’80s Night on ‘Idol’: Off-Key Songs Have Two Contestants Livin’ On a Prayer

Hollie Cavanagh on "American Idol" (FOX)

Last week Jimmy Iovine pointed out one of the major problems with the “American Idol” voting public—that it’s mainly made of up young girls who only vote for cute boys. While that was a helpful dose of reality, he neglected to mention one other powerful voting group—moms. And so, to honor the other great consumers of packaged pop, my own mother Roberta, an avid “Idol” watcher, has generously provided her expert opinion on tonight’s proceedings.

The show opened tonight with another bizarre Instagram-styled video about the dangers and risks of participating on a televised singing competition—dreams are shattered and all that. A recap of Heejun’s departure. And a few boilerplate lines about having the drive to win and that sort of thing.

Then the judges arrived—Jennifer Lopez in a fabulous silver flowy skirt, Steven Tyler in pink and white bellbottoms and a quilted multi-color vest, and Randy Jackson, once again, in a dignified clown suit—a red shirt with blue and yellow dots and a white tie. Could he possibly have more than one of these? We get a photo of Randy’s look back in the ’80s and, frankly, it isn’t much worse.

The theme tonight is ’80s music, and the topic is what the Idols are missing from home. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal are the guest mentors.

The Rundown

First up is DeAndre Brackensick, whom we now know as the visual mouthful @brackensickai11, the Twitter handle that is plastered across the screen for his entire intro about how he misses driving his car. He chose “I Like It” by DeBarge and sang it in his “natural voice,” as the judges put it, toning down the falsetto that last week jumped the shark from interesting to unbearable. The judges were happy with his confidence and I agreed, despite his continual problem with bopping up and down as a sad stand-in for dancing. But Roberta felt differently. “DeAndre’s gotta go,” she emailed. “He tries imitating the falsetto of the Bee Gees, but no way. And Randy loves it?”

Next up was Elise Testone, who most definitely was going to have a problem following up last week’s killer Led Zeppelin performance. She almost sang “Hallelujah,” and despite that song being way overdone on this show, I’m sad she didn’t. At Gwen Stefani’s urging, she went with Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” And the most memorable thing about it was the LED screen of hundreds of pocket watches swinging behind her when she got to the lyric, “take a little time.” The judges felt it was the wrong song choice, and Randy said it was out of tune. Roberta, who was annoyed by Elise’s sourpuss faces the first couple weeks she landed in the Bottom Three, had this to say: “Randy said ‘out of tune.’ I think it was ‘attitude.'”

Phillip Phillips passed another few kidney stones tonight on Genesis’ “That’s All.” Seriously, this guy sings like he is perpetually in pain. And I’m pretty clear on his ability to sing angry rock songs at this point—how about something, anything else? Tony Kanal gave him some good advice by telling him to stop playing the guitar for a minute and actually look at the audience instead of living in his own world up there. A successful moment in an otherwise repetitive (but still well done) performance, which the judges once again loved. Also it was a nice moment for his brother-in-law, who joined him on guitar.

Joshua Ledet came out with another emotion filled ballad and was fantastic yet again. He sang “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and Gwen Stefani gave him the good advice to hold back just a little and not go all out crazy on it. I am in total agreement with the judges and Roberta on this one, “Joshua nailed it.”

Jessica Sanchez also had a fine night picking something upbeat for once—”I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” It was her second time doing Whitney, but instead of doing it as Whitney like the last time, she did it as her alter ego, “BB Chez.” What? Apparently BB Chez likes to have fun and “wants to party all night.” Ok. Either way, great job. Randy, who said he worked on the original, said Jessica sings just as effortlessly as Whitney.

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The word “effortless” will never be uttered in connection to Hollie Cavanagh, however. In her intro, she said she was missing home. But she’s one step closer to going back there after a stiff and out-of-tune performance of “What a Feeling.” Got to give her some props for at least trying not to sing a huge ballad. She even tries skipping. But Hollie has some sort of rhythm deficiency so it just looks uncomfortable. The judges said she overthought it. “Holly misses home,” my mom wrote. “America, help her make it happen.”

Of all the things one could miss from home—the food, the friends, the dog—I never thought someone would say face-painting. But there you have it. Colton Dixon comes from a family of face-painters, and he’s missing out on face-painting season. So he bleaches the skunk out of his hair and just goes for solid orangey-blonde. And he sings “Time After Time,” a drum-heavy rock arrangement he admitted to ripping off of Quietdrive. And it’s so invariably Colton, so whiny emo boy. The judges like it, but they love the drummer even more.

Finally Skylar Laine closed out the night, also breaking a streak. Instead of some angry country song, she went with “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and it was as good as a song can be when there is a digital bird flying around behind you in some sad excuse for background graphics. “Skylar surprised me,” wrote my mom. “I got goosies.” So, it seems, did the judges, who gave Skylar a standing ovation. J. Lo was crying by the end, but she later admitted it was because she was thinking about the greatest, saddest movie in the world, “Beaches.”

The Duets

In place of last week’s trios, we got duets tonight and while completely extraneous, they did get progressively better throughout the show. The first—and worst—was Colton and Skylar on “Islands in the Stream.” Skylar sounded good, but the two of them spent so much time mugging for the camera instead of looking at each other, they had absolutely no chemistry together. The judges seemed to think they made a good pair, though, and Ryan Seacrest planted some totally implausible rumor about the two of them possibly dating, which Skylar quickly squashed. But my mom, who is not a fan of either of them, found hope in their performance: “First time I didn’t want to drown them in a stream.”

DeAndre joined Hollie on the next duet, “I’m So Excited.” It was the first time all season that we’ve seen Hollie do something upbeat, and the first time she didn’t come across as 40+ years old. She still can’t dance, though, and looks so stiff trying to snap in time next to Gumby over there who can’t stand still.

The third duet paired up Phillip and Elise on Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” It was a great pairing of voices, and it’s always refreshing to see Phillip without a guitar stuck to his body. But then he does this weird crawl thing around the stage—the better to release the kidney stones, I presume—which Ryan totally made fun of. Roberta wasn’t having it. “The last duet? Enough already.”

The final duet brought together Joshua and Jessica, and the two are just made for each other. Joshua loosens Jessica up, and the two feed off each other’s energy. They sang “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” and Steven summarized: “It defies judging.” Randy also dropped in once more that he worked on the original.

Bottom Three?

Hollie and Colton are my least favorite in the competition right now. Phillip is totally on my nerves for doing the same thing each week, but I can’t see him getting kicked off anytime soon, so the third slot is anybody’s guess.

Roberta’s picks: DeAndre, Elise, Hollie.

Who Was That?

We got a view of who was in the audience tonight, and it was Naima Adedapo. If you are wondering who that is, it’s last year’s Shannon Magrane: the 11th place contestant who will soon be very much forgotten.

Final Observations from My Mother

“Who hasn’t Randy had the pleasure of working with? Probably J. Lo and Steven.”

And, something that I’m sure has been on everyone’s mind for the past 11 years: “What’s with Seacrest and his phony tan and pompadour?”

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

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