American Idol: “7 Finalists Compete Again”
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American Idol: “7 Finalists Compete Again”

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American Idol

“7 Finalists Compete Again”

Season 11, Episode 29

Tonight’s theme is “Now And Then,” as the contestants each get two songs to themselves. First, they each sing a number-one hit released anytime between 2000 and now, along with a soul song from “back in the day” that’s somehow loosely tied to Soul Train.

The show begins with Steven and Jennifer strutting onto the stage in Major League Celebrity Gear, Steven with the indoor sunglasses and Jennifer in a dress that bares her midriff and pretends to bare her boobs, but I don’t care, because Kris Allen is in the audience, and he’s one of my favorite alums of the show. Ryan emerges with his Official Sad Face on, and we all know why. He makes a point of saying that Dick Clark was a dear friend of his and then speculates about what ol’ Dick would want for tonight: to get the show moving (as opposed to one more New Year’s Eve). I wonder what Brian Dunkleman is thinking right now. Something like, “You cock.”

Hollie kicks things off with “Rolling In The Deep,” a song I could live without hearing for a little while. Jimmy works with her (sans mentor) on how to drop her stage fright, and it seems to pay off. Hollie doesn’t re-invent the wheel with the performance, but it’s her strongest to date, both in terms of voice and stage presence (maybe it’s the magic crystals around her neck). The judges are finally glad to have something nice to say to her.

For her second song, Hollie sings “Son Of A Preacher Man.” I’m not quite sure about this song for her: Since it’s basically about boning, it’s a little strange to see doll-like Hollie belting it out, in a Barbie-pink dress no less. However, confidence and vocals-wise, she’s on a roll from her earlier performance, and she actually does a pretty great job. It’s Hollie’s best night to date.

Colton’s put a streak of red in his hair, making him look even more like a rooster than usual. Prior to his performance, Ryan brings his sister Schyler up onstage to rub it in her face even more how she tried out for the show, but it’s her brother who’s famous and everyone loves! Isn’t that crazy, Schyler?! Why are you crying, Schyler?!? Colton takes on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” which is an interesting choice that I like to think is another step in his gradual direction of coming out. I like his all-female backing band, but the performance lacks a backbone, a dick, or some sort of authority. Colton seems to be trying to channel Adam Lambert, but the singing (especially on the bridge) and arrangement come up short, despite the fancy jacket and lights and the steam. The judges both acknowledge that it wasn’t his strongest, yet praise him at the same time, because they’re dumb.

Colton takes on “September” for his second song, taking it down low and serious, which rather sucks all the fun out of the song. I always like to think of it as a fun, late-summer wedding-type tune, but Colton makes it a melancholy, end-of-summer song. It’s not bad (and is more interesting and better-sounding than his first song), but it’s just different, and the judges don’t care for it.

Jimmy chats Elise up about how nobody loves her: Without putting too fine a point on it, he acknowledges that she lacks the fanbase that Colton, Phillip and the younger contestants have. I’m not sure what that does for Elise, but I respect Jimmy for addressing that with her honestly. Elise takes on “No One” by Alicia Keys. She resembles Mariah Carey as she sings, with a flowy dress and wind machine and hair color that matches her skin. Randy praises her for staying with the melody the entire song but between her staying true to the tune and standing in one place, it was forgettable for Elise. Her voice sounds great, but she can deliver more as a performer. After her performance, Elise chokes up thinking about her sick dog as Ryan makes it sound like she sang “No One” for him (her?).

Elise sings “Let’s Get It On” for her second song, sitting seductively on a couch that looks like a bird.  It’s nice hearing a gal’s take on the song, although at times her squealing makes her sound like she’s taking the performance less than seriously, and not in a good way. The judges don’t think Elise has found her sweet spot tonight. Jennifer opines Elise should show more vulnerability when she sings, and forces Elise to think about her dog again.

Maybe I’m just missing something when it comes to Phillip. First, he sings “You Got It Bad” by Usher, and while the genre change is interesting, all I can think as he sings is, “I wonder if he’s capable of singing normally without that growl in his voice. Actually, I’m sure he can,” as well as “The lyrics to this song are pretty stupid.” It’s fine for a Phillip performance if you like that Phillip sort of thing. The judges give him a standing ovation, and Randy calls him a “true artist” and praises him for being himself.  I feel insane.

Phillip takes on “In The Midnight Hour” for his second song, which, for such a simple song, more clearly reveals to me the limits of his range. Per above, I am unimpressed, but the judges are impressed like cuneiform.

Jimmy and Jessica try to figure out what went wrong last week, and he encourages her to have a little bit more fun with her performance. She takes on Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” and throws just about every vocal trick she’s got at the song. She looks like a disco queen with big hair, a harem-pant jumpsuit, gigantic earrings, and what appears to be a Native American purse around her neck. “The girl blew the box out the song,” Randy articulates, but does she appear to have more fun with the song? I’m not sure. Jessica sure can sing, but she comes across as a little distant and hard to root for sometimes, so maybe that’s America’s issue with her.

Jessica’s second song is “Try A Little Tenderness,” not missing a single opportunity to smear melisma, vibrato and stuttering words over every note. There’s no doubt the little girl has lots of power, but I miss the build the song has: The big ending has less of an impact when the song starts with as big a beginning. To my dismay, Jennifer refers to Jessica’s alter ego, thereby giving it legitimacy, but at least she fails to remember its name.

Skylar doesn’t change my opinion tonight that she’s the one to win. First, she takes on Gaga’s country version of “Born This Way.” This version, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been sucked of its gay pride roots, but Skylar still sings it defiantly, mugging with her face-making violinist and overcoming her horrible outfit (a silver vest belted over a silky bathrobe over leather pants.) She pulls some notes out of the song that I haven’t heard before and sings it with the confidence that Colton lacked. It’s a smart choice for her, continuing her “country but not THAT country” theme.

Skylar sings “Heard It Through The Grapevine”—country style!—for her second song. Even though she’s back with her hammy violinist, it actually shows that she’s comfortable in a lot of genres besides country. It makes me sad that the other singers don’t try to take on other styles as much as she does. Skylar should get extra credit for that, in addition to her big ole voice and attitude. Randy astutely points out that Skylar’s already got a brand.

Jimmy tries to get Joshua to figure out what it was that sent him to the bottom three last week, and Joshua seems unable to pinpoint anything in particular. Tonight, he sings Fantasia’s “I Believe,” which is a song you either find inspirational or simply banally positive in the manner of an American Idol finale song. I’m in the latter camp. It’s boilerplate Joshua, eliciting a standing ovation from the judges, but not delivering anything different that would create new Joshua fans. Joshua seems less than confident when Ryan asks him if he sang the song with Fantasia’s winning moment in mind.

For the night’s final song, Joshua sings “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which is a song that should be retired from this show, since for all intents and purposes it should be retitled “I Care About Things More Than The Other Contestants Do.” To his credit though, Joshua keeps it understated for the first half of the song before giving it the Joshua treatment, which is nice: He lets the song speak for itself without treating it too much like it’s his vocal playground. The judges stand up all serious-like, as much for the song as for the performance, I’m convinced.

Who will be in the bottom three tomorrow night? Elise and Colton were the only singers who got any negative feedback from the judges, but, between the voters’ disdain for the judges’ opinion and the honest-to-God talent of the singers, it’s getting hard to predict. I’ll guess that maybe it’s just the end of last chances for Elise.

Stray observations:

  • I do miss the duets.
  • For Hollie’s “Rolling In The Deep,” it was funny to see the backup singers not onstage but on the screen behind her.
  • Hollie’s celebrity doppelganger is Lea Thompson.