If there was one thing that this week made clear, it was this: this year’s contestants are very dependent on what the theme is week to week. More often than not, if it’s a more contemporary theme they’re usually in good shape. Hand them an older one – the combined Stevie/Whitney week, for example – and they struggle. They’re very set in what kind of artist they are – and they have difficulty outside of their home turf.
This week was a solid week: not great, but mostly solid. What I particularly liked, however, was how more than a few of the top 7 deliberately went for songs that showed a different side of themselves – but kept true to what they’d done before. Let’s go over the solos first (in performance order), then the duets/trio.
We already knew that Skylar Laine was a good country singer, but even then she had mostly stuck to the quick, uptempo side of country. This was a great song choice for her – staying true to her country roots while showing a new side. The singing itself, again, was not Skylar’s best – when she’s going for the big runs, she will run into her limits and you can hear it right away. But overall, this was a good performance from Skylar. The guitar didn’t really help, but more than anything else it seemed it was there to give her something to do and not bounce around the stage like somebody who had overdosed on leftover Easter Peeps.
Colton Dixon has his own style down pat. His only advantage over Phillip is he does enough with it week to week that it’s not as tedious. This week… again, he set out to do this song in his own style. Colton knows his limits and works very well around it – he definitely made the song his own, didn’t strain his vocals, sounded very professional. However… this whole style bores the living heck out of me, and I suspect a lot of people not already invested either in Colton or his genre. Vaguely competent angsty/emo quasi-rocker. Next!
Jessica Sanchez had a good song choice. We know she can sing the big ballads, so she went a different direction with as subtle a vocal as she’s ever delivered this season. It was a very good technical effort, with the kind of effortlessness that’s almost Jessica’s trademark. She is incredibly talented, and she may well be the best 16-year-old Idol‘s ever had. However… I sort of get what J-Lo where coming from. The trouble with Jessica is she’s too polished. You always get the feeling it’s an act – a very elaborate, well staged act. But it doesn’t seem “real”. Joshua is used as the comparison not just because he’s the best non-Jessica big voice left, but because he feels what he sings in a way Jessica hasn’t really shown.
My favorite change-of-pace performance of the night belonged to Joshua Ledet. It showed a far more modern side of him than we’d seen of him beforehand. It was fun, it was entertaining, it was a pretty damn good performance. Is Joshua the natural performer that, say, Skylar is? No. At times his moves were a bit stiff. Still, with Joshua you get someone who you know is feeling what he’s singing. When it’s an emotional song, he’ll break down. When it’s something like Runaway Baby, he’ll have a ton of fun. Well done – I don’t know if this was his best performance, but it’s my favorite of his songs so far.
Where do I begin with Hollie Cavanagh… as far as the singing itself was concerned, it was perfect. J-Lo and Steven were insane (as usual), but Randy was at least partially right. She hits all the notes perfectly. She makes even the hardest runs seem so effortless. But she never sings with emotion, with meaning. It’s all just notes and words to her; I’m not sure if he really understands that music, like any art form, is about telling a story. Hollie’s polar opposite is Skylar: Skylar can sound strained, but like many country singers she’s an excellent storyteller. Good singing by itself is enough to get you through a couple of weeks, but by this time in the competition that’s simply not good enough.
Phillip Phillips said he “wanted to be different” with Jimmy and Akon. The result… was basically the same damn kind of tune we’ve heard from Phillip for two months running. J-Lo and Randy nailed him dead to rights. We get it. You can do this sort of style all day long. What else? If Joshua can change it up, so can you. Next song, please!
Ah… Elise. I personally think that “trademark” songs should be off-limits for at least a year. I admit to being a bit biased, but Haley Reinhart took You and I and owned it last year. The comparisons are inevitable. So how did she do? Not too bad. She did just enough to avoid at least some of the comparisons, and put her own mark on the song. It was just okay for me – not her best effort, but not her worst either. For the second week in a row, Elise did better in the duet than in her solo.
Now, onto the duets. First, though, let me just say: the idea that somebody has to “win” a duet – as Randy Jackson kept insisting all night – was ridiculous. Duets work when partners complement each other, not compete with each other. In a band, you wouldn’t say “it was great, but the bassist hit it harder than the lead guitarist.” So why insist that in a duet, someone must be better than the other?
The word to describe Somebody That I Used to Know: quirky. It was decent, but as I noted last week: the Elise/P2 pairing is being carried vocally by Elise. There’s some chemistry, which looks much better next to the other disastrous groupings that have been foisted on us this year. But don’t confuse it for Haley/Casey or Adam/Allison. That would be like comparing a slow econobox to an Italian supercar.
In what parallel universe did this whole Colton-and-Skylar-is-dating rumor come from? If they were, you’d think there’d be a lick of chemistry in this duet pair. This was a problematic performance. Skylar’s no Kelly Clarkson, and Colton is no Jason Aldean. The song really overwhelmed both of them – it was too big for this pair, period.
Jessica had it right – she was the third wheel with this group. There really was no saving this trio – fundamentally it was an awful idea to begin with. All three of them had big, powerful voices. Three big voices that have the same tendencies towards glory notes does not make for a harmonious grouping. To be honest, they really should have just shuffled all of the groups instead of keeping the Elise/Phillip and Colton/Skylar pairings and coming up with this musical monstrosity. After this week, I’m ready to be rid of duets altogether.
All in all, it was a solid episode, but nothing more than that. I liked how some of the contestants – particularly Skylar and Joshua – pushed their boundaries. Overall, the song choices were excellent (except Elise and the duets), but execution was not always as good as it could have been. Still, after a very dreary 80s episode, I’ll take it.
Save’s Coming Into Play
Due to the Jermaine Jones heading into American Idol instead of COPS, the save has to come into play this year. It’s not optional. Otherwise, the TV schedule would be, to put it mildly, fubar’d. It’s almost certain that it will come into play tonight: doing it next week would mean that, in effect, the top six voting would be useless (since whoever was at the bottom would be automatically saved). I can’t see 19E letting that happen, and the solid performances all around actually gives the judges enough cover to justify a save.
So for all intents and purposes, this is probably going to be a meaningless bottom three. Hollie is probably going to be in there, but I’m not so sure she is bottom. Her “judging” last night was a pretty blatant bus – and those have a history of backfiring. Elise might be in trouble, too: I can see the positive comments getting her fans to relax just a bit. As for bottom three… who the heck knows. It really ought to be Phillip, but given the completely irrational love affair Idol voters have with him, that can’t be counted on. But surely sense has to erupt eventually, right?
Bottom three: Phillip Phillips, Hollie Cavanagh, Elise Testone
Last, but saved: Elise Testone