Thursday, April 19, 2012

AI Recap: Will Someone Sing the Phone Book Already?

So wait...I looked away from the television for a minute last week and I must have missed something. Did the judges save Jessica? I never would have known because they barely mentioned it.

Hopefully you can detect the heavy sarcasm, because, much as J.Lo wants us to look at her abs, and Randy wants us to think he's an actual music expert (cough, Al Green, cough), the show wanted you to remember that Jessica would have been sent home last week were it not for the beneficent generosity of our judging panel. The show opened with the dramatic footage, including Jessica watching herself be saved on a television in the contestants' mansion (how meta). We even got a T.S. Eliot poem, "What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." (Makes as much sense as Steven and Randy do sometimes.)

And then Ryan interviewed Jessica about what it felt like to be saved (a conversation I'm sure Kirk Cameron has all the time), then the judges were asked...ugh. Thank goodness the show was jam-packed with 14 musical performances, or they might have asked the other contestants how they felt watching Jessica get saved by the judges. (Maybe that's tonight's plan.)

After a sweet and almost-emotional tribute to Dick Clark, we were treated to two songs from each contestant, one which hit #1 on the Billboard charts between 2000 and now, and the other which was a "soul hit" I'm assuming the contestants got to choose from a list of 10 songs, since all but one has been performed on the show at least once before.

For the sake of ease, I'm going to recap both performances per contestant. (See, I'm sarcastic and helpful.)

Hollie started out the night talking about nerves with Jimmy, how she feels fantastic when performing in the studio but starts overthinking things once she hits the stage. Not tonight, she vowed. She sang Adele's Rolling in the Deep (we can't seem to get enough Adele this season), which Haley sang last season. I thought this was one of Hollie's best performances—she started out a cappella, belted out her notes and seemed really relaxed on stage. Steven praised her for "finally doing what everyone in America was waiting for—ruffling your tail feathers and hitting the notes." He also called it "perfect." J.Lo (clad in an ab-tastic dress Tina Turner wore in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) said she was thrilled for Hollie and also called the performance "perfect," which meant that the ornery, lavender-clad Randy needed to point out it wasn't perfect but, "close to perfect, because she knows, some notes here and there were pitchy." But he told Hollie that he "felt her for the first time" (neglecting to remember how much he praised her earlier in the season, but the man has the memory of a gnat).

Her second performance was Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man, which Julia DeMato sang in Season 2. (Love Ryan's hair in this YouTube clip.) Again, I thought she did a really terrific job, despite the sexual undertone of the song itself. Vocally, it was top-notch. Randy said he was worried about her singing this song at first, but, "crazy dude, you worked it out," calling it even better than her first performance. Steven praised her but said she could push it even more, and encouraged her to "go over the top." (Until the judges have deemed it's too much. God bless inconsistency.) Plus, Hollie got a good luck message from the Liverpool Football Club just before her performance, which made her squeal.

Since we were in the mood to rehash old storylines last night, Ryan brought up Colton's sister Schyler, reminding us yet again that she was the one who auditioned and Colton just went along for moral support, yet here he is on stage, and she's watching in the audience, after being cut for dramatic purposes in Vegas. She talked about how proud they all are of Colton, and how he surprises them every week, and (naturally) demurred when asked if she was coming back for Season 12. ("Why? A girl won't win anyway," I dreamed she replied.) Colton's first song was Lady GaGa's Bad Romance (performed splendidly by the University of Oregon's a cappella group On the Rocks). Jimmy told him he needed to look into the camera when he sang, because "when you look in the camera, they vote." (He referred to Colton's support from female viewers as "backing him like a stone wall.") He tore into the song, kicky red streak in his hair and all, backed by a manic female band and surrounded by these giant jets of smoke and air. I thought it was fun, and the choruses were terrific, but the song itself seemed a little low for him. Definitely not one of his best. Although Randy called it the "Colton Dixon concert," he said it wasn't the greatest performance, although Colton "has had so many great performances this season." J.Lo, too, was excited by the performance but not wowed, and thought it was too low for his voice. Steven understood, saying "you've got to get low to get high," and explained that Lady GaGa knows that, "to get to the other shore, you need to lose sight of this one," so he encouraged Colton to keep taking risks. Oh, and just to keep up his lecherous side (despite the fact he was wearing a loud print blouse I saw on a Chico's commercial), he praised the female band.

