‘American Idol’: Five Singers Draw Standing Ovations

Jessica Sanchez on "American Idol" (FOX)

Stevie Nicks was the guest mentor on “American Idol,” and drew things out of the contestants that even the most cynical watcher (me) didn’t know they could do. Many of the performances were legitimately emotional, and with a cast of characters who mostly do monster ballads without even a hint of connection, that was a big feat.

And it’s all thanks to Stevie and her semi-private whispery moments with the contestants, giving them warm, motherly advice and encouragement. And in some cases, singing harmony with them during rehearsal, telling them she would have let them join Fleetwood Mac, or just bantering with Jimmy Iovine until he became an insecure kind of lovesick puppy who had nothing bad to say to anyone. Not that Stevie’s on unemployment or anything, but if she wanted another job mentoring permanently, I’d write her a recommendation.

Also, it can’t hurt to let the “Idol”s sing whatever they want, instead of force-feeding them Stevie Wonder songs they will never sound good on, or songs from the mid-’90s. There’s a reason DeAndre Brackensick had his worst performance ever last week and it has a little something to do with Billy Joel. Tonight’s theme was “personal icons” and that, too, gave them the inspiration they needed to actually connect to the songs they sang.

“Idol” Goes to Church

But Stevie wasn’t the only winner tonight. Religion kept stealing the spotlight, as “Idol” appeared to connect deeply with its Christian base. And with Colton Dixon kicking off the night of personal icons, that icon was God. Colton sang his “favorite worship song,” “Everything,” by that good old church group Lifehouse. In rehearsal, Stevie just blatantly ignored the religiosity of the song, telling Colton that one line about reverence “gets to women,” turning it into a human love song. But by the end of the performance, Colton was crying to Ryan Seacrest about his love for the deity. Still overlooking Colton’s whiny, nasally approach, the judges, Randy Jackson in particular, invoked the holy name of Colton Dixon as a contender for the finals. Thus in the first round of battle between the Lord and the woman who powdered her butt with cocaine, the Lord won.

Now, there’s Colton Dixon church, and there’s Joshua Ledet CHURCH. And Joshua knows how to go there. He got a standing o from the judges for singing himself to tears on the Mariah Carey version of “Without You.” “You’re a phenom,” said Jennifer Lopez. “An angel from heaven. Your voice is a godsend.”

Skylar Laine took things from heaven to hell. “Hell on heels,” in fact—something scrawled on a fake newspaper that was part of a new initiative to use the biggest weirdest stage props ever (also tonight: dead trees, doors to nowhere). Skylar sang Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” continuing her consistent but increasingly boring streak of spunky, twangy country feminist numbers. Randy said she’s representing the “dirty South.”

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Hollie Cavanagh used all her British Elfin powers to muster up some emotion to her psalm of the night, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” But how could she not, when Stevie bared all and told Hollie that her mom just died? It pointed out how insulting it is that this girl who appears to have had pretty much no life experience keeps singing giant songs that are about nothing but massive life experience. But Stevie’s confession, heartfelt and slightly manipulative, worked a little: it was one of Hollie’s better performances, but she still didn’t totally get there, partially due to the fact that she belts with her eyes closed. Steven Tyler had it right when he said he wished Hollie would just sing a different song. You know you have a problem when, week after week, Randy says he was scared to death to hear you sing your song choice.

The Standing Ovations

The judges could barely contain themselves tonight, offering five standing ovations (at least three too many) for Heejun Han, DeAndre, Phillip Phillips, Joshua and Elise Testone. Heejun and DeAndre got it for not sucking as bad as they have in recent weeks.

Phillip got one probably more for Stevie’s proclamation that if it were 1974, he’d be asked to join Fleetwood Mac. And that he’s gorgeous. Honestly, though, Phillip is getting tiresome. There’s no doubt that he’s great at what he does, but it’s starting to seem like that’s the only thing he can do. And if he keeps doing it—the pained, wincey face, growl thing—he’s going to pop that vein in his pretty forehead.

Elise closed out the show and had a killer night doing something completely unlike anyone else. Instead of going for sappy emotion, she just went for total rockstar goddess on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” She screamed in tune, she belted—with her eyes open!—and she even wore Steven Tyler’s sparkle-striped rockstar bellbottoms. Elise is on to something. Now she just has to get people to stop hating her.


In order to needlessly fill two hours of show with only nine contestants, we got three trios doing medleys: Colton, Elise and Phillip sounded decent on a Fleetwood Mac tribute; DeAndre, Heejun and Joshua sang (but had some trouble dancing) the songs of Michael Jackson; and Jessica, Skylar and Hollie were stiff and rhythmless on a Madonna medley. So with that out of the way, what will they do during tomorrow’s results show?

Where was Jessica Sanchez’s standing ovation? Even though she sang a pop song at ballad tempo, so typical for her, she at least showed some restraint and didn’t go all “I Will Always Love You” crazy-notes on Beyonce’s “Beautiful Nightmare.” It was gorgeous.

Why was Jason Derulo wearing a bedazzled neck brace?

Bottom Three?

My picks for the worst of the night are Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine and a much improved but still totally terrible Heejun Han. If I had my way, I’d get rid of Colton Dixon, but it looks like the judges are doing whatever they can to keep him in the running.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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