American Idol Recap: Top Ten Perform From the Billy Joel Songbook

Last night on American Idol, the Top Ten remaining contestants regaled us with songs from the Billy Joel songbook.

At the start of the show, judge Steven Tyler informed us that in his opinion, if you can’t sing Billy Joel, than you can’t sing at all.

DeAndre Brackenridge: DeAndre was the first contestant to give Billy Joel a shot, singing the classic, Only the Good Die Young. Mentor Jimmy Iovine reminded him that he has to smile. He also instructed him to be thinking about teenagers singing to good Catholic girls doing things that their parents don’t want them to do. Hmm. Actually, that was pretty good advice even though I’m not sure young DeAndre really got it. The front part of the song was pretty flat and weak. In fact, the whole song lacked the strength and verve that DeAndre usually gives to his songs. I don’t think he was totally invested in this one and it showed.

Erika Van Pelt: Erika sang the infamous New York State of Mind, one of Billy Joel’s most beautiful songs. Mentor P. Diddy suggested that she sing the song like she’s a native New Yorker singing it in Yankee Stadium and not a visitor. Her makeover with Tommy Hilfinger has her looking completely different. She lost her blonde hair and went with a severe dark cut, looking more like Pink. I love the tone of her voice, and it’s perfect for the tempo of this song. She managed to maintain the melody throughout the entire song, no small feat and once again she showed great control. The run at the end was fantastic.

Joshua Ledet: Last week, Joshua brought the house down with his version of Michael Bolton’s When a Man Loves a Woman. This week, he toned it down with She’s Got a Way. After having some problems in the mentoring session, he worked it out for the live show. It still had a lot of pitch problems and it was a far departure from his great performances of the past two weeks. Like DeAndre, Joshua had no connection to this song. I have to say, I was stunned that Steven Tyler was not familiar with this song. It’s not like it wasn’t hugely popular when it came out (#23 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, #4 on Adult Contemporary Charts in 1982).

Skylar Laine: Skylar took Shameless and completely countrified it. It would have been right at home coming out of Garth Brooks’ Songbook instead of Billy Joel’s. Oh wait, it did. There’s something wrong with this picture. Brooks had a Number One Country hit with this song. Billy Joel had it as filler on his Stormfront album that never went higher than 40 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Charts. Note to Nyles Lythgoe or Ken Warwick: I’m officially calling for a rules change here. Anyway, even going country, Skylar was pitchy and her notes were bouncing around a lot more than usual. She didn’t seem nearly as much in control of the song or as comfortable as she usually does.

Elise Testone: Elise sang the little known Vienna, from The Stranger album. Even though it wasn’t a well-known song, she still earned a standing ovation from the judges and the audience. The grittiness of her voice was perfect for soulfulness of this song, which has a nice deep jazz base. She really showed some serious vocal abilities with the run at the end, with her voice fluctuating between several ranges, never cracking. She even topped last week’s performance of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Hopefully her great performance will overcome the unknown song and it will keep her out of the bottom three.

Phillip Phillips: During the make-over session with Tommy Hilfinger, Tommy told Phil-Phil, “not to be rude, but I think you need help.” And Phil told him, no. He likes gray on gray. Phil sang his own version of Movin’ Out. Diddy and Jimmy took his guitar away to take him out of his comfort zone and had him sing to a group of girls. And yes, he was clearly uncomfortable. Back on the Idol stage, thankfully he ignored the mentors and had his guitar back in hand. Like every song he performs, Phil completely changed the arrangement to make the song his own. And I know we say that a lot, but he really made the song his. It wasn’t even the same song. But it was still good, really good. This guy knows who he is and nothing is changing him. Not even Tommy Hilfinger.

Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie stayed with the power ballad theme, well, as much as you can get with Billy Joel, and sang Honesty. The first bar had some pitch problems, but in her defense, it’s a little hard to stay on pitch when you’re practically speaking, which is mostly what this song is (during the verses, anyway). By the time she got to the bridge and chorus, she was back in full range power mode again and sounding pretty good. However, this was still not nearly as good of a performance as we’ve seen from her in the past, but I really think it was a case of the song more than the singer. In other words, awful song choice. Sadly, I’m afraid it’s going to send her to the GRAY CHAIRS OF DOOM.

Heejun Han: For the first time in this competition, Heejun, (who should have gone home after last week’s disaster and will now be named Sanjaya II for the remainder of his time here), moved away from ballads and tried to rock it with his own version of My Life. He was better than last week, but he was still pitchy and out of breath in places as he ran around the stage. Certainly not the best performance of the night, and I’m still not convinced that he’s even taking this competition seriously yet. And neither is Steven Tyler, who was clearly not amused with his antics and asked him “if he’s happy that he took the piss out that song?” But the best line of the night came from P. Diddy during the mentoring session, when he commented that he doesn’t know if he’s an actor, or a conman… “I don’t even know if he’s really Asian.”

Jessica Sanchez: Jessica started her mentoring session with Diddy and Jimmy by oversinging Everybody Has a Dream. Diddy advised her that less is more, while Jimmy advised that it’s more believable if she tones it down and sings it to someone. Once she arrived to the live stage, she started slowly and took her time, building to the crescendo. Her voice was smooth and silky, and when she needed to use the power at the end, she brought it out. She didn’t overdo and she listened to the advice given. It earned her a standing ovation from all three judges and it was well deserved.

Colton Dixon: Colton sat down at the piano and rang out his rendition of Piano Man (c’mon, you knew someone had to sing it, although I was really hoping for Elise). During the mentoring session, Diddy declared that it was so good, he wished it was on a record so he could go buy it. During the live show, the spots pointing up, surrounding the red grand piano was some fantastical stage lighting. Vocally, Colton kept it simple and beautiful. The first three quarters of the song was just him and his piano, then the last quarter the rest of the band jumped in. Like Jessica before him, this was a case where less was more. It was magnificent in its simplicity. His voice pitched and broke at the right moments to lend the song even more emotion. There is no doubt that he felt every note of this song. Probably Colton’s best performance to date. My biggest problem was AFTER the song, when he told Ryan that he was praying before the performance and he asked God to use him. If he wants to pray, that’s his business and that’s fine. He doesn’t have to tell the world. That might turn some people off.

BOTTOM THREE: Heejun Han, Skylar Laine, Hollie Cavinaugh

GOING HOME: Heejun Han (if there is any justice in this crazy Idol World)