Recap: 'American Idol' Top 5 Performances - British Pop and '60s Night
It's a double theme night on "American Idol."
Apparently Wednesday will find the season's Top 5 singing British pop songs and Songs from the '60s.
And yes, I'm also disappointed that the theme is British Pop and not Brit Pop, because I wanted to hear some Pulp, Blur and Oasis tonight. Instead, we get two themes that might as well be the same theme.
Let's see how it goes...
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: "River Deep, Mountain High"
My Take: Hollie chose this song because people want her to come out of her shell more. That didn't work last year when Pia Toscano chose this song because people wanted her to come out of her shell more. And Hollie Cavanagh is no Pia Toscano, at least not vocally. Perhaps sensing that Hollie might not be carry off this song, "Idol" has stuck her with five or six different groups of accompaniment. There's a brass ensemble. There's a band. There are background singers. There's a dude on bongos. It's very, very busy. Hollie, who continues to benefit from low expectations, does a decent job of not getting lost. She's shouting much more than she's singing, but at least she's mostly landing the notes and doing it with fair energy. Hollie's dangerous, because she's not as good as Jessica, but she's figured out song choices much better than Jessica has at this point and she's also done better stepping out of her comfort zone than Jessica has. Wait. If she's better at those things, maybe she's actually just better than Jessica? Dunno. Anyway, this was fine. It's a great song. She didn't ruin it.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy stands for her. Steven Tyler loved seeing Hollie sing the blues. He thanks the Lord. Jennifer Lopez thought it was a different type of Hollie and she could really feel the energy. Randy loved it too. "You've gotta do it like there's nobody watching," Randy says.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: "The Letter"
My Take: Alleged "American Idol" Winner Lee DeWyze did the straight-up Joe Cocker for this one back in the day. Thankfully, Phil-Phil isn't that predictable. This isn't Joe Cocker at all. Sure, it's kinda Dave Matthews-y, but I'm not even sure it's that slavishly mimeographed. The melody has been completely stripped away and it's now kinda a jaunty attitude piece and it's a great comeback for Phil-Phil, who struggled last week with both song choice and performance. He actually looks like he's having a great time with this, though I'm fairly sure that's a performance that'll play better in the "Idol" theater than it will at home, where viewers won't be sure what to do with the arrangement.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy rambles for a while. Bottom line? Randy says that Phil-Phil made it new for him and he loved it. J-Lo doesn't know the original song. LAME, J-Lo. She found Phil-Phil to be compelling and dynamic. Tyler missed the melody, but praises him for getting away with it. Apparently we have lots of time to kill tonight, because the judges are bantering up a storm. Uh-oh. Phil-Phil has a girlfriend? Did Ryan Seacrest just kill Phil-Phil for America?
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: "Fortunate Son"
My Take: Oh goodie. Yeah, she's got no idea what she's singing about here. Sigh. This is one of those instances where I kinda hate Jimmy Iovine. It's a fine song -- heck, it's a FANTASTIC song -- but how about giving Skylar a song that could have meaning to her? I mean, you only have a decade to work with here. You don't pause "Fortunate Son" to run along the front row high-fiving. Seriously. No phrasing. No emotional logic. Nothing. Oh well. She's having fun out there and it's perfectly fine to listen to, though she's audibly out of breath by the end. Sigh. Yes. Pump your fists at the end. Not. A. Fan. Of. That.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "It's like you attack every single song," J-Lo says, enthusiastically, also praising her fearlessness. "You love music and music loves you," Tyler says meaninglessly. Randy gives it up for CCR and then says CCR would be proud. Today? Sure. Because it'll give them some money.
Singer: Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips
Song: "You've Lost That Loving Feeling"
My Take: Poor Phil-Phil. His usual duet partner was sent home last week. And now he finds himself crooning "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" to a much, much, much better pure singer. With Elise, Phil-Phil could go quirky-a-quirky. This, however, is a very weird back and forth. Joshua's voice is MADE for songs like this. Phil-Phil is made to smirk his way through songs like this. The best part of the song come at the end when Phil-Phil approaches Josh to put his arm around him and flusters his partner, who loses composure entirely. That may be the most spontaneous moment in "American Idol" history.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You need to embrace each other up there!" Tyler gushes. J-Lo points out that the song was, of course, sung by two men originally, so it shouldn't need to be that awkward. Randy thought they delivered it. "Goose and Maverick, ladies and gentlemen," Ryan Seacrest says. Phil-Phil smirks. Joshua doesn't get "Top Gun" references.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "Proud Mary"
My Take: Jessica Sanchez is a member of the Least Like Tina Turner All-Star Team. She has a 16-year-old girl's idea of what attitude is like. That's not her fault, given that she's a 16-year-old girl. But I sure wish somebody -- Jimmy, the costumers, anybody -- was providing actual assistance and steering her to better song and attire choices. Because we all know that Jessica can sing up a storm. But really, when Hollie Cavanagh has more soul and more attitude than you have, you're well served finding something different to do. Jessica could do this performance as an opening act for the Wiggles and the kiddies would love it, but let's not pretend for a second that she's doing justice to the song on any level.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You're so grown up there," J-Lo says. This is wrong. Don't you dare compare that to what Elise would have done with the same song. Elise would have torn that up. "The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old," Steven says. Ew. That's gotta be icky. Randy, however, thought the performance was "barely OK." Thank you, Randy. He's absolutely correct that the gap between Jessica's voice and her performance was massive. J-Lo protests that this is about Jessica's journey. Randy says all version of this song will pale in comparison to Tina. "Whatever," J-Lo responds, thoughtfully.
