Wow, I am speechless. Last night may have been one of the greatest telecasts of American Idol I have ever seen. Every single contestant had the bare minimum of one stellar performance on “Now and Then” theme night. Sure, there’s always the occasional bump or two in the road, but with voices like these, who needs The Voice? I kid, I kid! To top things off, we had a comeback I was not expecting, and I may have just changed favorites in the course of a single evening (I’m forever going to empathize with wishy-washy politicians). Because the Top 7 are singing two songs this week, my breakdown will still be a ranking, but an average between the two performances. Let’s not waste another second! Below is my review session for the Top 7 Redux…
7. Colton Dixon (Now: “Bad Romance,” Then: “September”) — If we’re expecting a shocker tonight, I’d point right at Sir Emo-Hawk. Colton’s intentions were in the right place, but his vocals were some of the weakest he’s displayed throughout the competition. “Bad Romance” was exciting at times, but as much as I dug the staging, arrangement, and glorious goth vibe, I have to call out flat notes when I hear them. Colton had plenty to choose from, and the only way to fix such misfires is to not let the song’s hardcore emotion overwhelm your focus. As for “September,” the beginning had a lot of promise, but Colton transformed into Phillip (in a “performances always sound the same” kind of way) for a second by unleashing another whiny ballad at the piano. This was one of Colton’s least memorable numbers by miles. Even though Colton stayed more in tune on his Earth, Wind, and Fire song, I actually enjoyed “Bad Romance” more because of its edginess and unpredictability. Sometimes flawed is more fascinating if there are flashes of brilliance.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ***, Then: **1/2)
Could Colton be the shocking elimination tonight? This week may have brought him down somewhat:
6. Elise Testone (Now: “No One,” Then: Let’s Get It On”) — Okay folks, prepare yourself — I’m about to enter the Twilight Zone! Believe it or not, I actually loved “Let’s Get It On” and did not care at all for “No One.” I know this is the exact opposite of how the judges’ felt, and that is fine by me since I’ve stopped listening to Randy’s mad dawg barking a long time ago. “No One” just didn’t fit Elise at all. Some performers can pull off ethereal and serene, but that is not the Elise I know and love. There weren’t any vocal liberties taken in this cover, and aside from “I Want to Know What Love Is,” this was Elise’s most straight-forward rendition of a song yet. I’ll forget the performance ever went down in a few hours. Between the styling and the boring phrasing, it was as if Elise transformed herself into a pageant queen before our very eyes. What happened to make Elise such a Disney Princess square? Thank god for the more slinky, swanky, and sexy “Let’s Get It On.” I loved the way Elise prowled across the stage like a sultry vamp out of a noir flick. I liked the craziness, and I even loved the return of the Led Zeppelin scream from “Whole Lotta Love.” This performance charmed me, and contrary to popular opinion, it was the right song for Elise. I’m not sure America is going to buy into what I saw, but hey, you cannot win them all.
Performance Reviews: (Now: **1/2, Then: ***1/2)
Elise, don’t worry about the judges. Just keep being you:
5. Skylar Laine (Now: “Born This Way”, Then: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”) — Skylar had the worst performance of the night, and also one of the best, so 5th place is where she ended up landing by night’s end. “Born This Way” could have been so awful and all over the place in terms of arrangement and pitch, but Skylar Laine managed to countrify Gaga with great success. It may not have been as paradoxically brilliant as Adam Lambert’s “Ring of Fire,” but I can’t say I wasn’t wholly struck in awe by this version. The violins gave the performance a classy texture, totally the opposite of the honky-tonk tomfoolery I was anticipating. Skylar owned every lyric in the song like a closely guarded momma with her child, and I couldn’t help but feel the urge to back up. Girl is powerful and can kick my butt. She’s been kicking some booty two weeks in a row, but tonight the tides may change despite the brilliance of “Born this Way.” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was one of Skylar’s weakest outings to date, and it might very well send her home tonight. First off, that song has been recycled so often on Idol, it practically grates on my nerves whenever I hear it performed. Skylar’s country twist felt a little cheap in my opinion. There was nothing soulful or very uplifting about the whole cover. I felt like Skylar was on the warpath the entire song, which is completely the wrong type of vibe for this Motown classic. The unnecessary aggression and attack turned me off a bit. This wasn’t as vocally problematic as Casey Abrams’ unpleasant version last season (which placed him last in the votes during Top 11), but it also shouldn’t be placed on a Skylar Laine “Greatest Hits” Album either.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ****, Then: **1/2)
Skylar had a hit and a miss. Unfortunately, the miss outweighed the hit:
4. Joshua Ledet (Now: “I Believe,” Then: “A Change is Gonna Come”) — Joshua channeled Fantasia in all the best ways possible last night, but he sort of let me down with his lackluster take on a Sam Cook tearjerker. Joshua’s first few verses on “I Believe” sounded heavenly, and I’m sure there hasn’t been a song this season that Joshua has connected so strongly with than this. Yes, he did make Tasia proud on her own song, but there was still an innocent feel to Joshua’s rendition that never completely fell into mimicry territory. I could hear and feel Joshua Ledet more so than Fantasia, and that’s what ultimately defined this performance as outstanding. As for “A Change is Gonna Come,” I didn’t care for Ledet’s interpretation at all. He brought a theatricality to the performance that was oddly placed, unnecessary, and slightly distasteful considering its powerful message. You can tell when Joshua is nervous during a performance because his eyes always light up in fear right at the very beginning of the song. Joshua seemed very panicky in spots, and tried to make up for his fear by overselling certain moments in the song, coming across a tad disingenuous as a result. I was expecting this version to be far stronger than it turned out to be, and for that I’m sorry Joshua could not handle the pressure of this revered track.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ****, Then: **1/2)
