Last night on American Idol, the six remaining finalists had the rare privilege of not only being allowed to sing songs from the Queen catalog, but they also kicked off the show with a pretty impressive Queen medley with Queen drummer Roger Taylor and lead guitarist Brian May. Yeah, if you can’t tell, I’m a huge Queen fan (I guess we can get that out of the way now. I’ll even go one step further and tell you, in full disclosure, that Freddie Mercury is my all-time favorite vocalist. Just so you know where we’re all coming from).
Normally, I don’t comment on the group songs because quite frankly, they suck. This week’s was a rare exception. And not only because they were singing Queen. It was actually very good. It should be no surprise that resident rocker Elise Testone rocked it, and Philip Phillips sounded great during his lines. Joshua Ledet gave the appropriate rasp and soul to his parts, and even Skylar Laine managed to put her spurs up long enough to rock it out.
Of course, having Brian May wailing on his guitar next to you can’t hurt one bit.
The contestants would first sing one Queen song, then one song that they chose.
Jessica Sanchez: Jessica took the biggest song out of the box right out of the gate as she started the show with Queen’s anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody. Go big or go home, right? She started the first verse slow and metered, quite beautiful actually. Once she let loose on the rock portion, she showed great control. No screaming and no loss of vocal measure. Overall, not her best, but very good, especially since we know young Jessica is not a rocker.
Skylar Laine: Skylar took on another one of Freddie Mercury’s vocal monsters with The Show Must Go On. I’m not going to lie. I was a little scared when I heard Skylar was going to be singing this. This is a big, big song and she does not have the vocal control to handle it. The first half was very good. She was in tune and her runs stayed in her range. The back half was a different story. The song started getting too big for her and as she tried to go into her upper modulation, she was screaming more than singing. I will say, in Skylar’s defense that is a hard, hard song to sing. Several register and modulation changes to adjust to. Oh wait, it’s like most Queen songs.
Joshua Ledet: Joshua picked a great song for his vocal styling with Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Queen may not have a more soulful, jazzy song, and that is exactly what Joshua needs to excel in this competition. The only song that would have been better for him might have been Somebody to Love. With that song, he really could have showed some serious range and vocal depth. That said, he did a very good job with Crazy…, and had a nice change to the arrangement in the back half. The dude can perform, no doubt. Randy compared him to Sam Cooke, but he reminds me more of Jackie Wilson, Mr. Entertainment.
Elise Testone: Elise sang the hard rock song, I Want It All, and she made some serious steps back to that great place she landed when she sang Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love a few weeks ago. The breaks after each bar of the chorus gave the song the real credence that it needed, and it gave it real power.
Philip Philips: Phil-Phil started Fat Bottom Girls with a chorus trio behind him, and he stayed truer to this song than any song he has performed thus far in the competition. No going off on his own thing. No changing up the arrangement, no ad libs. Just singing the song the way it was written. And it was great. He gets bonus points for clearly having so much fun during the performance, but how can you not have fun singing that song (Sing along, you know you want to):
I was just a skinny lad/Never knew no good from bad/But I knew life before I left my nursery –
Left alone with big fat Fanny/She was such a naughty nanny/Heap big woman you made a bad boy out of me
Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie slowed things down considerably with Save Me, which was kind of a weird choice, if not an outright plea. Almost like a Charlotte Church song in the middle of a Judas Priest concert. Very out of place. But I guess like others before her, she had to find the Queen song that fit her comfort zone. She sounded great, and it was a solid performance. It was just very out of place. This might be the final nail in her coffin.
All three judges selected Skylar for the first round, but I really think that both Joshua and Phil-Phil were better.
Jessica Sanchez: Jessica started this round singing Dancing with My Father, by the late, great , Luther Vandross as a tribute to her own father, who is leaving soon on deployment to Singapore. A back story like that will always add that extra sauce to the meat of a song like this, whether it needed it or not. To say it was beautiful, heartfelt and full of emotion doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface. This is the kind of music this girl needs to be singing, slow, meaningful, heartfelt ballads.
Skylar Laine: Hey, Skylar went all country for her second song. How about that? She sang Jason Aldean’s new hit, Tattoos on This Town. I guess it was alright, but it was so twangy I was driven to distraction. Was there a hoedown in town that I missed?
Joshua Ledet: For his second performance, Joshua slowed things down with the soulful Ready for Love, by India Arie. This earned him yet another standing ovation by the judges and audience. They have watered down the standing ovations so much this season that they have been rendered meaningless at this point. I think at one point last night I saw them giving Debbie the Stage Manager a standing ovation for fixing Ryan’s jacket mic as they came back from a break. Anyway, back to Joshua, I’m not sure I liked the first half. It seemed a little slow and off-key. But the back half was riveting. His run at the end was near pitch-perfect.
Elise Testone: Elise stayed in her rock mode for the second portion of the show, with Jimi Hendrix’s Bold as Love. She didn’t quite pull it off, and sound screamy in some places, particularly her upper register. In other places, she sounded great. But how well do the voters know the song? Steven doesn’t think they know it well enough to help her and this really shocked her as she thought it was a very popular song. I think it’s a pretty popular song as well, but not to the voting population of this show.
Phillip Phillips: Steven Tyler didn’t like his second song choice, and I wasn’t crazy about it either. He sang Dave Matthews’ The Stone . It was different and unique, which isn’t to say that it was good in this case. And it won’t get him to the finals. He should be thankful that his first song was so good or he’d be going to the Gray Chairs of Doom for sure. I’m still not sure that he won’t. Oh, by the way, Skylar should take notes here. He had an awesome fiddler next to him, and he did not feel the need to sing a country song. Just sayin…
Hollie Cavinaugh: Choosing her own song, Hollie chose Miley Cyrus’s The Climb, and it sounded better than the original. She was clearly very comfortable singing this new power ballad. Some of the words sounded a little clipped, but her runs were powerful and magnificent. Miley couldn’t do that if she made a deal with the devil himself. This was a great song to redeem herself from her first song. It still may not keep her around, but she’ll go out with her head held high. And should I mention that it received yet another standing ovation from the judges?
BOTTOM THREE: HOLLIE CAVINAUGH, PHILLIP PHILLPS, ELISE TESTONE
GOING HOME: ELISE TESTONE (and not because she wasn’t good. More because the voting population won’t get her)