It’s Queen Week on “American Idol” and, of course, we’ve already been tipped off by the show’s official press mouthpiece, TMZ – it’s where Idolettes are sent each season for Paparazzi Training – that show host Ryan Seacrest is some kinda sick with a flu-like bug, but will muddle through because, as Queen sang, “The Show Must Go On.”
To spare Seacrest the traditional, dizzy-making walk down the Stairway from Paradise at the show’s start, he instead waits for the show judges to join him at their desk, giving him something to lean against, faint over, puke on, whatever. To make it all work, the judges descend from the stairs in the audience and he greets them at their table like a maitre d’ with hugs and handshakes, which means they’ll all be sick next week. It’s like a dream where all the people are familiar, but you can’t keep up with what’s going on.
Clearly “Idol: Seacrest Soldiers On” is going to be a Very Special Episode.
Look how bravely Seacrest hangs on to the backs of the judges’ chairs as he sets up the night: first round will be songs from Queen, second round, songs of the Idolette’s choosing.
Roll intro tape of Queen the operatic rock band from the 1970s, narrated by judge Randy Jackson, who’s standing in for the usual voiceover guy – Seacrest. Cut to Queen surviving band members Roger Taylor and Brian May, now two charming old gents, seated together in some kind of tiny waiting room, looking like they’re making small talk with the six remaining Idolettes while waiting for their flu shots.
Idolettes join Roger and Brian on stage live for a Queen medley heavily sweetened at the start by unseen backup singers. It ends, natch, with “We Are the Champions.”
First up: Jessica Sanchez will climb the mountain of Queen songs “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But it turns out to have been heavily redacted. Gone are the really mad parts about “Scaramouche” and “Galilleo,” and it’s a bit odd, but Jessica’s voice sails on through.
The judges are lukewarm. Jennifer Lopez is disappointed Jessica didn’t flips her hair more – seriously – though she acknowledged “the vocal was beautiful”; Randy Jackson advises her to go study tapes of Tina Turner. Seacrest reads Jessica’s numbers to viewers and hugs Jessica, which means she’ll be sick next week.
Ryan is spending a lot of time sitting on stools and leaning against things. He’s on a stool as he interviews Skylar Laine about her song-writing, and he’s lucid – so far so good.
Skylar sings “The Show Must Go On” and, forced out of the country genre, she loses about 25 percent of the twang which is an improvement, though it sounds a bit like she’s trying to pass an exam in music performance class.
Love from the judges. JLo and Randy read from their scripts. Her: “goosies”. Him: “She’s got to have it!”
Joshua Ledet is branching out too, doing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, sounding very 60s retro, dancing very 60’s, and really demonstrating he’s the most versatile and accomplished of this year’s Idolettes. Randy rightly compares him rightly to Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett, but leaves everyone confused with the “four checks” he doles out to Joshua on various performance points. “Is it bad for me to say that the Joshua part of the show is my favorite part of the show?” asks JLo.
First tambourine of the season! Elise Testone is swinging it on her straight-ahead rocking delivery of “I Want It All”. This is exactly her sweet spot. The judges love it.
Phil Phillips has a lot of company from backup singers on stage for “Fat Bottomed Girls.” He just doesn’t seem to rise above the level of “another singer on the stage” . “Fat bottomed girls,” Tyler rhapsodizes, “the bigger the cushion, the bigger the cushion.” “Why you lookin’ at me?” JLo says. “Cuz you’re looking at me,” Tyler snaps back. Anyway, JLo likes that Phil didn’t sound like Dave Matthews this week.
Hollie Cavanagh does herself no favor with her song choice tonight, “Save Me.” Or maybe the Idol arranger didn’t do her a big favor by staffing up with a big chorus. She struggles to be distinctive above the noise. Poor Hollie has to listen to JLo expounding on how she thinks too much on stage: “When you start thinking about people watching you…that’s when you get caught up…You know what I mean?” Of course, Hollie knows what she means! She’s been hearing this critique for months now.
