When I first heard last night's show was going to feature the guys singing Stevie Wonder songs and the ladies singing Whitney Houston songs, I thought it might be a train wreck, but then I thought: Haven't we heard nearly every Whitney and Stevie song on the show already? And the truth is, with only two exceptions, every song performed last night had been performed at least once before.
At the start of the show, Randysporting some sort of dead animal on the collar of his jacket and a glittery pin that reminded me of Nancy from the cartoon of the same name (but I found out later it was Betty Boop)promised, "We got some hot singing tonight, Ryan." (Speaking of hot, J.Lo looked pretty fantastic. Steven, on the other hand, was sporting Roy Liechtenstein-inspired pants with lips on them, so he reminded me of the video for the Alan Parsons Project's song Don't Answer Me.)
Ryan announced the latest twist
The contestants were mentored (or sabotaged, but more on that later) by Jimmy Iovine and Mary J. Blige, who proved to be a seriously astute coach. Joshua started out the evening singing Stevie Wonder's I Wish, which is one of two songs not yet performed on the show over the last 10 years. (I'm so glad to finally know the name of this song!) I thought the performance was a little manic but vocally he was top-notch, combining a more upbeat style with some of his powerful vocals. J.Lo threatened to punch him again (Joshua might need a restraining order by the end of the season) and Randy told him, he "blew it out at the top of the show," and called him "flavorless, I mean, flawless." Ryan asked about Joshua's gospel-singer like tendency to shake his hands when he sings and he called them his "Mantasia hands." I'm trying to decide if that creeps me out or not.
Elise chose to sing The Greatest Love of All, but Jimmy and Mary weren't happy with the way the song meshed with her voice. They convinced her to sing I'm Your Baby Tonight, for which Haley was beaten up last season. She seemed very unhappy while she was rehearsing because she didn't know the song and didn't feel comfortable, and although Jimmy and Mary seemed to notice, I don't know if they cared all that much. (Was there no compromise song? I thought last season they let the contestants stick to their guns regarding song choice.) When Elise hit the stage, she honestly looked like she'd rather be anywhere else. She looked well-put-together (I think she's a dead ringer for a non-costumed Lady Gaga) and her voice is good, but the whole thing was just wrong. The judges tried to sugarcoat their criticism, telling her with one hand how great her voice is, how her voice has "so much character," but on the other hand, that this "wasn't her best performance," or, in Randy's oft-tactless way, "that one wasn't good." To her credit, Elise didn't try to blame Jimmy and Mary, although she acknowledged she'd only known the song for 4-5 days.
Jermaine the "gentle giant" chose Knocks Me Off My Feet, which has previously been performed by Elliot Yamin in Season 5 and the infamous Sanjaya Malakar in Season 6. It's a nice song, but I always think of Simon's comment, "Why would you sing a song with a lyric that says 'I don't want to bore you.' Of course you're boring me." Jermaine sounded good (and the fashion crew tried to make him look a little more "street," with red sneakers and a puffy vest), but I agree with J.Lo in that I didn't feel he had any emotional connection with the song. She said, "Sing to me," and of course, Randy felt excluded, so he added, "Or sing to me, or Steven." Randy called Jermaine's voice "Barry White meets Arthur Prysock or Jerry Butler," but confided that he liked the verses of the song but not Jermaine's interpretation of the chorus.
Wild card recipient Erika took the stage, hair back to its post-makeover look, last week's bridesmaid's gown traded for a pretty red dress. She chose to sing I Believe in You and Me, previously sung by Melinda Doolittle the week she was
Apparently everyone was worried about resident heartthrob Colton taking on Stevie Wonder, because he's so alt-rock-dreamy. He sang Lately, a favorite in auditions and the song Stefano Langone turned into a disco number last season. I thought he was outstanding, with a little falsetto plus his Jared Leto-esque smoldering eyes and the dramatic lighting. Steven told him, "You're only as good as your last performance and your last note, and that was outstanding." J.Lo praised him for letting the audience feel his heart, and Randy, ever the pointless contrarian, said, "It technically was not picture perfect, there were sharp notes and some flat ones, until you hit the chorus, which was flawless." He also praised Colton for turning a "Stevie song into a Coldplay song, or 'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing' sung by Mr. Steven Tyler." (Shut up, Randy.) Ryan praised Colton's dreaminess, saying that "you can hear the screams in Hacienda Heights."
Shannon chose to sing the oft-covered chestnut, I Have Nothing. (Seriously, everyone from Trenyce, Jennifer Hudson, and Vonzell Solomon, to Katharine McPhee and Lakisha Jones has sung this song.) Shannon struggled mightily with this song, which is surprising considering how big of a voice she has, but it was shouty and off-key, and her "nothings" were choppy. Like Jermaine, she also had a problem finding an emotional connection. All three judges tried to explain that Shannon's nerves got the best of her, but Steven told her she "crashed and burned in the turnarounds." Shannon assured everyone she can "sing [her] butt off," and said she just "needs to do a Heejun and shake it off."
