Thursday, April 26, 2012

AI Recap: I Smell the Finish Line...

The Season 11 finale is less than a month away, kids. Who's gotta have it? Who wants the finish line?

Apparently Ryan was so sick last night that there was a chance he wasn't going to be able to host the show and (shudder) Nigel Lythgoe would have stepped in. (Once I found that out I decided not to get snarky about how tired he was looking.) That being said, J.Lo looked like she was auditioning to play the lead in a remake of Goldfinger (or, as a friend commented last night, C3PO), Steven wore a sequined jumpsuit-type thing I swear I've seen on Beyonce's tour (but the jacket manned it up), and Randy wore a lapel pin that said, "YO," which proves he's just desperate for attention. (Watch him follow J.Lo and Steven as they greet the audience at the start of the show. He is desperate to touch as many audience members as possible.)

Last night was the first time since Season 5 that there would be an official Queen-themed night. We saw the contestants talking with Roger Taylor and Brian May (and honestly, Jessica and Joshua looked like they hadn't a clue who they were speaking with), and then we were entertained (using the term loosely) by a medley of Queen hits sung by the contestants—Fat Bottomed Girls, Another One Bites the Dust, We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. Elise, Joshua, and Skylar were probably the strongest of the singers, but it was fairly lackluster all together.

The contestants each sang two songs, one from Queen and one of their "personal choosing." (Oh, and they also got two sets of phone numbers. 866 numbers, not 800 numbers, you naughty people.) Again this week, I'll recap both performances together.

Jessica kicked things off with an oddly choppy version of Bohemian Rhapsody, previously performed by Constantine Maroulis in Season 4, and Kellie Pickler in Season 5. The whole performance started out in black and white, a la The Wizard of Oz, and then when she (very briefly) got into the rock part of the song, the broadcast went color. As always, I thought Jessica's vocals were great but the song just didn't work for me. Although Steven told Jessica that "Freddie [Mercury] would be proud" of her version, he confirmed that "rock is not your forte." J.Lo said she expected more attitude from the performance, more "throwing your hair and running around the stage," but then said "all in all it was really great." (No, J.Lo, if you have criticisms like that, it wasn't really great.) Randy praised Jessica for showing great restraint: "She sang no runs at all in the entire song, yo!" He also encouraged her to channel Tina Turner when taking on rock songs, as she knows how to perform them. But all in all, Randy loved it.

For her second performance, Jessica chose to sing Luther Vandross' Dance with My Father, already tackled this season by the later-disqualified Jermaine Jones, Season 4's Scott Savol, and last season's Jacob Lusk. Jessica's dad is about to be deployed to Singapore, and has served in Afghanistan before. Ryan thanked her father for his service, and then thanked Jessica(!) "for the fine work you do." I thought she looked beautiful during that performance (the wind machine helped), and again, sang the song very, very well, but there didn't seem to be as much of an emotional connection as I thought there would be given the dedication to her father and the situation. (At one point after the judges started talking, Jessica was tearing up, and the cynic in me couldn't help but think of William Hurt's character in Broadcast News. Great movie, BTW. Add it to your Netflix queue if you've never seen it.) J.Lo explained that Luther was one of her favorite singers, but that Jessica's performance "was the best I've ever heard this song sung." (Exaggerate much, J.Lo?) Steven said, "I don't think you could sing a song bad," while Randy continued waxing poetic about the level of talent this season, remarking that "all of you could jump on the charts right now." Oh, and Jessica's dad will be in the audience tonight.

Our favorite spitfire, Skylar, was up next, singing The Show Must Go On, which Paris Bennett performed amazingly in Season 5, and Carly Smithson sang in Season 7. Despite all of the bombs bursting in air or whatever, I thought Skylar did a terrific job with the song, because she captured the emotion and pathos of it (this was the only song Queen wrote about Freddie Mercury's illness and death) without countrifying it. Steven called it "over the top" (but in a good way), explaining that there was something extra to Skylar's performance. J.Lo got her goosies, and praised Skylar for "articulating every part of the story" of the song. Randy called it "incredible, dude," and one of Skylar's best performances, and when Ryan asked Randy whether Skylar has a shot at being in the finale, he replied, "This girl's gotta have it, Ryan. She wants the finish line and I love it!"

