American Idol Recap: The Top Seven, All Over Again

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After the "Dramatic" Save of Jessica Sanchez, the Top Seven Try Again with a "Now and Then" Theme

Lots of folks were surprised by last week's bottom 3…well maybe not the Elise part of it, but the Jessica and Joshua part. I wasn't that surprised, because as I said in last week's recap: America hates being told who we're supposed to love. Joshua and Jessica have great vocal chops, but they don't actually have a ton of originality or authentic vulnerability. That's my explanation.

This week the show aired just hours after we all learned that Dick Clark had passed. I was wondering how Ryan Seacrest would handle it, given he was obviously Clark's protege in some respects. Well, he handled it with grace and seriousness. 

It was planned months in advance, I'm sure, that last night's show had the "Now and Then" theme, with Now being songs from post-2000, and "Then" being soul songs, represented by that other great pop-dance show Soul Train and its own recently departed impresario Don Cornelius. It was such a strange coincidence, and in the end, fitting.

This week was also unusual because Jimmy mentored alone…no guest mentor. Which is fine…I likes me some Jimmy a la carte too :)

Let's dig in.

1. Hollie: Won't win, but redeeming herself.

NowRolling in the Deep by Adele

Didn't think I ever wanted to hear a singing competition show contestant sing this song (or any Adele song) ever again (I'm looking at you The Voice), but I will concede that this is the best Hollie has done all season. She absolutely made those notes sound effortless. Good for her.

ThenSon of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield

But with her second performance, Hollie was right back to a blank Barbie with a big booming voice. Meh. Boring. Definitely better than previous weeks, but this performance was nothing special, and unfortunately made me forget her great first performance a little bit.

I think she'll be back in the bottom again.

2. Colton: Trying to channel Adam Lambert, but not really pulling it off.

NowBad Romance by Lady Gaga

That arrangement was a little herky jerky, and had some portions that seemed too low for him to make the desired impact. Big operatic pop songs like this one don't always do so well when abridged down to 90 seconds. The most notable part of this performance was the awkward banter with Ryan afterwards, during which Colton let us all know he plans to "expand his box". I don't know what to do with that, so I'm gonna do nothing and stay classy.

ThenSeptember by Earth Wind & Fire

OK, OK, I got this, what he was trying to do. Turning an upbeat song morose is one of my favorite pastimes. I once saw a cabaret singer, a middle-aged woman, suffering from MS and needing crutches to stand and sing, sing "Cock-Eyed Optimist" from South Pacific as a brave ballad, and it killed me!  Most recaps/comments I saw pre-show really tore this apart, but I didn't hate it. I agree that September is one of the most joyous songs, and this was morose, but I also think most of the voters probably aren't familiar with the original to get all bent out of shape about it. Rather the problem was that Randy was right that Colton has done that kind of spin on a song before, so it might get old. 

Colton could give a shot to doing something non-emo and see how that goes next week, but he's not going anywhere, despite universal criticism of his performances last night.

3. Elise: She don't get no respect, and she don't have much time left.

NowNo One by Alicia Keys

Elise has a tremendous voice, perhaps my favorite voice and vocal skill in the competition. But she always seems slightly uncomfortable. For example, why was she almost crouching the whole way through this performance? It was weird and constrained. If you make *me* feel uncomfortable, I'm less likely to vote for you, right? And then Ryan adds to the awkward by getting her to talk about her dog…which she tries to do as quickly as possible and get back to awkwardly smiling for the camera, not understanding he's throwing her a bone (no pun intended) and opportunity to connect with viewers on an emotional level. Manipulative, yes, but this is reality TV.

ThenLet's Get It On by Marvin Gaye

Again, Elise has tremendous vocal facility, so I enjoyed the vocal approach a lot. I will say that I don't enjoy her hand gestures demarcating her vocal runs any more than I enjoy Jessica's. And I agree with JLo on vulnerability and letting it all go. And her not really doing that. Elise just doesn't get the competition part of this…spending a minute explaining why you need 6 minutes to really perform a song and all its emotional range is not going to win you votes, not even from me.

I think Elise's time is probably finally up.

4. Phillip: This DMB wanna-be is adorable to those who don't remember who DMB is.

NowYou Got It Bad by Usher

Double-meh. That was fine. Frankly, I found the song a little boring and repetitive, and his approach to it may have been innovative (I don't know the original) but it didn't really evolve over the 2 minutes. But apparently I am lonely on the Not-Phillip-Train.

ThenIn the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett

OK, I think Phillip needs a chiropractor. Does anyone else notice how his head hunches into his shoulders and kind of pops in and out like a turtle. It was disturbing me last night, especially during this song.

All my misgivings aside, just like most voters might not remember the original September, most voters might not even be that familiar with Dave Matthews Band (the horror!) so Phillip seems original and awesome and will be fine. 

5. Jessica: She needs to sound like her, not every other great singer

NowFallin' by Alicia Keys

No one actually needs to sing this again, just FYI. Sure, she sounded great, but she sounded like Alicia Keys. And sometimes she sounds like Beyonce or JHud. But what does Jessica sound like? I don't get a sense of her as her own artist, just a great cover artist.

ThenTry a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding

She sounded amazing, but I don't believe her. People wonder how she could be in the bottom, and it's because she seems too packaged, polished and pre-thought out. Whitney Houston had endearing enthusiasm. Mariah Carey actually has endearing awkwardness. Beyonce has endearing sassyness. Kelly Clarson has endearing don't-care'what-you-think-ness. Jessica is very serious and exacting…and not endearing.

Do I think she'll go home tonight? Probably not, but we shouldn't be surprised if people don't connect with her. 

6. Skylar: She's got "endearing" in spades.

NowBorn This Way by Lady Gaga

Wow, I liked the country version of this song a lot better than the regular version…probably because it doesn't sound like quite such a rip-off of "Express Yourself". Skylar did a great job. It's obvious this girl will have a career…hell, if Kellie Pickler can with her adorableness and mediocre voice, Skylar surely can with her adorableness and good voice, right?

ThenHeard it Thru the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye 

She did a nice job vocally, but she does risk always sounding the same and people losing interest. She needs to pull another "Wind Beneath My Wings" out in the next week or two.

I'm torn…she's certainly more spunky and likable than dour Jessica and robotic Hollie. But she's done a lot of the same thing herself. On the fence: Safe or at risk? I'm not sure.

7. Joshua: I know, I know, we're supposed to LOVE him!

NowI Believe by Fantasia

Here's the thing about Joshua: ALL of his emotion is in his voice, and sometimes it's overwhelming. His face meanwhile is pretty impassive, his eyes pretty dead. Pouring all of his emotion into his voice means his vocals go over the top, but his expression doesn't mitigate or match it. I think that's why he was at risk. This performance was fine, but certainly didn't move me like Fantasia was really singing it. 

ThenA Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

Adam Lambert sang this song a couple of seasons back and invested it with a personal commitment that made it seem like a civil rights anthem for a new civil rights movement. Joshua sang this like he was competing in a contest. Sure, he was. But that's not what I want to see on stage. I think he's pretty closed off emotionally, thinking his vocal skillz can do it all, but for me that makes him all voice, no real soul.

Another one who could repeat in the bottom.

Bottom Line for the Bottom Three:

Should be: Phillip, Hollie, Joshua with Hollie going home

Will be: Elise, Hollie, Joshua with Elise going home

But what did you think?

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