Hometown heroes Joshua, Jessica, and Phillip prove it's easy if you try

By Annie Barrett
May 17, 2012 at 09:49 AM EDT
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Hooray! I live for the hometown visits on American Idol. They cry, I cry. Never fails. No more drama! (GIVE ME MORE DRAMA.)

Jessica Sanchez helicoptered in to Chula Vista from L.A., with a quick stop at San Diego’s Padres stadium to emotionally relive her audition experience. A tight closeup of Phillip Phillips’ private parts as he fastened his seat belt let us know he was on a private plane to Leesburg, Georgia. He would proceed to break down in tears while sandwiched by his adorable parents — who had both expressed interest, separately and lovingly, in squeezing the life out of their son now that he was home. Phillip’s parents are ridiculously cute.

But my favorite “hometown heroes” segment had to be Joshua Ledet’s. I thought he really came alive once he landed in Westlake, Louisiana. This place had everything: Crawfish, a parade, a dog in a top hat, a woman with an eye patch. Joshua took us to church (literally this time) and emceed his own stadium concert with none of the reserved shyness we’ve seen from him on live TV.

I’ve never loved him more.

First up: Judges’ choice — or should I say sponsor’s choice? A Kraft commercial featuring “I’d Rather Go Blind” aired directly after Joshua Ledet‘s rendition of the Etta James classic. “Why fix what’s not broken?” wondered Randy. “Advertiser relations!” Of course, this was a perfectly fine choice for Josh, considering he’s excelled at the smooth R & B style in the past. He didn’t do anything new with it, but his costume was fabulous. “We just fed you what we knew you would feed back to us,” explained J. Lo. (Kraft products.) I’m not sure this warranted the first of two judges’ standing Os of the night. Typical Joshua. Good stuff.

NEXT: Steven Tyler calls Phillip the next Bruce Springsteen J. Lo sacked Jessica Sanchez with “My All” — gah! I can think of 10 other Mariah Carey songs the tiny teen could have handled better and more memorably. She struggled here, perched atop an awkward platform, trapped in the unnecessarily challenging melodies she was trying to mimic. It was like watching a child genius sit perfectly still in a gilded (but if you look closely it’s sparkly barbed wire) cage while taking an AP Latin exam in an effort to lock down an A in third grade English. This isn’t rocket science! Jessica didn’t need to sing this Mariah song on American Idol.

We should be hearing beautiful notes ease their way out of these kids at this point, not straining and difficulty. Annoying. Plus, the subject matter of “My All” was wildly off the mark for a 16-year-old home-school student. I’m still not convinced Jessica Sanchez has ever interacted with a boy her own age. It’s fine! Just not if you’re singing about trying to bed some dude.

Steven Tyler chose the pehhhhhr-fect (hi Hollie!) song for Phillip Phillips: Madcon’s “Beggin’,” first popularized in the ’60s by the Four Seasons. This was my favorite Phillip performance of the night — and not just because of the aggressive patch of chest hair peeking out of his gray tee. Sue me for having eyes. Go ahead. I liked the high energy, Phillip had a good groove going on with his acoustic guitar and haphazard stand-still leg flapping, and the lyrics were just come-hither enough to draw people in but not seem pandering to female voters.

Steven — who cannot stop calling things “over-the-top” as a compliment this season — may have gone a bit OTT himself when he said Phillip “could be a new age Boss — a new Springsteen. You have the right character.” I mean, sure. Anyone could be anything. Randy could be a new age Kraft product. Steven was on a cheese-roll: “It’s so beautiful to watch you unfold,” he nearly sang. “When you’re facing the sun, the shadows fall behind you.” YES. I bet that’s exactly what J. Lo was thinking, too.

“Ding ding, round two,” said Ryan, a bit lifelessly for Ryan. Time for the contestants’ choice. Joshua Ledet went with John Lennon’s “Imagine” because he’d heard it in the car a few minutes before they had to pick songs. Very inspiring. I liked that he didn’t bring this one to church — partly because church is located firmly outside the imaginative realm of this song and mostly because we hear so much screaming from Joshua that it’s a treat to be reminded that he knows when to rein things in. Of course he “still gave us a little Josh” at the end, but it was much less bombast than I was expecting. J. Lo said the son of a preacher man was “almost like preaching while you’re singing,” and Randy indirectly criticized some of Joshua’s competitors when he said “People sing a lot of things they have no attachment to.”

NEXT: Pocahontas sings Aerosmith, which is why ‘you are locked live’ on American Idol I still have no idea why Jessica Sanchez of all people chose Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Look, she’s great. She sings very well. But why an Aerosmith song, and why a Pocahontas costume instead of a cool rocker-chick outfit? I’m surprised John Smith and Grandmother Willow (ft. the face of Steven Tyler) didn’t make a guest appearance in the Great Idol Oval of Life. I don’t know how I’m still typing words instead of Photoshopping that right now, to be honest. Anyway, Jessica sounded great, bizarre song choice or not. Steven gave her a solo standing O. Apparently he never has anything good to say when contestants sing his songs. Lauren Alaina would beg to differ.

