Thursday, May 3, 2012

AI Recap: Only 1-2/3 Standing O's Given Since Our Last Show...

It's getting to be that time, kids. It's so exciting in the studio, even Steven is dressing like a normal dude-who-dresses-like-a-lady instead of his usual garb. Three weeks to the finale, five viable contenders for the title, who's gotta have it? (Honestly, though, having watched the show since the first season, this may be the first time that an argument could be made for each of the final five winning. Although judging from last night's performances, I'm not sure if the winner will be the same person I thought it might be a few weeks ago, but more on that later.)

Last night's theme was a combination of 60s songs and "Brit pop," meaning a song once making it to the British pop charts, I'd wager. Assisting us along with Uncle Jimmy McScrooge is the most logical choice you'd think of when you think 60s or Brit pop, Little Steven Van Zandt, whom I'll be referring to as "Stevie" in this recap. (Not who you thought of? Is it the head scarf?)

As I've been doing the last few weeks, I'm going to group each contestant's two performances together, followed by the somewhat superfluous duets. (BTW, my favorite audience sign last night was "Phillip Phillips: He's So Talented His Parents Named Him Twice." Cute.)

First up was Hollie, who chose to sing River Deep, Mountain High, which was, ridiculously, the song Pia Toscano was eliminated on last season. (Stevie called this "probably the most exciting record of all time." And this from a man who accompanied Bruce Springsteen on Santa Claus is Coming to Town.) Jimmy and Stevie encouraged Hollie just to go out there and kick the song's a--, not worry about what the judges or audience would think. As Stevie joked, "Who cares what the judges think? Aerosmith? What did they make?" Hollie knocked this one out of the park. She started out surrounded by the audience (which doesn't always work), showed total command of her movements and the stage, and sounded absolutely fantastic. Clearly she's getting her confidence back, so I hope whatever advice she's getting or visualization she's doing keeps up. Randy and Steven gave her a standing ovation (J.Lo inexplicably remained seated), and Steven said, "This is the first time you shook up the blues this season, Hollie. Thank you, lord, that was excellent." J.Lo praised her ability to command a large group of backup singers and band members, but only called it a "really good job." Randy started off his feedback asking Steven and J.Lo if they loved the performance (J.Lo was reluctant to say so, but finally did), and then he said, "Well, I loved it too!" He told Hollie she "wore out" the second verse, making him say, "dude, she's digging in!"

For her "Brit pop" number, Hollie tackled another biggie, Leona Lewis' Bleeding Love. Stevie encouraged her to make this an intimate performance, to sing it to just one person, which was inspired advice. She sang perched on top of the piano, as a video heart exploded behind her. I thought she did really well with this song, not belting every note like you'd expect her to do, especially on a song like this, and I think it showed off her talent even more. Steven admitted not being familiar with the song, but said "I loved it, I loved it, I loved it!" J.Lo called this performance "amazing," and said that Hollie even surprised herself toward the middle of the song. She acknowledged the judges have "put Hollie through the wringer," but she said Hollie is proving just how great she is now. Randy's music lesson taught us this was a song written by Ryan Tedder and it was a big hit for Leona Lewis, "who came from another talent show from the mind of our friend Mr. Simon Cowell." He told Hollie that for a while, she was the dark horse, but now, with two great performances, she's peaking at the right time.

Phillip chose The Box Tops' The Letter (which Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis sang for Group Day in Season 4, as did Season 9 champ Lee Dewwyze) as his first song. Phillip admitted he "didn't much like the original," so he changed it up. Jimmy was concerned that this rendition's lack of melody, with no real key changes or big notes, might bore people; Stevie liked it, explaining, "It's not the Miss America Pageant, Jimmy." In case Phillip got confused during the song, he could have just looked behind him, because the video montage kept showing the song lyrics. I thought his rendition was kind of same-old, same-old, despite changing it up. I missed the original version of the song and didn't feel as if his changes brought anything exciting to it. Randy said, "Let me say this, dude: You made it your own, changed it, vibed it in a jam-bandy, Phillip Phillips-sort of way." (Sometimes it's best just to quote him directly.) J.Lo admitted she didn't know this song, so she had nothing to compare Phillip's performance to, but said he was "compelling to watch" as he "Phillip Phillips-ed it." (People's names just shouldn't be verbs. Ugh.) Steven said the bad news was he missed the original melody of the song, but the good news was that Phillip "got away with it." Oh, and in case you were worried Randy forgot something, he reminded us that Phillip "always strives to be original." Ryan happily announced "better news for his relationship"—Phillip has a (very pretty) girlfriend. And she was in the audience! (If Phillip gets sent home tonight, that is what sealed his fate.)

