Thursday, May 17, 2012

AI Recap: Where Do You Go After Over the Top?

A few hours before last night's show, rumors began surfacing that J.Lo was thinking of not returning as a judge next year. (Maybe we shouldn't even call them judges. Maybe we could just call them "cheerleaders," or perhaps even "perfectly scripted automatons." Probably too much for Ryan to say, huh?) Whether there is truth to this story or just a rumor planted by Nigel Lythgoe to compete with X-Factor's signing of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato (both known for their singing) as judges earlier this week, J.Lo was dressed for nothing but business, in a tailored pantsuit. (I think Steven wore the same one in black, actually.) And Randy wore a t-shirt that I could have sworn said "Yo," but I think it said "Boy."

Anyway, it's just one week to the finale. Who will make it to the Nokia Theater, and who will fall victim to the manipulative powers of Nigel Lythgoe short of their dreams, joining Nikki McKibbin, Kimberley Locke, Jasmine Trias, Vonzell Solomon, Elliott Yamin, Melinda Doolittle (sob), Syesha Mercado, Danny Gokey, Casey James, and Haley Reinhart as third-place finishers? There were times when it seemed clearly obvious who the judges were backing, and times when it was as clear as some of Steven's similes and metaphors.

The contestants sang three songs—one was "chosen" by the judges, one they chose themselves, and one Uncle Jimmy chose for them. All in all, it was a pretty good night, with a lot of what we've seen from the top three many times this season.

Joshua was first to sing, and Randy chose his song. In the brilliant words of the Dawg, "Why broke what isn't fixed?" And after correcting that misstatement, he said he chose Etta James' I'd Rather Be Blind (otherwise known as I'd Rather Go Blind). Ironically, this is one of Jessica's 200 or so songs she had up on YouTube before the season began. Randy explained that he chose this song for Joshua because he is a throwback to the music of old. Joshua's jacket looked like one of the samples you'd find in a tailor's shop to demonstrate alterations, since the stitching was exposed, and he wore a red wide-collared shirt with a red flower in his lapel, and to complete the throwback feel, he used an old-timey handheld microphone. I thought this was a really good performance but I'm starting to feel a lot of Joshua's songs blur together. Much like Jessica's growling and Skylar's freak-outs, I think Joshua's "losing himself" needs to be used sparingly. So much of this song was Joshua singing things like, "Baby...b-b-b-b-b-b-b-baby," and while there's no denying his exceptional talent, Joshua shouldn't get as much credit as he does for doing the same thing week after week. The judges gave him a standing ovation (although J.Lo was slow to rise). Steven called the performance "surreal, another Joshua moment," and said, "Out of 70,000, there's only one American Idol, and you sang like that tonight." J.Lo explained that the judges weren't sure what song to choose for him and wondered if they should choose something more modern, but then decided to "feed you what we knew you'd give back," and she told him he "brought the house down." Randy called him a "classic stylist," and said that he hopes Joshua will be able to bring that throwback style to modern R&B.

For Jessica, J.Lo chose one of her favorite songs, Mariah Carey's My All, because she thought it would give people the chance to hear "tenderness" in her vocals. I felt like Jessica was about a half-note off for most of the song, and her lower register isn't as appealing to listen to. (And don't even get me started about how the hot guitarist accompanying her had more emotional attachment to the song than she did.) All of that notwithstanding, what were J.Lo and the judges thinking giving 16-year-old home-schooled Jessica a song with the lyrics, "I'd give my all to have just one more night with you, I'd risk my life to feel your body next to mine"? Randy reminded us that he works with Mariah and she's "his girl," and called Jessica's performance "absolutely beautiful" and "the perfect song." He also went back to the hyperbole well, calling it "one of the best times a Mariah song has been sung on a singing show." (Puh-lease.) Steven said that when Jessica sings she "makes people hang on your every word," and warned her to "get ready for encores." He then said, "In another crazy way, you'll be the last one standing." Ryan made a big deal about this statement, asking Steven if he was predicting the winner, totally forgetting (as did everyone else) that he told Joshua he sang like the American Idol just a few moments ago. (Some conspiracy theorists on the internet have said that Jessica had a sore throat but no one mentioned it on the show, and felt that J.Lo sabotaged her with her song choice.)

