The old met the new on Wednesday night’s (Apr. 18) “American Idol,” and if the juxtaposition between the performances of soul classics and post-millenium No. 1 hits indicate anything, it’s that old-time soul does not fit in some of the top seven’s vocabularies, while others may be in fact stuck in times of yore.
The seven stabs at soul finished off what was a grueling episode of “Idol.” Two hours, seven performers, two songs each — it felt like two separate episodes shown back-to-back. If you got through this without A.D.D. kicking in once, I commend you.
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Lackluster performances didn’t help. With the exception of a few ovation-worthy vocals, the “Idol” hopefuls were “eh” at best — certainly not bad, but nothing that really gets one excited to blog about it. Of course, Joshua Ledet and Skylar Laine had a little to say about that, turning in solid showings in both hours while playing to their individual stranges of fire-and-brimstone wailing and country swagger, respectively. Conversely, Elise Testone seemed more sure she’ll be going home than ever. Where’s the fire of her “Whole Lotta Love” performance? I miss it.
Hey, at least those infernal duets are gone this week, right?
We’ve got a lot to cover tonight, y’all. Let’s waste no more time and rank the performances.
1. Skylar Laine – “Born This Way”
For better or for worse, Skylar’s always been about putting country twists on songs, though she didn’t have as much work to do this week, since Lady Gaga‘s megahit has already been given the southern treatment in the past. The verdict? Home run, maybe even out of the ballpark. Skylar continues to string together strong performances every week, and the performance, perhaps a love letter to her favorite genre, soared above the rest from sheer character. I can envision hearing this version on country radio already.
2. Joshua Ledet – “A Change is Gonna Come”
As one might expect, Joshua was the class of the field during the second hour. The Sam Cooke classic was the song he was born to sing on the show, the type that accentuates his wide range and powerful, soulful voice — all while making it seem effortless. The proof is in the vocal run he displays at song’s end. He got a standing ovation for this, and rightfully so.
3. Joshua Ledet – “I Believe”
Yes, two straight from Joshua… come at me, bro. The song that Fantasia slayed after winning season three was put to good use in Joshua’s able hands, becoming one of the first song choices the 20-year-old’s made this year that I felt could actually be his own, on the radio or otherwise. It lacked that ‘wow’ moment that I’d’ve loved to have seen, but he did his idol proud. By performance alone, Joshua simply should not be going home Thursday.
4. Skylar Laine – “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”
Got an idea of which two singers I loved yet? The country vibe didn’t work as well here as it did on “Born This Way,” but it held up well. Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for a good fiddle. Regardless, Skylar brought a formidable stage presence, which is what sent it over the top. Look out, Phillip and Colton — Skylar looks like she’s mounting a real charge at victory.
5. Jessica Sanchez – “Fallin'”
Jessica’s proving to me that she’s most at home with modern songs. Her rendition of Alicia Keys‘ breakthrough hit was one of those “Oh, duh!” moments, a song that you just expected her to sing if she ever got the opportunity. That voice! Those runs! America, this is what we almost let go of last week. After a performance like this, do we really want that to be the case? That question excludes her second performance, of course, which we’ll get to much later.
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6. Phillip Phillips – “U Got it Bad”
Be honest: who didn’t have a few doubts when they heard Phillip would be singing this Usher slow burner? I sure had more than a few, but Phillip proved me wrong. He showed that, although he’s got that rasp, he doesn’t have to use it all the time to sound good. He again delved slightly into a jazzy state of mind with the accompanying saxophone, and the intimacy of the performance keeps the vibe the original possesses, even while going in a different direction musically. Much love.
7. Hollie Cavanagh – “Son of a Preacher Man”
Hollie kicked off the soul hour with some Dusty Springfield, flanked by a vibrant horn section. If she’s sounded better this year, I can’t quite remember it — because wow, this is the Hollie we need to be hearing every week. A strong vocal (with an exclamation point of a final note), showing more life onstage… if Hollie makes it to next week and can piece together more performances like this, she might still have a shot.
8. Elise Testone – “Let’s Get it On”
Oh, Elise. I expected so much more from you on the soul side of the show, given that it seems to be very much in your element. But the singer faltered a bit on the Marvin Gaye classic, her sultry side showing through occasionally but not enough on a song that is supposed to exude sex. The high points were great — that shriek! — but it wasn’t the performance she needed to stay alive. Being a bit more seductive could have gone a long way.
9. Hollie Cavanagh – “Rolling in the Deep”
I get the feeling, considering the judges’ outpouring of love for this performance, that I should have enjoyed what Hollie did with the Adele smash. So why didn’t I? Well, the vocal was almost there but, as I said earlier in the year, you can’t just go up onstage, sing Adele and hope it sticks. Especially on her “21” material, there needs to be emotion and lots of it. I want to feel the scorn of the singer on this song as one does with Adele, and I just didn’t feel anything of the sort.
10. Colton Dixon – “Bad Romance”
Colton didn’t have a great night — not that it’ll matter — but his highest highs came with some Gaga. He gave a rocker’s edge to the song (surprise!), and honestly looked the part as he wailed away. I could never quite get into the performance because the chorus was sung with his lower register, thereby becoming a bit underwhelming. He ended up bringing it home nicely, but there was just so much more he could have done here.
11. Phillip Phillips – “In the Midnight Hour”
Many will lap Phillip’s growl right up on this Wilson Pickett tune, but I wasn’t sold. I think he’s already a step behind out of the gate sans his guitar anyway, and tonight he seemed awkward and unsure of what to do with himself while singing (see: Paul McDonald, season 10). The vocal didn’t fit much, either. Phillip really struggles on certain high notes — he may have the smallest range of any remaining contestant — and each time he did, I couldn’t help but cringe.
12. Colton Dixon – “September”
Do you like it when Colton stares into the camera (and into your very soul) as he plays a piano-driven ballad? If you answered yes, you probably enjoyed this. If you’re like me and are both growing tired of that side of Colton’s schtick and don’t think piano-pop suits the Earth, Wind & Fire song much… well, let’s just promise to never speak again of this moment, OK?
13. Elise Testone – “No One”
Empty, soulless — two adjectives I’ve never had to use to describe Elise with, but all good things must come to an end. Vocally, everything’s fine, but Elise really needed a big moment to solidify her place in the competition for next week, and this song wasn’t going to do her favors no matter what. Not a good fit all-around.
14. Jessica Sanchez – “Try a Little Tenderness”
Earlier I asked if we really wanted Jessica to go home after a performance like “Fallin’.” When answering that question, kindly disregard her rendition of this Otis Redding tune, which she shouted her way through like she’d never heard the song in her life. Jessica’s starting to look more like Pia Toscano every day — great ballad singer, but anything up-tempo really makes you wonder why she ever leaves ballads at all. Not the kind of performance a lowest vote-getter needed to have.
The Bottom Three (By Performance Alone): Elise Testone, Colton Dixon, Hollie Cavanagh
Who Will Actually Be in the Bottom Three: Elise Testone, Hollie Cavanagh, Joshua Ledet
Going home: It’s Elise’s time. She’s been a lot of fun to watch, but lately, her heart just hasn’t seemed to be in it, like she’s been awaiting her elimination for quite some time.
Who were your favorites and least favorites last night? Did I screw up the order? Who’s going home? Will you watch tomorrow night to see Kris Allen and LMFAO perform? Comment section, go!