Recap: 'American Idol' Top 11 Performances - Songs From The Year They Were Born
It's been a strange 24 hours in "American Idol"-dom with the apparent elimination of contestant Jermaine Jones for failing to reveal aspects of his criminal record.
With FOX refusing any sort of official comment on how Jones' absence will be handled, there's suspense aplenty as Wednesday (March 14) night's show is set to begin.
Click through for a full recap of Wednesday's news and performances...
Wow. Ryan Seacrest begins by using the contestant's elimination as a TEASE for the start of the episode. "When you're doing a live show, anything can happen," Ryan says, before kicking to the opening credits.
And even after the credits, Seacrest says he'll talk more about the eliminated contestant, still unnamed, later in the show. Because clearly it's more important to show baby pictures of the three judges.
LAME. And a bit distasteful. Anyway... Songs From The Year They Were Born.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: "Hard to Handle"
My Take: Wow. Phil-Phil nearly died as an infant and he came in to rehearse just hours before going in for surgery on his kidney stones. And he is, indeed, the first person to cheat tonight's theme. This is also the first time we've seen Phil-Phil perform live without his guitar. And the result is... twitchy. The director is almost afraid to put Phil-Phil in a full frame, preferring to focus on him from the shoulders up whenever possible. And the hilarious thing is that despite the poor mic posture and the weird leg-lifting, this is easily the most comfortable we've seen Phil-Phil sans guitar this season. As for the performance? Decent. But not distinctive. We've grown accustomed to Phil-Phil putting his own twist on songs, but this is entirely untwisted. This is just the Black Crowes' version of the song sung solidly and with a fair amount of passion. It's doubtful, though, that it'll be memorable and Phil-Phil may need to rely on some sympathy this week.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You're kinda unique for us this year," Randy says. Then J-Lo prompts Phil-Phil's acknowledgement of his surgery, which was Thursday? Randy liked the song choice. "This is just so natural for you," J-Lo says, saying "it just comes out of you." Phil-Phil is like, "I wish I could say the same about the kidney stones." Tyler says nothing of interest.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "Turn the Beat Around"
My Take: Oh. This is an "American Idol" contestant who was born the year I graduated from high school. That's not good. This is also our second straight Song Re-Recorded The Year They Were Born. I guess Jessica felt confident enough that she showed us last week that she can sing. So this week, she decided to show us she can do cheesy, energetic karaoke. She's so much better on the diva material than she is on this sort of barroom corniness. She's out of breath several times during the performance and she seems to have no awareness at all of how to avoid turning her back to the audience and getting lost in the music. She's also missing many notes and having to modulate her voice to find the melody that's eluding her. This performance is a real mess and I'm certain I'd be even harsher on it if it were coming from a singer I didn't think was this talented.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say:
"I love your voice, but you can't stray too far from what I think you do best, which is ballads," Steven Tyler says. Yes. Tyler has CRITICISMS. He also raves about a 16-year-old girl's pants. Bad idea, Steven. J-Lo thought the rhythm got Jessica, but it was still a "good job." Randy disliked the song choice. He wanted her to pick something that she could play with more and he didn't like the vibrato in the song and Randy and J-Lo agree that she should have sung things straight. The criticism here is weirdly accurate.
Singer: Heejun Han
Song: "Right Here Waiting For You"
My Take: This is going to be a disastrous night, isn't it? Heejun is doing his "Nutty Professor" impression and doing an unbearably cheesy and all-over-the-map version of this Richard Marx chestnut. It's all mumbly and even his tone isn't very good until the very, very end. I'm not sure there was any sign of connection between Heejun and the song, so it became a melodically inconsistent snooze. Good thing for Heejun he was so likable in his clip package. That's all that's going to keep him in the competition. That was a mess.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I didn't really enjoy this at all," Randy says, calling it "pitchy in five or six spots." Randy also thought it was the wrong song. J-Lo felt that Heejun fought through his struggles and towards the end it was beautiful for her. Tyler also didn't like the song, but he still thinks Heejun has a special voice. Heejun is, again, charming after the performance.
Singer: Elise Testone
Song: "Let's Stay Together"
My Take: Apparently there was a Tina Turner cover of this song in 1983. Thus, it's not cheating the theme. Except for totally. Heejun wins for singing a song that was actually originated in the same year he was. This is a much better vehicle for Elise's naturally raw and raspy voice than last week's Whitney Houston theme. But sometimes Elise goes too raspy and her voice hurts my throat. There were several times in the second half when I want a lozenge. And yet, it's the first performance of the night that didn't just sound like karaoke. Some of Elise's personality is actually evident here. Thus? Tentative and tempered "Thumbs up."
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler loves her voice. J-Lo thinks that was right on every single level and she calls it "a beautiful, beautiful thing." Randy raves, "America, Elise is back." Randy thought it bore some resemblance to butter.
Singer: DeAndre Brackensick
Song: "Endless Love"
My Take: Yup. Another cheat. Plus, who chooses to sing a song as a solo that was designed as a duet? And who forces a singer to do a solo on a duet? Damn you, Jimmy Iovine and Will.i.Am. This is dreadful. Stop. Strangling. Cats. DeAndre. My God. That was painful. He has no light in his eyes at all. He doesn't know where to go. He doesn't know who to sing to. He doesn't know what key the song is in. There are falsetto flourishes that make no sense, like DeAndre had to add them to avoid falling asleep mid-song. He didn't enjoy a second of that and neither did I.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You can sing anything," J-Lo says, having apparently not listening to THE SONG HE JUST SANG. She still thinks he's great, even though she didn't like the song choice. Tyler loves DeAndre's voice, but also didn't love the performance. "It was boring and very safe for you at the wrong time," Randy says.