“That note at the end, wow — sent everybody into the heavens,” said Steven. “This girl is bold right here, she wants this. Dude, you delivered, man,” said Dreamsicle Jackson. Does he know her gender or doesn’t he? Randy always keeps us guessing.

Phillip Phillips‘ choice, “Disease” by Matchbox 20, underwhelmed the judges but likely delighted his fans. I didn’t really care about the song but I enjoyed the elaborate setup of crates and the squiggly black upper arm cuff that She Bangs (saxy beast Mindy Abair) was rocking. Phillip’s vocal was nothing special but the judges’ dismissal was a little out of character. “We’ll see what you got next,” snapped J. Lo, who wanted to be wowed. Of course, we knew it would be bad news as soon as she began, “Hi sweetie” — the J. Lo equivalent of “Your dog just died.” Randy, on the other hand, gifted Phillip — and us — with one of his finest critiques to date. No need to thank me for the dutiful transcription. I learned a lot.

This is a crazy moment. No, no, this is weird. People are always saying we all agree. Actually this time we all disagree, but we actually all agree again. I didn’t like it either. Here’s why. Here’s why! Here’s why. Here’s why here’s why. Here’s why. Just such a subdued moment from you and you do those things in your sleep. It was just okay.

Randy Jackson, ladies and gentleman, dawgs and dudes.

“You don’t have a disease — you got the bug, man. Get used to it because you never will,” Steven advised Phillip. The bug man cracked up hard at this. These two are such spirit animals. Maybe Phillip should have chosen a (better, cooler) Aerosmith song.

Jimmy’s Choice. Step right up, Jimmy! Now step three down. Two up again. Make Ryan Seacrest chase you up and down the stairs. Good boy.

Yay or nay on Colton Dixon’s hairy cleavage?

NEXT: Joshua don’t ever wanna hurt again I loved the way Joshua Ledet‘s mom’s response to Jimmy’s pick for Joshua — “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige — was nothing but a deep belly laugh. DRAMA! In demanding a stop to it, the title demands more. Get used to it because you never will. Sure, it was over-the-top, but I thought Joshua brilliantly interpreted the song. He had to rip off his sparkly-shouldered jacket midway through because 1) it was too dramatic and 2) doing so would create more drama! His earpiece flew off, too, and I’m certain Joshua wanted it that way.

The best part about the second half of the song — in which Joshua was basically flailing and screaming and DIGGING DEEP like never before — was that the cameras kept cutting to a shot of the fallen idols — Hollie, Shannon, Elise, Heejun, Skylar, even Jeremy Rosado. Hollie in particular was flipping out as her bestie growled in desperation, “Do I have anybody in this place?” Right over there! Fist in the air! Hollie is with you, Josh! I loved seeing his buddies get swept away in his insanity and boldness. His antics were pretty unreal. Even Skylar never went that far.

For Jessica Sanchez, Jimmy could have chosen a blowout song with a big diva finish to rival last week’s “And I Am Telling You” showstopper, but instead he went with “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5. He wanted her to appeal to older audiences while retaining her youthfulness. Huh. I guess this would have been a solid choice for a Top 6 theme night, but really, out of all the songs, Jimmy?

Still, I thought this smiley and saccharine number was the best Jessica performance of the night. The bright coral blazer with sparkly hip patches (no more drama!) and black lace-up ankle boots sassed her up and let her look her age, finally. And the simple silhouettes of a ferris wheel and roller coaster whispered “youuuuuuuth” to us amidst a light ocean breeze instead of whomping us over the head with the message like a Whack-A-Mole. The whole thing was visually and aurally very pleasant. Just not a knockout.

Jimmy is obsessed with the idea of Phillip Phillips as a relentless chick magnet, so he picked Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” for the reluctant heartthrob. Phillip responded to the unease of sitting still without his guitar by slowly rubbing his left thigh throughout the performance. I’m disappointed they didn’t cut to Jimmy’s ‘O’ face during the song once he realized his protégé was inadvertently turning on millions of women even more than usual. Each caress was what Randy would call a “moment moment moment.”

I loved how Erika Van Pelt shook her re-blonded head vigorously, “no,” when Randy called this Phillip’s best performance of the season just because he’d sung the right melody. After a season’s worth of triumphant “You don’t care”s and “Phillip Phillips is Phillip Phillips and that’s why we love him!”s when Phillip didn’t stick to the original melodies of songs, that’s a little weird, yo.

“You sang like you just didn’t give a f—,” said Steven. “Just showed you have all that passion wrapped up inside you. Doesn’t matter if you hit the notes or not.”

There you have it. Season 11 in a nutshell. Brought to you by by Kraft and Beats by Dr. Dre.

Who goes home tonight?

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

Is J. Lo leaving ‘American Idol’?

‘American Idol’: Name your Top 3 Power List!

Hollie Cavanagh talks to EW after Thursday’s elimination — VIDEO

At home with the Top 9 in the ‘Idol’ mansion — EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS

Ask Annie anything about ‘Idol’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture. This is *not live*!

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