American Idol Top 4 Performance Recap: Lost in the Wilderness
Say what you want about Ryan Seacrest, but dude has impeccable timing. For a brief moment during American Idol‘s Season 11 Top 4 performance telecast, I feared the hardest-working host on TV was about to propose to girlfriend Julianne Hough (and merge the powerful Idol and DWTS royal houses in the process).
But nope, Seacrest was just kidding around — and simultaneously promoting Hough’s new movie, Rock of Ages (so no hard feelings, okay?).
I, for one, was relieved. Not only would popping the question during Idol have been tackier than a Randy Jackson accessory — honestly, dawg has to stop trying to make his pins happen — but it would’ve risked cutting short a night that featured not one, not two, but three separate performances that could easily qualify for most Top 50 Idol Performances of All Time lists.
With that statistic settling into your brain (and making you cry either “Amen!” or “Blasphemy!”) let’s cut right to the music — which fell under two separate categories of “Songs by Artists from California/Songs About California” and “Songs the Contestants Wish They Wrote.” Keiran, dim the lights…
Phillip Phillips: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” | If Phillip’s first performance of the night was a meal, it would’ve been a hastily assembled turkey sandwich, scarfed down over the sink before rushing out the door to an appointment. There was nothing particularly wrong with it (well, except for the stupid backdrop of vintage surfers surfing) but it was entirely utilitarian. I appreciated that Phillip stuck to the melody, and unlike last week’s “Time of the Season” — which even his brother-in-law labeled “pretty rough” — that he hit most of the notes. But there was a roteness to the performance, a sense that as Phillip set down his guitar, called on his go-to sexy saxophonist, and began to sing, that his mind was already on his second song of the night. J.Lo kicked the word “great” in the teeth by using it to describe Phillip’s cover, but Steven continued his trend of making an enthusiastic yet cryptic statement that sounds less and less like a compliment the more you think about it: “The road to success is always under construction.”
Hollie Cavanagh: Journey’s “Faithfully” | It was fascinating to get a reminder of Hollie’s weepy, emotionally untethered Season 10 audition, especially juxtaposed against the chipper trouper she’s become over the last 11 weeks. New Hollie would never let ‘em see her cry, not even if J.Lo had strung her from the ceiling by her ankles and repeatedly hit her abdomen with a stick, convinced that eventually, delicious candy would rain down on the stage. And yet while the last few weeks have seen Hollie surge from also-ran to appealing underdog, “Faithfully” represented a step back from the power and passion of “Bleeding Love” and “Rolling in the Deep.” The stripped-down arrangement of the intro exposed a tremulousness in Hollie’s vocal, and only when she got to riff over the “whoa-oh-oh-ohs” at the end did the performance really come to life. It was telling that Hollie explained to Ryan Seacrest that she needed choreography duo NappyTabs to explain to her that “Faithfully” is about a musician on the road, promising fidelity to a lover in spite of distance and loneliness. In the end, “Faithfully” turned out to be a test for which Hollie wasn’t fully prepared.
Joshua Ledet: Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” | Speaking of Season 10 audition footage, I was stunned by the physical transformation Joshua made between last year and now. It’s like the difference between a peacock with its tailfeathers bound and broken, and one with its fan on full display, instinctively aware of its own power. I was excited to hear Joshua cover “You Raise Me Up,” mainly because I wanted to see what he could do with a song that’s more about precision and restraint than full-fledged Gospel holleration, but unfortunately, his emotions got the better of him on a song he’d dedicated to his dad, and his voice closed up like an artery after another trip to the Cheesecake Factory. To me, it was Joshua’s worst vocal in 11 weeks of live performances — granted, he’s set his own personal bar very, very high — but the judges still lavished it with praise. “You are the plane right now!” shouted Steven, referencing Joshua’s fear of flying and taking home the Gold in hyperbole for this round. The judges realize they’re not doing Joshua any favors by never offering him even the slightest bit of constructive criticism, don’t they?