On Wednesday's top five "American Idol" show, Steven Tyler declared Joshua Ledet "one of the top two Idols of all time." (Sorry, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, et al.) Then Randy Jackson told Joshua, "You're one of the best singers ever on this show." (Sorry, Jessica Sanchez, aka Randy's former favorite contestant.) Then Jennifer Lopez called Joshua "one of the best singers of the past 50 years." (Sorry, Adele, Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston.) And then all three judges got out of their chairs and gave Joshua--just in case you'd stopped counting since you'd run out of fingers--his ELEVENTH standing ovation of the season.
Um, this might have been a bit much, don't you think?
Yes, Joshua is amazing. He's certainly one of this season's biggest talents, and he very well could win this thing. If he did win, I certainly wouldn't be mad. But the aggressive pimping of Joshua has grown tiresome, especially on a season when several other fantastic singers do still have a decent shot at the title--and frankly, this favoritism could actually backfire on Joshua.
You see, the "Idol" producers and judges pretty much always muck it up when they tell the viewers whom to vote for. That's how they ended up with Taylor Hicks instead of their obvious pick, Chris Daughtry, in Season 5. That's why their mega-pimped frontrunner Adam Lambert lost in Season 8. That's why only one female contestant made the top five in Season 9, despite all the hype about that being a "girls' season." Overpraise was also the reason why Jessica Sanchez almost got sent home this year. So if the "Idol" powers-that-be really want so badly for Joshua to win (and I can definitely understand why they do), it might be wise for them to dial it down a bit, to avoid a Ledet backlash, and let viewers make up their own minds. And then the producers might actually get the result they've wanted all along.
Anyway, one more little gripe before getting on to the recapping: Wednesday was supposed to be '60s/Britpop Night, which would have been bloody brilliant if that were true. The Anglophile in me rejoiced at the prospect of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker mentoring and Skylar Laine doing some feisty Elastica. But it turned out that in Idol-land, "Britpop" doesn't mean Oasis and Blur; it means, er, Leona Lewis and Joe Cocker. Nigel Lythgoe, your U.K. passport should be revoked! (If you want to know what songs I would have chosen, this archived article is good for starters.)
Here's how Joshua and his still-formidable opponents did Wednesday night...
So Hollie went first, in the "death spot." And for her '60s song, she did "River Deep Mountain High," the song Pia Toscano did when she got eliminated last year. And Hollie started her song standing in the audience, something Kris Allen said, in a recent Yahoo! interview, no contestant should ever do. So she's a goner this week, right? Well, possibly; Hollie has had a target on her back for weeks now. But this was hardly the performance of a loser. Hollie really stepped it up during this number, brimming with a certain confidence that few singers would be able to maintain after being in the bottom three and getting torn apart by the judges week after week. "You just showed me ya got it in ya! Thank you, Lord!" howled Steven. "It was nice to see you could lead a bigger production. I could really feel you attacking the song. It was a different kind of Hollie up there!" said Jennifer. "I loved it too!" said an uncharacteristically kind Randy. I'm just glad Hollie wasn't wearing a L.A.M.B. onesie diaper like poor Pia did last season. Because of that thankful avoidance of a fashion faux pas, Hollie might survive after all.
For her "Britpop" song (whatever), Hollie, who is actually a Brit herself, somewhat predictably but wisely did Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love"--which is probably exactly the type of music she'd record in the real world after "Idol." It was a sedate, seated performance, but she did a wonderful job, letting her perfect, pristine vocals be the focus. And it was the ideal foil to her more flamboyant first performance. Steven shockingly confessed that he didn't know the song (maybe he was just trying to demonstrate loyalty to "Idol" by feigning ignorance regarding an "X Factor U.K." winner?), but he still said, "I loved it, I loved it, I loved it!" Randy, however, dared to mention both "The X Factor" and the forbidden name of Simon Cowell (I'm sure Nigel was thrilled), before telling Hollie, "You are peaking at the right time." And Jennifer said, "I think you surprised even yourself. That was amazing. We believe in you; we have always believed in you. You belong here." Will Hollie get to belong on the show for another week? Maaaaybe. We shall see.
For his '60s song, Phillip did the Box Tops' "The Letter," which of course sounded like the Dave Matthews Band covering "The Letter." But guess what? It turns out J.Lo had never heard any version of that song. She freely admitted that she was unfamiliar with the oldies radio staple--which was even more embarrassing than Steven's "Bleeding Love" confession, I think. This means Jennifer obviously didn't watch "Idol" before she was on the show. If she had, she'd already know this classic from Lee DeWyze's version of Season 9. Or Michael Johns and Carly Smithson's duet from Season 7. Or Chris Daughtry's audition from Season 5. Or Bo Bice's version from Season 4. Et cetera. Anyway, Phillip's version was different from all of those covers, as he turned it into a goodtime Bonnaroo jam--but this, of course, was a shtick I'd seen from him before, many times. P-Squared just does what he does, you know? Interestingly, Randy contradictorily praised Phillip for this performance's lack of melody (which, to be fair, may have been why J.Lo didn't recognize the song), something that usually bothers Randy to no end, saying: "You came out, made it your own, vibed it up...you made it new for me in your jam-bandy way. I loved it!" Steven, however, said: "Bad news, I miss the melody. But the good news is, you get away with it! Like the Stones got away with it." Um, let's not start comparing Phillip to the Rolling Stones just yet. He's good, but doesn't quite have the moves like Jagger. Move likes Matthews, maybe--but not Jagger.
