Recap: 'American Idol' Top 3 Performances - Jessica, Joshua and Phillip sing
Will three performances from the Top 3 yield a new favorite?
Now things are about to get interesting.
Last week, we dispatched Hollie Cavanagh, which was sad for Joshua Ledet, but pretty straight-forward for America. Leaving aside the only briefly relevant question of whether or not Colton Dixon would be able to ride in-song prayer to an "Idol" crown, we've worked our way down to what probably should have been the Top 3 from the very beginning of the season. Joshua, Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips belong here.
But who deserves to be singing next Tuesday and Wednesday? That's more of a mystery. For me at least, Joshua is a no-brainer as a deserving finalist. But if you want to have a specific preference between Jessica's preternaturally assured pipes and Phil-Phil's [relative] originality and artistry? I'm understanding of both points of view.
So as we settle in for a three-performance night by each singer -- One they chose themselves, one the judges chose for them and one chosen by Jimmy Iovine -- I'm feeling a bit like Mr. Randy Jackson: Tonight, I would like to see who's in it to win it. Dawg.
Click through for the recap...
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: "I'd Rather Go Blind"
My Take: In a long show like this, you don't want to be leading things off. With three performances apiece, the pimp slot probably isn't necessary, but with this much talent, it can't hurt to be the last thing viewers remember. The first round is the Judges' Choice, not that Randy knew the name of the Etta James track he allegedly picked. Looking dapper with a red shirt and a matching rose in his lapel and crooning into a retro mic, Josh is right in his wheelhouse. It's yet another glorious showcase for Joshua's straight-into-the-studio voice, with jazzy grace notes and church-y touches aplenty. You could plunk him a booth right now and record this and it would be a huge hit. If this were 1966. And even today? I'm just happy listening. For me, Joshua is like a perfect blend of Melinda Doolittle and his idol Fantasia Barrino. He's a technician. He's an artist. And he sounds like nobody else. [Please recall how much I disliked Joshua's Josh Groban cover last week before you complain I'm in the tank for the guy. I don't think he can do no wrong, but when he does right, I'm a big fan.]
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges start the night on their feet. "This is another Joshua moment," Steven Tyler raves, saying he sang like the American Idol. "You are such a throwback and I love that about you," Jennifer Lopez cheers. "You're such a classic stylist. This fits you so like a glove," Randy says, hoping Joshua can bring his touch to modern times.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "My All"
My Take: The judges want Jessica to sing Mariah Carey. Because heaven knows we haven't heard her do The Great Divas this season. There's a weird conflict in stage presentation. The guitarist sitting on the edge of the stage suggests an intimacy and warmth. Jessica's rigid presence atop a platform surrounded by fog in her prom dress suggests the exact opposite. Her stage presence is aloof. The song is, interestingly, too range-y for her, particularly on her less impressive lower register. When she's high, it's beautiful. When she's low, it's mumbly and breathless. She barely stays on any note for a second. It's all trills and vibrato and runs. If you love that sort of thing, you'll like the performance. But if you honestly compare it to Jessica's best performances? That wasn't anywhere near.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That was absolutely beautiful," Randy says, name-dropping Randy. He goes so far as to call it one of the best times a Mariah song has been performed on TV. J-Lo says the song is hard. Steven calls it over-the-top as a compliment and I think he called her the winner or something.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
My Take: Steven Tyler wanted Phil-Phil to show off a bit more of his melodic side, so naturally he's detoured this sound around its familiar melody. Naturally. This is a better piece of singing than we've seen Phil-Phil do for a while. On songs like this, he tends to get stuck in his nasally head-voice, but this has song dynamic range and he's definitely having some fun, controlling the stage musically and maintaining audience energy in a way he sometimes forgets to do. Round One goes to Joshua, with Phil-Phil right behind.
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Singer: Joshua Ledet
My Take: Sorry. I'm not recapping the visits home. Joshua got a church-heavy edit. He also kissed babies and got the obligatory high school assembly and fireworks. For his own song choice, Joshua decided to go with the John Lennon favorite that very nearly lifted Little David Archuleta to the "Idol" crown. I like Josh when he doesn't need to over-emphasize how earnest and heartfelt everything is. That's why I didn't like his Groban and that's why this is way too predictable and easy for me. It's mostly stripped down and, relatively speaking, not weighted down with Joshua affectations. I'm not questioning that he's doing this well, but I don't get the same joy from it as I do when Joshua dips into the Motown songbook. He's talented, though. We know this. The boy can sing and this is note-perfect, without surprising.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven thinks he's sat there and watched Joshua learn to sing. I suspect this is not true. "It was a pulled back and controlled performance for you," J-Lo says. It sounds like she's moving into an insult, but really she's just saying that Joshua has courage to dig deep into the material. Randy wants everything Josh sings to touch him and calls this particular performance "stellar."
