On Wednesday night, the final five American Idol contestants each performed a song from the 1960s, a British pop song, and one group number. So before we even move on to assigning them grades for their actual performances, some recognition of what they are requested to pull off each week is in order. With this season of contestants there is a level of professionalism unparalleled in other seasons. Gone are the false starts and forgotten lyrics. Instead, viewers are forced to either nitpick or just ignore criticizing the contestants and focus on the judges.
And they make it oh so easy.
But we won't dwell on Randy Jackson's ridiculous nonsensical blathering, Jennifer Lopez's horrific dress choice – or her tendency to say everything twice as if repeating it like a mantra will magically make it worthy of $12 million a year. This American Idol episode we will focus on the contestants and the amazing effort they put forth every week.
This time, Jimmy Iovine was joined by musician turned actor, Steven Van Zandt, who is best known for being a member of the E Street Band. Jimmy and Steven were a rock and roll version of Abbott and Costello and provided some comic relief for the contestants as they grappled with song choices. In the first round, contestants had to choose a song from the 1960s and a British pop song for the second.
Hollie Cavanagh: Steven Van Zandt was rather blunt with Hollie when he told her that she needs to stop trying to please people and just act like she doesn't care what people think. (Colton Dixon and Phillip Phillips could really give her some pointers.) It was feedback that Hollie has heard often throughout this season and she either learns from repetition or somehow Van Zandt struck a chord. Either way, Hollie blossomed on the stage tonight, delivering two stunning performances. Her first, "River Deep, Mountain High," was delivered with something we've never seen from Hollie before - an honest to goodness swagger! She completely owned the stage and looked remarkable in a fantastic Go Go dress with her signature sparkle. The judges all agreed she was one of the strongest out of the gate. A
For her British pop song, Hollie chose Leona Lewis's hit, "Bleeding Love." Poised on the edge of a piano in a black dress with a remarkably long train, Hollie managed to imbue her song with the intimacy that Jimmy and Steven urged her to create. Her vocals were stunning and while the judges were slightly more tepid in their praise for her second song, Hollie still earned well-deserved compliments twice in one show. That must be a record. A
Phillip Phillips: Jimmy and his sidekick Steven bickered about whether Phillips' version of the Box Tops, "The Letter," was successful. Jimmy was concerned that it was dull and lacking melody; Steven insisted that Phillip was great just the way he was. Turns out they were both right. The melody, as all three judges agreed, was essentially stripped from the song but it was replaced with Phil's signature charm and charisma, making it hard to lament over the missing melody. B-
For his second song, Phillip chose "Time of the Season" by The Zombies. Phillip said the song was a little sexy, which normally would have caused me to hyperventilate but after Ryan Seacrest detonated all of my hopes and dreams with the Phillip-has-a-girlfriend-bomb, the passion that once flowed through my veins has been replaced by glacial rivers. His performance was adequate; a couple of times he nearly lulled me back but, in the end, it was just another Phillip performance - brief glimmers of genius tucked away in a humble, mellow package. B
Skylar Laine: Skylar performed Creedence Clearwater Revival's hit, "Fortunate Son." The judges loved Skylar's performance but her trademark pep and oomph is something she really needs to build up to. With "Fortunate Son," the notch was on high from the second she stepped on stage. When Skylar doesn't allow her enthusiasm to build and develop throughout her performance, her pizazz comes off as contrived. B-
For her British pop song, Sklyar chose, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," by Dusty Springfield. The first three quarters of this performance were remarkable. Toward the end she started pushing a bit too hard and sacrificed the emotion of the song but overall it was one of Skylar's better performances. A-
Jessica Sanchez: Jessica selected Ike and Tina Turner's song, "Proud Mary." Idol fans could certainly empathize with Van Zandt when he rolled his eyes and commented on how tired he is of hearing the song. If we had a penny for every contestant who sang this we could pay JLo $13 million to quit. Despite how well Jessica may sing, Steven's reaction to her song selection should have prompted Jimmy to try and convince her to sing something else, not to mention his epiphany from a few weeks back about Jessica being a 16-year-old who needs to perform more age-appropriate songs. Yeah, age-appropriate song selection went out the window this week along with age-appropriate attire. Jessica strutted around the stage in a short, white dress with silver chains that fit her like a second skin and in heels that had to be at least 3" high. The effect? Distasteful. At sixteen and with a voice like hers, she doesn't need to cheapen herself to earn votes. By some miracle, Randy made complete sense when he said it just didn't sit right with him. C-
Thankfully for her British pop song, "You are so Beautiful," by Joe Cocker, Jessica toned down the look and performed the song while seated on a misty stage with candles surrounding her. The second song was successful because the lyrics and her voice were the focal points. It was a spellbinding performance sung with flawless skill and spot-on emotion. A
Joshua Ledet: Joshua lightened up! It was so refreshing to see him donning a shirt with striped, sparkly sleeves and a daffodil on his lapel. (Yes, Ryan that is a daffodil not a tulip.) He performed The Temptations's, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." The judges restrained from jumping to their feet but offered high praise nevertheless, with Steven Tyler saying he was one of the top 2 Idols of all time. B+
It was after his second song, The Bee Gee's classic, "To Love Somebody," that the judges all jumped out of their chairs to demonstrate their endless admiration for his talents. To be fair, Joshua's screaming, which earns him less than glowing accolades in this review, has its place in the music world; James Brown didn't become a legend by singing tender ballads but it seems like the louder that Joshua screams, the more outrageous the judges' praising becomes. Jennifer, so often testing the boundaries of her own credibility, jumped the shark when she declared that Joshua Ledet is one of the best singers she's heard in 50 years. C+
All this focus on bottom three seems arbitrary as the numbers dwindle. Once they get to six contestants, talk of bottom three should be outlawed since half of the contestants will end up there. With five contestants, it is even less relevant to think of it as an indication of performance. But when in Rome . . .
Skylar Laine Phil Phillips Joshua Ledet
Prediction: Skylar Laine will likely be making her exit on Thursday night's results show since she never quite hit that country sweet spot that would have the cowboys and girls clamoring to defend their Mississippi Mama.
Who do you think will get voted off Thursday?