American Idol: “6 Finalists Compete”
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American Idol: “6 Finalists Compete”

An Idol performance episode beginning with a medley? Sounds like an awful excuse for time-killing. But wait! It’s no ordinary medley: The singers kick off the show with a mix of Queen songs, backed, no less, by Brian May and Roger Taylor. May and Taylor performing on Idol may sound like a sad state of affairs for such an epic pair, but the producers make sure to emphasize that they’re the stars of the segment, with Randy providing the voiceover for Queen’s introductory package and footage of the band playing throughout the medley, while Brian rocks the solo during “We Will Rock You,” taking center stage as the singers gather behind him. How’s the singing? By and large, not too bad. Elise and Jessica sound the strongest on the solo parts, with Phillip and Hollie’s voices falling short in a few places. The harmonies sound great on “Fat Bottomed Girls” and a little odd on “Another One Bites The Dust,” but overall, the package serves as a nice homage to Queen’s awesomeness rather than some karaoke bullshit.

The contestants have a Queen song chosen for them for their first performances. Jessica kicks things off by a chopped-up version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song starting with a truly silly black and white segment with Chezzy Chez performing in triplicate behind her, a la the song’s video. The use of color and the editing of the song is awkward, but it’s fun and refreshing to hear Jessica sing rock. This song has been covered so many times, but I rarely hear a female version, and she actually has the voice to hit some of the more difficult spots. I agree with Randy and Jennifer that Jessica could take a performance lesson from more rockin’ ladies like Tina Turner, but I’m always a fan of a change of pace for an Idol singer, and while perhaps it wasn’t a tour de force for Jessica, I was entertained.

She picks “Dance With My Father” for her second song, letting us know that her dad is a soldier who’s been deployed and will be deployed again soon (Vote! Vote!) The performance is tarnished by the cheesy father/child silhouettes displayed behind her as she sings. No offense to Luther Vandross, but this is the type of easy listening ballad I tune out, so I think she sounds fine? (Clearly, I do not support the troops, or fathers.) The judges adore it.

Skylar’s Queen song is “The Show Must Go On,” which isn’t an obvious choice for her, but it turns out to be a solid one. She sings by and large without the country inflection, and tonight demonstrates that she doesn’t need to use country as a crutch: The power in her voice and her confidence onstage are a perfect match for such a dramatic, over-the-top Queen song (is there any other kind?)

Skylar picks up her gee-tar for “Tattoos On This Town” for her second song. Thus far, the second performances feel like the contestants racing back to their safe places. It’s a tough-chicky country song, which is Skylar’s bread and butter, but as with Jessica’s performance, it doesn’t sound much like anything we haven’t heard from her before. That said, Skylar in her wheelhouse is still a pretty great Skylar.

Joshua takes on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” marking the first moment of the night where I depart wildly with the judges. Josh channels the rockin’ ‘50’s vibe of the song, but he shouts the tune, which is more fun when sung with a bit of flirtation and subtlety. The performance seems quite generic after Skylar’s, but the judges give it a standing ovation, and Randy says Josh gets “four checks” for each category of the performance. I’m not sure who is giving the fourth check: the ghost of Jimmy Iovine?

Joshua sings “I Am Ready For Love,” displaying an uncharacteristic amount of restraint. It’s nice to hear him sing a ballad and manage to demonstrate his range and ability to sing runs without shrieking or crying or acting like he’s testifying in church, even avoiding a huge ending. The judges give him another standing ovation, this time a little more deservedly. I get the feeling that the two standing ovations are going to come around and result in Joshua being in the bottom three tomorrow night, just because America loves irony like that.

Elise sings “I Want It All,” finding the best groove so far in the night when it comes to a singer putting his her own twist on a Queen song, as she hits the big notes but also throws in her Joplinesque runs and shouts. She looks comfortable, and she’s in her element. The audience is on its feet clapping, and Jennifer’s really into it. The judges adore it, but it’s completely unclear as to why Joshua’s performance gets a standing ovation and Elise’s doesn’t (except that the judges just like Joshua more, maybe.

For some reason, Ryan doesn’t bother introducing most of the songs for the second half of the show, so I have no idea what Elise is singing (it turns out to be Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,”), which isn’t helped by the fact that it’s an extremely twisty, unpredictable song. I think it’s good, but I don’t really know what to look for. Steven chides Elise for picking a song that’s not very familiar, but Jennifer says she sang it well regardless. I hate being the idiot who’s all, “Durrr, I don’t know the song, therefore it’s not good!” That’s not quite how I feel, but I wish I knew more about it to judge it better.

Phillip takes on “Fat Bottomed Girls,” possibly because it’s one of the Queen songs that’s least demanding on one’s range. I’m tired to death of Phillip, so I’m not even going to try to be fair. It’s boring and tedious and worst of all boring, which a Queen cover should never be. Phillip doesn’t attempt to put much charisma in the performance. The band and backing singers are much more entertaining than he is. Steven has taken to throwing insults Phillip’s way but somehow phrases them as compliments, this time praising him on the way he runs out of breath.

Phillip finally fulfills his destiny and sings “The Stone,” a Dave Matthews song, one that’s as unfamiliar and unpredictable to me as Elise's was. I’m not sure this a great idea for him: It’s a little too right-on, sort of what would happen of Elise actually did take on Janis Joplin. The lady violinist and bass saxophone players are cool, though. Jennifer finds it too “obscure and artsy.” I may be mishearing, but I believe I hear Steven say that he doesn’t like the song or the melody but loves the performance. Randy calls the Dave Matthews impersonator an artist for impersonating Dave Matthews.

Hollie delivers Celine Dion realness with “Save Me,” thanks to her neat little suit and rather static physical performance. It’s not terribly special in terms of charisma in the big picture of the night, but we’re talking Hollie here. She sounds good and doesn’t look like a frightened woodland animal, so that’s good. Jennifer repeats the old chestnut about Hollie needing to learn to enjoy herself onstage more.

For the last performance of the night, Hollie chooses “The Climb,” which is an unfortunate dirge-like choice for a little gal who needs to look like she’s having more fun onstage. She sounds strong but Hollie sings so many songs about how difficult she’s fighting that they start to feel exhausting. The judges give her a standing ovation, which I agree with in terms of singing, but in terms of a performance as a whole, I’m not sure that she stepped forward that much with this performance.

I don’t have much more to go on other than my gut anymore in terms of the bottom three, so this time I’ll suggest Joshua, Elise, and Phillip. I wonder how much longer the producers are going to stick with the two-hour format. The episode could have been a lot more fun had it only been Queen, but this time, that second hour felt even less necessary than usual.

Stray observations:

  • Seriously, I love Roger Taylor. I tried to get an AVQ&A going about favorite rock drummers just so I could have an excuse to talk about him.
  •  Jennifer and Steven are both in all metallic, one in gold and one in silver, sort of like a flamboyant R2D2 and an even gayer C3PO.
  • Randy’s “Yo” pin is awesome.
  • No song-by-song mentoring tonight: maybe the producers want to eliminate Jimmy’s voice of reason from the voting process.
  • I confess that while I don’t like Phillip’s performances, I do like how almost uncomfortably-deadpan he is in his video segments. He seems funny.
  • Based on the footage of the contestants talking about each other, I sense that Elise is the least-beloved member of the team.
Filed Under: TV, American Idol

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