Thursday, April 12, 2012

AI Recap: (Someone's) Gotta Have It!

Well, gang, it's good to be back. Sure, I'd rather be in Europe, but how could I miss all of the fun of "Songs from 2010, 2011, and Now" night? How could I miss the rarely effective advice from Akon? (I hope Jessica's father is on high alert after hearing Akon wants to "steal her and feed her hamburgers.")

The show opened, as it is often wont to do lately, with a dramatic montage of last week's results show, juxtaposing the show itself with people from DeAndre's hometown, who seemed shocked and crestfallen that their baby Milli Vanilla didn't get saved by the judges. And then, the show asked, "How do you find the strength when your friends leave one by one?" They're getting voted off a reality show, people, they're not being abducted by serial killer James Van Der Beek in a very special episode of Criminal Minds. Tamp down the angst a bit, ok?

Last night, Steven sported a duster from the Bea Arthur/Dorothy Zbornak collection, J.Lo's dress was made from masking tape, and Randy sported another weird jacket with a flower pin. (Clearly Tommy Hilfiger isn't stopping by their dressing rooms to suggest outfit choices.) And Ryan's hair gets higher and darker with every episode. Check out what he looked like at the end of Season 1. (Oh, Dunkelman...)

Anyway, after another useless prattle session between Tommy and the contestants, Skylar kicked things off with Kellie Pickler's Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You. (Raise your hand if you're among those who never thought Kellie Pickler would amount to much after her dumb country blonde routine got old during Season 5.) At first, Jimmy and Akon were concerned it wasn't enough song for Skylar's big voice, but after one performance, she convinced them. (Said Akon, "Your voice is f--king stupid.") She wanted to play the guitar, but Jimmy warned her about relying on "tricks" when she should just sing her heart out. Cut to the live performance, with Skylar on guitar, surrounded by spurting bolts of fire like Will Young's performance of Light My Fire on the one and only iteration of World Idol, as well as fire pits you totally can buy at Restoration Hardware. Skylar definitely puts her all into her songs, and she has a powerful voice, but I think at times she confuses emotion and passion with shouting. However, this was a good rendition of a song I'm not familiar with. Randy apparently forgot he gave Skylar a standing ovation last week for Wind Beneath My Wings, because this week he claimed she was "definitely back," because he "felt her for the first time in a while." Jennifer praised her "perfect pitch," and Steven said, "When you sing it's a complete sentence," adding "Crows may crow, but the hens deliver the goods." (And that ends another episode of "Mr. Tyler's Farm.")

Jimmy tried to push Colton further by telling him that he and Phillip are both going after the same female votes, and "you're behind Phillip, so how do you beat him?" Colton said he doesn't like being compared to anyone, but of course, he wants to win. He sang a stripped-down, angsty version of Skylar Grey's Love the Way You Lie, playing a fog-shrouded piano, and accompanied by a very expressive string section. I love his voice and I like what he brings to every song—it's not quite as rock-y as James Durbin but it's less contemplative than Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, or others. I agree with Steven and Akon that he hasn't quite hit the top of his ability, so if he's able to do that, I think he'll truly be a star, ridiculously skinny jeans and all. J.Lo said that "Colton baby" always "surprises her with his approach to every note, which is the mark of a true artist," although she "wished it was more of a song." Steven praised Colton, saying he "could have recorded that right now with no overdubs and sold it, as is." After fighting with Steven over Colton's red-and-black striped jacket, Randy called him "subtle and stellar," saying he showed sensitivity by "opening the song like a lullabye," and he loves where Colton's "mind and heart go."

The first of the group numbers of the evening featured Elise and Phillip singing Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know, a ubiquitous song on television right now. (My favorite version of the song, other than the original, is a cover by Ron Pope, one of my favorite singers.) During the intro, Phillip acted as if he didn't want to sing this song but Elise convinced him to. I think their voices mesh really well together, particularly on the harmonies, but Elise definitely go to sing more of the showy parts. I can't tell if Phillip is actually reluctant to perform anything out of his comfort zone or if this is all an act. The judges liked the song—Steven admitted to having it looped on his iPod/iPhone, and Randy congratulated "the great Australian singer Gotye," and thought Phillip and Elise nailed it. But of course, the obsessive need to pick a winner for everything led Randy to call "Round 1 for Elise."

Jessica chose to sing Jazmine Sullivan's Stuttering, which Jimmy and Akon weren't very familiar with. (Neither was I, honestly.) Jimmy told Jessica that he and Akon had been impressed with her from the very start of the season, and Akon said she was "going to be a legend." (He also mentioned the whole stealing and force-feeding her thing I discussed earlier.) Jessica started out seated on a piano, and her voice was truly flawless and soulful. She stood briefly and nearly fell sitting back down on the piano, but she didn't miss a beat, and this Beyonce-like tone she brings to her voice really worked for me. I felt like she had slightly more emotional connection to this song than she normally does, but I still think she's a tiny bit programmed. I've never heard a 16-year-old sing quite like her, though. Randy said she brought a "Shirley Murdock As We Lay vibe to the song" (which Jessica totally didn't get, seeing as the song was recorded in 1986—nine years before she was born!), said she "raised the bar really high" with her song choice, and praised her for "slaying the biggest fish of the night." J.Lo said she feels Jessica is starting to "dig deeper" with every performance, but encouraged her to "take America on a ride" each week with not just amazing vocals, but a "Joshua-like performance" in terms of impact. Steven said, "Each time you sing I forget where I am." (Yeah, because that doesn't happen otherwise, right, Steven?) Oh, and J.Lo and Jessica were wearing the same Loboutin shoes. Awkward...

