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'American Idol' Recap: Jessica Sanchez Catches 'Biggest Fish' of the Night

The finalists tackled Pink, Gotye and Kelly Clarkson during "songs of the past decade" night, as rumors of romance and infighting swirled.

American Idol Jessica Sanchez April 11 Performance - H 2012
Michael Becker / FOX

The American Idol season 11 competition is getting tense, as was evidenced during Wednesday night's episode featuring "songs from this decade."

Jimmy Iovine stirred the pot early on, telling Colton Dixon that he is "just behind Phillip Phillips."  Dixon fired back in his video interview that he didn't like being compared to anyone, especially Phillips. Those were fighting words, but Phillips reserved his ire for his duets partner, Elise Testone, moaning on camera that she picked the song "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye because she'd sing better on it. For the record, she did, and though they played it off later as if they were besties and it was all a joke, Phillips continues to seem moodier every week.

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If that wasn't enough sniping, the judges tried to create a battle with the "fish slayer" (more on that later) between Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet, as judge Jennifer Lopez literally told Sanchez to turn in more "Ledet type" performances.

Wouldn't you just love to be a fly on the wall in the Idol mansion tonight after all of this drama?

But the vibes weren't all negative tonight. Idol alumni greetings from season three champion Fantasia Barrino-who purred her support to birthday boy Ledet with the best sound byte ever-"From Fantasia to Mantasia" and Testone fan Jason Segel ("How I Met Your Mother" and  "The Muppets") lightened the mood. Plus, there was a lot of energy emoting from the audience on a night that featured songs from this decade (or American Idol translation: songs from the last three years).

The Top 7 finalists finally had the chance to express themselves as "contemporary artists." Guest mentor Akon sat alongside Iovine in rehearsals as th Idols were given the golden opportunity to pick songs that would showcase just exactly the artists they hope to be. Was it "Perfect?" In the case of Hollie Cavanagh, well no, it wasn't.

(Luckily) The judges refrained from multiple standing ovations, reserving their one big show of support for Ledet, who had a superb night showcasing his performance skills on Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby." Other standouts included Skylar Laine's shining performance of Kellie Pickler's song, "Didn't Know How Much I Loved You," and Dixon's moody and engaging take of Skylar Grey's "Love the Way You Lie," 

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As for the duets, it was perhaps the strangest round of the season: Could a cover of a Kelly Clarkson song be "Stronger" if it were performed as a trio? Absolutely not. The song—which featured Cavanagh, Ledet and Sanchez—can only be described as a hot mess, with missed notes, hammy dance moves and no harmonies. Did they learn anything from Hollywood Week about peforming with groups?

The other burning questions (as if the audience was buying it) of the evening were in reference to the alleged "romance" of Dixon and Laine. So naturally, show producers gave the two a Kelly Clarkson/ Jason Aldean song to sing: the romantic country ballad, "Don't You Wanna Stay." The performance wasn't awful, but it paled in comparison to the original, and Laine's assertations that he and Colton "aren't dating" and Dixon's explanation that it was because "she has a gun" was just downright silly.

Here is a quickie breakdown of of the performances: 

Laine decided to go with Idol alum Kellie Pickler's ballad, "Didn't Know How Much I Loved You," and Iovine was concerned that she picked a Pickler song neither he nor Akon knew. He also advised her against performing with a guitar. However, both men loved her in rehearsals. Quoth Iovine: "When she sings I believe it. She is a pro."

Akon was equally impressed, and said "When she sang, I was like, yo. I couldn't stop thinking about her voice."

On stage, the Brandon, Miss., singer openly ignored Iovine's advice and  immediately came out as Idol's "White Girl with the guitar." It was a strong peformance, which Jackson described as "crazy hot and crazy good." He added: "You are definitely back." Did she go anywhere? She was great last week. Lopez said Laine had "perfect pitch," adding: "You really nailed it. We felt you from your soul." Steven Tyler, cryptic as ever, said "When you sing a song it's a complete sentence." He continued: "The crows may crow but the hens deliver the goods."

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Dixon's choice of "Love the Way You Lie" created some tension with Iovine, who warned the singer from Murfreesboro, Tenn., that he was falling behind Phillips, a comparison which did not sit well with Dixon. He said this was his most challenging week on Idol, revealing later he planned to do Breaking Benjamin's "I Will Not Bow." Iovine was right to guide Dixon away from that choice—Dixon needed to do exactly what he did last night—sit behind the piano and deliver the song with his full range of whispering to a screaming vocals. Lopez enjoyed it, telling him,  "you always surprise me with your approach to the notes." Tyler and Jackson were in love with Dixon's jacket, with Tyler telling the singer "You are such a rare talent," and that he couldn't wait for Jackson to start doing his own songs. Jackson told Dixon he  "Loved the fact that you started it like a lullaby...you are an artist right now."

