Last Night on American Idol: Top Seven Sing New, Then Go Soul

Last night on American Idol, the show opened up with a slow motion recap of the last two minutes of last week’s debacle. We got a very quick reminder of the bottom three, the ridiculous voting off of Jessica Sanchez, and the subsequent use of the Judge’s Save to keep her on.

This was immediately followed by Ryan giving a very quick salute to the passing of legend Dick Clark. Then, it was on with the show.

Last night’s theme was the always popular Now and Then: The remaining contestants each had to sing one song since the year 2000 and one song from the soul era, ironically honoring Soul Train and the late Don Cornelius.

Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie started the show with Adele’s Grammy winning Record of the Year, Rolling in the Deep. She couldn’t have possibly picked a song more suited for the richness of her voice. When this girl is on, she is really on. And she was on tonight like we haven’t seen her in weeks. She finally listened to the judges’ advice to stop listening to all of the technical advice while she’s up on stage and just let the music do its thing. When she does that, she is oh so good. And, she finally received an actual, honest to God complement from Steven Tyler, who told her, “I can’t judge it. It was perfect.”

Colton Dixon: Colton sang Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. For the record, I hate this song. Ryan asked Colton if it was comfortable for him. I really don’t care about his comfort level. I was uncomfortable with it. Actually, it was MUCH better and far less obnoxious than Gaga’s version and I hope that when Colton puts out his album, this is on it and it replaces her version. Not really. The whole song just seemed off. And that’s actually saying a lot for this song, which always seems a bit, well, off.

Elise Testone: After Elise found herself in the bottom three yet again last week, she really had to do something special this week to redeem herself. She tried it with her version of Alicia Keys’ No One. She sang it with her signature growls and changes in register. And she very nearly pulled it off. With only a couple of exceptional very poor weeks, I think Elise has had a pretty crappy rap on this show. She’s had to go up against some major powerhouses and she’s really held her own against them. Like Haley last season, her voice is very unique and may be more suited for a small venue of 500 people and a grand piano than the big stage. And there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that. The music industry needs those people too.

Philip Philips: Phil-Phil completely re-engineered Usher’s U Got It Bad, and turned it into a completely different song than the original. The song was great to start with, and Phil-Phil couldn’t really make it any better, but he certainly didn’t hurt it at all. His melody was beautiful, and his slow tempo was soothing. Comparing it to Kris Allen’s stripped down version of Kanye’s Heartbreaker a few years ago is a very reasonable comparison. In fact, I’ll even go a step further and say that like Kris Allen did that season, Phil-Phil is stripping down nearly every song he touches and making them completely his own. If you recall, Kris did that with several songs as well: She Works Hard for Her Money, Heartbreaker, and Ain’t No Sunshine immediately spring to mind.

Jessica Sanchez: Jessica showed off her vocal chops in a big way, and showed America what a mistake they made last week as she tore down the house with Alicia Keys’ Fallin. At least that was the case for the front half of the song. She tailed off a little in the back half and was just good, but even her “good”, is still better than most. The one area where Jessica continues to excel, and really do well at, is her vocal range and control. And she showed both again during this performance. It was calm, measured, and as she took her time with each note and phrase, there was little doubt that she knew exactly what it was that she wanted to do with it. She was in total command up there. Still unbelievable for a 16-year old.

Skylar Laine: Skylar went country again, no shock there. But what was a surprise was her turning Lady Gaga’s Born This Way into a country song, complete with a dude on a fiddle. She was all over the place on this one and overall, I was left unimpressed. And for the record, (like you care) I like this Gaga song. But, a fiddle does not a county song make, no matter how much people want to try. (yeah, Kristy Lee Cook, I’m talking to you, still).

Joshua Ledet: Joshua sang his own personal idol, Fantasia Barrino’s Idol Coronation hit, If You Believe. The only thing that was missing was the confetti falling. I think I even saw some tears. While he sang with intense passion, I heard far more screaming in his upper ranges than what we usually hear and he seemed to have some problems with some of his runs up there as well.

Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie started the second half of the show with Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man. She seemed to have some problems catching her breath, but to be fair, there are a lot of lyrics in that chorus, and in that song in general. Great soul in the song, and continuing from the first half of the show, she was able to handle that part of it with no problem.

Colton Dixon: OK, most of the songs that Colton has “Coltonized” have turned out pretty well. Earth, Wind, and Fire’s September definitely was NOT one of them. There was not a single part of that song that was good. He took a great, soulful, jazzy hit and turned it into an emo, Coldplay sounding suck-fest. He needs a trip to the Gray Chairs of Doom for this one. This capped what was perhaps Colton’s worse night of the competition. Now let’s see if the voters are true and let him know it.

Elise Testone: For this round, Elise picked the classic soulful Let’s Get It On, by the late great Marvin Gaye. She reverted back to using her voice the way she knows how: using her vibrato and her growl to their fullest potential. And this is the exact soulful, sexy, bluesy type of song she should be singing and using it for. Singers like Elise and Haley come around once in a blue moon. For Jazz and Blues lovers, we were lucky to see them two seasons in a row.

Phillip Phillips: For his second song choice, Phil-Phil went with the great Wilson Pickett hit, Wait for the Midnight Hour. It really was a great song choice for him and fit his unique style quite well. He was so comfortable, in fact, that he didn’t even need a guitar for this one. He was just movin’ and grooving up there. He really is about 40 years past his time. When he’s holding his guitar, he makes me think of a cross between John Meyer and Joe Cocker. When he puts the guitar down, he reminds me a little of Peter Wolf from the J Geils Band (yeah, I’m showing my age a little). In case you didn’t know, these are all compliments of the highest order.

Jessica Sanchez: Jessica went all out soul with Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness, and it was good. This was the same Jessica we saw in her Las Vegas group audition singing Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. It had soul, sass, and some serious kick ass emotion behind it. She was trying a little too hard in the second half, and she ended up screaming a little, but overall it was very good.

Skylar Laine: Skylar put a country spin a yet another song, this time Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine. And once again she brought her fiddler with her. Like Colton, this was a lousy remake. I think I must just be old school, because some things just shouldn’t be screwed around with. And you can add this song to the list.

Joshua Ledet: Joshua picked the absolute perfect song to flex his vocal muscles, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. He took his time and let the song built up around him, letting each note fall where it was supposed to. He let the emotion of the words do the talking for him, and he let the history of what the song represents lead the way to the rest (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, take 5 minutes and look it up. You’ll be a better person for it). It was a very powerful performance and he couldn’t have been any better. Easily the performance of the night.