American Idol Recap: Top 8 Take on the 80’s

Last night on American Idol, the Top eight remaining finalists performed songs from the 80’s. Yeah, it was a time that brought us shoulder boards and polyester track suits, things we could have easily done without. But it also brought us some pretty decent music.

Some of the contestants even managed to tap into that musical gold mine and performed some of them, and some didn’t.

Working with mentor Jimmy Iovine this week, but barely contributing anything of significant note, was singer Gwen Stefani and her No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal. Also, I will mention that like last week, this week’s show was two hours long when it could have easily been 90 minutes. This week, they used the extra time to intersperse the contestants in various duets. It was far better than the God-awful group numbers (some of them were much better), but I’m still not going to discuss them any further in this column.

DeAndre Brackensick: DeAndre was one that initially didn’t seem to pick a great song. He went with DeBarge’s I Like It , a song that seemed like such a bad choice that Jimmy Iovine put him in the bottom three before he even performed. Well, he started out in his standard falsetto, but by the middle frame of the song, he dropped the falsetto and was actually singing for a change. And when he sings, this guy can put some serious soul into his vocals. He was much better than Jimmy gave him credit for. I think it was one of his better performances in the past several weeks.

Elise Testone: Elise took a deep breath this week after last week’s intense rockin’ Led Zeppelin display and slowed things down with Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is. After a few solid weeks, this was a pretty weak performance, with notes all over the place. It really wasn’t a very good song choice. She should have gone with something from Tom Petty, maybe Free Fallin’ might have been good if she was going for something a little less raucous.

Phillip Phillps: Phil-Phil took his unique take on Genesis’ That’s All. He brought his brother-in-law up on stage to play alongside, and they were very good together. They clearly have done this before. It was a pretty subdued performance compared to others we’ve seen from him. The guitar breaks throughout the song made the song very unique and special. As always, he was true to only himself, and it’s almost impossible to hit on someone for that, especially when they consistently sound so damn good doing it.

Joshua Ledet: The song started with a choir, then Joshua stepped out from behind a sliding wall and sang Simply Red’s version of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s souful 70’s smash, If You Don’t Know Me By Now and somehow made it even more soulful than the original. He sang it better than any song he’s sang in weeks. Over the past couple of weeks, Joshua has been slipping a little. But he shot back up again with a fine performance last night. This is the type of song he needs to be singing: power ballads that he can put a gospelesque feel to (yeah, I just made up a new word), and where he can show off his range and power at the same time and bring home the emotion that we know he has. If he can keep doing that, there may not be any stopping him.

Jessica Sanchez: For the second time in this competition, Jessica tackled a Whitney Houston song. The first time was during Whitney Week, so that really doesn’t count even though she nailed it. This week, Jessica went with How Will I Know, and it was absolutely effortless. I know it’s cliché, and I’m sorry, but that really is the word that comes to mind when I watch her. Absolutely effortless. She just makes it look so friggin’ easy. She hit all of her notes and was in perfect pitch throughout the entire song. Week after week this girl nails her performance. Now, she has to work on connecting with the audience. A quick read of various American Idol Boards show that viewing audiences love her voice, yet seem to have no connection with her performance at all. This will get her sent home, exactly the way it sent Pia Toscano home last season. And that will be a real shame.

Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie sang Irene Cara’s What a Feeling, the theme song from Flashdance. It wasn’t her best, most powerful performance, but she had some nice runs, especially toward the end. The second half of the song was much better than the front half. All three judges told her that she’s listening to what everyone is telling her but she’s thinking too much and she needs to let go once she gets up on stage. To me, that means that technically, she’s spot on, but she’s not feeling the music. And I think you can really see that and feel it in her songs. She has the potential to have one of the best vocals there if she can put it all together.

Colton Dixon: Colton, sans piano, took on Cyndi Lauper’s classic hit, Time After Time. The upper register that he normally sings in was really perfect for this song. He changed the arrangement just slightly, but it was just enough to make a difference, and the differences were good ones. The runs in the second half of the song were well placed and right on target. The best thing Colton has going for him is like Jessica, what he does seems to some very naturally with very little effort to him on stage. But unlike Jessica, he has a very strong connection to both every song he performs and the audience. This will take him far. Maybe to the finals.

Skylar Laine: Skylar sang one of the 80’s ultimate tearjerker songs (Thank you, J-Lo for proving my point and crying) from one of the 80’s ultimate tearjerker movies, Beaches, with Bette Midler’s classic Wind Beneath My Wings. She was flat in some places, and a little pitchy and a little screamy in other areas as she tried to wring every emotion possible out of the song. She received a standing ovation from the judges, but I’m not convinced it was warranted in this case. The run at the end was nice, but the song was oversung. Randy said this was her best performance and I’m not sure I agree. It was good, but not that good. Maybe Hollie should have sung this one.