On Wednesday's "American Idol," the crowd was crazy (except for poor Hollie Cavanagh), the judges slightly cracked (comparing Phillip Phillips to the lovechild of Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash) and the music actually current. Shoot, for a second there, you probably thought you were watching "The Voice" or something.
Yes, it was a big night in "Idol" land, as the top seven took on songs from this decade with surprisingly good results. Most soared and scored, and though we can't believe no one did an Adele tune, we've gotta say, the remaining contestants definitely brought the goods. Perhaps they should just sing contemporary songs every week?
But whose performances earned the highest marks? Who fell to the back of the class? And what the heck was going on with the crowd after Hollie's performance? For answers to all of those questions and more, here's our "American Idol" report card:
Jessica Sanchez: Her family is officially my favorite ever. Her decision to do Jazmine Sullivan's "Stuttering" may have mystified Jimmy Iovine, but it was clearly the right call. She split the difference between previous big-voiced stunners and all that Bebe Chez stuff, threw in some stank (and some scatting) and delivered a performance that, quoth Randy Jackson, "Slayed the biggest fish of the night." So much voice, so emotionally over-the-top, and so diva-riffic — and all seemingly so effortless, Sanchez flexed her talents and fired back after a few weeks in the wilderness. "Every time I hear you sing, I forget where I am," Steven Tyler said. So, he hears her sing in grocery stores and behind the wheel? A-
Joshua Ledet: He acted adorably upon getting a birthday message from Fantasia. He's clearly found his lane over the past few weeks, and his confidence seems to grow with each subsequent performance. This week, he did Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby," which started vampy, campy and maybe even a tad bit old fashioned (even for a retroist like Mars), but it really picked up speed in the second half, building to a big note and a fiery finish, earning Ledet the night's first standing ovation. He's certainly a dynamic performer, but is he also a current one? That might be the only thing standing between him and the title. Oh, and Colton Dixon's female fanbase. B+
Hollie Cavanagh: Man, even her hometown visit was boring. Chose to sing Pink's "Perfect" (or, as she put it, "Pay-feckt") and, clearly rattled by repeat visits to the bottom three, had the thousand-yard stare going from her intro package onward. But, she delivered the goods onstage, with a performance that was both confident and restrained. And that last note! Apparently, however, my opinion was in the minority, as the judges did everything short of zipping up her suitcases and booking her a window seat. J.Lo gave her the "You look beautiful" and the "We'll see how it all pans out" (double kiss of death). Steven mumbled something about it "Not being perfect," and Randy, addressing the odd vacuum of tension in the room, only added, "It's all of a sudden very quiet in here." Jeez, this is getting difficult to watch. End it now. B
Skylar Laine: Producers introduced us to her new Twitter tag — #skoutlaws — which, upon first glance, looks like "Skoal" (oddly fitting). She played it safe by choosing Kellie Pickler's "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You," which showed off her vocal range by ... uh, displaying how adept she was at playing rhythm guitar. Her performance was proficient, professional and pretty much perfect, but still felt like a step back from last week's breakout "Wind Beneath My Wings." Loved the hobo trashcan fires though. B-
Elise Testone: She decided to tackle Lady Gaga's "You and I" (told you she would) and was sadly talked out of playing drums by Jimmy Iovine, which probably would've been the unintentional comedy highlight of 2012. The performance was passionate, if not particularly polished, but that's been par for the course with her in recent weeks. She can bring it, for sure, though if (when) she survives, perhaps it's time to soften things up just a tad? "Elise is back!" Randy enthused. Until next week, of course. B-
Colton Dixon: The most famous alumnus of the Middle Tennessee Christian School (go Cougars!) went Apex Predator this week, throwing shade at fellow fella Phillip Phillips and swinging for the fences with Skylar Grey's "Love the Way You Lie." With a string section, some smoke and a soaring-for-the-sake-of-soaring bridge, Dixon was clearly in it to win it, though thanks to the arrangement's languid pacing and CDix's longing stares into the camera, this one very nearly veered into self-parody. The girls loved it, of course. Oh, and any time Steven and Randy compliment your choice of jacket, well, perhaps it's time to fire your stylist. C+
Phillip Phillips: "Idol" producers played up his rural roots and pawn-shop past by piping the theme from "Sanford and Sons" into his hometown package. Classy. Phillip refused to take part in Iovine's Machiavellian scheme to pit him against Colton, which automatically makes me like him 10x more than CDix. His version of Maroon 5's "Give a Little More" featured all the usual Phillips' trademarks (grouting, foot shuffling, forehead-veining) though, credit where credit is due: Thanks to the addition of a sax player, he basically turned this into a Dave Matthews Band performance. "I think we've seen that a couple times," Randy said. Yeah, dawg, like on Under the Table and Dreaming. C
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