‘American Idol’ Ladies Do Whitney Houston Justice

Women of the Top 13 mostly overshadow the guys, who tackled Stevie Wonder's songbook.

Whitney Houston was one of a handful of singers whose voice was so inimitable that “American Idol” judges would often discourage contestants from singing her songs.

But the tables were turned Wednesday (March 7), when the ladies of the Top 13 were asked to sing songs from Houston’s catalog. Some were up to the task, including Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Erika Van Pelt, while others — Elise Testone and Shannon Magrane among them — proved why Whitney is often best left untouched.

Guys, meanwhile, dug into the Stevie Wonder songbook, marking the first time Wonder’s songs have been used as a theme since the fifth season of “Idol.” But it was the girls who stole the show, and the season continues to look like it’s leaning in the ladies’ direction. “We might have a sing-off between two girls in the final!” Jennifer Lopez gushed after Hollie Cavanagh conquered Houston’s “All the Man That I Need.”

Cavanagh’s performance was a highlight of the night, causing J.Lo to tell her, “You’re the one,” but it was Sanchez’s “I Will Always Love You” — the holy grail of Houston’s catalog — that stole the night and brought the three judges to their feet. “Jessica Sanchez is legit! Yo!” an enthused Randy Jackson beamed. “Best vocal of the night, one of the best singers in the whole competition!” Lopez said she was “speechless” following Sanchez’s big moment, and Steven Tyler — who said his two favorites of the night were “Jessica Sanchez and Jessica Sanchez” — told her, “You just made 40 million people cry.” (Apparently no one has told Tyler about the ratings slip this season, but that’s OK.)

Laine’s country twist on “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” was another of the evening’s top moments, with Lopez calling her “amazing” and Tyler saying — as he often does — “that was beautiful.” Erika Van Pelt’s strong, vocally assured “I Believe in You and Me,” meanwhile, gave Lopez “goosies” and had Jackson praising her “unbelievable” tone.

Magrane and Testone weren’t as lucky as the other girls. Magrane’s “I Have Nothing” hit a number of embarrassing miscues, especially during the big glory note at the song’s climax. The judges were mostly kind, blaming the mistakes on her nerves, but Tyler nailed it when he said she “crashed and burned in the turnaround.” Testone seemed thrown when her original choice of song, “The Greatest Love of All,” was switched at the behest of mentors Jimmy Iovine and Mary J. Blige to “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” a song Testone griped she wasn’t familiar with before being asked to sing. She was never able to find her pocket in the song, but she was equally undone by her sour attitude when dealing with her mentors and while talking with host Ryan Seacrest.

On the guys’ side — yes, there are dudes in the competition this year too — Joshua Ledet turned in a soulful, blazing-hot version of Wonder’s “I Wish” that Jackson called “flawless” and had Lopez saying she felt through him. Colton Dixon offered up a stripped-down version of “Lately” that the judges were all behind, while Phillip Phillips’ “Superstition” was churned through the Phillip Phillips machine and came out sounding like, well, another Phillip Phillips creation. “We need you in this competition,” Jackson told him, complimenting his “alt-indie” sensibilities.

Gentle giant Jermaine Jones’ “Knocks Me Off My Feet” fit him “like an Armani suit,” Tyler said, while Jackson said he needs to relax more in the context of his songs. DeAndre Brackensick’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” had Tyler referring to Brackensick as a “male Naima,” a reference to season 10 finalist Naima Adedapo, which was apparently meant as a compliment. Resident jokester Heejun Han had a memorable exchange with Iovine and Blige, giving the pair autographed pictures of himself (he gave Iovine a picture of himself frowning and Blige a picture of himself smiling, signing to Blige he liked her more than Iovine) but stood on his own vocally with a confident “All in Love Is Fair,” which was deemed “fantastic” by Tyler. Finally, Jeremy Rosado’s “Ribbon in the Sky” was the weakest of the male performances, with Jackson telling him he needed more “swag” to make the performance believable.

Thursday’s episode will pit the male with the lowest number of votes against the female with the lowest votes, and the judges will decide who goes home.

What did you think of the Top 13 “Idol” performances? Who’s going home? Let us know in the comments!

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