And then it was Phillip's turn. Steven chose Madcon's Beggin' (based on a song from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), because "it's got that melody we're always trying to drag him to sing." (For those of you talking about sabotage, here is the original song. Joshua gets Etta James, Jessica gets Mariah Carey, and Phillip gets Madcon? Did they have trouble clearing Andrea Bocelli?) I thought he did a terrific job, and despite what the judges said, he actually hewed pretty close to the original melody, while throwing in some typical Phillipsian twists. (Ooh, I made a new word, just like Randy does!) Steven waxed poetic, telling him it was "beautiful to watch him unfold in the spotlight," and then said, "When you're facing the sun, the shadows fall behind you." He also told Phillip that if he writes his own songs, he could be a new Bruce Springsteen. Randy called it a "Phil Phillips concert," and said that Phillip has been "so in the zone since Day 1." He then proclaimed, "You are who you are, and we love you!"

Ever the imp, Ryan pressed the judges into declaring a winner of Round 1. He pointed out that only Joshua got a standing ovation so he wondered if that meant he was the clear-cut winner. Randy stammered a bit and then said that because Joshua "vocally did his thing at the end," he had the slight edge. But J.Lo said although she loved Joshua and Jessica, she said Phillip won the first round. And Steven said nothing.

Leading into Round 2—songs the contestants chose for themselves—was footage from each of the finalists' hometown visits. Joshua clearly had fun back home in Louisiana; it's amazing how much he resembles Fantasia in his goofy mannerisms. (My favorite quote from his homecoming was when he said, "They're acting like I'm Barack Obama!") Joshua chose Imagine, which David Archuleta sang quite well in Season 7. I expected a choir and Joshua at full bombast, but he was a little more restrained with this performance, although he wailed toward the end. Again, he was terrific vocally, but it didn't wow me. Steven called it "another 'thank you God' performance," while J.Lo praised its "pulled back and controlled" nature. She also praised both his voice and his performance ability. Randy asked Joshua why he chose the song, and he explained that he heard it on the radio and was touched by the lyrics. (I, for one, thought it was interesting that a preacher's son would be touched by a song with lyrics like "and no religion, too," but I guess he's more open minded than I am.) The Dawg then called it "another just stellar performance," saying Joshua "digs deep into every song."

Jessica's return to Chula Vista, California included a stop at her original audition spot, and a concert on the USS Midway. She told Ryan that she had very few friends and so it was nice to have "guys chasing after my car." Not one to resist an opportunity to pander, Jessica chose to sing I Don't Want to Miss a Thing by (of course) Aerosmith. (Josh Gracin sang this song in Season 2, Lindsay Cardinale sang it in Season 4, Antonella Barba sang it in Season 6, David Cook sang it in Season 7, Allison Iraheta sang it in Season 8, Aaron Kelly sang it in Season 9, and Lauren Alaina duetted with Steven at the end of her audition last year.) She botched the lyrics in the first line, and while the song was good, it just wasn't great, especially the wobbly big note she hit at the end. Steven gave her a lone standing ovation and said she "took a great song and made it greater." The judges told Jessica this was the first time Steven has said anything positive about those who sing his songs. (They forgot his duet with Lauren last season.) Randy said it started slow, but when she hit the big note, "Dude, you delivered, man. I'm like, yo!"

