Another night, another double-dip on “American Idol,” as the top five tackled both British tunes and songs from the 1960s. (Does Nigel Lythgoe just randomly pick theme weeks out of a top hat or something?) And while the headline remained the same — shockingly, Joshua Ledet killed it — the subtext of Wednesday night’s show was where things really started to get interesting.
Hollie Cavanagh showed she’s still got plenty of fight left. Jessica Sanchez continued her transformation from a genuine singing machine into an actual machine. Skylar Laine remained a dark-horse contender. And Phillip Phillips just did whatever the heck he wanted to. Yes, with just a few weeks left in the competition, the race for the season 11 crown is officially on.
And as always, we were watching, notepads in hand, ready to dole out some grades for the remaining “Idol” hopefuls. You can probably guess who’s at the top of the class … but who might be packing their bags and headed for boarding school? Read on to find out!
Joshua Ledet: When the judges are saying you’re one of the best “Idol” contestants of all time (not to mention one of the best singers “of the past 50 years”), you must be doing something right. Once again, Ledet lapped the competition, getting big and brassy with the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and then completely, totally, absolutely slaying the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” … in the night-closing slot, nonetheless. That performance touched off a wave of complimentary one-upsmanship from the judges, culminating in J.Lo dropping that “past 50 years” line (for the record, she’s 42). And you know what? That praise is deserved: Ledet’s the best singer on the show — by a mile — and unlike some of his fellow hopefuls, he brings genuine emotion to each and every song. I can’t wait until he’s voted off in, like, two weeks, so America can get the Skylar/Phil Phillips matchup they so desperately desire. Grade: A
Hollie Cavanagh: Yesterday, I joked (for not so nice reasons ) that “Idol” producers stacked the deck in her favor by choosing British/’60s songs … unaware, of course, that HCav would actually deliver the goods. Sure, her version of Ike & Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High” was heavy on awards-show histrionics, but she did the song justice — or “wore it out,” according to Randy — and while she may have lacked some fire, you cannot deny she sang it perfectly. Then she knocked it out of the park with Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” coming through in the clutch with a performance that was restrained and refined on one verse, big and brave the next. It was probably her best moment on the show … good enough to make Randy invoke he-who-shall-not-be-named (Simon Cowell) live on the air! Is it possible Hollie’s staging a comeback? B+
Skylar Laine: I was fired up when Little Steven talked her into doing CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” which shows you how much I know: Skylar never really seemed to be comfortable with the song, starting rough and barely improving from there (though the ending was nice, I suppose). She rebounded slightly with Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” which showed that she doesn’t have to be in attack mode all the time. I still think she’s a dark horse to win this whole thing, but middling performances like these aren’t doing her any favors. Then again, neither is Steven Tyler complimenting her “boot scoot.” C+
Jessica Sanchez: Clearly rattled since her near-elimination a few weeks back, J.Sanch continued her slide on Wednesday night with a pair of performances that were big on notes but largely bereft of actual emotion (did she and Hollie switch bodies or something?!?). Her take on Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” was appropriately over-the-top but lacked real passion, which Randy actually picked up on — way to be awake, dawg! — while J.Lo chose to ignore it. Steven’s take? “The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old.” Gross, dude. Her version of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” was most notable for its goofy stage design — is she starting a coven or something? — and the one big note she hit. And that’s why I think Sanchez is living on borrowed time: She can outsing pretty much anybody, but the connection just isn’t there. Then again, that’s usually what happens when you’re 16 and your biggest concern is, like, the prom. C–
Phillip Phillips: Not the best of nights for Phil-Squared, who laid it up with the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” and then bricked it big-time on the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” The former was notable mostly for being exactly the same thing he’s been doing for, like, 13 weeks now (the judges, of course, praised him for his “uniqueness”), only with more horn players added for no good reason. The latter, which saw him attempt to explore “melody,” was pitchy and pinched and really pretty pained … then again, he totally got to work a sweet jam sesh in there for a second, bro. At this point, it’s pretty clear PP only does what PP wants, so how far can sheer handsomeness carry him? Oh, probably all the way to the title. C–
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