Leave it to “American Idol” to make the top 8 finalists pick songs from a decade most of them weren’t even alive in. But that was the mission the kids had to accept on Wednesday night , and with an assist from ’80s-obsessed No Doubt members Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal, they did their best to conjure the era of new romantics, parachute pants and big hair.
It’s kind of like asking your granny to Dougie, but the kids bravely accepted the challenge and with the help of the seemingly ageless Gwen and Tony (spoiler alert: they’re on mentor Jimmy Iovine’s label), Josh, Colton and Skylar were totally awesome, while a few of their fellow finalists, well, were grody to the max.
The judges continued to confuse the bubble singers with contradictory, fluffy “advice,” and it became strikingly obvious who’s “in it to win it.” Who moonwalked back into contention? Who melted like an Aqua Net hairdo in the desert sun? Read on for our report card!
Joshua Ledet: Leave it to Ledet to pick just the right song with Simply Red’s soaring version of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” The gospel choir at the top was a bit much, but J Leezy took the song to church and made it sound like a Bobby Womack b-side, and that’s a good thing. A very good thing. He scaled the heights and knocked it out of the park. Now if only he could find a secret stash of personality. A+
Skylar Laine: Few people face the choice in life between a Dolly Parton song or a Bette Midler one. But the gun-totin’ Southern girl booted “9 to 5″ in favor of Midler’s titanic weeper, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I’ve been begging for Laine to break out of the low side of the country road, and this time she kind of did it. I never say this, but the combo of the twang and the pedal steel gave it a unique spin that, yes, I could totally hear on radio right now. A
Colton Dixon: When I heard Colton was singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” I feared he was punching a ticket back to the family face-painting business. But he gender-bent the song, worked that stupid red vest, rocked it up and made his bros in MatchboxEveCreedDoorsDown proud. (He cribbed the arrangement from Minneapolis rock lifers Quietdrive, whose name is, well, see above.) Bitch all you want, James Montgomery, but the kid can deliver a song and there’s a reason Daughtry sells out arenas, bro. B+
Jessica Sanchez: My colleague James totally (almost) nailed it with his call of a Whitney Houston song. And JSanch went all method by busting out her fun-loving alter ego, BeBe Chez, for a spirited “How Will I Know.” The neon shirt and acid-washed jacket were a nice touch and Jess seemed like she was having fun, but the performance was — how will I say this? — not totally the bombdigity. B
DeAndre Brackensick: Gwen said it sometimes looked like DeAndre was too worried while he was singing, and he had plenty to fret about by choosing the DeBarge creampuff pop hit “I Like It.” He sounded fine and the falsetto was, of course, in full effect, but, frankly, even though J. Lo said “I like it a lot!,” DeSack sounded a bit too 80s. The only thing missing was those neon tube socks Ryan was talking about at the top of the show. B
Phillip Phillips: “That’s All” by Genesis? Really? In rehearsal at least, that was not much. Leave it to Phil Squared to turn the bouncy pop tune from the power trio into … a jangly, growly pile of Southern grits. The too-loud electric guitar assist from his aw-shucks brother-in-law Ben didn’t do him any favors, either. At this point Philly cheese steak could sing a Kajagoogoo song and Steven Tyler would still praise him for his, um, “individuality.” B-
Hollie Cavanagh: Jimmy said he always thought Irene Cara’s “Flashdance … What a Feeling” from the quintessential 1980s musical was corny. But Hollie looked great in that fringy dress and finally showed some sparky personality to match her booming voice. Weirdly, the personality flowered at a time when she was, like, totally pitchy to the max, dawg. The big note at the end helped, but it’s feeling like the teen queen might just not be ready for prime time. C+
Elise Testone: Go big or go home seems to be the message rocker Testone was sending by picking the “Idol” staple “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. But Gwen preferred Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and it might have been the wrong call. Testone came out flat, both note-wise and performance-wise, and sounded overwhelmed by the backing chorus. The whole thing felt a bit pageant-y and boring.C
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