The Top 13 take on Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston songs; Randy Jackson wears a sparkly beaded pin

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 08, 2012 at 10:38 AM EST
Credit: Fox

American Idol’s Top 13 gamely took on Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston last night, but the real story of the episode — sorry, Jessica Sanchez, “I Will Always Love You” anyway — was Randy Jackson’s sparkly beaded pin in the shape of a seemingly miserable little girl. It rivaled the Ryan Seacrest doughnut from the Portland auditions in terms of “season 11 objects of ‘human’ interest WTF-ery,” and yet this pin might not have been the most ridiculous thing Randy was wearing because he was also sporting a fur collar!

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

I could have sworn this was either Lucy from Peanuts or a slightly humanized version of a frowning Super Mario Bros. cloud, but then @YO_RANDYJACKSON tweeted (I hate myself for what I have just typed) that this pitiful cretin is supposed to be Betty Boop.

Later, Ryan Seacrest posted a meaningless exclusive interview with Randy about the pin, so I watched that a few times while noshing on an unnecessary extra slice of recappin‘ pizza and trying to suppress the question “Would now be a good time to take stock of my life?” As my eyes slowly filled with tears, I spent yet another few seconds gazing at the pin before realizing there’s a light pink tongue in there, and mismatched earrings, and what’s up with the red anyway, is that blood? Are those Tevas? Does anyone remember Lite-Brite?

Clearly this pin is all I can think about. Randy should send it to me. I’d wear it CONSTANTLY.

In other important matters, Seacrest announced that this week, the judges will make the final decision on whether the least-voted-for guy or the least-voted-for girl will go home.

As if they aren’t powerful enough! What is this, The X Factor? Bitches, please. Send me the pin.

Joshua Ledet, the young man Jennifer Lopez wants to punch because he’s so good, kicked things off with Stevie Wonder’s “I WIsh.” Some of his high notes sounded gargled and at one point an emphasized “would” just seemed straight-up vomited out — and yet! This was really enjoyable and showed major versatility for Joshua. The judges loved that a gospel-voiced balladeer could deliver on something uptempo. “That was flavorless–I mean, flawless, dude,” said Randy, possibly compelled to screw up right away by the evil beady-eyed urchin below.

NEXT: Did ‘Idol’ just throw Elise Testone under Jimmy Iovine’s magic bus? I hated the way Jimmy Iovine forbade Elise Testone from doing the song she actually wanted to sing, “The Greatest Love of All.” What was the point of that? Because she reminds him of Haley Reinhart? Because he wanted to sabotage her? Because Mary J. Blige’s (and the promise of J. Lo’s) enormous hoop earrings willed him to? I just found this really, really unfair and was so disappointed to see how unhappy Elise was throughout the mentoring (bullying?) session and her eventual performance. Why couldn’t they have compromised with a song Elise had actually heard before? Totally ridiculous. I for one liked how her gravely voice sounded on “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” but all the judges wanted to do was criticize her lack of connection with the song. HELLO.

The stylists tried their best to make Jermaine Jones look like a modern-day R&B artist with the red sneaks and a big red life vest pulled over a leather jacket (?!) but he still seemed stuffy and and a bit boring on “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” I liked J. Lo’s suggestion that he “sing to someone” (she volunteered the first person to come to mind: herself) instead of concentrating so hard on the notes. “Actually think about what you’re singing.” It was a common sentiment last night — Mary J. Blige had similar advice for Shannon Magrane. There’s a huge difference between those who can let a song sweep them away and those who become lost in their heads and attempt to steer the song with their own expectations. Jermaine’s voice is killer in concept, but I’m not sure our gentle giant is “loose” enough to let go.

Erika Van Pelt still needs to let loose, according to J. Lo, but I thought her “I Believe in You and Me” was an appropriately measured tribute to Whitney Houston. Believe me, I’d love to see her rock; I just don’t think this was the week, no matter which Whitney song she would have chosen. I like the way she smiled as she hit the high note of the underused word, “me-EEEEE!” The gap in her teeth helped. It’s really cute. I get a Kelly Clarkson vibe from Erika during her moments of restraint. She just needs to sing a legit angry girl power-wailer before it’s too late. If she survives tonight, I predict a huge week for Erika up next. Also, the part where Mary J. Blige compared Erika’s rich and filling tone to “a steak and potatoes dinner, not celery and peanut butter” really spoke to me. I was like, “Finally — I understand music!”

I was so mesmerized by the giant undulating slate keys featured in the Almighty Idol Oval during Colton Dixon‘s rendition of “Lately” that I almost didn’t notice his metallic braided lapels. Beaded Betty Boop was not pleased about the competition — you could see it in her face — and her negativity rubbed off on Randy, who earned boos by calling Colton’s performance “technically not pitch-perfect.” He did agree with J. Lo and Steven, though, that Colton hit his sweet spot with the more powerful notes, especially the high “goodbyeeeee” at the end.

I liked this song from Colton in spite of his hair and enjoyed the way he hopped back from the mic lightly between big lines. The producers seem intent on highlighting his emotional vulnerability, and Ryan Seacrest even referred to Colton’s “smoldering eyes.” “You can hear the girls screaming in Hacienda Heights,” added Ryan, which may have been code for “You could hear me screaming just offstage if you would just listen!”

