Two hours of music with only four contestants was sure to result in a show that had plentiful filler. The show we got, however… was just full of filler. It was bloated. It was ridiculous. It was painful. It was a good thing that the last 30 minutes of the show had some pretty good singing; otherwise it would have been a complete waste of two hours.
The first theme – California Dreaming – was not a shining success. Hollie “won” that particular round, but it was more a case of sucking less than the rest of the field. Let’s go over the field in performance order.
Phillip Phillips’s first performance was yet another Phillip-styled performance – with all the pluses and minuses that means. Truth be told, he was overshadowed by the sax player. Two things about the judging: was Steven Tyler’s whole “road to success” comment another backhanded compliment? It sure sounded like it. Other item: I did not appreciate how ugly Randy Jackson’s tablecloth suit was until he started babbling. My eyes, they bleed.
Hollie Cavanagh’s Faithfully had something of a “that’s it?” quality for me. The vocals weren’t the problem – they were impeccably clear. It wasn’t robo-Hollie singing out there – maybe she connected a bit imperfectly, but not her worst. The one thing it was not was “over the top”, as Steven Tyler claimed. If anything, it was very strangely restrained. Just okay, but she could have done better.
I was not a fan of Joshua Ledet bringing Gospelized Josh Groban to the Idol stage. I’m not even sure it was a great song choice for Joshua at all – it calls for a delicacy and subtlety that’s not his strong suit. It turned into very generic, unremarkable singing that you forget right after it’s done. The one thing that people will remember is Joshua getting raised literally. I will remember it, but not in a good way. And to think, that wasn’t even the worst bit of overproduction of the show!
Similarly, I did not get Jessica Sanchez’s song choice. At all. Since I’ve weighed in on Jessica’s song choice skills – or lack of them – before, I feel no need to repeat myself on that point. The performance itself… was strangely disjointed. She sang it well (as we expect from Jessica), but it was in an effort that ultimately left me in a head-scratching, what was that mood. It just never got into a consistent flow for me.
The second round of songs was infinitely better. This was basically another “inspirational” theme by a different name. The Season 11 crew did very well with this theme: two great performances from Jessica and Joshua, a surprisingly good song from Phillip, and Hollie… well, she’s had better nights. Let’s go over it in performance order again.
I vastly preferred this subtler, more serious Phillip to anything I’ve seen so far from him. Great song choice, great arrangement that suited Phillip perfectly, and a side of Phillip that we really hadn’t seen before. For the first time in some time, I could take Phillip seriously after his performance. Well done.
Simply put, Hollie tried to do too much. Last week’s Bleeding Love worked in part because they kept things relatively simple: she sat on the piano and just sang. This time, they had her moving around all over the stage (even if it was just at a walking pace.) With more stuff to do, she was not able to connect to her song as well as she did last week. It was also a somewhat dubious song choice: if she wanted to do a breakup song, fine. But this was far too serious and “heavy” for Hollie. Simply put, she had an off night.
Unlike the judges, I will not go into creative flights of fancy to praise Jessica and Joshua. They were both very good. They both made great song choices that allowed them to showcase all of their talents. They both sang supremely well and felt what they were singing. In Jessica’s case, I loved how they stripped the staging down: just Jessica singing in the middle of the stage, no fancy props. They both earn a well done.
Can we just pretend the duets and group song didn’t happen? The best that can be said about Phillip and Joshua is it wasn’t a trainwreck. For Jessica and Hollie, I can’t get past the swings. In a season full of over the top staging – burning oil drums, lovers on benches, disembodied heads – this was the most ridiculous. The duet itself, well… the girls did what they could. But Hollie and Jessica are both power singers, and good duets are rarely made of singers who are so stylistically similar. It just didn’t work. (For what it’s worth, I’m rather fond of the Atomic Kitten version, so I may be a bit biased.)
I’ll completely ignore the group song and pretend they didn’t sing Foreigner.
Hollie’s going home, right? Don’t be so sure
Phillip had one good performance. Jessica and Joshua each had one great performance. Both of Hollie’s were middling, at best. So she’s going home, right?
Don’t be so sure. Hollie’s fanbase – no matter what it’s size – is motivated. The vote margins are probably razor thin. This season has had some unpredictable and unexpected boots, so anything could happen.
If there’s one person that is probably in more danger than people think… it’s Joshua. Yes, he’s singing brilliantly, but he has two issues: the over-the-top judging is going to turn some voters off and make other fanbases vote harder. It is not always a good thing to be on the receiving end of effusive, but meaningless, praise from the current Idol judges.
The other problem is style. For all his singing prowess, Joshua is the most throwback singer of this group. You can’t help but wonder if this is what really appeals to today’s Idol voters. His fanbase has already been tested with bottom three stints twice. If there’s somebody at risk not named Hollie Cavanagh, it’ll be Joshua.
Going home: Holle Cavanagh