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"
My Take: Whew. Jimmy's only attempting to screw the women up. The men are allowed to make reasonable song choices and to do songs that actually suit their voices and their strengths. Because this is an absolute no-brainer and it works perfectly. Joshua's suit works. The flower on his lapel works. The smoking hot background singers, who don't distract Joshua at all, work. It can only be said so many times: If this were 1968, you could put Joshua in a Motown recording studio and he'd be a mammoth success. I don't know where he fits in the contemporary music landscape, but he's ridiculously gifted within this format and I could listen to him sing Motown songs all day.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler praises the background singers, but also calls Joshua one of the two best "Idol" singers ever. "You're like a throwback from another era," says J-Lo, who finds Joshua "sickening." Randy thinks Joshua could bring R&B back, comparing him to Terence Trent D'Arby.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
Song: "Bleeding Love"
My Take: There's an exploding heart on the screen behind Hollie. Ugh. After her over-produced opening, this is very welcome. It's Hollie sitting on a piano. That's it. Hollie doesn't have the head voice to sell the grace notes in the chorus, but there are some nice things she's doing on the chorus. I never think of Hollie as having any touch with phrasing, but she's selling this in some nice ways. Note: All of the nice ways Hollie is phrasing the song are straight out of the Leona Lewis original, but that didn't mean Hollie had to be able to do them and she really can. This is probably Hollie's best ballad performance to date, less robotic and more connected than anything Hollie could have done earlier in the season.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I loved it, I loved it, I loved it," Tyler raves. J-Lo loved the intimate quality and some of the runs. WOW. Randy makes a Simon Cowell reference. Who remembers the last time the C-word was said on this show? "You're peaking now at the right time," Randy points out. He's not wrong. If the game is about growth, Hollie really IS the singer in the Top 5 who has grown the most. She also had the most growing to do. But still...
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: "Time of the Season"
My Take: Wow. That's kinda the origina Zombies melody that Phil-Phil is doing here, complete with weird tie-dye spirals behind him. Phil-Phil begins by casting off his ear-piece and there are some weird moments on the chorus where he's kinda trying to do harmony or... something, but it isn't totally clear if he's succeeding at what he's attempting. It's not all that pleasant to listen to, though, and the Joe Cocker constipation is... weird. I genuinely don't know if that was mission accomplished, or mission horribly botched. He looks uncomfortable at the end. Voters probably won't care.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy is enthusiastic, for weird reasons, calling it "nice." J-Lo calls it mellow or something. Tyler's glad Phil-Phil sang the song. I'm really confused.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavanagh, Sklar Laine
Song: "Higher and Higher"
My Take: The best part of this performance came before anybody sang a note. I'm referring to the daggers that shot out of Jessica's eyes when Hollie did her Jessica impression. The performance itself is a shouting match. I think there were some dropped or forgotten lyrics, but... who cares? They all hug at the end. I don't believe it for a second. CAT FIGHT!
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler thought it was great. J-Lo thought it was a treat to see them all side-by-side. "It was just so cute," she raves.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me"
My Take: I like the song choice. But why are there two extras sitting on a park bench? Who asked for the human tableau? That's not adding anything. Yeah, I really like this. It's very true to the original Dusty Springfield melody, but it's got enough country touches that Skylar sounds entirely comfortable with it. That was a VERY nice bounce-back after her clueless CCR opener. That was big, emotional and believable.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy thinks Skylar is also peaking at the right time. "I'm transfixed on everything you're doing," Randy says. He does, however, ask about the weird people on the bench. J-Lo says that with performances like that, Skylar just might win. "Just more proof that it works when you work it," Tyler says. From "AI" to AA?
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "You Are So Beautiful"
My Take: So you take a Joe Cocker song that's made palatable by the gruff counterpoint between his voice and the lyrics and then you smooth out the voice? Hmmm... Surrounded by smoke and candles, Jessica has turned this song into a very pleasant lullaby. It's perfectly sung and yet it's an absolutely snorefest, right down to the hipster in the ski-cap strumming his guitar. This wasn't lounge-y. It was coffee shop-y. I don't know which is worse.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You once again showed America just how beautiful your voice is," Steven says. J-Lo was captivated. Randy puts Jessica at the top of the leaderboard for Round 2. "I'm telling you, your talent level is just unbelievable," Randy adds. Courting the jailbait foot fetishist vote, Ryan helps Jessica into her VERY high heels.
Singer: Joshua Ledet
Song: "To Love Somebody"
My Take: Joshua gets to keep Jessica's candles. The song has a VERY slow build. Too slow, really. There's a lengthy snooze process before Joshua gets to the chorus. Perhaps impatient himself, Josh gets to the chorus and goes utterly nuts. Runs! Growling! Falsetto! Church-times-10! I'm not sure that was really an organic performance. It didn't build. It was quiet, quiet, quiet, INSANE. But Joshua does insane well. The judges give their first standing ovation of the night.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy gives a shout-out to Robin Gibb and says that performance was what it was all about and that Joshua's one of the best singers ever on the show. "It's been years since we've seen somebody like this," J-Lo says, calling Joshua one of the best singers of the past 50 years. Hmmm... Big words, J-Lo.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Hmmm... For me, that was a really uneven night of performances. I really liked Josh and Phil-Phil's first performances. I really liked Skylar's second performance. But I don't have a clear overall winner for the night.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Jessica and Skylar both had in-over-their-heads first performances. I still don't "get" Phil-Phil's second performance.
IN DANGER: I wonder if Hollie, with two decent performances maybe gets lost in the shuffle because she didn't have a soaring high or a soaring low? Shoot, I don't know. Anything could happen. Hollie and Jessica are both likely to be in a "Bottom" group, but other than that? Who knows?
What'd you think? Who shined? Who stumbled? Who's going home?