NEXT: Shannon staggers; DeAndre brings the swagger“Sweet baby,” J. Lo started out after Shannon Magrane‘s cringe-inducing cover of “I Have Nothing” — so right away we knew she was a goner. All three judges offered the same “duh” line to the sweet baby — “Your nerves got the best of you.” Steven grunted enthusiastically when J. Lo implored Shannon to just relax and tell the story of the song. When Ryan asked her whether the piano at the beginning may have had something to do with how she messed up, Shannon looked at him as if he was an alien with wannabe Bruno Mars hair (which, well…) and answered, “I wasn’t really listening to [the piano], just focusing more on myself and how I should be singing this song.” Oh sweet baby. Listen to yourself! The secret to success lies just outside your Bumpit.

I couldn’t really understand what DeAndre Brackensick was singing half the time during “Master Blaster,” but there was a lot going on and there’s a lot to be said for pulling this one off visually as a performer. With his messy high school girls basketball bun and believable dance moves, DeAndre proved he’s not just a hairachter but a character, too. A real, live boy! Steven referred to the “male Naima” within DeAndre, “like a Jamaican patois going on.” Ooh, vocab. “It’s beautiful,” he continued. End of vocab lesson. J. Lo said she didn’t want DeAndre’s perfectly rhythmic danceathon to end. The judges were just as excited about DeAndre’s versatility as they were about Joshua’s. Remember Joshua? Seems like ages ago.

By the way, what do we think of the new white font against a cityscape for the contestants’ names?

I feel like it’s very “opening credits of a Meg Ryan rom-com involving witchcraft” but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I’ll get used to it.

NEXT: Does Heejun Han have a tapeworm? Skylar Laine got some excellent advice from Jimmy and Mary J., who cut her off almost immediately after she started belting out “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” during rehearsal. “Stop,” said the dungeoness crab. “It kind of just goes from subtle to blast.” Mary, too: “It’s gone before it’s finished.” By showing restraint and keeping her notes softer for much of her live performance, the country girl showed she’s highly coachable, and the producers love that. I thought she sounded great, especially once she allowed herself the freedom to build up on the last two lines. She “climbed that ladder,” as Steven said. Let him finish. “Beautiful.” I’m finding her composure (which doesn’t come across as overconfidence, at least not yet) refreshing up there, and I liked that she didn’t feel the need to country the song up too much. There’s plenty of time for that. Not on Whitney Houston Week!

Heejun Han got to talk about his tweets for a few minutes, which provided Heejun with a great chance to compare DeAndre’s hair to noodles and Ryan Seacrest with the opportunity to bring the word “tapeworm” into a live telecast. He’ll take any chance he gets!

Jimmy and Mary liked Heejun’s overwhelming softness — an oxymoron for sure, but it’s accurate — but asked him to “give us a teeny bit more” on his rendition of “All In Love Is Fair.” He ended up giving them signed photos of himself (and spelling “Iovine” incorrectly, but it’s the thought that counts). Once he and his glassless glasses were live, the first half of Heejun’s cover was very weak. He just did not hit those notes at the beginning, but once the song swelled and so could his emotion, his upper register was really strong. He touched his tongue to his upper lip for a few seconds after he finished, so I feel like that’s going to be Heejun’s signature dance move.

There’s something about Hollie Cavanagh that just draws you in — I can’t put my finger on it exactly but I do think it has something to do with how genuinely sweet she is. And not in a sugary, “what’s up, cameras, check out my personality” type of way. She’s genuinely endearing all of the time, whether she’s expressing wonderment at her lot in life or enthusiasm for her mentoring session during an interview, or whether she’s swallowed up by hundreds of giant candles onstage yet still commanding the entire arena with her huge voice. She’s so tiny! Hollie’s “All The Man That I Need” was one of my favorite performances and I love how she can reel in the power from note to note. She has a great understanding of light and shade in a song, and — wait, UNDERSTATED. That’s the word I was looking for. Everything about this girl is understated — until she sings. I dig that.

NEXT: Is it weird to say Jessica Sanchez ‘killed it’ on Whitney Houston night? Aw, sweet baby. Jeremy Rosado knew he had a lot to prove with last night’s performance, having scooted into the Top 13 via J. Lo’s wild card. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” just wasn’t there, at all. Steven tried to blame the song choice by kindly acknowledging Jer-Bear’s “velvety smooth, high, beautiful voice” but suggested “you didn’t get a chance to fly like you usually do.” I’m not sure a better song would have helped his case here. The kid seemed out of his league.

For Jessica Sanchez, sticking to a nearly note-for-note copy of “I Will Always Love You” was the way to go this week. I can think of only a handful of singers who could have attempted to sing Whitney Houston’s version on live TV, so the fact that this studied 16-year-old pulled it off with such ease is just fantastic. Did anyone else think that Jessica’s fingers — which fluttered against the mic along with her vibrato — seemed at times to be powering her performance? Like, in a completely imaginary way, of course, but still. What runs the world? Hummingbird hands.

I do think Jessica might run into trouble down the line — not technically, as her voice is undeniably amazing — but in terms of emotional believability. She’s a little “white swan,” if you catch my drift. For now, though, she can bask in the glory because this was her night. Dancing free until the morning light….

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

OMG, Jessica Shaw-chez, stop being so whatever.

Finally, Davematthews Davematthews Jr. — sorry, I mean Phillip Phillips — did a lively rendition of “Superstition” unlike any we’ve seen on the Idol stage, and we’ve seen plenty. I know this was all about him bopping around with the other two guitarists and jamming with the band, but I often had trouble finding Phillip’s voice against the background. Randy, who is super into the ideal of an “alt kind of indie spirit going on,” thinks Phillip is “probably the most different artist that we have up there.” Different for Idol, I guess. Aw, it’s cute to see Randy so jazzed about someone. “Dude, you drive your own car in your own lane and I love it!”

“Betty Boop” just sneered.


See you tonight! Who’s going home?

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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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