For his British number, Phillip did the Zombies' "Time Of The Season," a sexy, slinky song that played right to his female fanbase. (I am sure many women in America swooned when he eye-sexed the camera with his crazy Eddie Vedder stare and crooned, "Who's your daddy?") But this performance just fell flat for me. (To see a better "Idol" rendition of this tune, check out Blake Lewis's performance from Season 6.) Phillip just sat there on a stool with that tie-dyed head-shop background swirling behind him, and he struggled with some of high notes as well. (He was seen fussing with his in-ears at the beginning of the song, so perhaps he was suffering from some technical difficulties.) But the judges appreciated that this time, Phillip didn't change up the song too much. "Yo, he really can sing the melody!" laughed Randy. "You sang it well, so good for you," said a nice but not exactly enthusiastic Steven, who, like Randy, didn't seem to be "jumping up and down." Jennifer appeared to like this more than her fellow judges, saying, "It sounded like it was YOU, like it could be your song." But knowing J.Lo, she probably thought it was Phillip's song. How much you wanna bet she never heard the Zombies' original, either?
Skylar was surprisingly in the bottom three last week, despite giving two stellar performances, but that clearly didn't damage her confidence one bit. This week, she hit the stage running in full Skylar-stomp mode on Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1969 hit "Fortunate Son," and I think this show is darn fortunate to still have this girl around. Once again, Skylar did not disappoint. "It's amazing how you attack every single song--it's so natural for you. You're willing to be fearless out there, and that's what it takes!" said Jennifer. "John Fogerty would be really proud," said Randy. (Note to Randy: John Fogerty is alive. Call him up and ask him what he thought! Aren't you BFFs with him too?) "You love music, and music loves you," said Steven. I love Skylar as well. She's the real deal.
I loved Skylar's British song, "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," even more--doing Dusty Springfield was so very Shelby Lynne of her, and it made her seem cool. (Or even--dare I say it?--"artsy.") It was the perfect song choice for Skylar, and she did Dusty proud. "That was flawless. That was amazing. I'm transfixed by everything that you're doing, and that's the mark of a great singer," said Randy. "That's just more proof that it works when you work it," said Steven. "You wanna win, don't you? And you just might," predicted J.Lo. I kind of hope Jennifer is right. I kind of want Skylar to win too--or at least make it to the finale and eventually release an album titled Skylar In Memphis.
I have to say, Jessica's first performance shocked me. I didn't think this seemingly timid teen had it in her to do Tina Turner's iconic "Proud Mary" (not the Creedence version, of course), compete with mini-skirted dance moves and Willow-style hair-whipping. But she actually pulled it off, and she seemed like a woman, not a little girl. I was beyond impressed. "You're so grown-up there, it's crazy! You were a little bit of Tina, a little bit of Beyonce! I love seeing you move," raved J.Lo. "The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old," Steven said, somewhat creepily. Bizarrely, Randy, who has always been Jessica's biggest fan and quite recently declared her the best singer in America, called this performance "barely okay." (Was Wednesday Opposite Day or something? Or is Randy just too Team Joshua now?)
After all that hair-flipping and high-kicking, Jessica toned it down for her acoustic cover of Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful," crooning the song while reclining on the floor surrounded by séance candles quite possibly left over from former guest mentor Stevie Nicks's dressing room. It was a lovely performance that capped off a great week for Jessica and proved she still may be Joshua's biggest threat. "You once again showed America how beautiful your voice is and what a good singer you are. You're gonna be number one, girl," said Steven. "This girl's on the top of the leaderboard right now!" howled Randy, proving that he is at least a little Team Jessica. My guess is, Randy wants a Joshua/Jessica finale. We'll soon see if he gets his way.
This season's throwback soulman was right in his element doing the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," and that was sort of the problem here. There was, of course, nothing wrong with this performance--Joshua is basically physically incapable of giving a bad performance--but from the song choice to the '60s styling, this was all a little predictable, something we'd seen and heard from Mantasia many times before. Steven was definitely over-reaching when he called Joshua "one of the top two Idols of all time," although I did appreciate Randy's comparison of Joshua to Terence Trent D'Arby. After Danny Gokey ruined a perfectly good Terence song in Season 8, D'Arby's legacy needed to be redeemed on this show.
For his British song--in the final pimp spot, of course--Joshua wanted to do Tom Jones's "Without Love," which undoubtedly would have been awesome, but Jimmy Iovine and not-exactly-British guest mentor Steven Van Zandt convinced him to do the British-born, Australian-bred Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" instead. (I'm going to just conspiracy-theorize that this was because Sir Tom is now a judge on "The Voice U.K.," even though J.Lo dared to use the words "the" and "voice" consecutively during her Joshua critique later. Oops!) The string-laden ballad turned out to be a fantastic choice for Joshua--and sweetly timely, considering Robin Gibb's recent health scare that has generated a massive outpouring of goodwill towards the Bee Gees--even if Joshua had never heard the song before. (I'll cut Joshua some slack here; he's a lot younger than Steven and J.Lo, so he has an excuse.) Did this number deserve an 11th standing ovation? Was this the performance of, as Randy worded it, "one the greatest singers ever on this show?" I'm not so sure about that. But it was great.
So now, it is prediction time. With only five people left in the competition, I'm only going to predict a bottom two--and I think Joshua will definitely avoid being in the bottom two for now. Ditto for Skylar and Jessica, who were on top of their game this Wednesday. So that leaves Hollie and Phillip. Phillip was technically the worst this week, but he's been untouchable all season (he's the only contestant who's never been in the bottom). Meanwhile, Hollie has been up for elimination almost every week and, despite giving two great performances this week, she still faced several disadvantages. So I'm going to predict it'll be Hollie who ultimately goes home, although Phillip will at least finally find out what it feels like to be on the chopping block.
But if it turns out that it's Phillip who gets cut, it'll be a MAJOR game-changer for "Idol," as it will guarantee that for the first time since 2008, a white male guitar-strummer will not win this show. Tune in Thursday to see what happens, and until then, Parker out.