Erika Van Pelt tried just about everything to get the American Idol audience to notice her, including a dramatic makeover in the past week that left her looking like literally a different person. Nothing worked. In the last several years, Idol voters have quickly worked to eliminate female singers who aren’t teens or recent teens, and the 26-year-old Erika was the victim Thursday, leaving Season 11 in tenth place. The remaining singers will now move into a Hollywood Hills mansion, which ought to provide some footage for those killing-time moments on the show.
The mobile DJ from Rhode Island made the final 13 in dramatic fashion, singing in the last spot given over to potential wild cards, and nailing an emotional version of “The Edge of Glory” to convince the judges she belonged. Erika was blessed with an alto voice that is unusual for Idol, but that factor and styling that often seemed to age her and make her look heavier seemed to put her at a disadvantage. Both Erika and Elise Testone, the only two women in the finals who were older than 18, have been in continual trouble since viewer voting began.
After given the news that she had received the lowest number of votes, Erika sang for the potential save, reprising her version of “I Believe in You and Me” from Whitney Houston week. She threw everything into it, but the judges would not be moved and Erika’s fate was sealed. Elise was the first to reach Erika to give her a hug, no doubt in the knowledge that it will be her turn as soon as she is something less than incredible.
Some will question the decision not to use the judges’ save on Erika, given that she never sang poorly in the finals, and considering that her ouster is another signal of how tough it is for women on Idol in the current era (it has not escaped notice that the save has never been used on behalf of a female singer). But using the save on someone who can’t possibly win is a waste of time, and it was apparent from Erika’s showing so far – making the top 13 only via a wild card, and being among the bottom three women or the overall bottom three every week of the finals – that she simply wasn’t connecting with America.
In a minor surprise, the other two that joined Erika on the bottom this week were male: DeAndre Brackensick and performance artist Heejun Han. Neither had a good day Wednesday, but many had believed Heejun was still popular enough for his humor to stay on the good side of the voters. It appears the criticism that he had stopped taking the competition seriously make have taken its toll, and Heejun took pains Thursday to paint himself as a humble guy who works with kids (though adding that he isn’t interested in being a star was strange, considering the show he is on). The backlash against him will only gain speed as he continues to outlast better singers.
The results show also featured a vocally chaotic version of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” and a guest appearance from the beleaguered Lana Del Rey, who could learn a lesson about stage presence from, oh, everyone still on the show. Season 10’s Haley Reinhart returned to plug her new single from inside a giant birdcage; she looked and sounded good, but the song itself (“Free”) doesn’t really go anywhere. And Steven Tyler’s Aerosmith bandmate Joe Perry made a surprise cameo to play a guitar solo on “Happy Birthday” (Tyler turns 64 on Monday, which means he’s a year away from being 50 years older than some of the girls he flirts with in auditions).
Next week: the final nine sing the music of their personal idols. Watch as Heejun peruses the Weird Al Yankovic songbook.