Colton's second song was the Earth, Wind, and Fire classic, September, brought to life in Season 4 by Anwar Robinson (despite the fact I can't find the clip on YouTube). Colton changed up the melody completely, and while I don't have a problem with that in general, this just wasn't good. And it didn't help that to carry out the September theme, his piano had fallen leaves atop it, and we were treated to visuals of more falling leaves while he was singing. Steven said that his voice is a lot more powerful than that song, and J.Lo said he needed to find a song that was better for his voice. No standing ovation for Colton this week. Truth is, it will be interesting to see if his "fans" can keep him out of the bottom three this week.

According to Jimmy, Elise "has a vacation home in the bottom three," and explained that while some contestants have built-in blocks of fans, Elise needs to win people over every week for some reason. (Simply put: she's not a cute boy or a teen girl. This show is not for female singers in their mid-20s unless they're super hot.) For her first song, Elise chose Alicia Keys' No One, sung by semi-finalist Felicia Barton in Season 8. Clad in an awesome orange gown, Elise even got the Stevie Nicks wind machine treatment, and while I thought she didn't really take any chances with the song, she was very good. J.Lo thanked her for giving her the "first goosies of the night" (darn, three straight weeks without that word) and told her that when she smiles, her eyes light up. Steven told her he "loves her lots," although he wishes the song had a better chorus, but she "sang her little tushy off." Randy praised Elise for staying with the melody instead of changing it up completely, calling it a great lesson in restraint. Ryan mentioned that this week's rehearsal was emotional for her, and got her to admit that her dog was very ill, but she refused to milk that for votes. (How refreshing.)

Elise broke into a sexy, soulful version of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On for her second song. (Nikko Smith sang this in Season 4, top 16 contestant Jared Cotter sang it in Season 6, and Matt Giraud sang it in Season 8.) I really liked her take on it, but the judges didn't. J.Lo harangued her about the need to show more emotion (and even had the gall to mention her refusal to cry about her dying dog earlier in the show), saying that, "when you sang Somebody to Love, you showed vulnerability." (It was Whole Lotta Love, but who's counting?) Steven said she "strummed the hearts of a lot of men watching," but encouraged her to pick 6 or 7 songs she could hit out of the park. Randy simply called it the wrong song, claiming that when "Al Green sang it" (try Marvin Gaye, Dawg) he sang it cleanly. Elise mentioned that it was difficult to condense emotion and big notes into two-minute songs.

Phillip was ready to slow it all down, and chose Usher's U Got it Bad. He brought all of his charm and less of the shouty Dave Matthews-ness he's been trotting out lately, and even had a little swagger onstage. The judges gave him their first standing ovation of the night. What I liked so much about Phillip is that he seems like a consummate professional onstage; he made a point of acknowledging and thanking all of the musicians that accompanied him. Steven said he felt like a chump because he never knows what we're going to get from Phillip, and praised his continued vocal evolution. J.Lo called him "so sexy," said she loved seeing that side of him, and said that "a great singer can sing any song, and that's what you are." (I don't know if I'd go that far, but methinks she was basking in the afterglow.) Randy claimed that "for the first time we have a true artist—someone who is completely himself." (Yeah, because David Cook, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Crystal Bowersox, none of them were true artists.) He then praised Phillip for not listening to anyone's advice, saying, "You don't need to listen to anyone, you're Phillip Phillips, and you're da bomb!" Ryan asked if J.Lo's calling him sexy made him blush, to which Phillip replied, "Always." (I'll bet the stone wall of female voters moved behind Phillip last night.)

For his second song, Phillip chose In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett. This too, was fantastic, even if we had to endure some of Taylor Hicks' greatest dance moves. (I was totally waiting for him to scream, "Soul Patrol!" when he finished.) J.Lo said he made her want to come up and dance because his charm is so spontaneous. Steven called him "brilliantly awkward" and said he loved his character. (Ten points for the audience member who made the sign "Phillip Phanatic.")

