I’m used to two-theme Idol nights not really making a lot of sense. But even then, can somebody tell me what the 60s and Britpop have in common? Toss in a mentor – Steve Van Zandt – who, last I checked, doesn’t have much to do with either – and the night had something of a mixed bag feel to it.
Before I recap the songs, a word about the mentors: a topic I’ve (mostly) ignored lately, because, to be honest, they’re mostly useless. That wasn’t the case this week. Steve’s advice seemed to be most effective on Hollie, but overall he did a superb job. The pattern on Idol seems to be that the best mentors have strong backgrounds in music production. Of course, that’s not an assurance of success: will.i.am is supposedly a music producer, yet he was a terrible Idol mentor.
My expectations for the 60s round were low. After all, it had been clearly established that this batch of Idols suck at older material. Overall, well… things could have gone better.
Best to worst. Best, and really the only one who had a good 60s round: Hollie Cavanagh. Who would have thought? Not her sharpest performance technically, but River Deep – Mountain High is a song that’s performed, not really sung. That makes it even more remarkable that it’s Hollie who pulled it off. It’s almost like all her bottom three stays have made something insider her click and say, “screw it, I’m not going to overthink my performances, I’m just going to have some fun out there.”
Joshua Ledet delivered a good performance, but it was ridiculously safe and predictable. Normally, the problem is contestants avoiding obvious song choices: but this one was basically too obvious. It was like Skylar tackling Jason Aldean last week: it was done competently, but there was nothing special about it. Maybe I’d rank it higher if this was, say, the top 12 show. But this is the top five show: a predictable and so-so performance, no matter how competently done, will not cut it.
Skylar Laine delivered what was a classic crowdpleaser, but nothing more. It got the crowd all revved up and excited… but brought nothing else to the table. It was entertaining, but I’m looking for a more substantive performance this late in the competition. We’ve seen her do a lot better. It wasn’t bad at all, but it was just okay.
Whoever’s picking songs for Jessica Sanchez needs to stop right now and walk away from the songbook. She made two horrific song choices, no ifs and buts about it. I’ll deal with Proud Mary now: Jessica is not a natural performer. She can fake being one, but this was like Hollie’s pick – it’s more performed than sung. This was like asking somebody who’s used to jogging around their neighborhood to participate in an Ironman competition with no training in between. She tried her best, but honestly: it didn’t work. Some song and singer combinations can’t be redeemed no matter how good the singer is.
My notes for this episode say that Phillip Phillips changed up the song. Sure he did – but he changed it up into the exact same arrangement he’s been using since the show started! I give him zero credit for that. Steven Tyler’s judging might well be the most backhanded complement in Idol history: calling Phillip out on having no melody and yet saying he gets away with it. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t having melody a basic requirement to be a good singer?
The second half of the show was much better than the first half. Best, again: Hollie. Good song choice, with great advice from Steve to keep it intimate. No, not just great. Brilliant. If Hollie survives this night, she ought to send Steve van Zandt the world’s biggest thank you note. She was so good at showing this more intimate, restrained side of her that I can’t help but wonder: where did this Hollie come from? Had she been doing this a few weeks ago, she might well have been a frontrunner. Now, she’s the Scrappy Underdog Who Will Not Go Down Without A Fight. This was the best performance of the night, and it was the best we’ve seen from her all season long. Well done.
Hollie had to work for that top spot, though. Joshua Ledet was pretty good in his own right. Steve basically handed him a great song, and Joshua had the sense not to fight the song choice. He connected with the song and sang it supremely well. There’s a difference, though, between reaching for the power notes and oversinging, and (as he has a tendency to do) went towards the latter. Still, overall, nicely done. As for the ridiculous overpraise, well, all I’ll say on that is that Idol overpimpage can backfire. If the judges really want to help Joshua, keep the praise effusive, but simple, and brief. You’d almost think Nigel was paying them by the word.
Jessica made another bad song choice. I can see the game here: pick two contrasting songs. And this was a good contrast to her first song. But as delivered, this was my reaction:
They tried to make a moment out of this. I smell the handiwork of voice coach Peisha McPhee in getting Jessica to sing from the floor – after all, it worked spectacularly well for Katharine McPhee so many seasons ago. And, to her credit, Jessica sang it lights out – this sort of song is right in her comfort zone. However, overall, it just wasn’t as good as Hollie’s performance overall, and for the same reason that’s been her problem for weeks: she still can’t sell a song or tell a song’s story worth a damn. The judges, for their part, are absolutely clueless about Jessica: they can prattle on about how she hits notes, how she can hold a run, how her vibrato is better than professionals, etcetera. There is so much more to music than those technical, tangible aspects: and it is in those intangible parts that Jessica has been falling short. Badly.
I liked Skylar’s version of You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me in spots. But I spent more of it cringing. The arrangement called for Skylar to do a lot of power notes – which is the one area she’s noticeably not as good as a Hollie, Jessica, or Joshua. Most of this song was spent screaming, not shouting. Skylar likes to attack everything with enthusiasm and energy, but that didn’t work for her this time. Skylar would have been much better with another song: all three of the previous Idol attempts to tackle thing song have been from girls whose primary calling card was a powerful voice that could do the runs the song asks for effortlessly. That’s not Skylar’s strong suit.
Phillip Phillips got called out again in the second round for having no melody. Maybe someone in the Idol editing room reads the Idolsphere and isn’t a fan. The performance – yikes. Now we see what happens when he goes outside his rather limited range – he’s absolutely terrible. The bits between the falsetto notes were actually passable – but the high notes were so off-putting, this has to be Phillip’s worst performance of the season. And as for the judging, I will merely repeat what I said when I was live-tweeting the show: Helen Keller would make a better Idol judge than these three idiots.
As for the group songs… can we just pretend they never existed? Phillip and Joshua had even less chemistry than Skylar and Colton did. It was epic in its awfulness, and resulted in the worst Idol duet of all-time. The girls… the best that can be said is that they had fun. Other than that, the less said, the better.
Overall, I’d rank the top 5 as:
2-3. (tied) Joshua and Jessica
Time For More Guessing
In the absence of a Dream On-level failure (which is unlikely), it’ll be hard to predict who’ll be leaving Idol. The field overall is so evenly matched it really is remarkable. This is Idol parity not just in who’s singing well, but also who’s (probably) getting the votes. It’s usually a meaningless catchphrase, but this year anyone could go home on a results night.
The real question is: will Phillip end up at least in the bottom two after two dismal performances? This is as weak as we’ve ever seen Phillip during his Idol run. If there’s a night where he could go home, this is it. On the other hand, if he stays out of trouble, he becomes the prohibitive favorite to win. The only people happy with that outcome might well be Vote For The Worst.
After last week, it’s not inconceivable that Hollie could go home after having the best performances. But there’s a difference: Elise sang two less well-known songs well; Hollie’s songs were more familiar to audiences.
So, my guess for tonight is:
Bottom two: Skylar and Phillip
Going home: Phillip Phillips