“American Idol” swung for the fences on Wednesday night — and we’re not just talking about Steven Tyler’s decision to wear his Roy Lichtenstein pants. The girls tackled Whitney Houston songs (borderline blasphemy?) and the guys did Stevie Wonder, and, after two hours of performances that ran the gamut from “startlingly great” to “shockingly unhinged” — with the majority falling somewhere in the middling middle — well, perhaps it’s best if producers reined it in a tad.
Still, there were some highlights (Jessica Sanchez!), and with eliminations coming Thursday night (March 8) — though, in classic late-era “Idol,” they’ve added some unnecessary wrinkles to the proceedings — here’s our grades for the Top 13. Who passed with flying colors? Who flunked out in flaming fashion? Read on to find out!
Jessica Sanchez: Showed some major stones taking on the Whitney song to end all Whitney songs, “I Will Always Love You.” Was maybe a touch too melismatic, didn’t quite get there at the end, but still … dang, girl. Tears and standing ovations both richly deserved. Grade: A
Hollie Cavanagh: Pint-sized powerhouse delivered the goods on “All the Man That I Need,” including hitting that big, big note at the end. Showcased range, control and power — all that’s missing is some personality. J.Lo sees her going all the way to the finals, and if Cavanagh keeps singing like this — and loses the nerves — she might be right. Grade: B+
Joshua Ledet: Ventured outside his comfort zone with a strutting, cutting take on Stevie’s “I Wish,” and took us all to church in the process. It was a bit screechy in parts, but he made up for it with amazing hand gestures and newfound confidence. Quoth Randy: “You wore it out!” We’d have to agree with that assessment. Grade: B+
Skylar Laine: The fact that she’d never sung Whitney is not nearly as shocking as her newfound dark-horse status. She took on “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” and though it started out a bit nasally (and sleepy), she picked up speed and ended up more or less killing it. “Biggest moment of the night,” J.Lo said — of course, that was before Jessica Sanchez. Grade: B
Heejun Han: He proved to be equally adept at both humorous tweets and gross misspellings of celebrity names (seriously dude, it’s “I-O-V-I-N-E”). His stripped-down take of “All in Love is Fair” was shaping up to be a slow-mo disaster, but he turned it around, and ended up putting his own silky smoove touch on the tune. We could do with less of his shtick, but the dude keeps delivering … and flirting with J.Lo. Grade: B
Colton Dixon: Of course, was more than willing to take Jimmy and MJB’s advice to perform one of his own songs, and, of course, it was super wussy. He ended up doing “Lately,” which somehow managed to be both a tad flat and pitchy. Of course, only Randy seemed to notice. Girls seem to like his smoldering looks, which means he’ll stick around. Grade: B-
Erika Van Pelt: Mary J called her tone “steak and potatoes,” though her take on “I Believe In You and Me” was more Lean Cuisine. Spotty at the beginning, she pressed on, and ended up with a fairly legit — if slightly bland — performance. It gave J.Lo goosies, which makes you wonder if they had the air conditioner cranked up too high. She earned a nickname from Seacrest (“EVP”), so she seems safe. Grade: B-
Jeremy Rosado: Jer Bear put a sultry, supple spin on Stevie’s “Ribbon in the Sky,” and, in the process, made the most of his second chance. Sadly, Randy though it was lacking in “swag.” Can we retire that phrase yet? Middling reviews from the judges didn’t do him any favors. Grade: B-
Phillip Phillips: His night-closing “Pimp Spot” turned out to be not so pimp, since he had to follow Jessica Sanchez. From the minute they announced the guys were doing Stevie, I knew he was doing “Superstition,” and lo and behold, he did just that. It was swampy, sorta scatty, and also sorta anti-climactic (and scary). Steven said he had a lot of “forget about it” in his voice … don’t worry, we already have. Grade: C
Deandre Brackensick: Skanked his way through “Master Blaster” and showed off his ill falsetto. It was sort of forgettable, yet also kind of fresh at the same time. We’re glad Steven made the Naima comparison, since we didn’t think we were allowed to go there. Irie! Grade: C
Jermaine Jones: The Gentle Giant’s baritone was on full display with “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” It started sort of bland, picked up steam toward the end, yet never truly seemed to connect. Quoth Steven: “That song fits you like an Armani suit” — that’d be a gigantic suit. Jones described his performance thusly: “I think I did a pretty good job.” OK, dude. Grade: C-
Elise Testone: Ooof. Early attempts at “The Greatest Love of All” earned her the stank face from MJB, so (seemingly against her will) she ended up doing “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” The end result was a near catatonic, downright uncomfortable performance. Randy said she was “Boxing with the song,” and, well, she got knocked out. She seemed to come unglued during Seacrest’s post-performance interview, and for someone who claimed “there’s no excuse” for her spotty stint, she sure made a lot of excuses. Grade: D-
Shannon Magrane: Seacrest introduced her as “The pride of Tampa,” though, after this debacle, he probably wants to reconsider that assessment. She did “I Have Nothing,” which was a pretty apt metaphor for her entire performance. Sure, she’s got a big voice, but she was swallowed up by the size and emotional wallop of the song itself — you know, because she’s 16 or whatever. She tried to power her way through, but ended up just sort of shouting. If Erika Van Pelt is “EVP,” she’s “NVG” — not very good. Grade: F
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