Last night on American Idol, the Top 13 performed for us, LIVE, LIVE, LIVE. The guys sang songs from the Stevie Wonder catalogue while the girls honored the late Whitney Houston (that didn’t take long, did it?).
This was especially interesting because for years, Randy Jackson has warned girls to be very careful not to take on big singers like Mariah or Whitney, unless they were ready for it. And now they were all being forced to go after it, ready or not, full steam ahead.
Also Ryan explained that on Thursday night, for the first time on Results Night, it would be Men against Women. Once America votes and ultimately picks the bottom male and female, the judge’s take over and will send someone home. When the contestants heard this, seemingly for the first time, they were pretty surprised.
Here’s how I thought they looked last night:
Joshua Ledet: Joshua sang I Wish, and he really has a perfect vocal tone to cover Stevie Wonder. This was one of the first times we have seen him do something other than a ballad, and he had no problem with the uptempo. He also has great stage presence and he can scat with the best of them. He had the audience fully engaged. It was a great way to start the show.
Elise Testone: Elise planned on singing Greatest Love of All, but mentor Jimmy Iovine didn’t think that was the right song for her. So together they chose I’m Your Baby Tonight, and Elise belted out a very jazzy, soulful version that. It wasn’t however, without its problems. She had some definite flat spots and she was pitchy in some areas, but it had a nice soulful flare to it and she had some nice rolls in there, which is one of her strong suits. Not sure they made up for the pitchiness. After the song, she admitted to Ryan that she really didn’t know the song at all and had only been working on it for a few days. Hmm.. Sorry. No excuse. Especially at this point in the competition.
Jermaine Jones: Jermaine sang Knock Me Off My Feet and his low bass gave it such a different feeling from the Stevie Wonder version. Talk about making a song your own, with his voice, he really has no choice. Yet, despite the major change in keys, he still managed to stay in tune throughout the entire song and roll with it.
Erika Van Pelt: During rehearsals, mentor Mary J Blige told Erika that her voice was like steak and potatoes, not celery and peanut butter. What a great compliment, I think. Erika started out I Believe in You and Me in her low register, and it was hauntingly beautiful. During the song progression, she moved up to the next register, and hit the upper range with no problems whatsoever. This girl can sing. Her tone is rich, clear and full. This is going to be a war between her and Jessica Sanchez. Everyone else is fighting for scraps.
Colton Dixon : Colton attempted Lately, and while he had a couple of nice moments, particularly the last one, I found him to be pitchy and unsure of himself, most notably in the front half of the song. He somehow turned it into a Coldplay song, which made him more comfortable as the song went on, but made me very uncomfortable because I am not a Coldplay fan. But, by the end of the song, he was back in his zone, and it showed in his last note, which he held strong and with some serious confidence for a few seconds.
Shannon Magrane: Shannon belted out I Have Nothing, and in what has become her typical trademark, she segued easily from power vocals to a sweet growl, very much the way Hailey Reinhart did last season. But for the first time we heard some trepidation and some hesitation from Shannon, who is usually fearless. Hopefully it won’t hurt her and she’ll move past this.
Deondre Brackensick: Deondre sang the funkedelic hit, Master Blaster, which was a perfect song choice for him. It fit his whimsical nature and he handled it like a pro. For the first time, we saw much more than just a song full of falsetto. We saw some actual singing with serious rhythm and timing. It brought us back to the way he sang during his auditions, which is what got him here in the first place. I loved the reggae tilt he added to it. I hope this is the Deondre we continue to see.
Skylar Laine: Skylar admitted to Mary J and Jimmy that she has never sang a Whitney song before, so she needed some mentoring, but as it turned out, not a heck of a lot. She was taking on Whitney’s Where Do Broken Hearts Go? And of course, she added a bit of a country twinge to it. But even with that, the chorus didn’t suck. The verses, on the other hand could have been written by Tanya Tucker. As she moved into her power note (or “climbed the ladder” as Steven Tyler put it), she had a couple of rough spots, but when she actually hit it, she really hit it.
HeeJun Han: Hee Jun went with one of Stevie’s ballads, All is Fair in Love, and once again showed the absolute strength and control in his voice. Yet, I still find him to be fairly boring and forgettable. I’d like to see him do something else, but I’m really not sure he can. He still hasn’t won me over completely, despite the fact that he does have a very good voice.
Hollie Cavinaugh: First question is, where does this little person put such a huge voice? That is CRAZY. Now that that is out of the way, Hollie sang All the Man That I Need, and with only a couple of very brief spots of flatness, she was on the money. Her voice was shockingly powerful and rich, a trend we have seen all night with the girls, and when she hit the “glory” note at the end, we all got goosies, not just Jennifer.
Jeremy Rosado: Jeremy went with Ribbon in the Sky and the falsettos and runs in the song were perfect for him. His voice is so smooth and calming, a real pleasure to listen to. Again, just like with HeeJun, a very good voice but BORING. I’m not convinced yet that he can do more. And for the record, I like Jeremy’s voice much better than HeeJun’s.
Jessica Sanchez: No, she didn’t. Uh, yes, she did. Jessica took on THE WHITNEY SONG: I Will Always Love You. She started with a simple, single spotlight on her, a cappella, and her vibrato was magnificent. The first verse was clear, but slightly shaky, as if she was still just a little unsure of herself. She went into the bridge with a little more confidence and when she hit the glory note (and you all know the note of which I’m speaking), um, wow. She went for the gold on this one and stuck the landing. She even got a standing ovation from all three judges. This is going to be hard to beat, and we’re only in Week 1. As I wrote last week, and I might write every week until proven wrong: In the immortal words of ESPN NFL analyst Chris Berman, “She.Could.Go.All.The.Way”
Philip Philips: Phil-Phil sang one of my favorite Stevie songs, Superstition. Of course, he changed up the whole arrangement and really made the song his own, as he does with every song he touches. Not to say it was bad, because it wasn’t. In fact, it was very good. There is no question that Phil-Phil is his own guy up there, or like Randy said, he drives his own car in his own lane up there. The thing is, it’s usually great.
Without question, last night, like last week, the girls were leaps and bounds better than the guys. But, even with that said, I think that a girl is going home tonight.
BOTTOM FEMALE: Elise Testone
BOTTOM MALE: HeeJun Han
GOING HOME: Elise Testone