Thursday, May 10, 2012

AI Recap: California Schemin'

American Idol has long been known for the judges reinforcing whatever decisions the producers make. Sometimes it works—Scotty and Lauren being touted as the final two for weeks before it actually happened, or the judges cooling their praise of Crystal Bowersox and Melinda Doolittle in favor of Lee DeWyze and Jordin Sparks—and sometimes it doesn't, like when the judges treated Kris Allen as if he didn't belong in the Season 8 finals with Adam Lambert. Last night was another page in the manipulative script, and everyone hit the notes they were supposed to on last night's show—including the judges.

It's two weeks 'til the finale, and Steven is clearly having hair issues, looking like he came in from his lunch break on a rainy day and just decided to put his hair up. (I almost expected to see a pencil holding it together.) J.Lo looked terrific, channeling her Selena days, and Randy sported a crazy pink plaid jacket and half-plaid tie that should have been left at Churchill Downs. (And I guess they abandoned the whole Tommy Hilfiger-as-stylist idea, because there's no way that Joshua's crazy cowl-neck t-shirt came from the men's department.)

The first round of songs fell under the theme "California Dreamin'," which Ryan explained as songs sung by bands or artists from California, or songs about California. The second round was called "Songs I Wish I Wrote," or songs that the contestants have been performing for years on YouTube inspired the contestants. I guess I kinda like the less-restrictive themes, but what's next? Songs with the word "the" in them?

Phillip got the slot of doom this week, and chose to sing CCR's Have You Ever Seen the Rain for his "California Dreamin'" song. (Two weeks in a row for a CCR song—someone must owe John Fogerty some money.) He mentioned that his brother thought last week's rendition of Time of the Season was "pretty rough" (wow, more insightful than the judges were) so he wanted to do better this week. And I thought he did. The song fit his voice perfectly, and sounded a little more gravelly than the Shouty McShoutypants groove he often falls into. He also looked like he was having a great time singing the song, despite the surfing safari graphics going on behind him. (Umm, isn't the song about rain? Did I miss a surfing metaphor?) J.Lo mentioned that Phillip's voice had a "Joe Cocker quality I haven't heard before." (Clearly J.Lo has been entertaining her Fifty Shades of Grey fantasies about Phillip during his performances, because the Joe Cocker quality—and even the movements—have been there since the beginning.) Randy said it was rough at the start (but "Phillip knows about this because we have that kind of relationship, you know?"), but once he started smiling and hitting the chorus, it was great. He reminded Phillip to "remember to have fun and everyone else will, too."

Prior to his second song of the night, Damien Rice's Volcano, Ryan tried to trot out the sympathy vote asked Phillip how his health has been, and Phillip shut him down fairly quickly with an "I'm alright." Jimmy was blown away by Phillip's performance during the mentoring session, saying it was the first time he saw him as the artist he is going to be, and compared him to a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. Phillip poked fun at that, saying, "Jimmy compared me to a butterfly. I guess he thinks I'm beautiful." I will admit to becoming a shameless fanboy of Phillip's during this performance. Between his super-poised vocals, the backup singer, and the cellist (the show went all out on the string section last night), this was phenomenal. If he performs like this for the next two weeks, I have no problem with him winning. Steven said, "I could hear the musician in you," and mentioned that, "I could listen to this song on headphones over and over." J.Lo said that "very few people could have pulled that off on a competition show like this," and called it "one of the most beautiful and poignant performances ever." (I think the judges are going way overboard with the "best ever" labels this season. If everything is the best ever, let's just give everyone a recording contract and go home, ok?) And in Randy's words, "So, yo, that's what's up right there." He called it one of Phillip's best performances of the season (that I'll agree with) and said that sometimes "a simple statement has great volume." (Another one for the fortune cookie line.)

After narrowly escaping elimination yet again last week, Hollie chose to take on Journey's Faithfully. With nothing but the open road behind her (at least that's what the graphic looked like), she used the full range of her voice on this song, from the lower register at the start (which I really love) to her powerful belting the "oh oh oh's" at the end. Randy said she is "peaking at the right time, slaying us week after week." (For Randy, history is only two or three weeks long.) He mentioned (because you know he couldn't resist) that Journey is special to his heart because he has "spent a lot of time with them, and Steve Perry is one of the greatest singers in the world, ever," and Hollie did Steve proud. By the way, "Hollie wants to take this, dawg. Hollie wants to have it!" J.Lo was emotional because she considers Hollie her pet project, having encouraged her to come back and try again after being eliminated last season, and said it was wonderful watching her blossom. Continuing with our gardening theme, Steven said that "creativity is a delicate flower you can make bloom with positive affirmations like Jennifer has given you," and called her song choice, "over the top." (Maybe J.Lo encouraged Hollie last year, but she's been one of her biggest critics this year, giving her far more criticism than almost anyone else on the show, so she's not so much the gardener who cared a lot.)