Surprisingly (and, I'll admit, a little adorably), Phillip was the most emotional during his homecoming. Plus he had a dish at his favorite Mexican restaurant named for him. (That is fame, IMHO.) He sang Matchbox 20's Disease, and it was a fun, laid back, Jack Johnson-ish performance. Exactly the type of song I'd love to listen to on my iPod. (I liked the saxophone and conga drum accompaniment.) The judges weren't impressed; J.Lo started her feedback with "Sweetie...", the equivalent of "You look beautiful." Steven called it a typical Phillip performance, but said, "You don't have a disease, you've caught the bug." Randy tried to fake everyone out, by asking Steven and J.Lo to acknowledge they didn't like the performance, and then saying, "It's weird, you know, how we often disagree...but this time we agree. I didn't like it either!" (Phillip clearly was prepared for the sabotage, and he just laughed.)

It was nice to see all of this season's finalists, but they spent way too much time focused on Heejun. Plus, Erika dyed her hair back to blonde again.

Jimmy chose Mary J. Blige's No More Drama for Joshua, because he felt Joshua "needed another moment" like his James Brown performance last week. He took to the stage wearing a jacket with shiny studded epaulet-type things (thus ends my fashion analysis) and he definitely performed this really well, bringing some of the histrionics of Mary J. Blige's original performance of the song to his rendition. At one point he tore his jacket off, and his earpiece came out, but he didn't lose a beat. I just thought it was a little too much, well, drama. Again, there's no denying his talent and his absolute charisma. I just don't know if I can handle him screaming at me all the time. The judges again praised his performance as well as his vocals, and Steven said that watching Joshua "I felt the last 40 years of the music business." (Yeah, like Steven can remember the last 40 years?)

For Jessica, Jimmy finally backed up his criticism of her choosing songs that were too mature for her by giving her The Jackson 5's I'll Be There. Don't even get me started on the blatant product placement shilling they did to reveal Jessica's assigned song. The truth is, she looked the most comfortable and youthful on stage that she ever has. (Heck, there was even a Ferris wheel silhouetted in the background. Fun=youthful.) I just didn't feel the song gave her much room to shine vocally. Steven, of course, said it was the "perfect song and the perfect voice," while J.Lo claimed she sounded like a young Michael Jackson. (J.Lo did say, however, that Jessica "could have used Jermaine during one part of the song.") Randy thought it was just okay, because there "never was a moment moment" for her. He also said he would have preferred if Jessica leaned closer to the Mariah Carey version. He called it "ok, not oh, my God."

Jimmy chose Bob Seger's We've Got Tonight for Phillip, because he thought the song would appeal to his legions of female fans, as well as male fans. (I loved how Jimmy nearly tripped off the stairs while talking to Ryan; perhaps it was all the bad vibes Heejun and others were sending his way.) They brought the string section out for this performance, and I thought Phillip combined both his gravelly tone and his sensitive side in this song, to great results. (He also inexplicably kept rubbing his upper thigh, so he either was nervous or totally conscious of what he was doing.) Randy and Steven stood, then J.Lo got up. Randy called it "the perfect song at the perfect time," and claimed it was Phillip's best performance ever on the show. (I don't agree; and the camera caught Erika Van Pelt shaking her head no in the audience.) He also called this "a giant moment," and said he was "in it to win it!!" J.Lo said she bet 20 million girls imagined he was singing to them, and called it, "sweet, beautiful, like a lullaby."

I honestly don't know what will happen tonight. My prediction is a Joshua/Phillip finale, but there's a possibility that Jessica could sneak in there. I don't think she deserves a spot in the finale based on her performances last night, but if the voting on this show was truly ever about performance, I'd be shocked. I believe Phillip's safety is the only definite thing, but then again, Danny Gokey had never been in the bottom three, and then he was eliminated at this point. let's hope the speed-dialing tweens and teens keep Phillip safe!!

And that did it. No more pontificating from the judges, it was all left to the voters, which always makes me shudder. Tonight, Lisa Marie Presley and Adam Lambert (now there's a combination) perform. And someone's heart will get broken. I just hope it's not mine.

1 comment:

  1. Thank. It makes me feel great when I read all these stories. It helps me from hopelessness and make me more stronger to fly… thank… for everything.