Mantasia soared, but the Soulful King may have to give up his crown to some of his peers:
3. Jessica Sanchez (Now: “Fallin,” Then: “Try a Little Tenderness”) — Jessica’s voice on “Fallin” was…wow…words aren’t describable enough. Every nuance of that song was covered and expanded upon, and Jessica’s technical precision was beyond anything a 16 year old can do. Jessica isn’t from this planet, I’m convinced, because she nails every note with unshakeable confidence and supernatural specificity. Because nearly everything about “Fallin” sounded so technically perfect, some personality was missing. Say what you will about Haley Reinhart’s version of “Fallin” last season, but I preferred her sultry Betty Boop spin on “Fallin” to this fairly predictable cover. Still, technique is technique, and there’s no way I can fault Jessica after delivering her most perfect vocal of the season, even if her execution seemed freakishly robotic. As for “Try a Little Tenderness,” we finally got to see Jessica become a bit unhinged, and I’m always up for that. Unfortunately, the second half was rasp overkill that veered on the brink of disaster. I loved the ballsy choices Jessica made with this interpretation, but the execution could have been more refined. As it stands, neither performance was a true miss, but both were just under an Idol moment.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ***1/2, Then: ***)
Jessica was vocally masterful last night, but she needs her personality to shine more:
2. Phillip Phillips (Now: “U Got It Bad,” Then: “In the Midnight Hour”) — P2 is back, and nearly better than ever! I know a lot of people still cannot get over Phillip’s “White Guy With Guitar” shtick, but let’s all try and stay objective for a bit. P2′s rendition of “U Got It Bad” was storytelling at its finest, I don’t care what anyone says! Every lyric Phillip touched on was focused in a specific way with his voice. When times were tough, P2′s voice dropped to a near whisper, and when you needed to unleash your frustrations, there was P2′s voice complimenting that feeling with his growls, which were incredibly controlled this time around. This may be one of my favorite performances of Phillip’s to date. I felt the music, I understood the story, and Phillip does now deserve to stay. Although I was less enthused with “In the Midnight Hour,” I have to say it was still pretty darn soulful. With a giant smile on his face, Phillip totally sold that he was not only having the time of his life on stage, but maybe he was also having a bit of frisky fun backstage as well. I’m just sayin’! I kind of dug the rooster head bobs and the chicken-like tiptoeing across the stage. His Hunchback of Notre Dame posture can be irritating, but it was effective this time. The vocal wasn’t completely perfect, but that’s Phillip for you. Still, Phillip managed to get my soul stirred and my emotions shaken with both of his routines last night.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ****, Then: ***)
Phillip finally legitimized his frontrunner status. P2 vs. Colton Round 8…Point Goes to P2:
1. Hollie Cavanagh (Now: “Rolling in the Deep,” Then: “Son of a Preacher Man”) — So when I read the song spoiler list yesterday afternoon, I tweeted to Editor-in-Chief Clayton Davis that whoever is singing this Adele song should go home (I’d soon be inserting my foot into my mouth for this dumb comment). Yeah, I’ve made it my personal mission to get Adele songs banned from any future song list that is handed to contestants before every performance week. After so many karaoke covers of songs from the world’s strongest modern vocalist, I feel like I’m in a continuous state of electroshock therapy. However, in my petition for banning Adele songs, I’m now going to add an asterisk to the plea. That asterisk is Hollie Cavanagh, who as far as I’m concerned can sing Adele for the remainder of the season. Not only was this Hollie’s strongest vocal to date, but it was also the one performance from her where I never once saw a trace of fear or unsteadiness. Girl with the big voice owned a track from another girl with a big voice, and I just basked in this performance. I couldn’t help myself — it was as warm and revitalizing as a Jacuzzi. Hollie’s “Rolling in the Deep” was far and away the best performance of the night, and it’s a shame it was the first one out of the gate. I’m going to say something I don’t say very often: this version was actually stronger than Haley Reinhart’s! Let’s not all faint at once now. If you haven’t noticed, Hollie has had quite a huge support system here at The Awards Circuit. You might call her the Meryl Streep of American Idol if I went by all the comments posted. Last week I was tough, I admit, but now I have no shame in banding together my fellow Holliepops and rejoicing in Hollie’s return to her former glory! “Son of a Preacher Man” wasn’t totally convincing, but I still loved how it brought Hollie Cavanagh out of her ballad comfort zone, and for once she didn’t flounder or seem nervous on an uptempo number. If Hollie leaves this evening, I’m going to personally flip my couch.
Performance Reviews: (Now: ****, Then: ***)
Look everybody, it’s the comeback kid:
Prediction Bottom Three: Colton Dixon, Skylar Laine, Elise Testone
Going Home: Elise Testone
Well, what did everyone think of all the performances? Four (****) reviews last night?! Crazy! That just goes to prove that this week’s Idol was one of its best yet, and I’m even more excited to see what unfolds on the result show. Who were your favorites this week? Am I being too harsh on some or overly kind? Holliepops, can we all agree our girl did amazing this week? As usual, sound off below in the comments section.
Tags: american idol, American Idol Season 11, Colton Dixon, elise testone, Hollie Cavanagh, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, Randy Jackson, skylar laine, Steven Tyler