American Idol Review & Recap: Final Four California Dreamin’

Last night on American Idol, the four remaining contestants once again sang two songs apiece. First, each sang a choice from California Dreamin, songs from, or about, the great Golden State. Then, in the second half of the show they each sang songs that they wish they had written, or as Ryan Seacrest put it (which made a lot more sense), songs that inspired them.

For a nice change of pace, there was very little pre-amble to this show, and our first contestant was on stage performing by 8:06.

Phillip Phillips: Phil-Phil sang Credence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? I thought it was way too mellow, flat, and “Unplugged”. The judges loved it. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I will say that on a second listen the back half of the song didn’t suck. Last week, Skylar Laine sang CCR’s Fortunate Son, and she really did a much better job capturing the essence of what John Fogerty was about. Phil-Phil missed it entirely and left me feeling empty.

Hollie Cavinaugh: Hollie stuck with her ballads, where she has proven to do her best thus far. This week she took on the iconic Faithfully, by Journey. She started off in a much lower register than she is usually comfortable with and stayed there through the first half of the song. Once she hit the bridge, she hit her comfort zone and the song really took off. A couple of near flawless power notes later and she was on her way. Despite the shaky start, I thought this was a great performance by her, with a great song choice. She picked up right where she left off last week.

Joshua Ledet: I was a little concerned when I first heard Josh was going to be singing Josh Groben’s You Build Me Up, only because this type of song generally has not been Joshua’s strong suit this season. He has been at his best when he can take a song that allows him to build the tempo with a crescendo into a frenzy. Not unlike a tent-revival preacher getting his congregation going. But this song was different. It starts off with a very slow tempo and stays that way until the end. It’s spiritual, and deep, and it’s meant to be that way. The natural vibrato of Joshua’s voice made it enough of a different song from Groben’s deep, vocals. And it was good. Really good, in fact. He changed the arrangement slightly, just enough to make it his own. He added a little bit of a choir which gave it even more of a church feeling.

Jessica Sanchez: What more could a guy ask for? For those of you who are regular readers of this column (and those who aren’t), it was just last week that I said that Jessica should sing some Etta James. Although I suggested that maybe she should sing I Would Rather Go Blind, I’ll take Steal Away. And it was just as good as I expected it to be. It was the very embodiment of sass, soul and blues. As great as she is when she does the ballads, technically, this is where she really connects with the song and the audience. I’ve made this suggestion before: go on YouTube and look up her Las Vegas group audition with Deandre Brackensick singing Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. This genre is really where she is at her best.

Without question, Jessica took the first part of the show. She was miles ahead of everyone else.

Phillip Phillips: Phil-Phil started songs the contestants wish they wrote with Damien Rice’s Volcano. He said that he found the lyrics haunting and beautiful. Phil-Phil took a simple song with very nice lyrics and sang it with what has become his typical, limited range style. One thing’s for sure, we know what we’re going to get every week from this guy. He’s become as predictable as any artist we’ve seen up there. That’s not to say he’s not good, because he’s damn good. He’s just the same week after week.

Hollie Cavinaugh: The song that Hollie wishes she wrote is the beautiful heartbreakingly poignant I Can’t Make You Love Me, by the legendary Bonnie Raitt. Unfortunately, she was unable to make the connection between the words and the feeling behind them, which somehow, she was able to do in the first round, and all three of the judges destroyed her for it. As great as her voice is, it is nothing unless she can put feeling behind what she is singing. If the judges can’t feel anything from her, than the audience certainly can’t either. I feel badly for her because you can sense that she is giving it everything she has every week and trying to use their constructive criticism in the best way she can. But Hollie’s biggest problem continues to be that she looks like she’s a dancer trying to walk through every step of the Tango in her head instead of letting the music just take her through it. One two three and one two three and one two and one two three…. And the judges and audience know it, and feel her doing it.

Joshua Ledet: Joshua wishes that he wrote James Brown’s It’s a Man’s World. This song has strong meaning to him because he knows that the woman is the backbone of a strong family. As great as Juliet Simms from The Voice sang it on Monday night (and make no mistake, she was damn good and probably should have won that) this was the way James Brown wrote this song to be sung. Passion, restraint, heartfelt soul. Good Gawd A’mighty. He was so good, he made Jennifer speak in tongue. Yeah, she totally gave up English and just started speaking Spanish. This was one of those Rueben Studdard, Superstar, Lee Dewyze Hallelujah moments. As in, yeah, this is the exact moment when you know when they won their respective season.

Jessica Sanchez: Jessica went really old school this week, first with Etta James, then with Billie Holiday’s I’m Not Going Home. Once again, she showed amazing control of her voice, particularly during the middle frame when the song changes chords. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful she is for her age, and how much control she really has over her voice. This song was a perfect showcase for her to display both her power and her range as she needed both to pull it off, which she seemed to do, effortlessly.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Joshua took Round 2, but I have to declare it a tie between Joshua and Jessica for the night.