Deandre "I'm Not Terence Trent D'Arby" opted to pull his lustrous locks back and sing Master Blaster. To me, it was all chaos, with the band and backup singers on stage, lights flashing the colors of the Jamaican flag, and not a lot of opportunity for Deandre to actually sing. Steven called it "beautiful," and said that Deandre was "the male Naima [Adedaipo, from last season], bringing a different flavor and Jamaican patois" to the show. J.Lo first said the ending was weird but then tried to cover that up by claiming she didn't want it to end. (She also said she thought he "bought it from the beginning.") Randy praised Deandre for showing a different side of himself, like Joshua did earlier in the show.
Could our country-crooning Skylar take on Whitney Houston? She chose Where Do Broken Hearts Go, aka Pia Toscano's only "upbeat" number last season. When Skylar first started rehearsing, Jimmy and Mary were concerned she was pushing too hard too soon, and cautioned her to bring up the belting gradually. I thought she did really well, showing that she has both a softer side and a rougher side to her voice, and can belt with the best of them. J.Lo claimed that the start of the song "was nasally" but also said that Skylar had "the biggest moment of the night" with the song. Steven's thesaurus was broken, as he called it both "beautiful" and "a thing of beauty," saying that Skylar "climbed that ladder." (What ladder, Steven?) Skylar's performance fit right in with Randy's sudden need for everyone to show a different side of themselves in the first week of competition, telling her, "You can sing country, you can sing any song."
Time for the next episode of American Comedian, with the glassless-specs-wearing Heejun. He and Ryan shared some of his silly pictures, in which he pretended to eat Deandre's hair ("They look like noodles," he said). He chose to sing All in Love is Fair, which both Katharine McPhee and Pia Toscano sang previously. Not much of a barn burner, this song. It started out slow, but Heejun's voice built nicely, although it didn't wow me. I feel like he would have been a bigger deal in an earlier season, when this type of guy's voice was a novelty. J.Lo told Heejun she loved him from the first time he sang for her, and Heejun called her out for hugging Jeremy but not him, saying "I guess you were playing hard to get." "But you hugged Steven," she countered. Randy remembered they were supposed to be judging a singing competition, and told him, "It wasn't perfect but it was really good."
Our pint-sized princess with the gigantic voice, Hollie came next. She definitely planned to let her hair down this week and sing All The Man I Need, which we heard from Season 7 semi-finalist Sabrina Sloan and also from Vegas contestant Jessica Phillips earlier this season. I love Hollie's unabashed charm, her ability to control her big voice, and her freshness, which is the one thing I see she has that Jessica Sanchez does not. Plus, she was able to blow the song out of the water while lights that looked like giant candy corn surrounded her. "Dude, you nailed it," exclaimed Randy, while J.Lo said that "this is the Hollie I know and love from last year and this year." She then decided to shake things up a little (at least among the tween set) by wondering, "will we have two girls in the finals?" (And the voting for Colton, Deandre, and Phillip tripled in volume.)
In what's becoming a tiresome plot point, Ryan, Jimmy, and Mary all reminded us what a wonderfully nice guy Jeremy is. Yeah, I get it. At least he can win the congeniality award. He sang Ribbon in the Sky, which is one of my favorite Stevie songs, and one which I think Justin Guarini (remember him?) excelled on way back in the early days. There's no denying Jeremy has a good voice, despite the fact he kept singing "ribbons in the sky," but this wasn't a wow. That's okay, of course, because he's a nice guy. Steven said his voice was "velvety smooth," but said that "vocally, you didn't fly tonight, because that wasn't in the song." J.Lo has lost all credibility where Jeremy is concerned and claimed she loves to see the way he "interprets" all his songs, while Randy admitted it wasn't Jeremy's best. But luckily, it's up to the judges tonight, so I'd guess Jeremy is safe to be everyone's BFF for at least one more week.
Getting the penultimate, "almost-pimp" spot this week is Jessica. Not surprisingly, she chose to sing I Will Always Love You. Syesha Mercado sang this song during Dolly Parton week in Season 7, and I had little doubt that Jessica wouldn't completely knock it out of the park. It looked effortless, honestly. She has one hell of a voice, and the judges gave her a standing ovation, with Randy shouting, "Give it all to her!" The Dawg then told Jessica that "not only are you one of the best singers tonight, you're one of the best singers in the whole competition!" But Steven did the prophesizing. "You may be the one," he said. (Apparently Jennifer Hudson tweeted "That's it, Jessica!" following her performance.)
Phillip Dave Matthew Phillips David Matthews closed out the show, bringing his gravelly-voiced charm to Superstition, previously sung by Kimberly Caldwell back in Season 2 and Season 8 Wild Card contestant Ricky Braddy (who was totes robbed, BTW). From what I've seen on the interwebs, people either love Phillip or hate him. I count myself in the former camp, as I love the tone of his voice and think he brings something different to the show. The judges love him, too; as Randy put it, "You drive your own car in your own lane and I love it!" (Umm, ok.)
Because we had extra time (always a danger on this show), Ryan asked the judges who were the standouts and who was in trouble. Randy said that Josh and Jessica were the standouts; J.Lo said that Shannon is in trouble but overall, the girls were stronger; and Steven said that Elise and Shannon were in trouble, and the standouts were "Jessica and...Jessica."
Tonight, I predict at least a little bit of objectionable tomfoolery. Don't know in what manner it will come, but something is going to irritate me tonight.