Joshua celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday, and Ryan surprised him with a celebratory video message from Fantasia, who said, "Happy birthday from Fantasia to Mantasia!" His song choice this week was Bruno Mars' Runaway Baby, which Bruno performed flawlessly on this year's Grammy Awards. It was honestly one of the best performances I've seen on this show, and it was fantastic to see Joshua go totally beyond his comfort zone, in terms of vocal style and performance. (I still can't believe he sang the lyric, "There's only one carrot and they all gotta share it." And he wasn't being Bugs Bunny, if you get my drift...) Randy quickly stood up, which encouraged J.Lo and Steven also to give him a standing ovation. Steven said Joshua "can sell a song like a work of art," and encouraged Joshua (repeatedly) to get the phone number of the six-foot-tall dancer who performed on stage. J.Lo called the performance "unbelievable," and explained again what she was trying to say to Jessica, that Joshua combined great vocals with terrific stage presence and performance. And Randy? "Looks like someone's gotta have it, Ryan! He wants it!"

The next duet featured Colton and Skylar singing Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson's Don't You Wanna Stay. (Love that song.) Much as they tried doing with Scotty and Lauren last season, the show is trying to play up a showmance between Colton and Skylar, which Colton tried to debunk by saying, "We are not dating, because she owns a gun." It was nice to hear Colton sing something totally different, and while Skylar's version of Kelly Clarkson's part was powerful, it was also a little shouty. J.Lo called the harmonies "pretty," and reminded everyone that "Kelly and...Aldean" performed the song last season. She also told the contestants, "I love you both dearly, but that was just okay." Randy agreed with J.Lo, calling the song "a draw," because while Skylar's part was showier, she was pitchy, too.

After two successive weeks in the bottom three, Hollie is feeling the pressure. She chose P!nk's Perfect (I love the way the word sounds with her accent), and Jimmy and Akon really tried to encourage her to connect with the song. She sang most of it sitting on a stool in the center of the stage, flanked by the show's resident hot guitarist, who was wearing one of Heejun's ski caps. I thought she sounded good, but just didn't do enough with it, and I think the judges are ready to send her home. J.Lo started with the "You look beautiful" nonsense, said she could "feel her fighting to be perfect," but that's not what it was about. She ended her non-criticism with, "We'll see where it pans out." Steven told her, "It wasn't perfect, it kind of laid there, but you look pretty." (Nice.) Randy agreed that it wasn't perfect, but said "it was much better than where you were last week." He also mentioned that he didn't get a lot of feeling from Hollie on the notes.

Next up was Phillip, who chose to tackle Maroon 5's Give A Little More this week. He told Jimmy and Akon he wanted to do something different, to which Jimmy responded with this week's fortune cookie moment: "Don't be different just for the sake of being different, be great for the sake of being great." I thought it started out really cool and unique, and then fell back into the typical growly, Dave Matthews-y, shouty performance Phillip usually gives. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Steven, however, claimed that Phillip has evolved so much since the start of the season, calling him a cross between Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash. J.Lo agreed with the celebrity comparison but called the performance "underwhelming," saying that she has seen this performance from Phillip a couple of times before and it "wasn't everything you can do." Randy again agreed with J.Lo, saying it wasn't his greatest performance, "not really a 'wow' kind of moment," but said he could record the song and have a pop hit "if he wanted to." (Contradict yourself much, Dawg?)

The trio of Joshua, Hollie, and Jessica took on Kelly Clarkson's (Stronger) What Doesn't Kill You, plus we learned that Joshua and Hollie were the best of friends. What a mess this song was—it was like putting three strongly-flavored ingredients in a blender, hitting puree, and waiting to try the result. These three big voices all tried to outsing each other and it just didn't work. While the judges called this "the season of the big voice," and tried to put a spin on the performance, no one seemed capable of mustering up any real enthusiasm. Randy gave the edge to Joshua, for no apparent reason. (That's like saying Charles Manson was the best murderer.)

Elise got to close the show again, and in her pre-performance interview with Ryan, mentioned she had a crush on Jason Segel, especially after seeing his new movie, Jeff, Who Lives at Home. (Conveniently produced by Fox Searchlight, wouldn't you know?) Jason sent an awkward video message to Elise, saying he's a big fan. She sang Lady GaGa's You and I, which Haley sang last season and for which Haley was completely torn apart by the judges. Elise wanted to open the song on the drums, but Jimmy cautioned her about trying too hard. Instead, she started on the piano. I felt she did a very good job, but for all of Elise's vocal improvising, she hewed very close to the original. Randy let America know that "Elise is back! America, please know Elise is mad talented!" He called the song "Elise's moment," which he said she needed given last week's bottom two-worthy performance. J.Lo praised Elise for "letting go but keeping control" (umm, ok) and Steven said she "took a song so simple and effortless and made it fantastic." (I hope Haley stuck lots of pins in her judges' voodoo dolls last night.)

Luckily, when the judges were asked who was at risk, everyone side-stepped the question instead of their usual pimping their favorites and sabotaging someone. J.Lo said, "I worry about all of them," while Randy urged America to vote for all of their favorites.

At this point in the season, it gets tougher and tougher to pick a bottom three. It seems inevitable that Hollie will be in the bottom three again, and Elise probably will join her. I think Phillip probably deserves his first trip to the bottom three, but I'm not sure whether that will happen or if Skylar will be sacrificed instead. Hollie should go home, but I wonder whether the judges will be moved to save her or hold onto for one more dramatic week.

Tonight, Jennifer Hudson and James Durbin. (I love when they trot J.Hud out as a success story, when all it does is simply emphasize how arbitrary the voters are.) Oh, and plenty of time for Jimmy's criticism, dimming the lights, and dramatic moments...join me, won't you?

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