Wednesday night might go down in history as the most awkward night in “American Idol” lore. Forget for a minute that producers called out gentle giant Jermaine “Four Warrant” Jones on TV for lying to them about his criminal past. It was also the night that viewers may have realized that their top 11 either have the worst taste in music of anyone on the planet or are the very last people you would ever want to share a playlist with.
Usually it’s a disco or Dolly Parton night that’s the great equalizer during “Idol” theme nights. But on an evening when all they had to do was pick a song from the year they were born, most of your American idols fell flatter than a Heejun Han high note, crashing and burning with a series of covers-of-covers and sappy ballads that junior high school dance DJs don’t even play anymore.
A couple of singers did still manage to make it happen (nicely done, Joshua Ledet, Hollie Cavanagh), but most of the rest of the crew looked either awkward, bored or way out of place … and the singers didn’t look great either! Who muddled through? Whose baby picture wasn’t cute enough to save them? Keep reading to find out!
Joshua Ledet: It’s easy to score a lay-up when everyone else is clanking nothing but iron. It’s hard to see how pastor’s kid Ledet could have missed with Michael Bolton’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He had the killer white jacket with a red rose, the Sam Cooke-like vocal histrionics (nice “A Change is Gonna Come” callback), a too-cool-for-school swagger and those high notes. Oh man, those high notes. “The best thing I’ve ever seen on ’American Idol,’ ” Jennifer Lopez said. Preach on, JL! We mean you, Josh — not Jennifer. A
Hollie Cavanagh: Someone finally explained her bizarre London-by-way-of-the-Midwest accent (her parents are British), but the thing nobody needs to clarify is what a badass this pint-sized powerhouse is. Taking on Celine Dion’s gut-busting “The Power of Love,” Cavanagh looked elegant, sounded poised and powerful and just came off like a star. Yeah, she kind of blew the big note at the end, but who cares? This kid has found her lane, and J.Lo wasn’t kidding when she said they “saved the best for last.” A
Erika Van Pelt: Finally someone made the right call! Van Pelt wrapped her velvet-and-sandpaper voice around Bryan Adams’ titanic ballad “Heaven” and sounded like the diva we know she is. She was in the pocket with her powerful delivery and looked the part in leather pants and that Stevie Nicks-like gauzy top. Steven Tyler thought she was “too busy all over it” with the fussy arrangement, but on a night when everyone is tossing bricks, she scored a solid jumper. B+
Phillip Phillips: Even after surgery for kidney stones, Phil delivered the goods, if a bit more subdued that usual. Frankly, the less-than-happy feet and dialed-back energy was a nice break, even if his bar-band take on the Otis Redding by way of the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle” was just a’ight. Grade: B
Skylar Laine: “Y’all are being mean!” Laine complained to the judges before she tucked into Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Sneaking Up on You.” She said she wasn’t as confident as last week, but it didn’t show (that much). Laine lacked some of her firecracker magnetism, but she poured enough sassy molasses on it — stomping from one end of the stage to the other and reaching up into her yodely higher range — that we’ll surely see her back for another round, y’all. B+
Elise Testone: Not only did Elise take on the Al Green classic (by way of Tina Turner, we think). But, she indirectly took on the president, who famously sang “Let’s Stay Together” at a recent event. Channeling Mariah Carey-via-Macy Gray, Elise added her signature grit to the tune, but didn’t do enough to sprint away from the crowd. B
Shannon Magrane: She should have gone with No Doubt. But, because apparently she was the only artist who released music during the ’90s, Magrane went with Carey’s smash “One Sweet Day.” Maybe it’s me, but Magrane just keeps coming off like the third-best white girl with soul at the school talent show. Yeah, she can sing, but would you pay to see it? The judges were terrified for her taking on such a big song and their “good for you!” comments made it sound like she just got fourth place in the third-grade soccer tournament. C+
Jessica Sanchez: How do you follow up a killer Whitney Houston rendition ? A cover of Gloria Estefan’s cover of “Turn the Beat Around.” Will.i.am’s claims that she’s a “swaganaut” notwithstanding, Sanchez looked and sounded like a cruise ship disco-revue diva during this cheesy, hair-flipping shoutfest that made poor use of her powerful instrument. Turn it around next week, girl. C+
Colton Dixon: Talk about tanking the song choice. The resident rocker passed over slam dunks from 1991 by the likes of Nirvana, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam for … White Lion’s “Broken Heart.” Hell, not only didn’t the band know it, we didn’t even know it, and it’s our job. It sounded corny, he looked corny “rocking” out to the vanilla music and making generic rock faces and, well, it was a missed opportunity. C-
Heejun Han: Another cheesy ballad, another missed opportunity. From the dramatic purple lighting, his overly slicked hair and fake horn-rimmed glasses and the hand-on-heart gestures, Han’s Velveeta swoon through Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” felt like one of those cheesy montage sequences in an ’80s movie where the geek gets the girl. It looked weird and it felt weird, and not in a good way. D
DeAndre Brackensick: He couldn’t pick the right song, and when Jimmy forced Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey’s cover of “Endless Love” on him, the curly-headed crooner laid down on the job. Acting like a kid in an itchy church suit whose mom is making him sing the girl’s part in the big Easter pageant, DeAndre gave it just enough effort to keep his eyes open. If Simon were around, he’d surely be making some crack about a wedding or cruise-ship singer. F
Jermaine Jones: I always found the guttural giant to be off-putting, and though he didn’t even get to perform on Wednesday’s show because he was kicked off for lying to producers about his arrest history, the bit we did see confirmed my feelings about him. The beauty-pageant standard “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail” is the epitome of corny cartoon music and the rehearsal footage of Jones’ cloying, milk-in-your-throat delivery was par for the course. Happy t(r)ails, big man! F
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