Next up, the girl "fighting to stay alive" in the competition—Jessica. She chose to sing Fallin' by Alicia Keys, one of the most popular audition songs on the show. (Season 5's Mandisa had the most memorable rendition, IMHO.) I felt like poor Jessica was trapped in the middle of a Travelers Insurance commercial, with floating red umbrellas all over the place. Vocally, as always, with Jessica, it was pretty terrific, but I just didn't believe the song emotionally. Steven said that "a talent like yours lets you get mad at the song and release your passion," while J.Lo called her talent "otherworldly." Randy claimed that Jessica doesn't even know how good she is, and called for Alicia Keys to "holla at the Dawg, because the girl blew the box out of the song!" (Ten bucks we'll "hear" from Alicia Keys tonight...) Ryan asked Jessica what she thought when the judges came on stage to save her, and she said her first thought was that the judges didn't like her and were telling her to stop singing and go home. If she showed one iota of personality and didn't get standing ovations every week, I'd have thought that story was sweet, but...

Her second song was Try a Little Tenderness, which IMHO, no one has been able to touch since Season 4's Nadia Turner, but apparently YouTube has wiped that entire season off the web. She definitely played into her whole "BB Chez" altar ego with this song, with her Bratz hairdo and gave the song a lot more attitude than she normally does. I thought the second half of the song outshone the first. As Steven put it, "Good God almighty, you've done it again," but J.Lo, while praising her singing and her attitude, also took her to task about the need for more emotional connection, with the song and with the audience. All true.

Leading into Skylar's first performance, Ryan promised "a country twist on GaGa." (Really? A country twist? From Skylar? No way.) She sang the country version of Born This Way. To contrast her with Jessica, Skylar isn't as strong vocally, but the girl is a born performer. If you could combine her stage presence with Jessica's voice, you'd have a SuperIdol contestant. I thought her vocals were a bit shouty, but J.Lo said she was perfect three weeks in a row, Steven told her that millions of people out there loved her "drawling," and Randy told her "she was so beyond ready" to be a star. (Interestingly enough, Skylar was sporting a complimentary red streak in her hair to match Colton's. Ooh, do you think they're dating? OMG!!)

Skylar's second song was I Heard It through the Grapevine (sung previously by Season 9's Andrew Garcia). I think she gave a tremendous country twist to the song—I haven't had time to do research if it has happened yet, but I almost could hear someone like Reba singing it. Randy said that every time Skylar sings "it's Skylar's rocking country party," while J.Lo mentioned that she and Phillip have no problem connecting to the audience. I just don't have the enthusiasm for her everyone else does, although there's no disputing her talent.

Last week's most unbelievable bottom three contestant, Joshua, got the pimp spot. He chose to sing Fantasia's I Believe, saying that Fantasia was one of the reasons he wanted to be on the show. (Season 7 third-place finisher Syesha Mercado did a terrific version of this song, but Simon tore her apart for her "audacity" to sing a song Fantasia did.) Joshua was in his element, complete with the gospel choir that probably follows him around when he's not singing, but he messed up the end of the song a bit. (Judges didn't mention it, of course.) The judges gave him a standing ovation, and Randy called him "truly one of the most gifted singers on the show." J.Lo told "sweet cutie" that she felt blessed he was in the competition, that he leaves it all on the stage with every performance. Steven called this performance "another stepping stone" to Joshua's winning the whole competition, and stole Randy's comment, telling him "you could sing the phone book." Randy, not one to be outdone, added, "Literally." When Ryan asked Joshua if his choosing Fantasia's victory song was foreshadowing, Joshua awkwardly refused to answer the question. Strange.

For the final song of the evening, Joshua sang the "emotional civil rights anthem" A Change is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke. (Interestingly enough, Syesha Mercado sang this song, too, as did Adam Lambert during the Season 8 finale.) There's no doubt Joshua was again in his element, but I truly prefer performances like the one he did last week, where he shows more personality than soulful emoting. Randy called it "the perfect song" for Joshua, because he "let the song marinate," and then told Ryan, "the talent this season is better than any other show on television!" (Take that, Cee-Lo.) Steven said he "stretched his voice to the limits of soul," while J.Lo urged voters, "Please, America, don't send this boy home!" Oh...and they gave him ANOTHER standing ovation. Enough already. Joshua admitted he stayed focused by staring at J.Lo's abs, to which she replied, "If staring at my abs makes you sing like that, you can stare at them all you want." (Joshua's grandmother in the audience didn't like that one, young lady.)

It was a very good night, not a great one. I'd say Elise is going home, and she'll be joined by Hollie in the bottom. (The reverse could happen as well.) If they choose a third member of the bottom three, it should be Colton, but after last week's freakshow, who knows what will happen?

Tonight, American Idol actually moves another step toward embracing Kris Allen as the winner of Season 8, plus LMFAO! And maybe Colton will get another prom invite?

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