Wednesday (March 21) was Billy Joel night on “American Idol,” and as the top 10 contestants took on the Piano Man’s catalog, some big moves were made in the “Idol” ranks. Jessica Sanchez took a step toward reclaiming her frontrunner status, Elise Testone sang for her life after two consecutive weeks in the bottom three and Erika Van Pelt debuted a stunning new look, but only Heejun Han used the evening as an opportunity to directly address his critics.
Singing Joel’s “My Life,” Han — who was knocked by the judges last week for his lackluster performance of Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” — approached the judges’ table and sang to Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. “Keep it to yourself, it’s my life,” Han sang playfully. “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.”
Han began the song wearing a tux, but tore it off to reveal a T-shirt/ button-up combo. Han jumped into the audience at one point, and was so carefree with regard to hitting his proper notes that the whole thing bordered on parody. The judges didn’t quite know what to think or say about it; they praised him for having fun, but only to a point. “The music business will kick your ass,” Tyler told him. “At some point, you’ve gotta try to take it more serious.”
Guest mentor Diddy didn’t seem to know what to make of Han either. “I don’t know if he’s an actor or a con man,” Diddy said. “I don’t even know if he’s Asian. He may be black.” (Han later told Ryan Seacrest Diddy is “confusing himself already.”) To round things out, Han also had an awkward confrontation with “Idol” style guru Tommy Hilfiger, telling him his style icons include Jessica Sanchez, Madonna and Michael Bolton. Han has clearly been studying “How to Win Friends and Influence People” during those late “Idol” nights.
Back to Sanchez, Han’s style role model: She received a standing ovation from the judges, one of only two during the night, for her version of “Everybody Has a Dream.” “When God was giving out vocal chords, you were so at the front of the line,” Tyler told her. Lopez called it a “defining moment” for Sanchez, while Jackson called it “flawless” and “perfection.”
The other standing O was given to perennial bottom-dweller Testone, who gave the evening’s most riveting performance, tearing through Joel’s “Vienna” with a vigor that proved she wants to stay in the competition. Jackson even bowed to her in a “Wayne’s World”-type “I’m not worthy!” gesture as the song came to a close. “Unbelievable,” he called it, saying she had a moment on stage, while Tyler called her melody “fantastic.” “You were all over the place and you still stayed in the room,” he said, one of those Tyler-isms that only he truly understands.
Meanwhile, Van Pelt debuted a dramatic makeover that saw her long, blonde-and-pink hair chopped in favor of a short, angular, jet black ’do inspired by Pink. The Rhode Islander sang “New York State of Mind” like a true New Yorker, but was told she should be more physical with her next performance.
In the middle of the pack, Joshua Ledet — who brought the house down last week with his version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” — struggled a bit to connect with “She’s Got a Way,” a song he was admittedly unfamiliar with until it fell into his lap. Skylar Laine’s “Shameless” was inspired by the Garth Brooks version of the song — no matter the theme, Laine will find a way to give it a country once-over — which was “pretty good” and “good,” according to Jackson and Tyler, respectively. Phillip Phillips took “Movin’ Out” and “Phillip Phillips’d” it, according to Tyler, which is kind of what Phillip Phillips does to every song. (Jackson was overly enthusiastic about it, calling it “one of the best renditions of that song ever,” and Lopez called it “perfect.”) Hollie Cavanagh went for another big ballad with “Honesty,” which Tyler called the dreaded “P” word, “pitchy.” Jackson said she over-thought the song. “You’re better than that, come on now,” he told her. And Deandre Brackensick opened the show with a bouncy version of “Only the Good Die Young” that felt forced and unnatural. “I wasn’t jumping up and down because it didn’t show me anything special,” Jackson told him.
Colton Dixon closed the show with Joel’s classic “Piano Man,” giving the song more of an emo feel; he “Colton Dixon’d” it, if you will. Jackson called it a “sensitive, touching, moving performance,” while J. Lo gave her highest compliment, saying the song gave her “goosies from head to toe.”
One of the 10 singers faces elimination during Thursday’s “Idol,” which is set to feature a performance from Season 10 finalist Haley Reinhart.
What was your favorite performance on Wednesday night’s show? Let us know in the comments!
Get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page, where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.