Thursday, March 15, 2012

AI Recap: Will the Real Janis Joplin Please Stand Up?

"Through the years, this show has not been without the drama," Ryan intoned at the start of last night's episode. (Understatement much, Peaches? The judges have cried more than the contestants, I think.) He mentioned that "with the help of law enforcement" (or TMZ), they discovered criminal information about one of the contestants and had to disqualify them. And that would be revealed...but not for at least an hour. (This IS American Idol, after all.)

J.Lo was resplendent in yellow, Randy decided to dress down, in one of his favorite cardigan sweaters and a flower pin, and Steven...well, Steven brought Carly Simon's You're So Vain to life. His white hat was strategically dipped below one eye, his scarf, it was apricot (not quite), and he definitely watched himself gavotte.

Last night's theme was "Songs from the Year You Were Born," or as one of my friends put it on Facebook, "Songs Covered in the Year You Were Born," given that 6 of the 11 songs weren't originally performed in the contestants' birth years, which ranged from 1983-1995(!).

Phillip DaveMatthew DaveMatthews Phillips was first up, and he literally went from working with Jimmy and "fan favorite" to having kidney surgery. Born in 1990, he chose to sing Hard to Handle by The Black Crowes, originally recorded by Otis Redding in 1968 (and previously massacred by Constantine Maroulis in Season 4). Given that Phillip had surgery a few days ago, he performed sans guitar, and was fairly controlled in his body movements on stage, but I thought he did a really good job. I would have loved a little more vocally, but I just enjoy his performances, and to quote our judges, thought this song was totally "in his wheelhouse." Randy again went with his whole "you're so different" line of feedback, and said that this would be a great single for Phillip, as he "sounds amazing." J.Lo was impressed that he performed so well so soon after surgery, and said it proved how natural of a performer he is, that he "feels the music in every cell." (Randy couldn't resist poking fun at J.Lo's movie career, saying, "The Cell, J.Lo, really?") Steven asked Phillip if he could score some of his post-surgery meds (I kid) and praised Phillip for his ability to "pick songs that match your voice and character."

Last week Jessica's performance was called one of the best ever. How would she fare this week? (In the pre-perfomance package, Jessica's mother said she used to scream and faint when she didn't get what she wanted, and her (cute) father said, "Please. Drama queen.") She was born in (egads) 1995, and chose to sing Gloria Estefan's Turn the Beat Around, originally recorded in 1976 by Vicki Sue Robinson. (The song has been previously performed on the show by Carmen Rasmusen in Season 2, Season 3 runner-up Diana DeGarmo and Haley Scarnato in Season 6.) Will was impressed with Jessica's attitude, and called her a "swaggernaut." He and Jimmy suggested that she at one point call out to the audience ("Y'all ready?"), and it would have been cooler if we didn't hear about it beforehand. All in all, I thought she did a very good job and looked age-appropriate. I don't know that it was the best song to show off her voice, but she has certainly done that already. She was a little bit literal with her movements (she kept pointing to her ears when she sang the line, "Love to hear percussion"). Steven was unimpressed, saying that he loves her voice but she shouldn't stray too far from ballads, and that her "rhythm was a little shady." J.Lo said it wasn't her favorite performance from Jessica but she knows she can sing, while Randy "echoed [his] fellow judges" and explained that they were trying to "stir [sic] you in the right direction." They all thought her vibrato was too much for a song where vocal precision was required. Jessica was a little upset by the criticism and promised to pick a better song if she gets to come back next week.

Heejun's adorable dancing parents talked in Korean about how wonderful he is. He was born in 1989, and chose Richard Marx's Right Here Waiting. (Do you remember those booths they used to have at amusement parks and some malls where you could "record" yourself or a group singing, sort of like karaoke, and you would get a cassette or CD? I recorded myself singing this song during the summer of 1989. Ah, memories.) Ever the ladies' man, Heejun asked Will for Fergie's phone number, which he wouldn't share because she's married. As far as the singing went, the best word I can use to describe Heejun is earnest. I don't get why he wears glasses with no lenses in them, but he's very likeable and he has a fine, if unremarkable voice. (He even threw in what I used to refer to as the Star Search dramatic octave change.) Randy didn't enjoy the performance, calling it "pitchy all over the place." (J.Lo snapped back, "Not all over," to which Randy replied, "Five or six times at least.) He said that Heejun should be singing R&B songs because of the "swag" everyone seems to have this season. J.Lo has replaced Jeremy with Heejun, calling his tone "special and gorgeous," and while she noted that he was struggling with the song at the start, "towards the end it was really beautiful" and she felt his heart. Steven said that Heejun "stepped far outside his circle" and was out of breath for most of the song, but he is "special." Ryan asked Heejun if he was emotional, and Heejun mentioned that his girlfriend was in the audience, so he was thinking of her, plus "20 percent J.Lo and 10 percent Fergie."

