The Top 7 take on 'songs from this decade.' I think they all want it, Ryan!

This week, the top 7 American Idol finalists could sing any tune from 2010, 2011, or 2012 — a stunning musical era which contained, as Randy Jackson put it, “current, for the most part relevant songs.” Inspiring as usual, Dawg!

So instead of dutifully pretending to know who Billy Joel was, the contestants got a chance to belt out whatever they’d been screaming out of their cars mere months before they’d suddenly woken up in la-la-land in a maaaaaaansion and realized they’d become the few, the proud, the private dancers of Jimmy Iovine.

It was great to see and hear more conviction from our tiny teens and Elise, and in an effort to join the celebration of nearly complete relevance, Ryan Seacrest’s hair had willed itself into a bigger Bruno Marsian pouf than ever. Randy had another flower pin, J. Lo’s dress was made of duct tape, and Steven Tyler showed up in his finest python-print bathrobe. Pretty much a banner night for everyone. Here we go….

Skylar Laine kicked off the show with Kellie Pickler’s “Didn’t Know How Much I Loved You,” and much like Jessica this week, Skylar was completely in her element singing one of her current favorite songs. Her confidence and professionalism just floor me every time. I love the conviction she has in every last verbal tweak, and I love that she got to bring out her grand-paw’s guitar.

The judges noticed Skylar’s pitch perfection and said this was the perfect way to start the show. I think it would have been a great way to end it. Skylar’s voice is so good, guest mentor Akon used a bad word to describe it. And Steven — who had a rather enthusiastic, verbose night, by the way — characterized the appeal of Skylar perfectly: “When you sing a song, it’s a complete sentence.” Then he threw in an extra complete sentence of female-contestant appreciation: “The crows may crow, but it’s the hens that deliver the goods.”

I just spent a little time Google-image-searching “hens” because I think it’s such a funny word, and hens are beautiful, just beautiful. Check out this hen! Colton wishes his hair looked that good. And I think that hen might be wearing Jessica Sanchez’s dress.

According to Jimmy Iovine, the real competition — the one for the young female vote — is between Phillip Phillips and Colton Dixon, who slowed things down and went soft and subtle on the piano for “Love the Way You Lie” by Skylar Grey. I liked him this week! I usually fall under the Colton-Dixon Line in terms of understanding the hype about him, but this moody performance that seemingly took place on a cloud drew me in.

I’m a sucker for a string section, is what’s really going on here. Every single time. But I much preferred this seated, head-tilty effort to Colton’s usual jog-around-the-stage Jump for Jesus workout videos. I’m glad he went with the big pause between the bridge and the last chorus — it was like a quiet collective sigh among Colton and the orchestra. Very pretty.

And as Akon reminded Colton, “There’s things about you that you haven’t even discovered yet.”

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

You’re not alone. Not by a long shot. But I just assume everyone’s gay at this point. It seems easier, better.

“Colton still hasn’t found his top yet.” –Steven Tyler

NEXT: Phillip’s just somebody Elise used to know Speaking of tops, Elise Testone spent the week bossing around Phillip Phillips so that they could duet on the most angst-ridden hit single to ever feature a xylophone: Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” (ft. Kimbra). This song is all over network TV lately. Gotye wants it! I think he’s GOTYE to have it, Ryan!

Anyway, the pair harmonized really well when the song called for it, but as the woman who wore the pants in the song even though she was wearing a sparkly miniskirt, Elise’s vocals did overpower Phillip’s. And Phillip refused to make eye contact with Elise (she must seem almost as icky as the audience members’ hands) and looked overall awkward about having to act like he’d just gotten out of a nasty relationship with his older sister. It’s okay to pretend, Phillip! It’s part of being a performer. You’ve gotta engage sometimes. Here is a sanitizing hand wipe.

I’m in a really good mood about Jessica Sanchez right now because I ended up listening to Jazmine Sullivan on Spotify for two hours and I’m LOVING her. “Songs from this decade” was an ideal theme for Jessica because you could tell her rendition of “Stuttering” was just a more high-fashion version of something she’s been singing into her bedroom mirror for awhile now.

While her voice has been pitch-perfect nearly every time she’s sung, this time I actually felt passion for what she was singing. I think she was truly excited to introduce people to one of her favorite artists. The black and white structural Gaga-esque dress was incredible and I loved how she held the final note even after physically stumbling a bit on her way to sit back down on the piano. It was one of her most humanizing moments yet.

Guest mentor Akon had already wanted to steal Jessica, feed her a few hamburgers (why no cheese? the cheese makes you fatter, I’m sure of it) and put her to work. Not so fast, said J. Lo, who had thrown on the same spiky Louboutins as Jessica last night. J. Lo encouraged the 16-year-old to heighten her performances to the level of Joshua. Whatever, J. Lo, but I actually liked where she was going with this: “You have, more than anybody, the ability to take this American Idol audience on a ride like they’ve never been.” It’s a lot of pressure, but I do think Jessica could do that if she allows herself to take more chances and just blow it out in the next few weeks. I want to see some more attitude! It’d be ideal if she (heck, all of them) could pick songs she already knows and loves from here on out.

This image has been hovering on my paused TV screen for a few hours now:

I cannot get enough of Mantasia’s face here, as soon as Fantasia’s signature lisp rang out — “Yosh!”

NEXT: The judges give Joshua Ledet a standing O to match his face Joshua Ledet was the more obvious standout of the night — his “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars earned the only standing O from Randy (and eventually Jennifer and Steven who did NOT want to move) of the night. That’s how you know you’re supposed to like it! But we didn’t need any convincing from the judges to recognize that Joshua was in his element here. I think this actually improved on Mars’ Grammys performance, which was so fast you could barely make out the words.

