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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Idol: “Performance Show”

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Last week, after Skylar was kicked off, I decided this was the most boring top four in Idol history, but perhaps I’m just mad because none of my favorites made it to this point. Earlier today, out of fairness, I tried to gauge how the last few seasons stacked up in terms of how interesting the final four was. Let’s see: In Season 10, we had James, Haley, Scotty, and Lauren, none of whom I adored, but looking back, I give credit to James for being entertaining and different, Haley for her voice and stage presence, and, if anything, Scotty for making us all watch in amazement as that weird-looking kid actually went and won everything. I recall Season nine’s top four of Crystal, Lee, Casey, and Michael being painfully dull, but Crystal and Casey at least seemed to bring a little grit to the season, compared to the four well-scrubbed, non-tattooed young folks we see onstage this season. Season eight was my favorite top four in Idol history, as I actively enjoyed watching Adam, Kris, and Allison perform and enjoyed rooting against Danny Gokey perhaps even more.

A large part of my issue with this season’s final four is a mere matter of taste and probably musical snobbery. I think Joshua Ledet can sing for sure, but his style is a gimmick that’s been brought out too often for me to appreciate very much. I took no issue with the judges’ standing ovation after his rendition of “It's a Man's Man's Man's World,” but I would have enjoyed it more if it didn’t seem like a.) he delivered the same performance every week, and b.) he reserved his screaming for the really special performances. It’s like if he cried after every performance and the judges congratulated him each time on his emotion: You’d think that eventually, they’d just ask him to keep it together for once. Then again, Randy confessed that he didn’t expect Joshua to get so spiritual on Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” which is like saying you didn’t expect a Jacuzzi would be so hot and wet.


While Joshua’s style doesn’t typically do it for me, at least we, and he, have a sense of who he is onstage. Jessica Sanchez, on the other hand, has not established who she is, beyond BeyonceMariahCareyJenniferHudsonWhitneyHouston. The “growl” that Jennifer wrongfully praised in Jessica’s take on “Steal Away” sounded just as contrived as she admitted it was. (She got it from listening to other singers.) The girl has done such a flawless job emulating her vocal divas that she forgot to figure out what makes her different along the way, so while she did an excellent job singing “And I Am Telling You,” (certainly not undeserving of a standing ovation), the song and the style felt a little outdated, a little a-few-seasons-ago. Even if Jessica sang the song flawlessly (which she damn near did), why wouldn’t she want to take on a song that could be forever-known as Jessica Sanchez’s song, as opposed to trying to make us forget about Jennifer Hudson? Perhaps Jessica shouldn’t have to establish Who She Is when she’s such a good singer, except for the fact that there’s Phillip, who is so full of Who He Is-ness that he doesn’t even need to sing.

Phillip Phillips has coasted by on his wry charm, his understated style, and his comfy-shoe whiteness for weeks, beating out the competition for reasons I can’t completely divine. The judges claim he’s a visionary, and an artiste like no other, but what about all the other contestants, the Krises, the Adams, the Casey (Abrams)es, who did exactly what Phillip does? Phillip actually did deliver a lovely version of “Volcano” tonight (although I think his lone backup singer should get a lot of props), but make no mistake about it, his version of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” was putrid. He was out of tune, and the sax-laden production was cheesy. The judges almost always decline to criticize him, however, which is my least-favorite part of this season. It’s fine if they don’t want to take him to task for rarely taking risks or having little stage presence, but they don’t even mention it when he blatantly sings poorly. Like with Joshua’s excess of screaming, it renders the rest of their praise meaningless.

Then we get to Hollie, whose popularity is maybe the biggest and yet most easily-explained mystery. She was shaky tonight on Journey’s “Faithfully” (a strange choice, as it was a song she’d clearly never heard prior to tonight) and then blew a big chance by getting too emotional on “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The girl chokes, and she’s stiff onstage, so why does she survive week to week? Apparently for being the underdog: a vulnerable, doll-like underdog (which is why Elise didn’t get to wear that mantle).

When it comes to consistency and vocals, there’s no doubt that Jessica and Joshua should make up the show’s finale, but Hollie’s existence at this stage in the competition throws me for a loop when it comes to how the country is voting. (Of course I think Phillip is the least deserving of all the contestants, but I get it: a lot of America’s females want to stick their goods in his pawn shop display case.)


Stray observations:

  • If I seemed extra crabby tonight, I had to leave a charity event early where Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy was scheduled to perform. He walked past me as I left, but I didn’t get the chance to ask him about how much he likes Phillip Phillips.
  • Did Ryan call James Brown godfather of funk?
  • The theme of tonight, in case you couldn't divine from the song choices, was "California songs" and "Songs that inspired the singers." So essentially, "Just…whatever."
  • The strangest celebrity call-out of the season: Randy Jackson asking Julian Lennon how much he enjoyed “And I Am Telling You.”
  • How in the hell did Phillip sneak a bottle of SmartWater onstage?
  • Step right up, folks, and see the amazing Randy Jackson! He played in Journey! Did you know that?
  • Nobody seemed to enjoy or believe Ryan Seacrest’s fake proposal to his girlfriend more than Ryan Seacrest.
  • Is it possible that the over-production of the show is killing it a bit? The big dumb swings on Hollie and Jessica’s duet, the “choreography” from Tabitha and Napoleon… there’s something to be said for showmanship, but on the other hand, holy shit, how many cooks made this damn broth?
  • ”Eternal Flame” should only be sung by the Bangles or girls at summer camp using their flashlights as microphones.
  • I am kind of (secretly, guiltily) excited for Rock Of Ages. I wonder if Jeff Tweedy is too.