It was obvious from the moment Ryan Seacrest made his descent down the stairs to open American Idol on Wednesday, that something was amiss. His mention of the late Dick Clark was short, simple, and made even more powerful by the genuine grief visible on the visage of the normally jovial host. "Without Dick, a show like this would not exist," Ryan said. He then indicated that Clark, watching from a better place would be saying, "Hey, let's get on with the show." With that, Ryan made the seamless transition to announcing American Idol's top seven contestants, who would each be singing two songs: a No. 1 hit between the year 2000 to now and a soul song.
Hollie Cavanagh: For her first performance Hollie Cavanagh selected Adele's, "Rolling in the Deep." It was a dangerous choice for Hollie to take on such a well-known song by such an incomparable artist but she took the risk and it paid off. Hollie delivered a believable, powerful performance with near perfect pitch. Sure, she's no Adele, but she sang the song so well that it didn't really matter. The judges then all claimed that Hollie FINALLY understood what they had been telling her from the start. Hollie did have something of a breakthrough performance but the comments from the judges would have been the same regardless of what Hollie sang or how well she sang it. Since their careless handling of Hollie created a narrowly avoided backlash last week - the judges just might have learned that there's something to be said for diplomacy. A-
For her soul performance, Hollie selected, "Son of a Preacher Man," and did what no other contestant managed to do, she sang as well, if not better the second time around. Again the judges, though remaining firmly rooted on their derrieres (no standing applause), offered up plenty of praise for the new and improved Hollie Cavanagh. Though her strong performances are a relief, was there anyone else who was kind of wishing she'd really blow it, just so they could watch the judges damage their last shred of credibility by insisting that she had improved and finally understood their instructions? A-
Colton Dixon: Speaking of really blowing it ... Colton decided that he was going to introduce some rock and roll to his repertoire this week and selected Lady Gaga's, "Bad Romance." This was a perfect example of how a great song does not always equal a great song choice. Colton, who has a rather limited vocal range, needed to take the song a bit lower than was comfortable if he were to have any hope of hitting the highs of the chorus. Unfortunately, Colton couldn't really manage the lows and never quite hit the highs. C
After a decidedly underwhelming first performance, Colton then opted for Earth, Wind and Fire's, "September." The song was completely stripped of its original soul and "Colton-ized," which is to say, it was performed on a piano and sung in a whiny voice with a pained expression meant to convey depth and angst. D
Elise Testone: Jimmy Iovine really hit the nail on the head when he commented that, for whatever reason, Elise doesn't have a dedicated fan base. Never allowed to rest on her laurels, each week Elise must start over, hoping to motivate viewers to forego their predetermined favorites by delivering an undeniably great performance. In her first attempt this week, Elise chose to sing, "No One," by Alicia Keys. Elise, despite selecting a song that reached its saturation point a long time ago, gave a stellar performance. A-
But, as the saying goes, "What goes up, must come down," and Elise came down a few pegs when she performed Marvin Gaye's, "Let's Get It On." Elise actually delivered a decent performance of the song but for some reason, it just didn't resonate, which might of had something to do with the unshakable thought of how much better the lyrics would be coming from Phillip . . . B
Phillip Phillips: When Phillip announced that he would be singing Usher's, "You Got it Bad," there was reason to hope that this was the week that Phillip would break out of the routine he's been doggedly sticking to and surprise America with a side of him that no one would have guessed existed. Those hopes were realized when Phillip completely transfixed the audience with an intimate and as Jennifer pointed out - "sexy" - rendition of the song. The judges were on their feet (as I attempted to recover from my swoon) giving Phillip the praise that he so richly deserved. A+
After delivering, "You Got It Bad," many viewers had it bad for Phillip and were likely hoping for a second dose of sexy-Phillip (as if there is any other kind of Phillip). So, perhaps in an attempt to keep the audience longing for more, he opted to go in the entire opposite direction with Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour." While some of the lyrics may be suggestive, it's hard to imagine a less sultry song for Phillip. After months of rooting for him despite a period of stagnation, the least he could have done was indulge the audience twice tonight. Steven Tyler, in a rare demonstration of perception and perfect word choice, characterized Phillip as, "brilliantly awkward." B
Skylar Laine: Skylar continued the momentum she began building with, "Wind Beneath My Wings," two weeks ago. First, she showed her faux love interest Colton, how to really deliver a Lady Gaga song when she performed, "Born This Way," flawlessly. Then she took on, "Heard it Through The Grapevine," which didn't exactly have the same impact as her first performance, but Skylar's trademark spunk never faltered. A and B, respectively.
Jessica Sanchez: Back from a dramatic save by the judges, Jessica hoped to convince America that she deserved to be saved. Not that America really needed to be convinced; Jessica landed in the bottom not because she failed to deliver but because of the judges' shameless endorsement and favoritism. Thankfully, just as they tempered their criticism of Hollie, they also tempered their rapture over Jessica this week. Her performance of Alicia Keys, "Fallin'" was flawless. A
She followed up Alicia Keys with Otis Redding's, "Try a Little Tenderness." Jennifer urged her to connect emotionally with the songs since she's already perfected the vocals. Wait . . . was that constructive criticism for Jessica? Let us pause for a moment to fully absorb the unprecedented significance of this moment. B
Joshua Ledet: For their first songs, Joshua's peers chose hits from Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Usher. Joshua chose Fantasia. Not to say there is anything wrong with Fantasia but she is more of a B-list choice, for sure. Joshua sang, "I Believe," with all the gusto he could muster and the judges were once again on their feet. Something they would repeat after Joshua's second performance of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." And just when you think the judges might have grasped how their impartial behavior might be seen as unprofessional, Jennifer begs the audience not to send Joshua home. So much for hindsight being 20/20. The judges' enthusiasm aside, neither performance seemed standing-ovation worthy. B and B+, respectively.
After last week, who can even guess what is in the minds of American Idol voters? Here's what is in the mind of just one of them:
- Elise Testone
- Joshua Ledet
- Colton Dixon (The female vote might save him this week, in which case this spot could be occupied by Hollie but my predictions have been compromised by my deeply held conviction that justice will prevail)
This will likely be the week that Elise Testone, after a long fight, succumbs to her fate. But to coin a Steven Tyler phrase, if Joshua got voted off after Jennifer implored voters to save him, it would be brilliantly awkward!