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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Idol: “9 Finalists Compete”

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Welcome to American Idol, where standing ovations have become completely meaningless (also known as my parents’ worst nightmare—they will not stand if they don’t think a performance is deserving, the rest of the audience at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra be damned). Tonight, the idols took on songs by their idols. Get it? Let me know if you need me to explain it to you.

Both Ryan and mentor Stevie Nicks allude to Colton singing for the ladies tonight, when it’s clear there’s only person Colton’s really singing for—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Colton, whom I’m deeming the Christian Adam Lambert, takes on Lifehouse’s “Everything,” which he says is his favorite worship song. I was raised in the Catholic Church, where the music sounds like it was either written in the 19th century or in 1975, so I have a hard time getting down with Christian rock. It feels like trickery to me—the songs sound like the lyrics should be about a chick, but they’re not! (For the record, I’m aware that Lifehouse isn’t necessarily Christian, but Colton certainly interpreted it as such for this performance.) Anyway, regardless of how spiritual or secular the song is, I find the song rather dull and repetitive, tonally, so I don’t feel swept away by Colton’s spirit. I do agree with Jennifer that Colton’s white jacket is neat, and I don’t disagree with Randy that Colton is probably a contender for the finale.

When Skylar sings, you pretty much always know what you’re gonna get: a saucy, big-voiced little firebrand who clearly loves performing. I find this combination charming (especially compared to some of the more princessy girls on the show), but I worry that maybe she needs to throw a curveball in there sometime. Tonight, Skylar sings “Gunpowder And Lead” by Miranda Lambert. (During the rehearsal, she’s reverently awestruck by Steve Nicks, who sings harmony with her.) The song and performance are a lot more fun than Colton’s, although Colton’s featured heartfelt tears: I hope Skylar won’t get dinged by America for sticking to a more lighthearted formula. It also seems like Skylar missed an opportunity or two to throw in a really outstanding note or run, but overall, it’s solid.

Next we’re treated to/had our time killed by a Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks medley from Colton, Elise, and Phillip (who looks nice in a black buttoned-down shirt.) Colton kicks it off with a lovely rendition of “Landslide” (a song I used to find boring when I was younger, but, not to be a terrible cliché, I’m more into as I get older), with Elise and Phillip providing nice harmonies. There’s a rather abrupt transition into “Edge of Seventeen,” with Elise taking lead, and then we wrap up with Phillip on “Don’t Stop,” which for me has been ruined by both the Clintons and drug-addled Bart Simpson.  The three make a nice trio, overall.

Last week HeeJun threatened to come back and be even more off the wall than during Billy Joel week, but either he reconsidered or Jimmy Iovine really gave him a talking-to. He’s singing “A Song For You” by Donny Hathaway, and I’d say it’s maybe his best performance of the season so far. HeeJun at his best is still not close to my favorite (he has a nice husky voice but sleepy ballads are sleepy), but it’s nice to see that he’s in the competition for a reason. Stevie Nicks seems to hit it on the head when she says that HeeJun probably just doesn’t want to feel the sting of potentially not-winning and compensates by acting like he doesn’t care. The judges love the performance, giving one of those standing ovations that’s probably more for the person than the performance itself. In the post-song interview, he makes sure to mention the special-needs kids from back home, lest you needed an extra reason to vote for him.

Normally, I think it’s ridiculous when the judges praise the singers for showing vulnerability when their performances are less than perfect, but I was one of those ridiculous people tonight. Hollie takes on Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take The Wheel,” and, per Stevie’s (somewhat loopy, but we’ll forgive her since she’s mourning her mother) advice, works to inject heart into the song. I don’t think technically it’s Hollie’s most flawless performance, but she actually seems to like and listen to the song for once, and we know already that she can sing. I got a little verklempt myself, possibly because I’m full of hormones or because I was thinking about Stevie’s mom. On a very superficial note, Hollie looks the best she’s looked all competition tonight, with hair, makeup, clothes, and accessories all coming together. Randy thinks it’s good but not great, Jennifer’s like me and was touched by the performance, and Steven, in an unusual display, is the spoilsport, saying he wishes Hollie had sung a different song. Incidentally, my rationale for getting emotional over “Jesus Take The Wheel” but not “Everything” is that “JTTW” is a story. Or something like that.


Tonight seems to be the night for singers getting serious about Connecting. Even at its best, DeAndre’s voice still doesn’t do it for me. Constant male falsetto is like a dog whistle: I just don’t hear it after awhile. But after Stevie and Jimmy advise DeAndre to learn how to work the camera, he actually brings more stage presence tonight on “Sometimes I Cry” by Eric Benet. It seems like it takes a little bit of warming up (I find this endearing), but by the end, DeAndre’s working the stage and the song and I got a little note of Prince from his performance. As with HeeJun, the judges are pleased that they don’t look like idiots for having put him in the competition.

Jessica takes on “Sweet Dreams” by Beyoncé. I think it’s sweet that Stevie Nicks gives her a note but adds that Jessica doesn’t have to take it if she doesn’t want it. (Jessica takes it.) The judges adore Jessica’s performance, so you should take it from them that it’s awesome. I feel the way about Jessica I feel about Mad Men: Everyone except me loves her, so there is probably something wrong with me and not her. Her style of singing (not to mention Beyoncé’s style) just isn’t my favorite. Perhaps I have a thing against onstage alter egos or something, but I can’t get as worked up about Jessica as I can about some of my other favorites in the show. I’ll try to do better, though. You can’t convince me that the red doors that Jessica walks through during her performance aren’t silly, however.


For our second trio, DeAndre, HeeJun, and Joshua take on a medley of Michael Jackson songs, starting with “The Lady In My Life,” moving on to “Rock With You,” and finishing with “P.Y.T.” This performance wasn’t nearly as tight as the first trio’s, partially due to chemistry (all three were dull onstage) and partially due to a selection of songs that didn’t quite foster a group effort.

I’m starting to think that Phillip Phillip emits some sort of pheromone that makes him utterly irresistible to anyone who comes into contact with him. The judges throw out yet another standing ovation tonight to him for his performance of “Still Raining” by Jonny Lang. Randy once again praises Phillip for sounding completely unique, now that apparently Dave Matthews is dead. I don’t think any judge has said anything less than effusive to Phillip since this season began. Stevie Nicks goes so far as to say that Phillip would have been invited to be a member of Fleetwood Mac had he been around during that time (think of how different the world would be now!). As for the performance itself, Phillip growls bluesily, and since I’m not familiar with the song, I am spared from thinking about how reductive he sounds.


Argh. I’m starting to feel the way about Joshua that I feel about Jessica: The judges and audience love him, but I ‘m not connecting with it, most probably due to singing style. (Big runs, vibrato, and melisma aren’t my thing, and I’ve gotten spoiled since that style has become a little less common.) Joshua sings Mariah Carey’s version of “Without You,” wandering about a dead forest onstage. (The set department tonight went a little overboard.) I thought the arrangement was nice: The song wasn’t nearly as schlocky as it could have been, but I failed to connect at the end with what I thought was a shouty, weepy finale. The judges hand out another standing ovation, however.

The last three girls (Hollie, Skylar, and Jessica) sing a Madonna “mashup” of “Like A Prayer,” “Borderline,” and “Express Yourself.” I’m left thinking a.) Have any group of girls ever looked like they’ve had less fun singing Madonna? b.) We don’t hear a lot of Madonna on this show, do we? c.) Why did the costumer put Skylar in five layers of clothes? Overall, it’s not nearly as poppy or enjoyable as a bunch of young girls singing Madge should be. Considering how much I preferred Elise, Colton, and Phillip’s trios to the others, this may mean I like Phillip and Colton more as singers than I thought I did.


I was excited to see what Elise would turn up tonight once I figured out that she’d be last. I had a feeling that Stevie Nicks would be a good mentor for her. The two dueted on “Dreams,” and Stevie proclaimed her a kindred spirit. Elise takes on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” and I’d say it’s the best female rock performance ever on Idol. At first I was irritated by the producers’ decision to use swooping, jarring “rock n’ roll cameras” during the performance, but once I could actually watch Elise, it was amazing to see how easy she made it look, like it’s no big deal to have fun and dance around onstage and sound like Janis Joplin and Robert Plant. I hope the kids at home can appreciate an old lady singing an old song. The judges stand up again, and while I wouldn’t necessarily have said any of tonight’s performances definitely deserved a standing o, if all those other kids got one, Elise deserved one as well.

I think the judges just need to get used to the fact that there are a lot of good singers in this competition and start getting a lot more discerning. It might sound cruel to say, but I think they should start pitting the singers against each other. With such a wide range of styles and talent, I’d like to see the judges start telling the singers how they can beat each other. Despite how awesomely amazing everyone allegedly was, the episode itself dragged on, maybe because it didn’t feel so much like a competition as it did a showcase.


Even though the judges adored everyone, three people will still be in the bottom three. I predict Hollie, DeAndre, and Elise, I suppose (although Hollie was the only one who got anything close to negative feedback tonight).

Stray observations:

  • Elise was dressed like Steven tonight.
  • I liked that gigantic airbrushed photo of Mariah that went up when Joshua mentioned he’d be singing her.
  • Was anybody else surprised that it wasn’t a Fleetwood Mac theme night?
  • Three times now we’ve seen that footage of DeAndre in that Music Man outfit. How many more before the show is over? I predict at least once more.
  • Tommy Hilfiger got the last laugh as Phillip was contractually obligated to care about shopping for clothes in the plug for the new Idol line of clothes, all of which are hideous.
  • I don’t get what was so funny or embarrassing about the old photos of Jimmy. He looks fine now, and he did then. To quote Stevie, “You had the little Greek body of life.”