Her second song choice was Jason Aldean's Tattoos on This Town (had to Google it because I'd never heard of the song, not that it mattered in her case, apparently), and I wasn't really wowed by the performance except for the big note she hit at the end. She dedicated the song to her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi. Randy said he's a "ginormous" fan of Skylar's, and then took credit for creating his own language, with words like ginormous. (Yeah, Dawg, and Al Gore invented the internet. We know.) Steven said that while she didn't "take the song where you have taken the others you've sang," she still can "do no wrong."

Joshua decided to liven things up a bit, singing Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which Fantasia sang in Season 3, Taylor Hicks sang in Season 5, and Tim Urban "sang" (complete with sliding across the stage) in Season 9. He had very interesting phrasing in this song, singing "This thing-a/called love-a." (Perhaps he's getting us ready for Stefano's performance on tonight's results show?) It was fun and he performed it really well, but I think it was vocally a bit shrill. Randy stood up immediately, Steven stood up shortly thereafter, and then J.Lo reluctantly stood. Randy called the performance "unbelievable," giving him "four checks" for vocals, performance, charisma, etc. He compared Joshua to a young Sam Cooke, then Sam and Dave, and then called out to Little Steven in the audience that Joshua was like Wilson Pickett. J.Lo admitted that while she loves all of the contestants, "the Joshua part of the show" is her favorite part, because she knows she'll get an "inspired vocal and a great performance" every time. Steven praised his classic style and said he sounds like no one else, and claimed "Freddie would have loved your two-stepping."

Joshua's second song was India.Airie's Ready for Love (again, a song I had never heard of and had to Google, but the judges didn't mention that either). What a fantastic vocal performance that was, really demonstrating Joshua's beautiful voice. The judges gave him another standing ovation (this one was deserved, however), and mostly the judges claimed they didn't know what to say to him anymore. Randy told future contestants, "if you want to be a singer, watch Season 11." J.Lo called the performance "transcendent," saying that Joshua "snaps her to reality" when she hears him sing. Steven said he "hopes the label finds you a bunch of great songs and you can take it to the moon," claiming, "I smell the finish line." Comically, in Joshua's post-performance "confessional," Skylar came in and ranted that the judges have given him 12 standing ovations.

Elise picked I Want It All as her Queen selection, a song I know better from commercials than Queen themselves. She accompanied herself on the tambourine, and I thought it was a rollicking good time. (I was distracted by the constant flashing of "I Want It All" on the screen behind her when she sang.) Steven said that Elise found her stride and sang it like the classic, and J.Lo said she was in her element. Randy called it "unbelievable," praising the song's "1-4-5 bluesy kind of changes that allow you to do your 'Janis thing.'" Elise explained that this type of performance was what she enjoyed most and what she felt was most in her wheelhouse.

For her second song, Elise took on Jimi Hendrix's Bold As Love, which I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I recognize more for John Mayer's cover version than Hendrix's original. (Don't judge me.) She was in full-on rock chick mode with this song, wearing a scarf on the hand she uses to dictate her note changes. It was cool, but a lot more talking than a song you perform in a singing competition should have. Steven said he loves the "Janis Joplin" in Elise's voice, but he cautioned her that she needs to pick songs that people recognize, and warned her about "picking cherries with her back to the tree." (Now a Jimi Hendrix song covered by John Mayer is unrecognizable, but an unknown Jason Aldean song to those outside of the country genre and an unknown India.Airie song were fine for Skylar and Joshua to sing.) J.Lo said she understood what Steven was saying but felt like Elise "slayed that song so hard it didn't matter." Randy agreed with Steven, saying that this song wasn't the best for this time in the competition, and also said he felt Elise "attacked" the song, and "was boxing with it." J.Lo vehemently disagreed, saying, "She made it exciting!" Elise told the voters, "listen to Jennifer." (I think her open-mouthed disbelief at Steven's statement that people wouldn't recognize the Jimi Hendrix song won't win her many new fans either, and if crabby Jimmy—who was AWOL except for sitting in the audience with Little Steven—has his say tonight, I'm sure he'll criticize her.)

