For the most part, the themes on this season's "American Idol" have been pretty straightforward: Queen, Whitney Houston, Personal Idols, Songs From the Year You Were Born, Songs From the 1980s, More Songs About Buildings and Food (look it up).
But when the final four take the stage Wednesday night (May 9), they'll be tasked with performing two songs in one of the most ambiguous, wide-open themes in the show's history: California Dreamin' (songs by Californians) and Songs I Wish I'd Written.
Considering that the only singer left on the show who might reasonably write his own songs is Phillip Phillips (sample chorus: "Growwwwwl") and that Joshua Ledet has proven time and again that he has a thin-at-best grasp on musical history, the second challenge is a big one.
That leaves the California theme, which is equally amorphous since, well, half the hit songs of the past 50 years have been born on the Golden Coast. Maybe more. At least that leaves Adele out of the mix for once, not to mention Mariah and Whitney Houston — so, good luck, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanagh!
Those and other conundrums have been placed in the very capable hands of MTV News' resident "Idol" experts, Gil Kaufman and James Montgomery, who will once again post their secret ballots without peeking at the other's picks (we swear) and let us know which songs the top four should tackle.
He still hasn't set off the charisma bomb that will turn him from a good singer with a bland personality into what the judges seem to think is one of the (allegedly) best "Idol" contestants of all time. We're not expecting fireworks this week, but for his Cali song, he has to go with Detroit-to-L.A. transplant Marvin Gaye. Elise Testone already snagged "Let's Get It On," so I say hit up "Sexual Healing." It's hard to tell what genre Josh is most familiar with, but we'll assume gospel or soul, in which case, let's split the difference with preacher/shouter Al Green and go with "Love and Happiness" or Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." — Kaufman
I'd just like to go on record as saying it would be awesome if Joshua covered that "Californians" sketch from "SNL" a few weeks back, since it'd be way more interesting than anything we're actually gonna hear tonight. That'll never happen, of course, so for his Cali tune, I think he'll swing for the fences and do a simmering version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." We know he's talented, but it's time for him to take a chance if he wants to win this thing. As for the song he wished he wrote, I think he goes big. Though he might think he's nasty, I say Josh does R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Bonus points if he sings it in a cornfield. — Montgomery
It's safe to say that Katy Perry's un-showy "California Gurls" will turn up in a girl medley at some point Wednesday, which means Bebe would be wise to go with something like No Doubt's "Don't Speak." What song does the stiletto Barbie wish she'd written? That's a tough one. Like Josh, Jessica hasn't given us much insight into her musical taste, but considering she's a 16-year-old girl, her repertoire has got to be pretty contemporary — and sappy. "Innocent" by Taylor Swift it is, then. — Kaufman
Given that she's actually from California, a couple weeks ago, J.Sanch probably would've just killed two birds with one stone and done a pair of her originals tonight. But, given that her confidence has taken a hit in recent weeks, she'll go back to basics: namely, singing the bejeezus out of a ballad. Her Cali pick? The great Etta James' "At Last." With that out of the way, she's free to let Bebe Chez do her thing, so for the song she wished she'd written, why not something from Beyoncé? I personally think she'd slay "Love on Top," but I bet she'll go for the more massive "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," thereby making Jimmy "She's too young for that" Iovine's head explode. — Montgomery
The cynical side of me suspects Phil will pick something totally lame like "Smooth" by Santana for his California song. The hopeful side of me wishes he'd go for it and sing Tom Petty's "Into the Great Wide Open" or Wilco's "California Stars." Alas, I bet he'll do a jingly, strummy "L.A. Woman" by the Doors. Sigh. You have to imagine he's not foolhardy enough to pick a song by his golden god, Dave Matthews, for the song he wishes he'd written. That's why I'm gonna go rogue and say he'll play "After the Gold Rush" by Neil Young, or — worst case scenario — "Hotel California" by the Eagles. — Kaufman
The only question this week is which Sublime song he'll do for his California pick. "Santeria"? "What I Got"? The mind truly boggles at the possibilities. Or maybe I'm wrong and he does Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." It's a total bummer he already broke out the DMB deep cut a few weeks back because you know that'd be his Songs I Wish I Wrote selection. Instead, I say he keeps it equally crunchy and does Rusted Root's "Send Me on My Way" or maybe Blues Traveler's "Hook." — Montgomery
It's time to stop asking why Hollie is still around and start asking how is she still around? She's dodged more bullets than any other top four "Idol" contestant and seems to be peaking at just the right time. Her California dream could come from the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" or, if she's going current, Katy Perry's "Firework." Like Josh and Jessica, Hollie's taste in music is a blank slate, other than her delight in big ballads. If that's her deal, she should go really big, like U2's "Beautiful Day" big or Coldplay's "Yellow." Hell, I wish I'd written those two. — Kaufman
Call her the comeback queen, because H.Cav is still alive with just weeks left in the competition. Of course, she'll probably (finally) get the boot this week, but you've got to give the girl credit for putting up a fight. Anyway, I'll keep this as short as she is: Her California pick? Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" (since she truly can't). And her wish song? Um ... I literally know nothing about her, so let's just say she does another Adele tune. "Set Fire to the Rain," anyone? — Montgomery
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