American Idol: “5 Finalists Compete”
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American Idol: “5 Finalists Compete”

Idol tends to wears out its welcome and then wear out its farewell. It takes too long to get from the auditions to the performances, and now, we’re at the part of the season where it’s really not necessary for the Wednesday night episodes to last two hours. The show would be so much more enjoyable if it budgeted its time and really forced the singers to do their best with each performance, as opposed to giving them multiple chances. No show succeeds when it feels like the time is being filled rather than used.

In tonight’s installment, the contestants are each given a shot at singing a song from the ‘60’s as well as a “Britpop” song in addition to a duet/trio. Hollie kicks things off with “River Deep Mountain High,” determined, with the support of Steven Van Zandt and Jimmy Iovine, to pretend like she doesn’t care what the judges think. From a performance standpoint, it’s one of her best as she shimmies and shakes and genuinely looks like she’s into the song. Technically, it’s not quite her best. She doesn’t hit the lowest notes most of the time in the chorus, but the judges don’t mention this, as they’re just happy to stop telling her to loosen up.

For her second song in the “Britpop” genre, Hollie takes on Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love.” It’s a little slow going, but she sounds strong at the end. I think in the context of the series to date it’s not terribly groundbreaking but the judges seem to be so happy to be giving her atta-girls that they keep cheering her on.

Next Phillip sings “The Letter.” I don’t think I can ever support a Phillip performance until it seems like he’s attempting to work nearly as hard as the rest of his competitors. Phillip delivers a slowed-down version of the song with a lot of the melody removed. He looks like he’s feeling well, so that’s something nice I can say about him. Once again, the judges compliment Phillip while making it sound like a dis, in this case Randy praising Phillip for a.) taking the melody out of the song and b.) making it sound jam-bandy. Seacrest takes this opportunity to let the audience know that Phillip has a girlfriend and so does Ryan, which means he likes penis-and-vagina, okay?

Phillips sings “Time Of The Season” by the Zombies for his second choice, and Stevie gives him crap for actually singing the melody. The melody is not really his friend, though; Phillip has a tough time reaching the high notes in the chorus, yet the judges praise him for “singing the melody,” when they should be chiding him for being pitchy. It’s completely beyond me why he gets praised as much as the others do for doing so much less.

Stevie and Jimmy discourage Skylar from taking on “Knock On Wood” and instead give her CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” which she makes even more country. I don’t think Skylar really knows what the song is about, and hence, the song lacks a certain edge that she’s usually good at bringing to her angrier songs, but as an overall concert performance, Skylar is pretty astounding when it comes to dancing around the stage and hitting her notes at the same time.

Skylar sings “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” for her second song. It’s nice to hear her take on an old-timey ballad, especially at the beginning of the performance, as she plays it straight without the runs or country twang. Jennifer praises Skylar for her variety of performances tonight and uses the word “win,” so even though the judges' opinions are invalid when it comes to Phillip, I’m glad to know they’re not deaf and blind when it comes to her. Like Randy, I would like to know who the two people sitting on the park bench onstage are, though. I bet they were embarrassed!

For the first duet of the night, Phillip and Joshua take on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” which could be great if a.) Phillip were capable of hitting the notes and b.) They managed to take it seriously. There are moments of really lovely harmonizing in the song, but the guys seem to suffer from the No Homos as they perform. The judges enjoy the performance but seem to agree that it was a missed opportunity.  Joshua wins the duet.

Steven and Jimmy contemplate trying to discourage Jessica from singing “Proud Mary” but decide to let her go for it. I think she could have benefited from another tune. Vocally, she sounds great, and she looks beautiful (aside from the sea creature on her hand), but every now and then, Jessica takes on a song by one of the Big Girls and she doesn’t stack up that well in comparison. You don’t have to be Tina Turner when you perform the song, but you can’t afford to be Less Than Tina either (which you will be), so maybe it’d just be best to pick something else. Randy agrees with me.

Jessica sings “You Are So Beautiful” for her second song, even after Steven and Jimmy worry about it sounding too much like Muzak. Jessica could be so much stronger if she were more unique when it comes to song choices. Unfortunately, she picks such obvious, wedding-style songs that hold her back from demonstrating why she’s much more than just a young girl with a good voice. Sure she can sing, but how often do you remember her performances the next day? Jessica sounds good on the Joe Cocker tune, but the song and her ridiculous half-reclining pose on the stage make for an easy-listening snooze.

Joshua takes on “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” for his ‘60’s performance, wearing a jacket that makes him look like a carnival barker. I’m getting to the point where even Joshua’s best performances don’t do much for me anymore (because I just want to hurry up and crown Skylar the winner), so while this performance didn’t actively do much for me, I found few problems with it. It’s Joshua at his best: soulful and happy without sounding like he’s crying. Randy compares him to Terence Trent D’Arby, and so I’m going to take a second to listen to “Wishing Well.”

Steven and Jimmy do a cute bit about how amazing Joshua is during his rehearsal of “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees. I always like it better when Joshua takes ballads on more straightforwardly than when he starts straining his voice and looking like he’s going to cry, so I enjoyed the first half of the song more than the second half. He is like Fantasia in that he has a predictable pattern for taking songs to a near out-of-control place towards the end that loses its meaning when it’s repeated too often. The judges give him a standing ovation. Jennifer says that she’s never seen anyone on the show like Joshua, and somewhere, Jacob Lusk cries a single tear.

For the last group number, Jessica, Hollie, and Skylar sing “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” I think Hollie wins the trio, but in general, the girls win points for hitting the notes and taking the performance seriously (although perhaps it’s not quite as much fun as Phillip and Joshua’s awkward-fest.) The judges like the performance but not so much the arrangement.

The judges declare Joshua, Skylar, and Hollie their favorites for round one but are never asked their favorites for round two or the episode in general. It’s going to take a lot for me to move past my declared preference for Skylar, and that applies to tonight’s performances. As for tomorrow’s potential bottom three, it’s harder to say than usual. I won’t rest until Phillip is voted out for being a worse singer and performer than everyone else on the show, which means I may not rest for a long time.

Stray observations:

  • The set designers on Idol really don’t need to be so literal. I got that the letter in “The Letter” is about a letter without pictures of letters floating behind Phillip as he sang.
  • Jennifer looked like a sexy Coke bottle tonight.
  • I wouldn’t say Jennifer should be ashamed that she doesn’t know “The Letter,” but she shouldn’t be not-ashamed, either.
  • Steven Van Zandt was completely endearing as a mentor, not just for his pretend-gruff persona but for how much he actually seems to watch the show.

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