Everyone except Jermaine Jones parties like it's the year they were born

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 15, 2012 at 06:45 AM EDT

I get way too excited for American Idol‘s “birth year songs” theme week and never remember that the song selections usually end up being a bit lame. I’m always like, “Ooh, time to revisit the ’90s. What’s up? Seriously though who is going to sing ‘What’s Up’ by the 4 Non Blondes? HELLO.”

This year I somehow deluded myself into thinking DeAndre Brackensick might surprise us with “Sweet Dreams” a.k.a. “The Other Sweet Dreams” by La Bouche. But the theme is called A Narrow Selection of Songs From the Year You Were Born, not Random Dance Hits Blasting Out of Annie’s Car in High School.

ANYWAY, the big story of last night’s Top 12 performance show was that season 11’s “gentle giant” Jermaine Jones got disqualified for concealing a criminal record in an extremely uncomfortable on-camera confrontation/ratings stunt with executive producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe. You can read all about it here. I’d rather just get to the performances at this point, because isn’t that what Idol‘s all about?

“YOU ARE HOOKED, LIVE, ON AMERICAN IDOL,” Ryan Seacrest reminded us 20 minutes in — still an hour before Jermaine’s segment. So Idol is all about 1) performances; 2) crime and punishment; 3) suggesting to its audience that they are drug addicts for reality TV.


Ugh. Ryan. Producers. Give it a rest! It’s getting embarrassing. We’ve all got our issues, but we’re not that dumb.

Phillip Phillips had a lot of health problems this week, just like he did as a baby. The longtime kidney stone sufferer apparently had surgery last Thursday. So wait, the mentoring session for the next week, the results show, and kidney surgeries all happen on Idol in the same day? No wonder I am HOOKED and LOCKED IN. What a crazy place! For his cover of the Black Crows’ “Hard to Handle” (originally by Otis Redding), Phillip stayed in one place sans guitar, as he was still in pain.

The good news is that he was still able to bounce in place with more energy than many of his peers, plus, when he gets really into what he’s singing, Phillip always looks like he’s in pain anyway. So it worked! I loved the painpassion he exhibited on that final “Oh baby” with his eyes closed most of all. Jennifer Lopez raved about what a natural performer Phillip is. “It’s in every cell of your body — not to get too medical on you right now.” Whoa, hold up, Dr. J! Reel in that doc-speak a little, okay? I’m getting overwhelmed.

Actually, Phillip’s dad, Phillip Phillips, may have had Dr. Judge beat when he told us that one of his son’s health problems was that “three to four inches of his bowels were just dead.” I think that’s what he said, at least. I was concentrating pretty hard on how close pop’s tremendously friendly beard came to matching his yellow baseball cap.

NEXT: Jessica Swaggernaut and Heejun Han are right there waiting for you

Jessica Sanchez was “such a little diva” as a child, so she told us herself. I liked how her mom tried to say how often baby Jessica used to faint, and then her dad was like “No. Drama queen, please.” What a trooper. Jessica, who’d blown everyone away with “I Will Always Love You” last week, underwhelmed this week on Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around.” I appreciated her enthusiasm for jamming out with the flautist, but couldn’t stand her enunciation on “nitty gritty” and the literal interpretations of the lyrics in her choreography. The “y’all ready?” moment in the middle, before the key change, might have been kind of cool had it not been so hyped during her mentoring session.

Jessica’s voice is still top-notch, of course, but the judges agreed this song was a bad showcase for someone with such a strong vibrato to offer. J. Lo and Steven questioned her sense of rhythm, but LOVED her sparkly pants. So tragic. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Oh, Ryan has latched onto will.i.am (always.embarrassed.to.type.this.name)’s nickname for Jessica — the Swaggernaut — so expect to be hearing more of that in the next few weeks. Peaches.

Heejun Han, who still does not have Fergie’s number, tried out “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx. Not good. He was out of breath pretty much the whole time and was barely whispering some of the lowest notes. “I wonder how we can survive,” indeed. Randy Jackson, suddenly called to action by the R&B spirit of this week’s statement pin (a flower) and polka dot shirt, complained that Heejun should be singing R&B songs instead of pop songs. Steven Tyler, truly the Honest Abe of the night for once, told Heejun he still had a special voice, but “you stepped so far outside your circle to do this. Really breathy, just wasn’t a great song for you.” He’s like Baberaham Lincoln.

Could Steven not see that Heejun was wearing a pink, white, and black geometrically patterned bow tie? I feel like that’d be right up Steven and Randy’s alleys (although it just now occurred to me that geometric patterns might be too “digital” for Steven). Shine the light on that sucker! But instead they shone the light on Heejun’s adorable polka-dotted girlfriend. Sorry ladies. Sorry Fergie.

Elise Testone was always getting into trouble as a child. Her mom even had to run into the ocean to retrieve her one time. Cut to J. Lo from last week, of course: “We’re gonna save Elise.” Wow, J. Lo, thanks for doing your part to rescue this baby from the big bad sea!

NEXT: Let’s make some more babies! I was so glad to see that Elise had overcome the bad taste in her mouth from last week, when her mentors practically forced her into doing a song she’d never heard before. Covering Tina Turner’s version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was perfect for Elise — not just because it prompted a split-screen featuring her and President Obama, but because it was a smart way for her to “go uptempo” while still showcasing her uber-rasp. This was one of those half-and-half songs that started out with the singer all seductive on the piano and ended in some all-out center-stage wailing. Dare I say it? Elise’s phrasing on one of her last lines (“Why don’t we stay”) really did sound like Adele.

Elise had bragged that her Al Green cover would prompt people to make babies, so obviously Ryan had to revisit that when she was done. “If there’s a population boom December 14, we’re gonna blame you,” he warned her. Ewwwwww, Seacrest.

A woman had come up to DeAndre Brackensick‘s parents and predicted that he would someday be on American Idol when he was 4. Four!!! I just thought you might need another reminder of how young these kids are, and how old you are. Gosh are you old. DeAndre struggled with song choice this week, and I think he should have gone with his original idea, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” instead of Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross’ cover of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’ “Endless Love.” No teenager has ever heard of that song. Trust me, I know all of the teenagers. Not really; I know less than 10, and sometimes I read their Facebook updates but only because we’re related. Ewwwwww, Annie.

But seriously, this should have been a no-brainer because who doesn’t love The Lion King? Even if DeAndre bombed, his hair is so Mustafa that it wouldn’t even have mattered. Anyway, DeAndre barely knew this song as he wandered out on the stage looking terrified as he started to sing: “There’s only you in my life, and this awkward cream suit I’m wearing.” Randy summed it up best: “This was boring and very safe for you at the wrong time.”

Esteemed Twitter Follower Interlude:

“@EWAnnieBarrett Did you notice how the Idol ‘Hourglass’ background made it look like a stream of urine was trickling into DeAndre’s hair?” –@Snapers

I didn’t at the time, but when I went to look for a good screengrab of this, I actually noticed the opposite — that the camera guys were careful to never let the sparkly hourglass urine stream anywhere near his precious hair. Good observation anyway. I think we’re all thankful that this was only a close call. I’m not only a member of the DeAndre’s Hair Fan Club — I’m also a client!

NEXT: Colton Dixon and Daughtry hook up. Sorry ladies. Sorry again. Shannon Magrane has come a long way from singing “Thumbelina” so much that her famous baseball dad suffered an earworm while he was pitching around the turn of the century. He recalled those good old days: “I thought, I need a therapist right now to get this song out of my head.” It must be nice to not have any other treatable problems. Anyway, cute parents. All of the parents were cute this week! I could write a separate recap on them. I practically already have, with this paragraph.

I was pretty into Jimmy’s suggestion of No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” for Shannon, but she ended up going with “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. I think the most favorable review I can give of this performance is that Shannon didn’t mess up. I definitely thought she would — not that I wanted her to; I was just waiting for it to happen based on last week’s disaster. This number was actually fine as long as you didn’t stare too long at Shannon’s inexplicable sequined tuxedo…lingerie? t-shirt? under a crazy sparkly blazer. She hit some beautiful notes, so it’s not like I needed therapy or anything. I just wasn’t as jazzed as the judges, and I think she pulled off a lucky strike here. Steven said she was better when she wasn’t trying so hard, which confused me because it seems to me Shannon is always trying really hard. If you’re 16, how can you not?

“We hooked up at the Belmont in L.A.,” Colton Dixon boasted of his quality time spent with one of tonight’s guest performers, Daughtry. (The other is Lana Del Rey. Hey, Randy knows who that is.) “He direct messaged me!” Ooh boy. That’s how you know it’s true love.

Colton took a huge risk singing a song no one has ever heard before, “Broken Heart” by White Lion. And yet somehow, from the way Colton was so spiffy in an all-black Adam Lambert costume, expertly jumping from mark to mark, hitting a major glory note as the light hit his face just so, my overwhelming thought when he was finished was “This guy doesn’t have to worry.” That’s crazy! He was definitely wailing though, and continues to be one of the season’s most emotionally available performers. “I think you look pretty when you sing,” offered J. Lo. Well, yeah. That always helps, too.

Steven totally played the contrarian here! Again, with the honesty! “I just didn’t feel the song go anywhere, man.” “Okay,” said Colton immediately. “Okay, cool,” replied Steven. Most polite stand-off in Idol history?

I still wanted more from baseball/national anthem hometown hero Erika Van Pelt after her cover of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” The girl was so excited, exclaiming “It feels so rocky! It’s more me” during her mentoring session — but it’s still Bryan freakin’ Adams, you know? Even with the proposed dramatic musical break — which one drummer totally RUINED, by the way — this might not have been exciting enough to keep Erika around. She needs to rock for real. I hope she gets the chance.

At least the judges agreed she looked amazing. And she did, with those black lacy Stevie Nicks sleeves. She was a sight for sore eyes against that perplexing optical illusion of a damp and grody staircase unfolding behind her at the beginning of the song.

