This week, the American Idol judges wouldn’t help out the American voting public.
“You guys can all do well and be big stars,” judge Randy Jackson told the six remaining American Idol contestants Wednesday night. Each performed a Queen cover and a song of their choosing, and with the exception of the first song by Hollie Cavanagh, all were almost uniformly praised by the judges.
Songs by the British rock band were the theme for the first part of the show, so two original band members – guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor – met with the contestants and performed with them when the group did a medley of songs that included “Bohemian Rhapsody”and “Another One Bites the Dust.” Everybody got a little out of tune on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but with that song more than probably any other, the tendency is probably to belt as loud as you can because it’s so dramatic, which increases the chance you’d get off pitch.
But judge Jennifer Lopez, dressed in a gold sparkly shirt and pants, and judge Steven Tyler, who appeared to be dressed entirely in glitter as he stared coyly at the camera, managed to distract TV viewers a little bit as the show got off to a wobbly start.
Jimmy Iovine's mentoring sessions were a notable absence this week. Instead, the American Idol audience was given candid – and sometimes harsh – pretaped video interviews from the contestants about each other. Host Ryan Seacrest introduced this by saying that the six were “dishing out all the true 411,” which is a weird way of using an expression that sort of dates him.
Jessica Sanchez started the Queen solos by taking on “Bohemian Rhapsody” again, a version which included the hard-rocking middle section that starts with “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?” Her vocals were good, but the judges accurately said she didn’t get into the song enough. Jessica's forte seems to be ballads, which show off her voice, but she could have been more animated on this one. “When it went into the more rock part of it… it needed to have a little bit more of that rock performance,” Jennifer told her. Exactly.
In her second song – her choice – Jessica nailed it with “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross. She dedicated it to her father, whom Jessica said has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan before and will soon be deployed to Singapore. Her voice sounded gorgeous – sitting on the stairs in a pretty yellow dress was a good choice for the low-key vibe of the song -- and the judges didn’t have any criticism for her. “That may be the best I’ve ever heard that song sang,” Jennifer, who said she was a huge Vandross fan, told her.
“Every time you get up and sing, you know what’s wrong with it? Absolutely nothing,” Randy said.
Skylar Laine seemed a little stiff in her interview with Ryan before her Queen cover, but she went on to delivered a great cover of “The Show Must Go On,” which apparently required every violin player in Hollywood. Skylar seemed comfortable on the quieter moments of the song and stayed mostly steady through the belting portions as well. There was some classic incomprehensible criticism from Tyler that included the phrase “out of the box, out of the car,” but Jennifer said that Skylar “articulated every part of the story.”
Skylar continued with a sizzling performance of Jason Aldean’s song “Tattoos On This Town,” which she dedicated to her friends in Mississippi. The judges had barely any criticism for this song, either. “You can do no wrong,” Steven told her. “I’m one of your biggest fans.”
Joshua Ledet covered Queen's “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He tried to make the song his own, which is always a good strategy, but in comparison to Freddie Mercury’s initial smooth vocals on the song, Ledet just sounded like he was shouting.
But the judges loved it. Randy, apparently working off a new undisclosed system of four checks, said that Joshua had earned full marks. “Vocals: four checks,” he said. “Performance: four checks… charisma, four checks. You are so ready.”
Jennifer was giggly when her turn to comment arrived. “I always know I’m going to get an inspired vocal, but also an amazing performance,” she said of Ledet.
For his choice of cover, Joshua took on “Ready for Love” by India.Arie. It was a little hard to understand the lyrics at some points, but the vocals were definitely powerful. The judges ate it up, as usual. “That was transcendent,” Jennifer said. “I smell the finish line,” Steven told him.
Elise Testone – American Idol's own Janis Joplin-voiced songstress – chose “I Want It All” for her Queen song, which she sang while accompanying herself with the tambourine. Jennifer was visibly bouncing in her seat, and Elise seemed to have strong command vocally throughout the song.
Jennifer said that when she told Elise last week to choose the right song, this was what she’d meant. “That was you in your element,” she said.
For the second song, Elise went a little quieter with “Bold As Love” by Jimi Hendrix. She looked and sounded comfortable with the song, but Steven said he was afraid the song choice was too obscure. (He likened the process of choosing songs to something about picking cherries with your back turned, another Steven Tyler simile with a meaning known only to its author.)
Jennifer disagreed, but Randy said, “I did not love that.” Jennifer expressed her disagreement with Randy's dissenting opinion as well by repeatedly yelling, “No!”
Phillip Phillips chose Queen's “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” which his gravelly voice sounded great on – and he took a risk with the a cappella beginning of the song, which he delivered with the backup singers.
Steven put on what appeared to be his reading glasses to check his notes in the middle of the song but told Phillip, “It was beautiful. Great choice of song.” Randy was less won over. “I don’t know if it was ‘Oh my God,’ but it was good,” he said.
Next, Phillip took on the Dave Matthews Band song “The Stone” for his personal selection, which featured a female violinist who distractingly danced along to the right of him for most of it, and his vocals sounded fine. The song was low-key, and Jennifer said she thought the song was a little too artsy. “It was a little too obscure,” she said. “I just feel like [choosing the right] song is so important.”
But Steven and Randy both thought the song was perfect. “I love that you take chances,” the former Aerosmith singer said. “I think you found the niche.”
Hollie Cavanagh picked Queen's “Save Me," which she delivered in an intensely shiny red pantsuit. It was fine, but she seemed a little overpowered by the backup singers, and the judges were lukewarm about it. “I want to see you enjoy it more,” Jennifer told her. Randy said she needed a “moment” like all the other contestants to prove why she needs to win.
Hollie had the only real roller-coaster performances; while the first seemed less successful, her take on Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” got the judges on their feet for the first time for Hollie. “Hollie is back!” Randy said. “Perfect song for you.”
Will Hollie's second song be enough to save her this week? Hollie still seems like an underdog. If Jennifer was right, Phillip’s second song choice may have alienated some viewers, and Elise’s quieter second song may have lost her some momentum as well. Who will American Idol voters send home Thursday night? From most to least likely, :
- Hollie Cavanagh
- Phillip Phillips
- Elise Testone
Who would you send home?
[Editor's Note: The original post gave the incorrect lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It's been corrected. ]