American Idol recap: It's the Time of the Season for Wanting It, Ryan!
The Top 5 sing a '60s classic and a Brit Pop tune; Seacrest turns down the chance to wear high heels
With the help of hilarious and insightful guest mentor Steven Van Zandt (TV’s Silvio Dante), four of the Top 5 put on their bravest “gotta have it” faces and Phillip Phillips put on his “I’m in severe pain” face for two rounds: The ’60s and British Pop. Lots of great performances this week, but the real story here was that we got a never-this-close-before glimpse of the infamous American Idol cheat sheet/script!
So there it is. Honestly, I’m disappointed that the cheat sheet/script contains plain-as-day photos of the contestants instead of suggestive clip art: a shotgun for Skylar, a high heel for Jessica, a frightened bird for Hollie, a big-ass diamond for Joshua, and a throbbing heart for Phillip. And up until last week, a senior citizen/disabled parking symbol for Elise.
Hollie S***! Hollie’s gotta have it, Ryan! Little Hollie Cavanagh took a big risk attempting Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” or what Little Steven called “probably the most exciting record of all time.” I couldn’t believe how well she commanded the giant army of backup singers and musicians at her disposal here. A much less confident Hollie would have been overwhelmed by so much activity onstage a few weeks ago.
It goes without saying at this point that her vocals were near flawless, but I couldn’t get enough of all of Hollie’s visual details here: lifting her chin to smirk while confidently striding past Nigel Lythgoe, shimmying up to the bongo player between verses, and that sassy yet smiley head jerk at the end. “I LOVED IT, TOO!” bellowed Randy after teasing (with very little suspense) that he might have disagreed with Steven and J. Lo.
R. Yo is right that Hollie’s peaking at just the right time. I don’t love how the judges have “put her through the wringer” (even J. Lo admitted that last night), but you have to admit they’ve crafted a pretty compelling story arc for Hollie here. After a few weeks of “no connection,” all of the power players seem to be on board with Hollie’s forward momentum. Ryan even got in on that action, letting the viewers know after “River” that Hollie’s second song would be great, too.
Phillip Phillips definitely gave off a cool vibe and more energy than we’ve seen from him in awhile on the Box Tops’ “The Letter” — but as he’d removed its essential melody, the song was virtually unrecognizable. (Especially if you were Jennifer Lopez.) Jimmy Iovine had worried about the key change and mood of this performance, reminding Little Steven that “it’s a television performance.” But his bosom buddy gruffly argued in favor of P. Phil’s artistry: “It’s not the Miss America Pageant.” Damn, I thought it was. Ryan is so good with heels.
Anyway, Phillip appeared to be having a blast, which was cute, but at this point most of his vocals sound like a tin chest (likely filled with gray shirts) rolling endlessly across a completely flat street. Steven Tyler admitted he missed the melody of the original, Randy boomed “At least he STRIVES to be original,” and J. Lo once again tried to make Phillip Phillips-as-a-verb happen. It’s not going to happen.
Strike two: Phillip Phillips has a girlfriend, who reminds me of Aurelia from Love Actually.
NEXT: ‘Whatever,’ Randy. Ugh, as if! It was back to “boot scootin'” for the Top 5’s resident “daughter of rebellion” Skylar Laine, who put on her jet pack for “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I’m intrigued by how her original pick, “Knock on Wood,” might have sounded, and I wonder if more teen voters might have recognized that one or at least connected it with a “cross your fingers for me and vote” message. But that doesn’t really matter — Skylar threw another Skylar party here, bouncing around with her best bud Hot Guitar Player (Brady Cohan), stomping with feeling in her sparkly cowboy boots, and taking care to touch the hands of every single cretin in the front row. (“Ewwww.” –Phillip Phillips)
I liked the nearly a cappella breaks towards the end. This isn’t a song I’d expect a teenage girl to sing on Idol, but who cares? CCR is the best.
Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips totally bombed on the most tragic attempt at the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” in TV history. They were so uncomfortable singing together that they ended up laughing throughout, and Joshua darted away from the lovin’ feeling of Phillip’s meaty shoulder squeeze when it was finally over. “GET OVER IT!” thundered Steven Tyler in perhaps his most lively moment of the night. The highlight of the segment was Joshua’s high-pitched “Pleeeeeeease” — which would also be a good followup command after Steven’s outburst. Awww. So awkward, just terrible TV.