Phillip chose The Zombies' Time of the Season for his Brit pop number, which Season 6 runner-up Blake Lewis rocked out on. Phillip, not so much. While most of the song was his fairly typical dog-and-pawny show (see what I did there?), he just could not hit the falsetto notes that were crucial to the song, yet none of the judges mentioned that at all. J.Lo said he sang so close to the melody, he might start scaring people (no, that's not quite why), and called him a "subdued, relaxed, different Phillip Phillips." Randy said he found himself saying during the performance, "Yo, he really can sing the melody" (really?), but called it "a nice performance, but he wasn't jumping up and down." Steven said the verses suited Phillip's style, and he was glad he sang the melody because he sang it well. A swing and a miss by all three judges on this one...

Our country spitfire, Skylar, wanted to sing Knock on Wood, which Eddie Floyd originally recorded in the 1960s, but Amii Stewart popularized in the 1970s. Jimmy and Stevie weren't feeling it, so they encouraged her to sing CCR's Fortunate Son, since it's "a song of rebellion, and she's the rebel in the competition." Jimmy predicted that "if she has a moment, it will get the country vote out loud and proud for her." I thought this was a good song for her but a better performance, but it didn't wow me as I expected it might. J.Lo said Skylar "attacks every song" (which I think she meant as a compliment, not the way Randy bashed Elise last week for attacking Bold As Love, but whatever) and "gives us all this energy" with every performance. Randy said this "was a great song by one of the greatest bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and let's hear it for John Fogerty and the boys, who would be proud of you for that performance." He said that Skylar was "born to be on the stage."

Skylar chose a biggie for her Brit pop number, Dusty Springfield's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. (We've seen this previously from Season 4's Nadia Turner, Season 6's Stephanie Edwards, and Ramiele Malubay in Season 7.) I thought she did a phenomenal job with this song, although I didn't love the arrangement at the beginning. (Sometimes if it ain't broke, there ain't no need to fix it, but that may be just because I'm lazy.) She hit some big notes at the end, though. Like he told Hollie earlier, Randy told Skylar she's peaking at the right time, calling her performance "flawless." J.Lo asked her, "You want to win, don't you?" She said yes, to which she replied, "You just might. If you keep singing like that, you just might." Steven praised her for bringing the song into the 21st century, calling it "beautiful."

Phillip and Joshua sang a ridiculously awkward duet of The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Loving Feeling, which seem punctuated more by Joshua's distaste at singing a duet with a guy than anything else. They had no vocal chemistry (although Phillip tried), and Joshua visibly recoiled when Phillip tried to put his arm around him. It's the first glimpse of an unappealing side of Joshua that is unfortunate. (Points for Ryan referring to them as "Maverick and Goose" from Top Gun.)

Influenced (I guess) by Randy's encouraging her to channel Tina Turner in her performances last week, Jessica's first song choice was Proud Mary. Stevie said he and Jimmy didn't want to hear her perform it at first, but then she blew them away. (Of course she did. Because no one knows she can sing, you know?) Trenyce had a great performance with this in Season 2, and Syesha Mercado rocked it out in Season 7. Jessica definitely tried to channel Tina's attitude in this song, as she pushed through a chain curtain and danced all over the stage. I thought it seemed a little karaoke-ish. J.Lo said, "I thought that with Elise gone we'd miss the Janis Joplin blues, but you gave us part Tina, part Beyonce." Steven said, "The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old." Randy, however, called the performance, "barely ok," because she "took on the biggest dragon," although in the end, Jessica's "voice pulled it out for me." J.Lo wanted to hear nothing of the sort, saying you couldn't compare Jessica's performance to Tina Turner in her heyday. When he tried explaining his opinion, J.Lo gave him the hand, and said, "Whatever." (There's just no talking to the fly girl, sometimes.)