Hollie chose Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me for her second song. (This was Carrie Underwood's audition song in Season 4, Constantine Maroulis showed us his tender side with the song, also in Season 4, and Allison Iraheta sang this in Season 8.) Just before Hollie performed, she got to see Jimmy say, "The problem with Hollie is she brings no emotion to her performances," and then he said, "She's a dark horse. She needs to do amazing, not just okay." He also cautioned her not to oversing the song. I thought she did it well, and tried to bring some real emotion into her performance. It wasn't her typical belting ballad, and I liked that she was willing to take a risk instead of singing a song she's been singing for 10 or so years. But the judges didn't like it. J.Lo criticized her vibrato, and then had the nerve to tell her she shouldn't sing the song without having had heartbreaks. (But it was fine for Jessica to sing songs like that.) Randy said this was a great song for a different type of singer, and said the song gave Hollie no real moments, calling it "the wrong choice at the wrong time." I said this last week, and I'll say it again. The judges want Phillip, Jessica, and Joshua in the final three. J.Lo even said it last week, that those three were the top three. So I knew they'd do what they could to sabotage Hollie's chances this week, and sadly, she didn't help herself. But she is the only contestant that had to hear Jimmy's criticism of her before her performance. I just wish the judges would play fair.

Ryan promised us an "emotional" performance from Joshua, who chose Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up for his California song, and dedicated the performance to his father. (This was a popular song this week in reality singing competitions, as Chris Mann, a finalist on The Voice, sang it as well.) He was surrounded by the Joshua Ledet choir, and sang the song on a platform which—wait for it—raised up. I thought it was just ok, honestly. He is a brilliant singer but I like him better when he's less restrained and gospel-y. J.Lo called it "another great performance" and said she "loved the drama," while Steven said Joshua "sang his tush off" and then added, "Courage is fear that said its prayers. You've said your prayers and the world is accepting you like nobody's business." (Sometimes you just want to look at Steven and say, "Huh?") Randy called him "an amazing artist with a ginormous career ahead" (I love it when Randy uses his "made-up" words, don't you?) and then admitted surprise that Joshua sang this song with a choir. Has the man never seen another performance of this song on any other show? (Oh, wait. It's Randy. His comments don't make sense. I keep forgetting.)

For his second song, Joshua took on James Brown's It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World. Holy wow. Honestly, while I feel like the judges overpraise him sometimes, I have never seen anything like this performance. Just absolutely incredible and worth the title right there. And well worth yet another standing ovation. Steven said, "Neither man nor woman has sung with that compassion [sic] on this show before." J.Lo started speaking Spanish, and then said, "People at home probably thought they had seen everything you have to give. They were wrong." She even called the performance "sickening." Randy called the performance "one of the best performances on any singing show ever." I can't say I disagree. How can I agree twice with Randy in one night?

And then, in the pimp spot, came Jessica. She said, "I can't do anything but sing," as we were treated to videos of some of her performances from when she was a robot child. (Including a rendition of And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. Hmmm.) She sang Etta James' Steal Away, and really played up the bluesy, growly aspects of the song. (Jimmy, what about her singing songs that were too old for her? And did you think her pants were too tight?) Steven said he's currently "doing" an Etta James song, and said that Jessica's song "showed another side of your voice." Randy said it was hard to believe she was "16 and singing Etta James," but (wait for it) "you could sing the phone book." (Do you think it's too old for her? All those names and numbers...)

She trotted out And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going for her second song. (I guess it's nice to sing a song you've practiced once or 8 million times.) Jimmy said during her mentoring session that "I've gotten the chance to see a lot of things in my life, but I'll always remember seeing Jessica sing this song." Seriously? Might that have been a bit too much? (Tamyra Gray sang this during Season 1, and LaKisha Jones sang it in Season 6.) There's no denying Jessica's voice or her power, but I felt as if every move, every gesture, every growl was utterly calculated and practiced. I didn't feel that there was any spontaneous emotion in the song. (The single tear that rolled down her face while the judges were giving her feedback was a nice touch.) The judges gave her a standing ovation, much as you knew they would, and called it "another winning performance." And Randy sealed the evening's script by saying, "Between Joshua's last performance, this song, and Phillip tonight, this show has been amazing." (No mention of Hollie whatsoever, despite Randy's earlier praise for her first song.)

BTW, we also were treated to two duets—Joshua and Phillip singing Maroon5's This Love (which turned out much better than their duet last week) and Jessica and Hollie's rendition of Eternal Flame by The Bangles. (Hollie sounded great on this song, Jessica sounded horrible, but instead of praising Hollie, Randy ripped the whole thing apart and the judges didn't acknowledge Hollie at all.) The interplay between Joshua and Phillip was very funny, particularly when J.Lo called it an "unexpected treat, like a duet of Adam Levine and Usher," and Phillip said, "I'm Usher?" Ryan also said the two now had a bromance going on and were known as "Jillip."

Oh yeah, and there was an extended plug for the film version of Rock of Ages (I may be the only one who hated that musical), featuring director Adam Shankman and one of the film's stars, "the young Julianne Hough." Ryan even tried a marriage proposal fakeout with Julianne, saying, "Can I ask you a question? Would you...please give this letter I wrote to Tom Cruise? I've been a fan of his since Cocktail." Julianne hit right back, saying, "Is that the letter we wrote together last night?"

But in the end...there are four contestants and only three spots for the homecoming. Short of "another Idol shocker," Hollie is going home tonight. (I'd imagine Nigel already has her bags packed.) Look for Jimmy to trash her repeatedly during tonight's show. Oh, and there's someone named Jennifer Lopez performing. Anybody heard of her?

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