You can understand if the contestants on "American Idol" make some bad song choices when left to their own devices. But on Wednesday night's triple-play episode, in which Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet had to sing a judge's choice, a tune picked by mentor Jimmy Iovine and one of their own, the selections were ... bizarre.
With only two songs from the current millennium, the top three reached back, sometimes way back on a night when it became clear that Sanchez is too green, Ledet is just the right shade of blue(s) and Phillips is, well, whatever he wants to be because he's probably going to win no matter what happens.
So, who made it thisclose, but is probably headed home tonight and who can get their big-boy pants pressed for the finale? Read on to find out!
Joshua Ledet: Randy Jackson picked the Etta James song "I'd Rather Be Blind" for Josh, who busted out the retro mic and some sleepy soul for a performance that simmered but took way too long to boil. It was solid, but even Jennifer Lopez seemed a tad bored with it and it didn't push him any closer to this century. (It was cute, though, how a Kraft commercial using the same song aired right after Ledet performed. Synergy!)
Josh went big with his choice, John Lennon's "Imagine." And because he's a preacher's kid, he skipped the "no religion too" verse. The pageant-y, 1970s AM lite radio arrangement flattened out the song's emotion, which Ledet tried to pump back in courtesy of some swooping gospel moments. It was a heartstring-tugging layup, but if you really listened it sounded like coasting, or, as JLo politely deemed it, "pulled back and controlled."
Jimmy hit Josh in his sweet spot with Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama." Someone knows what they're doing. From the manic bouncing to the nearly out-of-control, bedazzled jacket-dropping spazz at the end, Josh murdered it. That alone made up for the other two tame performances and locked him into next week's finale. A-
Phillip Phillips: Steven Tyler was going for melody with "Beggin'" by Madcon. But what he likely did was send tens of millions of "Idol" watchers to Google to find out ... who the hell Madcon is? So, a 2008 cover of a 1967 Four Seasons hit by an obscure Norwegian dance duo? Wouldn't you know it, strummy P managed to make it sound like, oh man, do I even need to say it? (Rhymes with Shave It Bath Hues.) The jammy, vanilla soul frat party rocker is exactly what I expect a P Phil album to sound like. "New Springsteen?" Really Steven?
The sexy sax player was back for Phil's choice, "Disease" by Matchbox 20. Yeah, that Matchbox 20. It was moody, conga-y, mid-tempo and so intense he had to sit down on some road cases just to contain the, um, intensity? Like Ledet's "Imagine," this one felt too easy, like a sprinter pulling up in the final 20 yards to avoid injury after looking over his shoulder and realizing he's got it. In a rare bit of real talk from the panel, Lopez called it "easy flowing" and said it lacked the "wow performance" element.
Phil's dad loved Jimmy's choice of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," and Iovine dared the pawn shop worker to ignore the 1978 hit's melody. Without his guitar, Phil was forced to awkwardly stroke and caress his thigh as he muscled through the heartland ballad. Between the sappy strings and the suggesting hand fidgeting Phillips looked like he was waiting out the clock in detention. Randy, of course, called it the "perfect song" and Phil's best performance. So, now all you have to do to win this thing is sing the melody of the song and not worry about actually hitting the notes correctly? I give up. You can have him, America. Remember how awesome that nighty-night song was when you don't buy his album in December. B
Jessica Sanchez: Lopez aimed for Sanchez's sweet spot with Mariah Carey's "My All," but ended up trapping the singer in a breathy lower register that made Jessica's powerhouse voice sound weak and pitchy. The snoozy lullaby robbed the high schooler of a big moment and may have punched her card home. Did Randy mention he's worked with Mariah? Well, if he thought that was one of the best renditions of a Carey song ever on TV, Carey should lose his number.
In the ultimate brown noser move, BeBe chose Aerosmith's power anthem "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." I kept waiting for girls in swimsuits or evening gowns to start parading around her, but this kind of Velveeta ballad is her sweet spot and while she didn't move the bar any higher, it's exactly what America wanted to hear. But, ugh, that last shouty note was as off as Jennifer's pink pantsuit.
Iovine went retro with 1970's "I'll Be There" by the Jackson 5, which despite what he argued, didn't really make Sanchez seem contemporary, and dropped her back down into that lower range that doesn't do her favors. When she kept it up high, Sanchez sounded strong and confident, but the lazy tempo didn't provide the rocket fuel she needed to lock in a spot next week. B-
Who do you think nailed it last night? Who deserves to go home? Let us know in comments below.
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