Our favorite pawnshop heartthrob, Phillip, chose to sing Fat Bottomed Girls, which Bucky Covington sang during Season 5. (I'm finding fewer and fewer of these old AI performances on YouTube, which annoys me.) It was definitely fun, and Phillip was flirty and performed well, but it wasn't a vocal masterpiece by any means. Steven commented on the song choice, saying, "The bigger the cushion, the...bigger the cushion." He also told Phillip he "loved watching you ride a breath." (Umm, ok.) J.Lo addressed criticism that all of Phillip's songs sound alike by saying, "a great singer should sound like themselves. You sound like Phillip Phillips." Randy commented, "Was it good? Yes. Was it great, did it make me jump up and down? No." Ryan admitted that in his 11 years with the show, he'd never seen Randy jump up and down. And for that we're all thankful, Ryan. Believe me.

Phillip finally decided to throw down the gauntlet at his doppelganger, Dave Matthews, with his second song, singing The Stone. (Never heard of this one, either.) It Dave Matthews. Go figure. Steven called it, "very entertaining and very off the wall," saying that Phillip found his niche. J.Lo was unhappy, saying, "Everyone has a chance to win at this point, especially you. You need to sing songs that will get you onto that final show. I want you on that final show." Ever the contrarian, Randy disagreed with J.Lo, saying that this performance showed Phillip's true colors, and that he's an artist blah blah because artist blah blah and a true artist blah blah makes choices like an artist blah blah. He ended with the profound, "Phil Phillips will always be Phil Phillips." Wow. Ryan admitted that on his way to the stage, Phillip ran past "my girlfriend" (Julianne Hough), and "she sighed, blushed, and said, 'yummy!' We'll be talking about this tonight, dear." Didn't you see Footloose, Ryan? Girls like Julianne like boys like Phillip, not buttoned-up suity-boys.

So Hollie claimed the pimp spot, singing Save Me. I thought she did really well as I love where the song sat in her register, but I wish she had gone for one more big note at the end. J.Lo praised her for connecting emotionally halfway through the song, but then went into a long harangue about how she needs to connect with all parts of the song, and the audience, and J.Lo does the same thing, and...I woke up to Randy criticizing the performance, saying, "At this point in the show, everybody needs a moment. This wasn't your moment."

Not one to be undaunted, Hollie broke out her audition song, The Climb, which also got her into the Top 40 last season. (Season 9 contestant Haeley Vaughn sang this, as did our own Georgia Peach from last season, Lauren Alaina.) This is the perfect song for Hollie, both vocally and message-wise, and I thought she did a terrific job. So did the judges, who actually gave her a standing ovation, which caused her to dance a little jig. Once again, the judges claimed, "Hollie's back" and "this is the Hollie we love," forgetting they loved her last week. Steven said, "it doesn't matter what kind of accent you have, you sing a song so beautifully."

I think they start with a bottom two at this point in the season. I would guess, just based on recent occurrences, that the bottom two will be Hollie and Elise, with Elise going home, although I wouldn't be surprised if Jessica or even Phillip wound up in the bottom two. I think Elise probably should go home, as there's just no more room in this competition for the constant haranguing she's getting from the judges, and clearly she just wants to sing her own kind of music. Hollie could go home, as sometimes a contestant who has struggled in previous weeks goes home just as they're getting their momentum back. And of course, Jessica could go home, too, especially since she sang first, but will she get sent home after dedicating a song to her military father? Phillip's elimination would set the show on its heels, honestly, as I still think he's the favorite to win even though he doesn't wow me. (Heck, even Jessica admitted that he's "handsome.")

Tonight, a Queen tribute, Katy Perry, and STEFANO!! (I still remember my favorite line from his rendition of Tiny Dancer last season, "Ballerinum, you must have seen him...")

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