Sanchez made a risky choice, picking Jazmine Sullivan's "Stuttering." Akon felt the performance in rehearsals, telling the San Diego teen, "you got so much control."  Iovine revealed his love for her voice, and said that it could move "anybody."

In performance, Sanchez did a solid job with a song that Jackson described as "the biggest fish of the night." It was, quite simply, Sanchez's Haley Reinhart moment, where the audience will forever identify that song with her version of it. Jackson told her that she "set the bar really high." Lopez added, "My favorite part in the middle is you started digging," but then threw her under the bus, encouraging her to give performances more like Ledet's and begging her to take the audience on a "ride." Tyler apparently is already on a ride with Sanchez, saying that "Every time you sing I forget where I am."

After weeks of gospel choirs, big notes and ballads, Ledet decided he wanted to showcase the more playful side of his nature by picking a Bruno Mars show stopper, "Runaway Baby." Akon said that "with his tone" Ledet could "pierce through people's hearts." This is the kind of thing Ledet needs to do from here on out to win this competition: Entertain us with his natural dance skills (we saw it with his moonwalk already) and crazy vocals. He even ditched the choir for a go-go dancer. This was a good start. Tyler enjoyed it thoroughly, telling him that he could "sell a song like a work of art.That was so good." Lopez continued to needle Sanchez with her praise of Ledet, saying "a Joshua-type performance is so dynamic. It's about being a performer." Jackson said  "this was an unbelievable peformance," and then threw in his new annoying catch phrase of the season: "I think we got somebody that's really got to have it." We think "in it to win it" is officially retired.

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Cavanagh has fan support in McKinney, Texas with viewing parties complete with fudge Hollie-Pops. She even has fan support in England, but can they still vote for her? Is there an international rule there? Cavanagh picked Pink's empowering ballad, "Perfect", and impressed Iovine and Akon in rehearsal  with her big voice. Iovine even said she won the last note of the night award.

On the Idol stage, she looked adorable and even had a smoking hot guy on guitar accompanying her. The song started a tad low for her, but as it built, Cavanagh hit those notes we have come to expect and love. It was a big improvement over last week's "Flashdance," but was it enough to stay another week? The silence of the audience suggested that Cavanagh may be in trouble.  Lopez, too, sounded unconvinced, acknowledging she is sensing the teen "fighting to be perfect," but  "we'll see how it all pans out." Tyler said, "it wasn't perfect tonight for me." Jackson tried to end it on a positive note, saying it was "better than last week."

If there is anyone that seems to be more frustrated each week, it's Leesburg, Ga.'s Philips. He chose Maroon 5's "Give a Little More," which host Ryan Seacrest described as a "smash" but Iovine didn't think exciting enough.

"You don't have to be different for the sake of being different," Iovine advised "You have to be great for the sake of being great." 

Phillips came out once more with the guitar, performing a jazzy, intense version of the song, but it was the same performance we have seen all year with him. Tyler thought otherwise, saying that  "we watched you evolve," and that he loved the way he's changed. He then described Phillips as a "Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash kind of guy," whatever that mashup means. Lopez called it correctly, saying that "for me it was a little bit underwhelming. I've seen this performance before." Jackson said, "I don't know if it was that  was a wow kind of a moment."

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Testone, in the famed Idol "pimp spot," closed out the show with a performance of Lady Gaga's "You and I." For so many of us, Reinhart's amazing performance of that song is still fresh in our minds, so this was a potential risk. In rehearsal, Testone said she wanted to start the song out playing the drums, explaining she felt that something needed to happen. Akon wisely advised her against the idea, saying "what needs to happen is you have to kill it." She had moments of intensity and strong vocal runs during the performance, and bears a resemblence to Gaga, but it didn't match Reinhart, and that could be a problem. 

The judge's loved it. 

Jackson said: "Elise is back. that was a perfect song for you. you needed a moment, you got one right there. This is the girl we love." Lopez said "you're a closer," and Tyler called it "genius."

So who is in the bottom three? Cavanagh may not have the votes to put her through, but Testone could wind up in the stools of doom as well. The judge's loved Laine, but did her "pitchy" duet with fake boyfriend Dixon harm her chances? Or could we see Phillips make a bottom three debut on Thursday's elimination show? What do you think, Worshippers?