The “American Idol” judges seemed especially happy tonight. Maybe it was because their save (conspiracy?) of Jessica Sanchez seemed to accomplish making her more popular than ever. Maybe it was because the Venetian blinds in Jennifer Lopez’s silver-gray “Blade Runner”-inspired outfit were open in just the right places.
Whatever it was, I spotted lots of smiles on their faces for the second round of Top 7, which did away with duets and trios and just gave us two solos each. The themes tonight were number-one songs from the last 12 years, and soul. And because one has nothing to do with the other, no guest mentors fit the bill, so it was just Jimmy in the rehearsal room.
But before that, we got the latest film from “Idol”s stable of avant-garde productions, a flashback to Jessica’s dramatical non-exit, overlayed with some Dr. Seuss-speak: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. And starting tonight, a new beginning for all. Oh, the places you’ll go, red fish, blue fish.”
Ryan Seacrest paid a very brief tribute to Dick Clark, the “television pioneer” and friend of Ryan’s, who died today. “Without Dick, a show like this would not exist,” he said. Unfortunately, tonight’s show was meant to tribute “Soul Train,” not “American Bandstand,” so poor Don Cornelius’s son Tony got little more than a few height jokes from Ryan, rather than maybe the condolences he deserved.
After last week, with Hollie Cavanagh not even landing in the bottom three, I won’t pretend to have any idea what is up with the love affair between this British girl and America, but I will say she had her best moment of the season tonight with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Before going out, Jimmy Iovine told her she’s robotic when she goes on stage, and finally Hollie seemed to take it to heart and snap out of it. She was forceful but also relaxed. Perhaps she was soothed by the friendly faces of backup singers looming behind her on the big screen. Because I know if I were up there, I wouldn’t be completely dumbfounded by that or anything… The judges were thrilled with Hollie’s transition, and they were even happier with her soul number, “Son of a Preacher Man,” though personally, I think she was kind of back to her usual stiff and awkward self for that one. She got a video shoutout from the Liverpool Football Club before her second performance, but it is unclear if the language they spoke was English.
Having an opposite night was Colton Dixon, who after last week’s transcendent moment, reverted back to his fake metal rocker thing, singing “Bad Romance” totally stupidly, now with a red streak at the front of his former skunkhawk. He was upstaged by the all-female band, who seemed to be wearing white nurse’s uniforms. The judges felt the key was a little low, but liked it overall. He was far better on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” a low-key piano version that made it possible for me to understand the lyrics to the song for the first time in my life. But the judges didn’t think the song deserved the unplugged treatment. Randy Jackson actually suggested Colton do the same kind of thing on a Lil’ Wayne song. Because Lil’ Wayne was really known for all that great soul music.
Elise Testone and Jimmy had a long talk about why she keeps ending up in the bottom three, and basically, Jimmy said it comes down to the fact that she has no fans. Ouch. She gave J. Lo her “first goosies of the night” with Alicia Keys’s “No One,” but also told her to smile more. Judges were happy with her restraint on the ad-libbing. But then on Elise’s growly rendition of “Let’s Get It On,” they told her she oversang. But you can’t trust a word they say, especially when Randy attributes the song to Al Green. Elise tried to talk back and defend herself, which means we’ll be seeing her in the bottom again this week. Voters don’t like anything but the most gracious accepters of the judges’ criticism.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Jimmy told Philip Phillips, and he couldn’t be more wrong. What Phillip does is the exact same thing week after week, and now we have to get it twice in one night. Luckily, also appearing twice tonight was the best part of Phillip’s performances each week—that fan-freaking-tastic sax lady. Phillip started with a Dave Matthews version of Usher’s “U Got It Bad” and elicited the following response from Steven Tyler: “No chump love, sucka.” Ohhhkay. For his second number, Phillip finally ditched the guitar, and awkwardly stomped around on stage to “In the Midnight Hour.” Again, Steven had the best comment: “Everybody loves you because of who you are deep down inside of you: Brilliantly awkward.”
The one everyone wanted to see tonight finally had her turn. Jessica Sanchez did Alicia Keys’s “Fallin’,” imaginatively (not) illustrated by red umbrellas in the sky. But she growled and moaned and it was amazing, and she rocked the puffy genie pants, not once but twice. Her second number “Try a Little Tenderness” was Joshua Ledet-esque in its crazy-vocal-screaming-pleading-wailing impact. Jennifer said she thought Jessica’s alter ego BB Chez was coming out, but I’m willing to overlook that annoying reference because once again, I need to mention that Jennifer Lopez was dressed like the hottest robot the mad scientists have ever invented. Also, interestingly, Jessica said that when J. Lo interrupted her save song last week, it was because she thought the judges wanted her to just shut up and go home. So the girl’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but there’s no doubting her amazing voice.
Skylar Laine started off with a country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and followed it with a country version of “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Both of them were so Skylar-ish that somehow the two songs were basically indistinguishable, which is entirely too big a compliment to Lady Gaga than she deserves. The judges were happy with Skylar’s “cross-over appeal” and Steven told her she’s “a wild horse that refuses to be tamed.”
Finally Joshua, my stalwart personal fave, and tonight’s judges’ fave—he got standing ovations on both songs. Which normally would just mean that we got to see even more (or is it less?) of J. Lo’s dress. But it was still totally deserved. He sang Fantasia’s “Idol” glory song “I Believe” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” The judges were thrilled that Joshua held back a bit and then let loose. “You took your time, you let it marinate, and then you burst it open at the end,” Randy said.
Even though they used the save last week, we still vote off only one person tomorrow. This way, we can fill in for the week we lost when Jermaine Jones was sent packing.
My standings for the night: