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Is this American Idol or The Apprentice?
In dramatic fashion, top 12 finalist Jermaine Jones was essentially fired Donald Trump-style by Idol executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick.
As host Ryan Seacrest forewarned: “With the cooperation of law enforcement, we discovered information that left us with no choice but to eliminate one of our own from the competition. When you’re doing a live show, anything can happen.”
Of course, the big revelation we already knew happened about 80 minutes into the broadcast, with Seacrest somberly telling the audience that Idol will “miss Jermaine’s talent.”
With that out of the way (though it did plenty to overshadow the night’s performances), there was plenty of talent to be showcased on Wednesday’s broadcast, despite some odd song suggestions by Jimmy Iovine and guest mentor will.i.am. The evening featured the remaining 11 hard-working finalists delivering songs from the year they were born, and some oddly doing covers of older songs released by other artists way before the year they were born. To wit: Jessica Sanchez with Gloria Estefan’s version of Vicki Sue Robinson’s ‘70s disco classic “Turn the Beat Around” and DeAndre Brackensick with “Endless Love” (circa 1981, Brooke Shields, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, etc.).
The evening also had a unifying catch phrase-swagger — and all three judges — Steven Tyler, styling in a glam rock cowboy get up, Jennifer Lopez, in this year’s hot spring color, tangerine, and Pinterest fan Randy Jackson-decided to show some real teeth with their judging comments.
“Y’all are being mean,” said country rocker Skylar Laine. Clearly, someone high up and behind-the-scenes has been paying attention.
Here is how it all went down:
Phillip Phillips: Phillips was born Sept. 20, 1990, but he was due Oct. 14, 1990. Not only was he premature, according to his parents, but he nearly died in childbirth. It was then revealed that Phillips had even more medical problems in adulthood, like as recently as last week when the poor guy had to have surgery for kidney stones. Phillips soldiered through the Black Crowes’ cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Phillips chose to perform the song sans the guitar, and did a straightforward and unflashy version of the rocker. The song is definitely in his proverbial wheelhouse, and Jackson had kind words to say, saying “You are kind of unique for us… you sound amazing.” Lopez made a funny, yet unintentional, pun in her critique, saying “this is just so natural for you… in every cell of your body, not to get too medical for you … it just comes out of you!” (Like kidney stones?)” Tyler had one quibble with Phillips: “Watch your melody, but keep it up.”
Jessica Sanchez: Sanchez was born Aug. 4, 1995, and even as a toddler she was “a little diva.” Will i. am has another nickname for her: “Swaggernaut.” Sanchez said she was going to perform “Turn the Beat Around,” by Gloria Estefan (but I plenty of Idol viewers, myself included, are old enough to affiliate it with Vicki Sue Robinson first). Sanchez looked great on stage, with sparkly disco pants and a full command of her performance. The powerhouse vocals were there, but she stumbled with the rhythm, no doubt about it (to borrow a phrase from the song). I commend her for doing something upbeat, even though Tyler had the opposite opinion: “I love your voice… can’t stray too far from what you do best, ballads.: Lopez said Sanchez’s selling point is her“strong vibrato,” but she had “to be syncopated and on the beat” and that she “lost energy.” Jackson told Sanchez she had some things still to work on. It all begs the question: will Jessica Sanchez be this season’s Pia Toscano?
Heejun Han: Born in 1989, Han picked Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting,” a straightforward ballad that should have been a slam-dunk performance. It wasn’t. Han, increasingly looking uncomfortable on the Idol stage, ran out of steam mid-song, and was so boring even his trademark snarkiness couldn’t save it. Jackson didn’t enjoy it, and told Han he was “pitchy and out of breath.” “It was the wrong song — not a great performance..” Lopez said she could tell Han was struggling, “but towards the end it got beautiful and felt his heart and soul.” Tyler repeated Jackson’s criticism, adding “It just wasn’t a great song for you.”
Elise Testone: Testone had a lot to prove this week after having been nearly eliminated last week, and came up big with Tina Turner’s 1983 cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Testone accurately described the song as “baby-making” music, and if she releases a duet of the song with President Barack Obama, as will i. a.m. suggested, who knows what could happen? But seriously, Testone delivered a wonderful, torchy and sultry version of the song, which is apparently a favorite of Tyler’s Aunt Sonya. The judges were all in agreement that Testone had a magnificent performance, prompting Jackson to proclaim: “America, Elise is back!” (he’s been repeating this line since Season , of course — paging Justin Guarini!). ”This girl is dope,” he continued. “Welcome back.”
DeAndre Brackensick: He was born in 1994, but with that head of lion-like head of hair or not? It’s not clear. Still, it must be said: Brackensick was such a cute little boy and that toy soldier was priceless. He originally wanted to do “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” by Elton John (and he probably loved Simba’s version, too), but will i. am. shot down his choice, suggesting “Endless Love” instead. It wasn’t a complete epic fail, but 1994 had so many other songs. I really felt for Brackensick, who pulled out his money note — the falsetto — saving the song from disaster. Lopez felt bad for the teen, and told him: Jimmy and Will steered you wrong… I didn’t think it was the right song for you… That makes me upset.” Jackson commented that Brackensick was simply boring, and paled in comparison to “Mariah and Luther, sang the you-don’t-know-what out of that song.” Then again, doesn’t everybody pale in comparison to Mariah? Which brings us to…
Shannon Magrane: Magrane was born Oct. 21, 1995. Her baseball star father told us that as a child, her favorite song was “Thumbelina” (there’s a height joke in there somewhere). Iovine wanted Magrane to do No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” but Magrane picked one of Mariah Carey’s biggest hits, her duet with Boyz II Men, ”One Sweet Day.” Not surprisingly, Magrane has problems with the song, and will i. am suggested she practice it singing lying down on the floor. She sings it standing up on stage, and does a passable job, but she is no diva. Better than Bikini Girl’s “Vision of Love,” yes, but nowhere near Kara DioGuardi, if that makes any sense. Lopez was terrified for her, but thought she did a great job. As for Tyler, he said, “You sing your best when you don’t try so hard. “ Jackson was gracious, telling the teen, “you are here because you have mad potential… Rhe front of song was cool.” He added that he “loved the run at the end.”
Colton Dixon: Dixon had dinner with his Idol, Chris Daughtry, after cultivating a bro-mance on Twitter. Interestingly, he ignored Daughtry’s advice to perform songs people know by picking a song that neither the judges or the American Idol band were familiar with. Born in 1991, he decided to go the big hair band route with White Lion’s “Broken Heart” Realizing that he was born in 1991, maybe he didn’t know hair metal was dead by then thanks to Nirvana. Still, Dixon delivered a credible version of a forgotten genre (with apologies to James “I did it first” Durbin). It was a bold move, and Dixon made it sound like, well, a Dixon original. Still, Tyler was unconvinced, and said it was the “wrong song for your voice and your passion.” Lopez commented that he looks pretty when he sings, and Jackson said song choice “didn’t matter” and it was “dope.”
Erika Van Pelt: Van Pelt was born in 1985, so she chose Bryan Adams’ power ballad “Heaven.” On paper, this looked like a good move, and Iovine made a suggestion that she adds a break into the chorus. In rehearsal, this was great, but she nearly missed getting back into the song in live performance. She was thinking too much, and it blew the arrangement. Also, why was she styled to look like Adele? I thought Adele was taboo on this show. Tyler told Van Pelt that she was “too busy with it … stay with the melody.” Lopez called her “this year’s Janis Joplin,” but “the arrangement left us wanting more.” Jackson gave it an 8 out of 10.
Skylar Laine: Laine, born in 1994, decided to stay in her “lane,”and rejected will i. am’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion of taking on Coolio’s rap hit, “Fantastic Voyage.” Laine instead chose Bonnie Raitt’s “Love’s Sneaking Up On You,” and made perhaps her first misstep of the season, relying on her personality to sell a song that Iovine felt didn’t have enough for the pint-sized belter to work with. Iovine was right, despite the positive comments from the judges. Tyler told her, “I haven’t seen you sing a bad song, yet.” Lopez enjoyed it, but wished the song had a stronger chorus, and Jackson told her she “rocked it.”
Joshua Ledet: I am just going to ignore all of that crawfish filler and get to the heart of it — Ledet had the best performance of the night (even season 7 winner David Cook said so) and absolutely, positively, should not be in the bottom on Thursday night. Born in 1992, Ledet chose Michael Bolton’s cover of Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman,” and killed it in more ways than one, preferring to stick to the heart of the original without the Bolton-istic style of over-singing. Will i. am correctly predicted Ledet would bring down the house, and he did. Lopez called it the “best thing I’ve ever seen on American Idol” and Tyler said, “That was so good, we were up halfway through it.”
Hollie Cavanagh: Cavanagh had the final spot of the night, and she is just too cute — like a partly British real-life Tinkerbell. I could listem to Cavanagh and her parents speak all night. Cavanaugh, born in 1993, performed Celine Dion’s cover of Laura Branigan’s “Power of Love.” It is a big song for a little girl, and she missed a few notes in performance, but that’s just a quibble. Lopez and Tyler noticed the pitch problems, but praised her performance. Jackson said she blew it out of the box.
So who is going home? Tyler and Jackson agreed there were missteps and a share of shakily-sung songs. A roundtable query of all three judges pointed to Ledet, Phillips, Cavanagh, Sanchez and Testone as locks to go through, with Jackson predicting Han as the one in the most trouble.
So who is in trouble, Worshippers? Heejun Han had a tough night, as did Shannon Magrane. Will Skylar Laine’s personality carry her through to the next round? What do you think? Tell us below…
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William Jackson Harper