Joshua so effortlessly engages with the people surrounding him. He touched tons of swaybot hands (“Ewwwww.” –Phillip) and merrily swayed left and right in casual unison with the brass section. That trombone lady in the center in particular was having a blast! I love how Joshua’s fearless onstage presence contrasts with his quiet and unassuming demeanor offstage. You would never suspect that Offstage Joshua could convincingly deliver the line “There’s only one carrot and they all gotta share it,” for example.

Steven Tyler’s repeated encouragement of Joshua to get his backup go-go dancer’s phone number was hilarious. I didn’t realize Steven was so into six-foot-tall ladies. So you’re telling me there’s a chance!

Ryan invited Joshua’s dad onstage as he prepared to give out the numbers, and then four hours later Nathaniel did indeed join them. Was it worth the wait? “I reckon.”

Colton and Skylar‘s duet on “Don’t You Wanna Stay” by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson was not worth the wait — didn’t that thing seem to last forever? I have to admit I didn’t bother to sit through it again during my routine second-chance “just the performances” run-through on my DVR. Why aren’t they changing up these duets? Nobody cares that Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine still aren’t dating. Even the thought of something so preposterous makes me wanna go out and kill a big deer.

I just want to point out Colton’s hair as he insisted to the cameras, “I can assure you we’re not dating, period, and that is because she owns a gun.”

This is his most “animalistic” angle to date, yes? Don’t shoot!

NEXT: ‘Holliepop’ sounds like a legit new genre — but she’s probably going home Hollie Cavanagh is just the sweetest thing you’ll ever see — I was obsessed with her genuine appreciation for “the nice lady who owns, like, a fudge place…she made Hollliepops” during her hometown footage. Fudge lady loves her, and British journalists love her, so why can’t the American Idol judges? Sadly, our sparkly wood nymph’s stripped-down rendition of Pink’s “Perfect” was not the comeback performance they’d been looking for from Hollie — though at this point they seem so down on her that I’m not sure anything could have convinced them to stray from the script.

I’m torn — this was Hollie’s best song choice in weeks, her vocals were pretty much on, and she began the song aside an adorable beanie baby (Hot Idol Guitar Player Brady Cohan). That said, I just didn’t think she cranked up the gas high enough, and the overcompensating for her British accent on the pronunciation of “puuuuur-fect” was distracting.

I think this might have been as good as we were ever gonna get from Hollie. The judges dismissed her with some incredibly awkward dead silence after Steven said “It kind of laid there, compared to how you usually sing.” That really wasn’t the right comment since this was better than Hollie’s performed in weeks, so it just made all of the judges seem disingenuous, like they couldn’t wait to sweep her to the side and get on with the show. (The crowd wasn’t booing hysterically at negative comments like it usually does, so that made things even weirder.) J. Lo first addressed Hollie with the dreaded death-kiss “You look beautiful tonight,” then eventually offered some truly inspiring constructive criticism: “We’ll see how it all pans out.”

Steven Tyler has decided Phillip Phillips is the love child of Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash. That must have been one heck of a deep meditation session for Steven over the weekend. Mr. Tyler commended Phillip for “singing melody and hitting the lines” on Maroon 5’s “Give a Little More,” but J. Lo and Randy agreed that this wasn’t Phillip’s greatest performance. It was “like a hit radio song, if that’s what you want — but I don’t think it was that kind of wow moment,” said Randy. Yo, yeah, Dawg, why would anyone want a hit radio song? Sellouts.

NEXT: Elise Testone pulls a Haley with Lady Gaga’s ‘You and I’ This was actually one of my faves from Phillip in recent weeks — I think a minor key goes well with his tendency to sing, scream, scowl, and smile all in the same line, and I loved his sexy saxophone soloist feeeeeeeeelin’ it the whole time. So many instruments tonight! I mean, it wasn’t the most original thing we’ve ever seen on the Idol stage, but I fell into a pretty decent zone while watching Phillip. He sounded good. It was a very polished jam session with a not-too-threatening laser light show in the background. Certainly, for many people, that is the definition of boring. But not for me, not this week.

More Kelly Clarkson! Next up: a “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” trio from Hollie, Joshua, and Jessica. (I suddenly have the urge to wish everyone a holly jolly Christmas.) This was just all over the place — too much screaming, not enough nuance. What do you expect with three huge voices? It was more of a battle than a group effort. But Hollie wore clownish pink pants instead of a frilly white ball gown, so that was fun.

Surprise! Jason Segel was on hand last-minute to say hi to Elise Testone, who’d taken her mom to see, and enjoy, his new movie. And surprise! Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a Fox Searchlight film. This was clearly a movie plug and the exact opposite of Fantasia’s “Happy Birthday Mr. Mantasia” surprise video pop-in. It was pretty blatant. But I digress. Mother hen Elise took on Lady Gaga’s “You and I” to close the show, just as Haley Reinhart had done last season when the track was still unreleased. (“A risky move,” Randy had complained, completely ignoring the fact that Haley’s version was awesome.)

Honestly, I wanted to like Elise’s performance so much more than I actually did. It had some excellent moments, but I wasn’t a fan of all the jumping around and yelping between lines. I think her insistence on constant improvisation is making me exhausted. Her voice is so unique and her vocal choices so artistic that the physical romping just gets in the way. I sort of wish she’d never gotten up from that piano. But her voice is still killer and I want her to stay. I actually think the judges might save her if she’s voted out.

Who do you think will go home tonight? Will the judges use their save? They’ve gotta use it this week or next, otherwise it’ll vanish into the murky ether of Colton’s mood cloud.

“We’ll see how it all pans out.”

But you didn’t have to stoop so J. Lo….


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Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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