I would never have guessed that one of this season’s American Idol contestants used to deliberately bang her head against objects (walls, sidewalks, you know, normal things) as a child, because I don’t like to be reminded about the way the world works, I guess. Give me reality TV or give me death! But it makes sense that the answer is Skylar Laine. If you put them all in a police (too soon?) lineup? Yep, Skylar Laine.

The proud owner of an extensive knife collection is destructive and a little nutso and I’m kind of loving her! I’m glad Skylar stuck with her original song choice, “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” by Bonnie Raitt, instead of going with Jimmy and will.i.am’s other suggestions — even though a “Gountry” (ghetto country) version of Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” could have been the new talk of the season. It’s okay that Skylar played it safe here. Does she ever miss a note? Her confidence and stage presence have sold me every time.

NEXT: Joshua Ledet throws it down; Seacrest throws crawfish at teenage girls The crawfish chronicles accompanying Joshua Ledet‘s segment were such a production that I worried the giant bucket of beady eyes would overshadow his actual performance. Ha! Not a chance, even though Ryan tried desperately to steal the spotlight by faking a shellfish allergy and then throwing crawfish at 4 Non Adults. Joshua’s cover of Michael Bolton’s version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” was phenomenal — “the best thing I’ve ever seen on American Idol,” said J. Lo. Whoa!

Is it totally lame of me to suggest that Joshua’s crisp and classy look solidified his star power for me tonight? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would have stood up halfway through the song along with the judges if I weren’t such a lazy bitch with a laptop. But the young church singer’s white jacket with black lapels, blue collared shirt, and red rose alone were very key for me even during the crawfish chronicles. I think I even shouted in the style of Randy Jackson at my TV, “SOMEONE’S STEPPIN’ IT UP TONIGHT! JOSHUA IS IN IT TO WIN IT!” And he hadn’t even sung! It’s like I’m psychic.

My favorite parts of Joshua’s dome-shattering performance were the more subtle ones — specifically, when he does those short little half-shrugs after huge notes. He sort of looks to the side and flinches while taking a breath. I love that. And of course, he climbed over the mountain on that high note. Does that make sense? Most people hit high notes and it’s either awesome or it’s fine or it’s terrible. But some songs allow for a better “stroll down” on the other side of the peak, and I think Joshua’s voice and performance style lend themselves very well to the downward strolls of big songs in addition to the climbs. Is this making no sense or what?

Hard to say which judge’s compliment was more ultimate — Steven’s “You gave it up so big, God came through your eyes” (confirmed: I am definitely going to hell for finding that sexual) or Randy’s “Percy Sledge, who originally did that song, would be very proud and happy.” It was just a proud and happy time all-around. Even the crawfish got back in on this action as Ryan refused to throw to commercial. Ryan CLEARLY asked that “waiter” to bring that platter out so he could have another one, by the way. Such a smart shellfish cookie, always thinking on his feet.

Finally, Hollie Cavanagh got the pimp spot that probably should have gone to Joshua this week for her rendition of Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love.” Again, I’m obsessed with her cute parents, mostly because they’re British and, as her mom almost apologetically explained, “not from a musically backgrounded family.” It’s refreshing to see some non-stage parents every once and a while, right? I also loved when Hollie’s dad was so nervous he announced that his name was “Hollie Cavanagh” and then later suggested his daughter was so untidy that we should not go into her bathroom. I had to rewind that so many times to understand that the word was “untidy” and that therefore his comment had nothing to do with Hollie’s room-clearing number 2s. (Uh oh. Are three to four inches of her bowels just dead?) Of course, this was all before her dad became so overcome with pride that he started to cry. Dad! You’re EMBARRASSING me! Ha, dads.

Anyway, Hollie yet again delivered on yet another power ballad. She’s quite the bold little woodland creature for taking on such huge covers week after week. My favorite part was when she gestured subtly to the whizzing-by camera that it might be her man, and grunted slightly on the word “you.” I agreed with Steven (he’s done it again) that Hollie was actually a little pitchy throughout, but the gist of this week’s performance was another “I don’t know how that huge voice comes out of that tiny body” for Hollie. After all, J. Lo said it would be silly to nitpick the tiny creature’s tiny flaws. There will be NO silliness. It’s like I always say.

Unsung Hero of the Night: Hollie’s brother in the pink-lettered t-shirt doling out a “so-so” grade for his sister. I also loved that Hollie stuck her tongue out a little in the direction of her family and friends after her performance, and her dark-haired friend just opened her mouth wider as if to say “Yikes!” Look at where we are! Look at you!

Look at YOU. Pressing play on this killer recap-writing jam.

Who goes home tonight? Are the judges going to be lame and send no one packing?

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

Jermaine vs. Nigel: A very special on-camera confrontation

With Jermaine out, should the judges eliminate someone this week?

‘American Idol’: Name your Top 12 Power List!

Jermaine Jones is 13th guy brought back to ‘Idol’

Jessica Sanchez covers ‘I Will Always Love You’ — VIDEO

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