Singer: Shannon Magrane
Song: "One Sweet Day"
My Take: Oh no. No. No. No. After the damage Shannon did Whitney Houston last week, why is she tackling Mariah Carey this week? And why is there a string ensemble engulfed in fog? And why is Shannon wearing shiny gold formal shorts? Oh no. This is less overtly awful than Shannon's performance last week, but it's not in any way a song she has enough voice for. Her voice is thin and limited here. At least the notes are somewhat there tonight. Is Shannon courageous or foolish? I don't know. Is anybody else wondering why Jessica sang that awful thing that Jessica sang rather than trying to sing this instead? Because Jessica would have sung the heck out of this.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I was terrified for you... but you did a beautiful job," J-Lo says. "I think you try your best when you don't try so hard and that was beautiful," Steve says. Randy was also terrified, but he also thought it was a good job. Yup. We're grading on a massive curve here.
Singer: Colton Dixon
Song: "Broken Heart"
My Take: Yeah. I've never heard this song before, have I? Will.i.am hadn't and America probably won't have. And that's never a good sign. On the other hand, this is the best version of this song that I've ever heard. I'm not comparing it to anything else and at least Colton seems to be having fun or at least being passionate about the song. The notes are mostly there? I guess? I assume? It sounds like a Colton song, which is to say that it sounds nasally, but sincere. And now, the second the music is over, I've forgotten every bit of that performance. Weird song choice. But I'm sure White Lion was honored to be contacted to clear the song.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo didn't know the song. "Colton's a love," J-Lo says and then she's unable to explain herself. "I think you look pretty when you sing," J-Lo says. Tyler, however, thought it was the wrong song for Colton's voice and his passion. "There's always two ways to go with this," Randy says, though he also says Colton performed the song dope.
Singer: Erika Van Pelt
My Take: Yay! A reasonably good song choice. Coupled with a nauseating staircase backdrop. Hmmm... She seemed really good in the rehearsal footage, but she's having trouble on the low notes. And that big break that Jimmy added in the song? It's not nearly as dramatic here as it was in rehearsal. Erika's better than this and I can't quite say what's wrong here. Sigh. It's just been that kind of night, hasn't it?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I think you're too busy all over it," says Tyler, who's having a miserable night. J-Lo, who already compared Elise to Janis Joplin now tells Erika that she's this year's Janis Joplin. Randy kinda liked it, giving it an 8-out-of-10.
Now at 9:19, Ryan is able to tell us that Jermaine Jones was eliminated, which TMZ told us last night. We cut to filmed footage from the previous day with Nigel and Ken ambushing Jermaine in a back room with his criminal record. They're basically bending Jermaine over and spanking him on national TV, listing his crimes and lecturing. Jermaine says he was scared and nervous and didn't want to be penalized for his past. Nigel then tells Jermaine that they have no choice but to let him go and they tell him that his rehearsal was the best he's ever sounded. His rendition of "Somewhere Out There" had the potential to be very strange.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: "Love Sneaking Up On You"
My Take: I love Jimmy and Will.i.am trying to mess with Skylar's head by suggesting a Coolio song. The mentors were right about one thing: As great as the Bonnie Raitt original is, this isn't enough song for Skylar. With Bonnie Raitt, it's all about the character and experience conveyed in her voice. But Skylar doesn't have that character and experience. She's holding back vocally and she's holding back in terms of her irrepressible stage energy. Towards the end, she adds some big growls and a big final note. It's definitely a good performance. But would Coolio have been superior? This recapper says, "Yes."
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I haven't heard you sing a song bad yet," Tyler says. "You really killed that," says J-Lo, who doesn't know the song. Randy says that Skylar could have chosen a country sound and instead she chose... Wait. Does Randy not know this song either? For the love of Pete. It's Bonnie Raitt. It's a country song.
Singer: Josh Ledet
Song: "When a Man Loves a Woman"
My Take: "Idol" was concerned that Josh wasn't connecting with people, so... They brought out a giant bucket of crawfish and had Josh teach America how to eat crawfish. In a white suit. That was a weird moment. Josh's song choice is a cheat, but it's a brilliant cheat. He might say he's singing it because of the Michael Bolton version, but we all know that's bunk. This is straight-up Percy Sledge/Atlantic-label soul. And it's about a million times better than anything else we've heard tonight. He's a performer -- that jacket-drop midway through the song is MONEY -- and he's singing the freaking snot out of the song. Wow. I may be grading on a curve for this awful night, but that was special.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy says that Joshua came out and regulated. "The best thing I've ever seen on 'American Idol,'" J-Lo says. "I'm so excited right now," J-Lo continues. "You gave it up so big God came through your eyes," Tyler says. Ryan suggests that the show shouldn't go to commercial.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: "Power of Love"
My Take: Oh. I thought Hollie was doing Huey Lewis & The News' "The Power of Love." That would have been much more exciting. This is Hollie in straight-forward balladeer mode, wandering through fog and shouting with robotic respectability. There are notes Hollie is missing throughout and her voice cracks on the big final note. I expect the judges to ignore this.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "With you and Joshua, they really saved the best for last," J-Lo says. No. You can't compare Joshua to J-Lo. Tyler thinks Hollie's voice comes from heaven above. Randy says it was "another moment." NO. It was NOT. That's a ridiculous comparison. Intolerable.
TONIGHT'S BEST: As far as Jessica was ahead of the field last week, Josh is twice as far ahead of the field this week.
TONIGHT'S WORST: DeAndre, Heejun and a few other performances were not good at all.
WHO'S IN TROUBLE? I think Heejun, Erika and DeAndre are your Bottom Three. And either Heejun or Erika is heading home.
What'd you think?