‘Idol’ Recap: Is It Now a Two Horse Race?

Jessica Sanchez on "American Idol" (FOX)

Think you know what’s going on with “American Idol“? I don’t, either. One minute, I’m like, “That Jessica Sanchez, so pageanty and robotic and calculated, she gives me the creeps.” The next minute she kills, KILLS “And I Am Telling You”—and even did the service of acknowledging that the song had a life before Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar singing it, calling it a “Jennifer Holliday song.” Smart girl.

But…but…but—Joshua Ledet! He killed a song of his own tonight, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” in a performance the judges agreed was the best thing they’ve seen on “Idol,” television, in history, ever. He also killed the fire-breathing dragon known as Josh Groban, by tearing apart his “You Raise Me Up” to the point where it was no longer a snoozy lite-rock mom-pleaser, but a seriously moving song.

What is going on?!?! How am I expected to choose, here, people? Even the judges gave them both standing ovations (normally reserved just for Joshua). So, where are we? And who are those other two contestants still supposedly in the game? More on them later…

Tonight’s themes were songs about or by people from California, which means, basically anything ever, because there’s absolutely no coherency among songs of that nature; and songs you wish you had written. Pre-performance videos focused on the contestants’ “journey to this point.”

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The Riff Raff

Hollie Cavanagh and Phillip Phillips are just filling in the two hours this show needlessly, because they and everyone in America, have known for weeks that they are not making it to the finale. Phillip, all “golly” in his video, started with Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and once again, the star of the performance was his blond sax player, Mindi Abair (www.mindiabair.com). She got loads more screen time, and is infinitely more interesting than the guy she is backing. Phillip, sans guitar, looks like it physically hurts to ask the titular question, even though he tells Ryan Seacrest later that he is in good health. So, if it’s not a kidney stone, why, then, Phillip, is that vein still bulging out of your forehead? Jennifer Lopez said he had a “new Joe kind-of Cocker quality,” but Randy Jackson felt the start was rough and got better as it went along. Me? I think it was rough since about late February.

Phillip’s second number was soooo much better. Damien Rice’s “Volcano.” In the consultation with Jimmy Iovine, Jimmy was so impressed, he called Phillip a butterfly. “I guess he thinks I’m beautiful,” said Phillip. Cue teen girls screaming and voting. Anyway, for the first time, Phillip didn’t seem to be under incredible duress as he sang his song, but actually seemed comfortable and calm and nice. Definitely his best of the season. Jennifer said it was “one of the most beautiful, poignant moments a contestant has ever had.”

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Hollie started with Journey’s “Faithfully,” which was just an opportunity for Randy to go on and on about his time with Journey. It was a good number to show all the big notes she can hit, and Randy said she did Steve Perry proud. Jennifer got teary and was happy to see how laid back Hollie was. Steven Tyler gave us this lovely line: “Creativity is a very delicate flower. You can make it bloom by giving it affirmations.” Her second number, however, didn’t inspire the same kind of poetry. She took on Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which I’m pretty sure she heard about via Adele’s cover floating around on YouTube, and tried and failed to impart any personal meaning into the song. Jennifer told her she shouldn’t have tried to take the lyrics so literally, but rather should have sang to America about how she just can’t seem to make us love her. It would have rang so much truer.

Also, we had to get through two duets. Joshua and Phillip were paired again, after last week’s homophobic disaster. They sang Maroon 5, “This Love,” and though they kept their distance from one another, did a better job of acting like they were at least on the same stage at the same time. Hollie and Jessica sang “Eternal Flame,” or rather, they sat on ropes and swung back and forth over the stage, and maybe they sang but I was too distracted by the giant rope swings to notice. Besides that, my only thought was how incredibly old I feel, since none of the remaining contestants probably know this song. None of the remaining contestants were even born before 1990.

And finally a group number, an ‘80s power ballad in honor of a really long commercial for “Rock of Ages”/Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend Julianne Hough. Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” All four of them were singing their own song, in their own world, and, like us, were just counting the weeks till this whole thing is over.

The Good Stuff

Jessica made strides tonight after completely losing me last week with her too-tight dress and her Tina Turner hair-tossing. This week, they (whoever the mythical “they” on “Idol” are) trained her to appear more teenager-like, talking in the pre-videos about how “insane” this or that is, and just acting more like the child she is. But with all the footage of her early years (like, what, five years ago?) doing some early childhood talent show type thing and growling her way through music, I tend to feel that despite her vocal amazingness, she is really, truly hollow inside. It’s all rehearsed and I just don’t trust her. Even after kicking “And I Am Telling You”s butt, happy as that made me, I’m still rooting for…

Joshua! Other than his faux pas last week of being too awkward singing a love song with Phillips, Joshua has been consistently amazing on this show and tonight brought it to another level. Lopez (in an ice skating costume?) said it best after “Man’s World”: “People at home thought like I did that they had seen everything that you had to give and interpret a song. They hadn’t.” She went on: “You’re making me speak different languages now!…That was sickening.”

Steven Tyler: “Neither man nor woman has ever sang that good with that much compassion on this show ever. I’ve never heard anything like that in my life. In my life!”

The judges were going insane. That is not an exaggeration.

And if you compare their commentary to that of Jessica’s final number, well, Joshua appears to be the one to beat. Jessica got some good comments, but the bigger thing to point out, for Randy anyway, was that Julian Lennon was “in the house.” Yay?

Going Home

Please, please let it be Hollie AND Phillip and let’s just wrap this up a week early.

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

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