On Wednesday night, the Top 3 American Idol finalists returned from their weekend whirlwind of hometown visits to battle one another for a place in next week's finale. Each contestant had three opportunities to impress the country – and each of them squandered at least one of them.
With one song being chosen by the American Idol judges, one by the contestant, and one by Jimmy Iovine, the audience would be given a glimpse into the breadth of each contestant; in theory. After banging on the "song choice" drum since the beginning of the season, one would expect the judges/mentor to select brilliant and insightful songs, capable of launching an American Idol contestant into the stratosphere of greatness. Unfortunately, out of their six song assignments, only one resulted in an Idol moment; the rest either hindered or harmed the contestants, proving that song selection, though critical, is something of an art form that even the American Idol experts do not excel in.
Joshua Ledet: Joshua kicked off the show with a song selected by the judges. With Etta Jame's "I'd Rather go Blind," Joshua delivered a rousing performance that atrophied into his trademark "enthusiasm" in the last 1/3 of the song. It was a good song for Joshua but it failed to demonstrate anything viewers haven't seen from him before. Guess what? The judges loved it. Guess what else? They gave him a standing ovation. Let's hope the finale gives us something a little less predictable. B+
For his second song, Joshua chose, "Imagine" by John Lennon. This song did what the judges' song did not, it showed a different, more controlled, side of Joshua. It was the only personal song selection of the night that really worked despite the somewhat terrible musical arrangement that gave the song an old-fashioned lounge-y feel. Randy Jackson spoke for all of the judges when he called the performance "brilliant." A-
Jimmy Iovine picked the Mary J. Blige song, "No More Drama," for Joshua. He reasoned that Joshua did such a great job with, "It's a Man's World" last week that he wanted to give him another song that he could really let loose in. In other words, he wanted Joshua to do what he does every week, only this time to excess. Joshua gave Jimmy what he was asking for but it was over-the-top. (Despite Steven Tyler's efforts to brainwash me into thinking "over-the-top" is a good thing, I hold steadfast in my belief that the term does indeed have a negative connotation.) If Simon Cowell were there he would have labeled the performance "indulgent rubbish." So much for Jimmy's vow to do everything he could to advance Josh's career. C
Jessica Sanchez: If any contestant stood to benefit from well-chosen songs it was Jessica Sanchez. Despite an avid (and after reading some of the reader comments, some might say rabid) fan-base, Jessica had an opportunity to appeal to a more youthful demographic with a well-chosen, younger song; something that Jimmy Iovine said she needed to do weeks ago. So what did the judges do? They chose the Mariah Carey song, "My All," for Jessica. Watching Jessica standing in her evening gown, singing another diva song about how she'd give everything just to have her man's body next to hers again was not the youthful exuberance she needed. It was, once again, like watching an episode of "Toddlers in Tiaras." But Steven slyly suggested America was looking at the next Idol winner, and Ryan Seacrest called him out on it. B-
Jessica opted for Aerosmith's "Don't Want to Miss a Thing," for her second song. Steven gave Jessica a standing ovation after her performance and though they remained seated, the others praised Jessica's performance. It was another missed opportunity for Jessica - especially since she sounded somewhat sharp throughout and her voice cracked on the last "big" note. B
Jimmy Iovine had the right idea with his song choice, unfortunately his logic was a bit flawed. Jimmy, obviously a religious reader of this column, knew that Jessica really needed to tap into a younger demographic. But since Jessica has such a big fan base of seemingly older individuals, he wanted to find a way to deliver a performance that both could appreciate. To this end he chose the Jackson 5 version of "I'll be There," reasoning that since Michael Jackson sang it at 12, younger people would like it and because it was a throwback, it would appeal to older audiences. The only problem is that the younger audience Iovine was hoping to appeal to, probably only recognize the song as a Mariah Carey song. Oops. Come on judges! If you're intent on linking her with Mariah Carey why not give her Carey's early and youthful hit, "Someday?" Randy said Jessica failed to have a moment – finally a voice of reason! B-
Phillip Phillips: The judges assigned Phillip the song, "Beggin'" by Madcon. Norwegians were likely delighted with the song assignment though many Americans were left scratching their heads. The song, Steven reasoned, was going to force Phillip to sing the melody. Being unfamiliar with the song, its tough to say if Phillip stuck to the melody but judging from Jennifer Lopez's comments, he did not. So much for that plan. B
With a wasted first-round opportunity, Phillip really needed to assert himself in the second round. Unfortunately, Phillip chose Matchbox 20's, "Disease," managing to completely underwhelm the entire Northern Hemisphere in one fell swoop. In fact, Phillip was so underwhelming that the camera man seemed to forget that he was the contestant and focused on the female saxophone player for the majority of the performance. The judges all agreed that the performance just wasn't enough especially at this level of the competition. C
After the questionable results of Jimmy's song choices for the other two contestants, Phillip's last chance at wowing America seemed dubious at best. Jimmy selected Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," reasoning that it may appeal to both male and female viewers. With this song selection, Jimmy earned his weight in gold and Phillip likely earned his way into the finale, if not all the way to the end. It was a tender, captivating vocal by Phillip. He stayed true to the melody of the song, delivering his best performance of the season. It was the kind of moment every one of the contestants needed – but only one achieved. A+
Before Phillip's final performance, the task of making predictions weighed heavily. After, "We've Got Tonight," the job became 50 percent easier. Phillip is definitely making it into the final two, which leaves Jessica and Joshua. Of these two, Joshua deserves to advance, not because he is a better singer than Jessica, but because he is a better performer than Jessica. Will American Idol voters agree?
Who do you think deserves to be in the final two? Share your thoughts in the comments.
On a side note: This could be the last American Idol finale for not just Ryan Seacrest but also for Jennifer Lopez, who reportedly can't find time in her very busy schedule to squeeze in the $20 million per year gig that single-handedly revitalized her career. Whether a couple more million can help to free up her dance card remains to be seen.