The history of Queen on Idol is mixed, at nest. There have been some highlights, but plenty of lowlights. Bohemian Rhapsody by itself has both: just think of Constantine Maroulis for the highlight, and Kellie Pickler for the lowlight. Unfortunately, given this season’s track record with older material, I wasn’t particularly optimistic that the Queen part of the night would do well. The fact that the top six was mostly bereft of rockers did not really help either.
Round 1: Freddie Mercury They’re Not
Two words about Elise Testone: she’s baaaaack. She’s really the only person left with any sort of rock credentials left, so it would have been a shock if she didn’t do well. The staging was off in some parts – the tambourine and the flashing lights just didn’t seem necessary. But make no mistake: this was the best we’ve seen of Elise since Whole Lotta Love. Fantastic job.
The Show Must Go On really showed the good and the bad about Skylar Laine. Fortunately for her, there’s a lot of good and not too much bad in this. The good: she connects and “sells” songs incredibly well. Only Elise can outdo her in that department, and Skylar can do it consistently (Elise is sometimes hit or miss there). There are some pros who could take notes from her in that department. The bad: Skylar can’t power through songs the way Jessica or Hollie can. That doesn’t stop her from trying anyway, with very mixed results. Still, you could do a lot worse than how she did.
For a non-rocker, Jessica Sanchez did an okay job doing Bohemian Rhapsody. It wasn’t just a good fit for her – it’s too far from her ballad/R&B roots. I would have liked to see Jessica do The Show Must Go On, since it seems so much closer to what she normally does. As for the song itself, it was in some ways typical Jessica. Yes, she hits the notes dead-on – but she can’t connect to the material. And it’s not because she’s an emotionless pageant-bot. To draw an analogy to acting, some actors don’t really act; they play themselves playing a character (and not even that well, either). It’s rarely just Jessica singing a song and connecting it; it’s Jessica playing Jessica connecting to a song. It just doesn’t feel right or real.
And may the ghost of Freddie Mercury forgive me, I had this on my mind while writing this part of the recap:
From there it went wildly downhill. Joshua Ledet was not just bad; he was so bad this was bordering on self-parody. The whole thing was just… strange. And not in a good way. Look, I get it: Joshua wanted something uptempo to balance his second round song, and the theme was not in his comfort zone. But all that can’t excuse the god-awful performance he dished out for the first half of the show. And this got a standing ovation? Are you kidding me?
Phillip Phillips… he does what he does. I’m sure it was entertaining for the teens and swaybots, and maybe even everyone else watching it live. On TV, though…. no.
For at least one round, Hollie Cavanagh went back to her unemotional sing-bot ways. Perhaps more than any artist – because you are in the shadow of one heck of a showman in Freddy Mercury – you will get nailed to the wall if you can connect with Queen songs. Not good at all. I mostly agreed with what Jennifer Lopez said, even if she could have used half of the words she used and still gotten her point across. Unfortunately, top six is really late to hear that kind of advice. She could have used it a couple of weeks ago.
Round 2: Redemption
If there was a theme to the “open” round, it was this: redemption. People who needed to improve from their first half songs… by far, did. Given a chance to pick their own material, this season’s finalists really are exceptional at picking songs that suit their strengths. On the flip side, though, those same choices also tend to be safe: there’s nobody here who’ll take a super-high level of risk. Even Elise picks songs that seem risky, but aren’t that much (because she’s done them pre-Idol.)
Best to worst again. The top spot, for me, is tied – between Hollie and Jessica. It’s basically a coin flip who’s better of the two. They both went back to their stylistic roots and picked songs that they could sing well and connect with. I think Jessica had a harder song to sing (plus points for difficulty), but Hollie’s was just that bit more polished. Either way, the second round showed both ladies at pretty close to the peak of their Idol powers. Well done.
Joshua and subtle isn’t a combination that I’d expect – but truth be told, something like Ready For Love – restrained vocally, but loaded with story and emotion – is far more interesting than the over-the-top numbers I’ve come to expect from him. This was excellent.
The only person in the second round who took any real risk in my book was Elise. Yes, she’s sung it before the show – but the vast majority of people watching haven’t heard that. That said, it was good, but not great: I have no familiarity with the original, but from what I heard on the show it sounded like it really suffered from getting cut down to fit Idol‘s time constraints. That said, Elise was supremely comfortable and confident with this song. Elise did the best with what she chose, but what she chose may not have been the ideal strategy to win. However, you can respect the artistic integrity in that decision: she’s going to pick songs that she’s good at, no matter what it means strategically.
After a strong first round, Skylar’s second round song was very disappointing. It’s not so much that it was a bad song – Skylar will never sound bad singing country. But if this was a twelve-song album, this would be right around the worst or second worst song. It was boring and completely unexceptional.
No, The Stone does not describe what I wanted to hurl at my TV screen when I heard Phillip sing. While I think the song suited him, that doesn’t make it sound strategy. The Idols are, at some level, familiar with the Idolsphere’s views. He has to know he’s getting compared to Dave Matthews – and not favorably. So what does he do? He sings Dave Matthews. I would give him some credit if he knocked it out of the park – but he didn’t. The whole “artist” discussion has to be one of the dumbest comments from the judges in the history of Idol and it’s likely to get the voters of other constants voting harder instead of helping Phillip out.
Overall, I rank the Idols from best to worst after this night as:
It’s very close from 2-5, though. Elise is at the top because she was the only one who had two above-average songs; Phillip didn’t have one at all, so he’s bottom.
Might As Well Pick Randomly After That
This year’s talent is loaded, no doubt about it. All six can look back on their performances and say, “I did something pretty damn good this week.” With no obvious weak horse, calling the boot is going to be incredibly hard.
You can make an argument for just about everyone to leave. Phillip sang poorly. Hollie’s been in the bottom three a lot of late – and even a good performance will not keep her out of the bottom three (see last week). Joshua’s fanbase is still suspect (bottom three after Runaway Baby). Elise has been in the bottom three for three straight weeks and made song choices that no one knows about. Skylar sang poorly – in her country song! Jessica Sanchez didn’t really do anything to address the problems which got her (almost) booted in the first place.
For those reasons, I’ll have very little confidence in my picks this week. They’re basically my instincts talking. The only person that I’d consider a “shock” would be Skylar; even Phillip going home would not shock me at all.
Bottom three: Phillip, Elise, Hollie
Going home: Elise