Phillip just wants to be touched, y’all.
Who’s that swiveling her pinch-between-your-thumbs hips in front of a wall of beads? Why it’s 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, in a dress seemingly inspired by Cher’s “looks like underwear” Calvin Klein mummy wrap from Clueless. (“Go put something over it,” Cher’s father demanded — so the wardrobe people draped 200 belly chains over Jessica.) The tiny teen took on Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and sang it very well, taking some of the “rollin'”s an octave higher much to Steven Tyler’s bluesy delight.
The performance was visually awkward for me, though, as if Jessica was going through the motions of having a soul — which is by definition impossible. When I close my eyes and remember this number, I picture a heavily pixelated Tina Turner hologram. But she sounded great.
J. Lo threw a pretty funny “WHATEVER” to R. Yo after the good sir called Jessica’s Tina Turner impression “barely okay for me.”
NEXT: Something on page 3 will make tonight feel like an Arby’s night Joshua Ledet went with a big yellow daffodil (not a tulip, Ryan) and sparkly striped sleeves in an effort to command attention against a backdrop of Robert Palmer girls during his rendition of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations. Joshua’s vocals were top-notch and as inspired as ever, and despite his claim that he was overwhelmed by the dance moves, I thought this was one of the best-looking, most dynamic numbers of the night.
Steven had gotten pretty distracted, but snapped out of it long enough to boldly proclaim Joshua as “one of the top two best Idols of all time.” This was pretty rich coming from someone who is — let’s be honest — only semi-aware of two of the 11 Idol seasons of all time. Joshua’s a fantastic contestant either way. Randy predicted that Joshua could follow in Terence Trent D’Arby’s footsteps and put out an R & B throwback album — “’cause it’s been missing from our musical landscape for a minute.”
A MINUTE. Ryan!
You know, as much as I make fun of Randy, I am constantly endeared by the Dawg’s ridiculous attempts to weave Ryan Seacrest into his discussions. We Idol fans joke about the drinking game where you have to take a shot every time a judge says “beautiful,” but I think we should tweak it so that you take a shot (don’t worry, I’ll just take a sip of refreshing Coca-Cola because I have a job to do) whenever Randy mentions Ryan out of NOWHERE. Another Randyism I bizarrely loved this week was when he hyper-focused on the “weird people sitting on the bench over there” during Skylar’s round 2 performance. His obsession with meaningless minutia is a direct line to my heart. Randy wants to win it!
Cue a giant heart exploding into a million bazillion bleeding heart fragments: For round 2, “British Pop,” Hollie Cavanagh covered “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis. I love that she took Little Steven’s keen advice to “keep it intimate — don’t sing it to the world, sing it to one person” and stayed put in her perch atop the piano. It’s a good thing, too, because those rolling red clouds would have sucked her right into the underbelly of the stage, where Simon Cowell has undoubtedly been hiding — pulling the strings, twirling his new mustache, and brewing some of the residue from the deadly smoke machine into an anti-aging supersmoothie. Yeah, maybe Randy’s somewhat simpler Simon Cowell name-check was better.
Anyway, this was a really smart choice for Hollie considering that the fleet of tiny teen voters are more likely to know “Bleeding Love” than, say, a Joe Cocker song from the mid-’70s. Upon a first listen, I felt I’d missed out on Leona’s uber-high and climactic runs, but after watching Hollie again, I respect the melodic tweaks she made in order to make the song work for her strongest register. I even felt like she was more emotionally connected to the song than Leona Lewis herself. Come to think of it, Leona is a lot like Jessica. She’s got gorgeous, sometimes out-of-this-world vocals, but she’s just not terribly compelling as a performer.
According to Randy, Hollie is “the dark horse of the season.” And here it comes, out of nowhere: “You can walk over, Ryan — we like you!”
Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:
Or was it Stevie Nicks? You see your gypsy, I see mine.
NEXT: The sex emperor has no falsetto “It’s a sexy kind of song,” Phillip Phillips drawled in an attempt to lure us into his often painful rendition of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” Turns out the sexy loafers enthusiast has a dirty little secret. It’s rotten and nasty and he’s been a very bad big, big boy. Here it is: Phillip never sings melodies because [grab your Kleenex] Phillip can’t sing melodies. He just can’t! His falsetto does not exist! So that’s why he always looks to be in excruciating pain whenever he has to lift his voice more than two notes. The kidney problems were just a cover.
The judges unanimously raved about Phillip’s melody, but I heard so many botched high notes. Too bad, because I love this song and I’d have loved for Phillip to sing it well. The Zombies just got up and ran away in search of a snack (because they’re Zombies).
I’m pretty sure Phillip chose “Time of the Season” because it’d allow him to ask J. Lo an important question, paraphrased in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop: Who is your daddy, and what does he do?
The judges could barely be bothered to comment thoughtfully on Jessica, Skylar, and Hollie‘s trio, Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” — but suffice it to say this was much better than the guys’ duet. All of them sounded good, but I kept finding Hollie’s voice the strongest against Jessica’s technical precision and Skylar’s twang.
Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:
“At least he STRIVES to be original,” Jensen!
Jimmy and Little Steven’s bleep-fest of an insult war cracked Skylar Laine up so much that she started squeaking. Thankfully she put a pin in that before launching into Dusty Springfield’s classic “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Ugh, this song is so beautiful, do yourself a favor. I’m impressed that Skylar can switch her vibe so seamlessly — from round 1’s party to the “girl power” trio right into this “Wind Beneath My Wings”-esque powerhouse ballad moment. I like that Skylar’s willing to take on the haunting qualities of a minor key (as she did for last week’s “The Show Must Go On”) — it gives her more depth than a typical country-singing contestant. But I did prefer Skylar’s first song this week and thought she might have hit the end of “Love Me” a little too hard.
Why, you are so beautiful to me!
Spread out the candles and the clouds, because Jessica Sanchez is about to rip off those heels and take a seat on the floor. This sort of Idol staging is almost comically dramatic, but Jessica delivered a vocal payoff worthy of the visual nonsense with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” Her “everything I neeeeeeeeeeeeeed” was easily in the top three glory notes of the season.
NEXT: It’ll do magic, believe it or not: Bibbidi Bobbidi Bee Gees Like J. Lo, I was glad Jessica fought the urge to speed up this song, but I have to admit I was bored throughout the first two thirds of it. Technically, though, it was completely on-target and beautiful, just beautiful. (DON’T DRINK.) “You’re gonna be number one, girl,” cooed Steven.
“How could we have let this girl go home? Come onnnnnnnn-uh!” contributed J. Lo. It was fitting that she called a 16-year-old “Mama” after this excruciating whine. At least she didn’t attempt to sing the melody!
Ryan was having trouble recognizing Jessica without her trademark heels, so he trotted away to retrieve them and then waited patiently in a deep squat as she slipped her feet back in. Why, it’s a perfect fit. She must be Cinderella.
There was even more magic in the making of Joshua Ledet‘s round 2 number — the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” which he had never heard before. He walked away during his mentoring session and returned 15 minutes later with a stunning interpretation that had Steven Van Zandt banging on the back of his chair yelling “I love it!” “That’s one of the greatest performances I’ve ever heard in my life,” he added — and this was before Joshua was even shown onstage.
Joshua started subdued, so right away you had a feeling he was about to get cuh-razy. The first half of the song was achingly gorgeous to me and I always love watching Joshua connect so deeply with a song in contrast to his extremely restrained non-singing demeanor. But I gotta say, for me (for you?) this got too wild at the end. I wasn’t JUMPING UP AND DOWN, Randy (and Ryan!), because Joshua — along with the judges, who gave him a bouncy standing O — was doing that enough for all of America. More hyperbole on its way: J. Lo then called Joshua “one of the best singers I’ve seen in 50 years.”
Quite a night!
Anyone for a palate cleanse?
My Top 5 ranking: Hollie, Joshua, Skylar, Jessica, Phillip. What’s yours?
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