We can all probably agree that the highlight of Wednesday night’s “American Idol” was Jason Derülo’s bedazzled neck brace, which shone brighter than a dozen Jessica Sanchezes and had more charisma than an army of Hollie Cavanaghs.
But alas, we can’t give out grades based on style alone, which means that once again, we’re forced to focus on the singing. And luckily, said singing was actually pretty spot-on this week, as the top nine took on the songs of their idols, leading to some genuine “goosies” moments (thanks, J.Lo) and more standing ovations than the State of the Union address.
Sure, there were the usual assortment of middling performances, too … but for one night at least, “Idol” was back to its old compelling self. Sort of. Look, it’s Season 11; I’m trying as hard as I can. So who soared? Who scored redemption? And who should probably start packing their bags right now? Read on for our report card!
Joshua Ledet: Oh sh–, he’s doing Harry Nilsson! Oh, wait — he’s doing the Mariah version of “Without You.” Still, this was a total powerhouse of a performance. Subtle in some spots, big (big!) in others, perfect throughout, he put genuine emotion into the tune, got raw and vulnerable and, as a result, stole the show. Of course, it’s entirely possible some folks might think this one was too weird or something, but there are still people out there who think Rick Santorum would make a good president, too. After a few weeks in the wilderness, Mantasia officially roared back tonight. And Google “Harry Nilsson” please. A
Jessica Sanchez: Totally called she’d be doing Beyoncé . She slowed down “Sweet Dreams,” which was a bit of an odd choice, and yet also a supremely confident one. For once, she pulled things back, and maybe suffered a bit for doing so, but there were still plenty of subtly great moments, particularly in the verses. Might not have been her best — it definitely lacked in vocal fireworks — but who says she has to blow it out of the box every week? And really, it was good enough on this night. Can’t wait until she loses to Phillip Phillips or Colton Dixon in the finals, and I never have to watch this show again. B
Heejun Han: Newly humble Heejun ditched the shtick and instead focused on the singing and, in the process, totally reinvigorated his “Idol” campaign. His breathy, confident take on Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You” had everyone going nuts, and understandably so: It was a perfect song for him and a nearly perfect performance. I’ve taken a few potshots at him in these report cards, but I’ll be the first to admit that when Heejun is on, well, Heejun is on. Seemed willing to atone for last week’s debacle, too, until he did a knock-knock joke. Dammit, dude. B
Phillip Phillips: Growled and shouted (“growted”?) his way through Jonny Lang’s “Still Rainin’,” and I would bring up the point that in previous years, competitors like him would’ve been criticized for doing the same thing every week, but since this season everyone just does the same thing every week, well, never mind. The vein in his forehead was the most compelling part of this, by far. “I feel like we’re standing up too much tonight,” J.Lo declared. You’re not the only one, sister. C+
Colton Dixon: Did Lifehouse’s “Everything,” which he’ll have you know is his “favorite worship song.” And just to reinforce that point, he ended it on his knees. Now we know who Tim Tebow’s voting for. Sorta pitchy — bordering on bleating — and a bit meandering, but it’s not like any of that really matters, since the girls liked it. Randy doubled up the praise, first saying he could see him “doing Switchfoot” (a compliment?) and then proclaiming, “I could be looking at a contender for the title!” Of course, dawg … he is a toothsome white guy, after all. C
Skylar Laine: No way, she did Miranda Lambert! Way to step outside the comfort … oh, why does it even matter? For those keeping score at home, she took on “Gunpowder and Lead,” and it was basically the same thing we’ve seen every single week from her: bounding, energetic, twangy, a bit of ‘tude, a few high spots thrown in for good measure. “Unbridled,” J.Lo said. “Over the top,” Steven added. “Mississippi!” Randy piled on. Yep. Surely she needs to do something different eventually, right? C
DeAndre Brackensick: Ryan introduced him by yelling, “Just think, you could be driving to work tomorrow jamming to DeAndre!” perhaps because vehicular manslaughter has been trending down in recent years. Did Eric Benet’s “Sometimes I Cry,” since “Eric Benet is exactly what I want to be” (a sex addict?), then he took the stage wearing a leather duster and vest that made him look like Dr. Sexx, Frontier Loverman. Despite all that — and his warbly falsetto (which bordered on torturous) — it was still sorta bland. Of course, he got a standing ovation from the judges. And then Steven declared, “You gave Prince a run for his money.” I officially give up. C-
Hollie Cavanagh: The biggest problem with Cavanagh isn’t her voice, which is probably the second-best in the competiton, but rather the sub-robotic level of emotion she brings to the stage. And the latter was definitely on display tonight. After bonding with Stevie Nicks (Stevie Nicks!) during rehearsals, she pledged to bring genuine spirit to her version of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” What we got instead was a flat, by-the-numbers ballad, the kind of thing she’s been doing for weeks now. Almost instantly forgettable, she may be in trouble. But, hey, at least there was snow! C-
Elise Testone: Did Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” thus proving that she’d be a totally fun chick to hang out with. Also seemed to have borrowed Steven Tyler’s bellbottoms to do so (Seacrest totally noticed, which is why he’s the best live-man in the business). Look, this was fun, and it sorta rocked, but it was also really shouty, and no matter what the judges said, this is usually the kind of performance that sends female singers packing. She’ll get voted off on Thursday (March 29). As a performance? B As a tactical decision? D