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Two big winners emerged on Wednesday’s American Idol: Hollie Cavanagh, the shy little vocal powerhouse who could, and Joshua Ledet, who delivered another spectacular, gospel-tinged performance that earned a standing ovation from the judges.
The theme: British pop and the songs of the ’60s.
Cavanagh, in her retro-throwback-cruise-ship element, sang Tina Turner‘s “River Deep Mountain High” with uncharacteristic swagger following some useful advice from guest mentor Steve Van Zandt. The guitarist for Bruce Springsteen‘s E Street Band and ex-Sopranos actor told the timid Texan, in the most avuncular way possible: “There’s a little bit of showbusiness in there to try to please people. You gotta get rid of that.”
[Us to the screen: “BEST ADVICE EVER OF ALL TIME.” And excellent guidance for people pleasers everywhere.]
Cavanagh listened. Because she’s a professional who takes constructive criticism, cries alone in her room, and then goes out there and slays it, right? The 18-year-old’s Tina rendition impressed judge Steven Tyler, who declared: “Thank you lord, thank you!” Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson loved it, too.
Cavanagh — who’s British, bee-tee-dubs — continued her streak of success with Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” which ruled the charts in the summer of 2008, courtesy of the U.K. songstress’ mentor Simon Cowell. “To me, you’re two for two tonight, and that was unbelievable,” said Jackson of Cavanagh’s capable, almost-as-good-as-Lewis cover, adding: “You’re peaking now at the right time.”
Then there was Joshua Ledet, tough competition for Cavanagh, who nailed the Temptations’ 1960s-era hit “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by infusing it with his signature old school-R&B style. Praised Tyler, “You gotta be one of the top two best Idols of all time!” [To be fair: Tyler most likely had never watched the show before starting as a judge last season. Also, Tyler has no idea what day it is and that he’s a judge on American Idol.]
Then again, Tyler might be right on the money. Ledet’s take on the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” a song he learned in just 15 minutes, was inarguably mind-blowing — a game-changer for the Lousiana native, one that will go down in Idol history alongside Carrie Underwood‘s “Alone” and Fantasia‘s “Summertime.” Starting off with a soulful whimper and closing with a pleading growl, Ledet sang like he meant it — and made the audience feel it, too.
Week after week, the 19-year-old shows a level of passion, showmanship and raw talent beyond his years, recalling such soul greats as Sam Cooke and James Brown. In rehearsals for “To Love Somebody,” Van Zandt called it “one of the greatest performances I’ve ever heard in my life.” That sentiment echoed throughout the judges’ panel, with Lopez on the verge of tears and Jackson intoning: “The fact that you never heard [the song] and you did THAT do it, now THAT is what is really all about.”
For his ’60s selection, Phillip Phillips performed The Box Tops‘ “The Letter,” and his version had a folksy spin that the judges thoroughly enjoyed (even though Lopez did not know the song). “You’re so compelling to watch,” quoth J-Lo while Tyler said: “Bad news is, I miss the melody. Good news is, you get away with it. … Like The Stones get away with it.”
The gravelly-voiced Georgia singer then tapped into his inner flower child with the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” as tie-dye swirled on the screens behind him. The judges were all, “Nice.” We were all, “It sounds exactly like the original! Meh.”
[SPOTTED IN THE AUDIENCE: Phillips’ comely brunette girlfriend, whom he was hiding. There goes half his votes.]
Season 11 judge favorite Skylar Laine belted Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Fortunate Son,” a pitch-perfect match for her bluesy voice and all-American-Everywoman-rebel vibe. “I think [John] Fogerty and all of them would be really proud. You are born to be on the stage,” said Jackson, piling on the Laine love per usual.
Next up for the effervescent, ambitious country singer: Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” She lost points for the short-in-the-front-party-in-the-back-mullet dress but won kudos for her slick interpretation of the British songstress’ ballad.
Lopez: “You want to win, don’t you?”
Laine: “I do!”
Us: “Does she even have to ask that question?”
Fittingly, given her wow vocals, Jessica Sanchez took on the karaoke classic “Proud Mary” to mixed reviews from the panel. “You were a little bit of Tina, a little bit of Beyonce,” gushed Lopez. Meanwhile, Jackson couldn’t help but think of Turner working it on stage, oozing sweat from every pore. “This performance was OK, barely OK,” Jackson complained, to which J-Lo responded: “You can’t compare a 16-year-old to Tina Turner doing ‘Proud Mary’ in her heyday.”
[To which we respond: Why can’t he? This is American Idol, right? The goal is to find the best singers? Flashback from 2005: Taylor Hicks wins! Oh, right. This isn’t a singing competition.]
Back to Sanchez. In her second go-round, she crooned Joe Cocker‘s “You Are So Beautiful” but without all the blood, sweat and tears that Cocker appeared to pound into every song. Her subdued, seemingly effortless take sold Lopez and company, though, prompting three thumbs’ up and more high praise on Sanchez’s all-but-inevitable path toward the Idol finale.
Meanwhile, in “Gratuitous Duets Designed to Stretch the Show Into 2 Hours,” Phillips and Ledet partnered on the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” while the girls joined voices on Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.” [Confession: If we weren’t blogging about the show, we would fast-forward. Nothing lost there!]
Questions, Idol-Worshippers: given the stunning talent this season, and near-impossibility to choose a winner, what are your predictions for who’s going home on Thursday? Which finalists, in your opinion, will face off in the finale? Should Phillips’ girlfriend enter the witness protection program?
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