Fresh off her "dramatic save by the judges," Elise was ready to knock one out of the park this week. Born in 1983, she chose Tina Turner's Let's Stay Together, which was originally recorded by Al Green in 1972. (This song has been previously sung by Justin Guarini, Trenyce in Season 2, Leah LaBelle in Season 3, and Season 4 Top 20 contestant Joseph Murena.) Elise said she "had a really positive attitude" going into this week and hoped people "would be making babies" when they heard her sing this song. (They even did a cute split-screen duet between Elise and President Obama.) I thought she was fantastic, starting out sitting on the piano, and then really rocking it toward the end. The thing is, though, I can't tell if she's just going through the motions. I feel like she has to push herself to smile when she remembers to do so, so I don't know if it's because she's not comfortable in the spotlight or she knows she won't win the competition. Steven praised "the beauty in your soul, and the voice behind it," while J.Lo said this performance showed America who Elise is, calling it "a beautiful, beautiful thing." Randy proclaimed, "America, Elise is back!" He also said the performance was "dope" and "like butter," and said she even had "a little Janis in there." Ryan warned Elise that she'd be blamed if lots of babies were born on December 14.

According to Deandre's mother, when he was four years old and singing in church, a woman came up to her and told her he'd be on American Idol one day. (Interesting feat, considering he was born in 1994 and the show didn't start until 2001, but hey.) Deandre chose to sing Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, but Jimmy and Will weren't feeling it. (Of all the songs from 1994, that's what he chose?) They recommended he sing "Luther and Mariah's" Endless Love. (And somewhere, Diana Ross screamed in agony.) I'm not a big fan of when one person sings a duet by themselves, unless they're driving in their car. (I didn't like it when Danny Gokey sang it in Season 8, either.) Deandre was in full Milli Vanilla mode, even wearing a cream suit. J.Lo started her feedback with, "Hi baby," the version of "You look beautiful" given to males. She told him he could sing anything, and sang that beautifully but it was the wrong song, a point all three judges echoed. (And as Skylar proved later in the show, you don't have to listen to what Will and Jimmy suggest.) Randy even went so far as to call it "boring and safe," because "Luther and Mariah sang their you-know-what's off." Deandre said that this theme "terrified him since the beginning of the season" and couldn't find the right song.

Boy, I would have loved to have seen Shannon (born in 1995) take on No Doubt's Don't Speak, which was one of the songs Jimmy suggested (using a disgustingly product placed phone that plays music). She picked One Sweet Day by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, clad in an outfit I couldn't tell whether it was a slip or sparkly short-shorts, while a Disney meadow played out on the screen behind her. (I seriously kept waiting for Thumper or Bambi to show up.) Vocally, she was fine, but I just feel she's a bit robotic and boring. The judges thought she did a beautiful job with the song although they were all worried when they heard her selection, and Steven said Shannon sings her best when she doesn't try so hard. (But she looked like she was trying really hard.) Randy, as you might have known, worked with Mariah, so he was impressed by Shannon's "mad potential," and said she did a good job, "considering the mountain you needed to climb" with this song. Ryan thanked Shannon for wearing flats and put his head on her shoulder.

News flash: Colton hooked up with Chris Daughtry at dinner on Tuesday night! (Cue fan fiction!) Apparently Chris sent Colton a direct message on Twitter and they got together. His advice for Colton? "Be true to yourself and pick songs you know," Colton said, "which I'll do next week." Because this week, the born-in-1991 alt-rocker chose to sing Broken Heart by White Lion. (I have 20,000 songs on my iPod and I've never heard of it, although the band did have a few hits in the late 1980s, including Wait and When the Children Cry.) Even though I've never heard the song, I enjoyed his performance, broody and sensitive in the beginning and more rock-like toward the end. (I don't enjoy his reverse-Cruella de Vil hairdo, though, and it's amazing how much better he actually looks with his hair down than all spiky. But my hair makes me look like one of the Bee Gees, so I can't judge.) J.Lo loved the beginning of the song and likes his sensitive side, telling him "you look pretty when you sing." Steven told Colton it was "the wrong song for your voice and your passion," which Colton took in stride ("Okay," he said), while Randy said the song didn't matter because "you performed it dope, dude." He then proclaimed, "I like this guy, Ryan."

Erika was born in 1985 (a good year) and picked Heaven by Bryan Adams. It was a big slow song at Sweet 16 parties that year, I can tell you. (Season 5's Elliott Yamin, Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta and Season 9 third-place finisher Casey James all sang this song.) I thought she did a good job with the song and I love Erika's voice, but I'm starting to see the whole "holding back" thing J.Lo keeps harping on. I feel like Erika lets loose in rehearsals and then tightens up when it comes to the live stage. I'm sure glad she's gotten rid of the bridesmaid's dresses, though, opting for more of a Stevie Nicks-esque top. J.Lo called her "this year's Janis Joplin" and said she feels like Erika is starting to come together as an artist. The arrangement left Steven (and me) wanting more, while Randy said he "kinda liked it, like 8 out of 10."

After eight contestants had performed, Ryan reminded us that we had "some tough business" to attend to, with the disqualification of a contestant. "I can now reveal that contestant is Jermaine." (Because no one else knew who it would be.) They then showed a segment during which Jermaine was called into a meeting with executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, and they explained they had recently found out he had been arrested twice in 2011 and given false names to the police, and had four outstanding warrants. "We don't judge, of course," the producers said (as cameras filmed their every move), "but our rules don't allow our contestants to have any outstanding warrants." Jermaine was sent packing, to rehearsal footage of what would have been his performance of Somewhere Out There by Linda Ronstadt and Peabo Bryson. I cannot tell you how appalling this whole segment was. When other contestants have been disqualified, this has happened offscreen; to strip Jermaine of his dignity while the world watches really indicates this show has sunken to a new low. Of course, Jermaine did wrong and should pay the consequences, but did you need to film him trying unsuccessfully to tell his side of the story? Shame on you, Nigel Lythgoe.

Always the trooper, Skylar was next to perform, and she remarked that the judges were being "mean tonight!" She was born in 1994, and struggled with finding the right song, but picked Bonnie Raitt's Love Sneaking Up on You. Jimmy and Will didn't think it "was enough song" for Skylar to sing, and suggested a number of alternatives, including a "ghetto/country" version of Coolio's Fantastic Voyage, but she stuck to her guns. I thought it was fine, not overly remarkable, and didn't show off her vocals much. I'd like to see her do something a little different next week. Steven told her she sings everything great, while J.Lo—in one of the most laughable statements of the night—said, "I know you think we're mean, but we do you a disservice if we're not honest." She then gave Skylar a fake-out, saying, "You really killed it." Randy referred to Skylar as the show's "rockin' in-house country girl," and told her, like Colton, she performed well and it didn't matter that the song wasn't the best choice.

Ryan brought the homesick Joshua some crawfish, and then let him loose. Born in 1991, he chose to sing "Michael Bolton's version" of When a Man Loves a Woman, first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. (Michael Lynche sang the song in Season 9, and last year, Stefano Langone took it on.) I can honestly say that Joshua's performance was one of the best I've ever seen, and I've been watching the show since the beginning. Vocally, he was fantastic, but he excelled in his performance as well, even taking his jacket off at one point. Seriously phenomenal. The judges gave him a much-deserved standing ovation, as the cameras panned to an audience sign that said, "Punch Josh J.Lo." Randy said that this was truly a "moment", while J.Lo called it the best thing she's ever seen on the show. Steven said Joshua "gave it up so big, God came through your eyes," while Randy commented that somewhere, "Percy Sledge is happy about what he just heard."

Little Hollie got the closing spot, and her family is just as adorable as she is. Her mother was surprised at Hollie's ability given the fact that they don't come from a "musically backgrounded" family, while her father poked fun at her messiness one minute and then teared up with pride the next. Hollie was born in 1993, and showed once again she's not afraid to take on the big songs, choosing Power of Love by Celine Dion. The song was originally recorded by Jennifer Rush in 1984 and also released by Laura Branigan and Air Supply. (Trenyce performed this song in Season 2, as did Season 3's Amy Adams, and Season 4 Top 16 contestant Melinda Lira.) I love the huskiness of Hollie's lower register, and once again she was surrounded by candles. While I think Hollie has a terrific voice and thought she did well, this arrangement was a little blah for someone with such vocal power. I kept waiting for her to hit bigger notes, and she really only had a few to hit. J.Lo said that she had "only 1 or 2 things to criticize, but it would be silly to do so," while Steven said that she gave a great performance, although it was a little pitchy here and there. Randy said she "blew it out the box." (One of Hollie's brothers in the audience gave it a "so-so" rating when asked by Ryan how his sister did.)

The judges had a little extra time, so they were asked who they thought was safest and who was most at risk. Randy said Joshua was safest and Heejun was most at risk; J.Lo said that Joshua, Hollie, and Phillip were safest, and chose to let the audience decide who was at risk; and Steven said that Joshua, Elise, Jessica, and Phillip were safest, and he also didn't remember anything else that happened thought the audience should decide.

Tonight: allegedly, we'll have results, although I'd anticipate that given Jermaine's departure we'll go through an hour of emotional turmoil (mostly mine) just to find out that everyone is safe. I believe the bottom three contestants should be Heejun, Deandre, and Skylar, but think the bottom three will be Erika, Heejun, and either Deandre or Elise. If someone goes home, it should be Heejun, but it could be Erika, sadly.

Oh, and if all of this isn't enough to get you to tune in tonight, we'll have exciting news about J.Lo! Yippee!

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