slot.
* And after one round of performances, Steven predicted Jessica would win it all.
So who’s a lock for next Tuesday’s finale, and whose dream is destined to fall a week short of Nokia glory? It might boil down to this question: Will voters reward Jessica’s season of high-level performances punctuated by a single lackluster night, or will they choose Phillip, a contestant who’s had a decidedly bumpier Idol run but benefitted from a stellar final impression? Then again, maybe it’s premature for me to assume Joshua’s got a lock on a Top 2 berth: It’s possible that the Idol audience wasn’t quite ready to be dragged to church on a Wednesday evening, even if mandatory attendance allowed them to simultaneously experience a baptism, an exorcism, and the holy union of Gospel, soul, and soap-opera theme songs.
If I had to predict who will make the Top 2: Joshua and Phillip. As for who should, well, that’s a trickier question. Phillip’s show-closing performance was a real stunner, while Jessica had her worst night of the entire season, but since I subscribe to the idea that one night or one performance does not an Idol make (or break), I’d go with Joshua and
But enough prognosticating! Let’s take a deep dive into the performances.
Joshua Ledet: Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” (picked by Randy) | On paper, I suppose it made sense to choose an old-soul classic for Joshua. Or, at least it required the least amount of mental strain for the judge who can’t tell his Marvin Gaye from his Al Green. But in practice, making Joshua cover “I’d Rather Go Blind” was the equivalent of getting Michael Phelps to show up for a teaching exhibition and limiting him to swimming the width, not the length, of the pool. Indeed, at the exact moment the judges should’ve been looking to stetch the idea of what Joshua can do as an artist — hadn’t Randy mentioned Terence Trent D’Arby’s music as a potential career template just a few weeks back? — they asked him to color within the lines of prior performances like “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” And of course, it didn’t help that Joshua sang the first verse with Etta James’ chosen pronouns — “when I saw you and her talking” — and then later switched his romantic rival to a “him” (almost as if he’d never truly inhabited the song, but was rather just imitating the original). Yeah, he hit all the notes. And yeah, the outfit — black jacket with white stitching and red button holes, gray vest, red shirt, red rose accessory — was stupendous. But the damp gray cloak of expectedness kept this number from truly taking off.
Jessica Sanchez: Mariah Carey’s “My All” (picked by J.Lo) | “Oooh! It’s hard!” giggled J.Lo, as if she’d just realized the degree of difficulty of Mariah Carey’s roller coaster ballad after Jessica had sung her final note. But in all seriousness, what was the point of assigning a 16-year-old contestant a song that she’d have to “get through” (as J.Lo put it) rather than one that could point her out as a potentially relevant recording artist who might help purge the airwaves of tinny-voiced divas like Ke$ha and Rihanna and, er, J.Lo herself? (Ohhhhh, I get it now.) Everything here seemed to work against Jessica: The constricting fru-fru purple gown, the platform that kept her confined to a three-foot radius, a melody that was all airy tenderness and no meaty growl, lyrical content that placed the bubbly teenager in the position of wanting to feel her body pressed against her lover (eww), and a backdrop that featured Jessica’s blown-up head singing down onto her tiny frame. Yet, alas, the biggest problem was the fact that Jessica seemed to be just under the melody for most of the performance — a jarring misstep for a vocalist who’s been thisclose to spotless all season. She may have given her all, but in this case, her all just wasn’t enough.