We’re only three weeks away from the American Idol finale, but based on the evidence of Wednesday’s duel 1960s-British themed night, we haven’t even come close to answering the burning question of Season 11: just how badly can Phillip Phillips sing?
Partly because his style has gotten overly familiar and partly because he has been making decisions that seem almost deliberately perverse, Phillip has been scraping the bottom of the barrel of late. On Wednesday, he clawed through the barrel and began digging the proverbial hole to China. On his first song, the Idol standard “The Letter” (a song Jennifer Lopez admitted to never having heard, to which I say, wow), he chose neither the Boxtops version or the Joe Cocker cover arrangement, but simply made up his own new melody. It’s possible to do that in a way that still sounds musical, but if Phillip was that good, he wouldn’t need American Idol. The judges, naturally, dug it without reservation.
His second song was a fine idea – the Zombies classic “Time of the Season.” On the verse, he actually stayed true to the melody for once, and it sounded passable. But the chorus requires high notes, and Phillip’s croaking inability to reach them reminding me why struggling performers refer to “dying” on stage. Again, no judge mentioned the most obvious missed notes of the entire Idol season. As for his time-killing duet with Joshua Ledet on “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” it was so hilarious awkward that it might not end up hurting either man. Did both these guys think they were singing a love song to each other? I’ve never seen two Idol contestants more determined to come across as non-gay.
Joshua had the best combined night of anyone, but it was still noticeably below his effort a week ago. Both “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “To Love Somebody” had their moments, but the judicial love for him has officially reached comical proportions, with J. Lo announcing that Joshua is one of the greatest singers of the last 50 years. The backlash against this nonsense will be brutal when it finally comes.
Hollie Cavanagh did not do a song by the Hollies, nor did she perform Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy,” but she did “River Deep, Mountain High” proud – daring to tackle the song that got Pia Toscano knocked out a year ago. It was probably the night’s best performance (bad luck that she went first), and was definitely the first time all season Hollie has looked comfortable cutting loose. As for her take on “Bleeding Love,” she didn’t hurt herself, but it was … sorry, I nodded off.
Speaking of sleep, Jessica Sanchez is still making dangerously trite song choices, and she might pay the price on Thursday. Nothing was really wrong with her “Proud Mary” except for it being a talent show cliché, and the fact that she really can’t ape Tina Turner at age 16. She showed off her usual ballad subtlety on “You Are So Beautiful, “ so despite its inherent dullness, Jessica might pull through.
But my pick to go home this week is Skylar Laine, who might have gotten lost in the shuffle despite this being the final five. She unsuccessfully countried up “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and ended up shouting by the end. But her first song, “Fortunate Son,” was a strategic mistake. It’s a great song with a message that’s still timely, and she came out with acceptable aggression, but was Skylar remotely aware that it’s associated with anti-Vietnam War sentiment? And did she think how that might play with her voting base? Not smart.
Also not smart: the revelation that Phillip has a girlfriend. He may have lost more votes for that reason than due to his miserable vocals.