Jessica slowed it down for her second song choice, Joe Cocker's You Are So Beautiful. Stevie and Jimmy debated how she should sing this, because she's not as "lounge-y" as Joe Cocker, and Jessica was horrified at the word "lounge-y." (Taylor Hicks sang this in Season 5, and Danny Gokey had his emotional moment in Season 7.) Jessica looked like she was performing in a Victoria's Secret commercial, lounging (go figure) on the stage, surrounded by candles and fog and the hot guitarist who has popped up a lot this season. Vocally, I thought this was terrific, and she hit one of the best high notes of the season. Steven called her performance "another reminder of what a beautiful singer she is," saying, "you're going to be number one." J.Lo said the song reminded her of Jessica's performance of I Will Always Love You and said, "Great job, mama." Randy said this song propelled Jessica to "the top of the leader board" for Round 2, praising her ability to hold a single note and then bring vibrato in at the end. Ryan then brought Jessica her high heels, which of course prompted Randy to trot out everyone's favorite gay humor, saying, "Ryan, you're not going to wear the heels?" Homophobia is so funny, wink wink, nudge nudge.

The girls (Hollie, Skylar, and Jessica) took on Jackie Wilson's (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher for their trio. Their voices blended better than Joshua and Phillip's, but it really wasn't that great. I'd say Hollie's voice stood out more than the other two. The judges called the song "a weird arrangement," and Randy seemed more focused on explaining to the girls that a man with an amazing falsetto sang that song. Ryan asked Skylar how she'd score their duet and she said, "Shoot, we're 10s!"

Joshua got the pimp spot again, and sang The Temptations' Ain't Too Proud to Beg for his first performance. (Ruben Studdard sang this in Season 2, although I can't find the video on YouTube.) He gave another top-notch performance, both vocally and entertainment-wise, despite the bizarre outfit he was sporting. (The jacket looked like it had cut-off sleeves, and he sported a big yellow daffodil—not a tulip—in his lapel.) Steven called him "one of the top two best idols of all time." (Do you think Steven could name two idols?) Randy said Joshua had a Terrence Trent D'Arby-vibe to him, and that he "could bring R&B back into the limelight, because it's been missing for a minute."

Joshua wanted to close the show with Tom Jones' Without Love (There is Nothing), but Stevie and Jimmy convinced him to sing The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody, which both Clay Aiken and Josh Gracin sang (on the same night) in Season 2, and Jordin Sparks sang in Season 6. Apparently, Joshua had never heard the song before, but came back 15 minutes later and blew Stevie and Jimmy away. I'm going to call BS on that one, but whatever. This was one of Joshua's typical performances, restrained at the start, full-throttle at the end, complete with the robust string section that he hangs out with when the choir is busy. I thought it was really good, but maybe just a little too much. Not surprisingly, he got his 13th standing ovation. Randy gave a shout out to the ailing Robin Gibb, and then marveled at how Joshua had never heard the song but then came out and blew everyone away. He called him "one of the best singers ever on the show," while J.Lo one-upped Randy, calling him "one of the best singers in 50 years." She then said, "Jimmy, you better not mess this up. This boy deserves it."

They will only do a bottom two tonight. While I think the bottom two should be Phillip and Jessica, I think it may be either Phillip and Skylar, or Skylar and Jessica. I will throw a temper tantrum if Hollie gets voted out tonight. I'd be shocked if Phillip gets voted off, but this show has shocked me more than a few times this season, so who knows? I would say that the only person I don't think has a chance of getting voted off is Joshua, but then again...

Tonight, Carrie Underwood returns to prove that having the stage presence of a doornail helps you blossom into a superstar, and Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow and his band (a little group they call Coldplay) will perform. And Kieran (that devilish scamp) will dim the lights.

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