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing"
My Take: Jessica flew to San Diego in a helicopter? That's kinda crazy. She landed in the middle of the outfield at Petco Park. That's bananas. She performed for sailors on the USS Midway. Yeah, Jessica got perks Joshua didn't come close to getting, sentiment-wise. Song-wise, Jessica has chosen to Mariah-ize an Aerosmith song for Steven Tyler, who leers approvingly throughout. Going more contemporary was a good choice for Jessica, whose best chance to beat Joshua is by proving that she's more "2012" and more marketable, which is probably true. This song has been performed to death on "Idol" and this definitely one of the better versions we've heard, even with a last note that wavers and trembles in really un-Jessica fashion. I almost like that imperfection. When Jessica messes up, she seems more human than when she's doing a perfectly mimicked Xerox.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say:Tyler gives Jessica a standing ovation and tells her she made a great song better. J-Lo claims Tyler's hesitant to rave about people singing his songs and she loved Jessica's last note. Randy thought it started a little slow, but he felt she delivered on the big moment at the end.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
My Take: People back in Georgia like Phil-Phil. The clip package is full of nice humanizing moment like Phillip talking to a stuffed turkey and Phil-Phil's father's heartfelt tribute. And one key thing: Teenage girls love them some Phil-Phil in ways they didn't appear to love Jessica or Joshua. That's not insignificant. Do I know this Matchbox 20 song Phil-Phil has chosen for himself? Kinda, because it sounds like nearly every Matchbox 20 song. Phil-Phil loves finding ways to get the jazz sax player on stage with him. Do we think something's going on there? You can't undersell how much Phil-Phil's musicality improves his every performance. With his guitar, he unifies all of the disparate elements on-stage with him, compared to Jessica's awkward alienation and Josh's hit-and-miss connection. Put Phil-Phil on stage with a bongo player and the jazz sax and it comes together as a full musical number. Like Jessica, Phil-Phil is emphasizing his currency. You could write for this guy and market him. In 2012. Another solid performance, though probably less interesting than Phil-Phil's first solo. I'm not sure I want to give Round 2 to anybody. They were all OK-ish.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo thought it wasn't a "Wow" performance, but it was "good." Damning. Tyler didn't think it was over-the-top. Randy didn't like it and make a big deal of patting himself on the back for not loving everything.
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: "No More Drama"
My Take: Jimmy Iovine picked a Mary J. Blige song for Joshua because he wanted Joshua to go over the top. And who is Joshua to say "No"? It's not a good piece of stagecraft. Joshua's jacket with the rhinestone shoulders is silly, as are the zombie backup singers. This song is simultaneously perfect and probably proves exactly the thing Jimmy didn't want it to: If this is what songwriters are going to think matches Joshua, he can't possibly sell into today's marketplace and who would think to match this song, at least on the page, with a male artist in the first place? He's going to require too much nurturing and care to get right. In that respect, Joshua is basically the Adam Lambert of this season. After starting subdued, Joshua works himself up into a marvelously frantic state, selling the performance as best he can. It still feels just a bit off, even if he couldn't have done it better. The jacket-toss and the earpiece-cast-aside are vintage Joshua.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy though the performance was the performance of a great artist. In the audience, Hollie Cavanagh agrees. "You have this perfect marriage of knowing exactly what you're doing and letting completely go at the same time," J-Lo says. Tyler says he watched Joshua and felt the last 40 years of the music business.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "It'll Be There"
My Take: Yawn. So Jimmy gave Jessica a Jackson Five song that's basically her second Mariah Carey song of the night. We get the point. The girl can sing Mariah Carey. Surely there was a different Jackson Five song that Jimmy could have picked for her if what he wanted to showcase was her youth, rather than her Mariah-esque tendencies. The slightly odd thing is that she's singing the Jackson arrangement like Mariah, so it isn't as -- to use the Steven Tyler parlance -- over-the-top as it could be. Maybe Jessica could have used a little genuine over-the-top as a final performance for the night? All three of Jessica's performances tonight have been interchangeable, though I like that this one at least included a smile. Mostly, she did what we knew she could do.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "Perfect song, perfect voice, you nailed it," Steve says. J-Lo thought it was a good choice and that she killed it in the end. "I liked it OK. I didn't love it," Randy says. "There was never a Moment moment," Randy says. He's correct in this case.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: "We've Got Tonight"
My Take: The AT&T branding on these song selections is hilarious. Jimmy's choice? A little Bob Seger. It's a song that strips Phil-Phil of his guitar. It's just Phil-Phil on a stool singing. Even he looks perplexed. He keeps rubbing his thigh with his left hand, not knowing what to do with it at all. Maybe this was the wrong week to drop him into this deep end. The audience apparently hates Phil-Phil, because they begin clapping along to the song both inappropriately and off-rhythm. [Note: The audience doesn't really hate Phil-Phil. They love him. They're just idiots who hate music and like to destroy it.] But accompanied by a string ensemble, Phil-Phil delivers exactly what Jimmy wanted. If you ever said to yourself, "But can Phil-Phil actually sell a song on his voice alone?" The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes. It's sentimental, passionate and... it's singing, without embellishment.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "The perfect song at the perfect time and your best performance on the show ever," Randy says, calling this a Moment. "This boy here is in it to win it," Randy says. FIRST!!!! First "In it to win it" of the season. J-Lo says that women around the country will love the performance. "You just showed you've got all that passion wrapped up inside you," Tyler says, calling a performance "beautiful" and "over the top" for fifth or sixth time tonight.
OVERALL: Jessica showed only one color tonight. She did it well, but she did it thrice. Both Phil-Phil and Joshua showed they have a variety of tools in their kit. My instinct is that that musical diversity, plus the "Idol" audience's preference for male contestants will lead to Jessica's elimination, but I could be totally off-base.
What do you think?
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