It’s half time and Seacrest asks the judges how they think it has gone so far. JLo thinks Skylar won the round, which is odd since she previously said Joshua was her favorite part of the night. Tyler agrees with JLo. Randy thinks Hollie has to step it up in round two, repeating their assessment every week. But Seacrest, a regular Typhoid Mary, has hugged or shaken the hand of every Idolette except Elise and Phil, which means they may be the only singers who show up to compete next week.
Next up, Jessica Sanchez will sing the very “Dance With My Father Again” and dedicate it to her father who is being deployed overseas. But first — it’s also Backstab Week — that week in which, every season, the Idolettes are asked to talk about each other behind their backs.
Judging by the screen time afforded to Phil Phillips in this segment, he is apparently a rich source of contempt in all directions. Directed at the tiny, 16-year-old Jessica, it borders on bullying, though. She got the judges save, so “thank you for that, for ruining our lives.” As for her singing skills, “we’re still trying to figure out if she’s an alien,” he says. Once he gets one foot on the ground, he’s really quite a jerk. Skylar Laine snickers that Jessica still has to attend school. “They’re just jealous at this point,” says Jessica, adding, “Just keep hatin’.”
A Ford video would be less painful than this.
Back to the live show – and Jessica has the last laugh. She’s finally made a great strategic song choice and she performs flawlessly. High, if ungrammatical, praise from JLo: “That may have been the best I’ve ever heard that song sang.”
Let’s roll a roast tape on Skylar Laine. “She’s thick-boned,” Hollie says, though she later realizes she meant to say “thick-skinned.” “You said I had thick bones – you called me fat…I’m going to cry,” whines Skylar, though she ends up sounding like someone who is thick skinned and is playing this moment for sympathy. Nobody’s career is being helped here.
Skylar will sing “Tatoos On This Town” by Jason Aldean, but we’ve seen her do this kind of country number before. This is not “growth,” in the “Idol” dictionary. Still, JLo and Randy love her — “a ginormous fan” he says. But Tyler warns her to reflect back on her performance of “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “find songs that take your voice to that place.”
Let’s roast Joshua Ledet, and explore his brother-sister relationship with Hollie. His room is a mess, she complains. No, her room is a bigger mess, he says. And he’s always shouting at her to get things, she complains. Let’s close the door on these two.
Josh will sing an India.Arie song, “Ready for Love”. It’s a departure for him, and demonstrates again his versatility. On points, Josh should be the Season 11 winner. He gets the Judges Standing O and JLo calls it “transcendent.” “Twelve standing ovations!” snarks Skylar, breaking into what’s supposed to be Josh’s post-performance mini-interview with the camera.
Elise is the next target. Every other Idolette comments on her nervous laugh. “She’s always pointing out a note like she’s looking at it,” Phil says, referring to her on-stage hand gestures, “like she’s a sniper trying to kill the notes and she definitely kills them, not in a good way.” Elise, in the tape, notes her colleagues are all probably making fun of the way she ends a sentence with a laugh. “Ha,” she ends with.
So which Elise will we get next, the rocker Elise or the jazzy Elise? A little of each it turns out on Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” with a bit of rock musicologist thrown in. This is an obscure song choice for sure and Hendrix just isn’t a songwriter easily covered by anyone. Tyler dings her for a song choice that pretends this isn’t a singing competition aimed a mass audience: “You can’t pick your cherries with your back to the tree…You’ve got to sing a familiar song.” Randy dings her for over singing the tune and “boxing with the song.” JLo says it doesn’t matter because Elise “slayed it.”
Welcome to Phil’s Roast. “He’s a really handsome guy,” says Jessica, “but when he sings… it is not attractive.” Jacob calls him “a drama queen,” who fakes illness to avoid Ford music video shoots (Okay, we support Phil in his malingering on that one). “Boring,” Elise says, adding, “He’s obviously not a rock star.” Seems that Phil2 is not a big hit with the other Idolettes.
Phil is doing Dave Matthews’ “The Stone” and to hell with everybody who says he sounds like Dave Matthews. Actually, he does a pretty good Dave Matthews, though this is an odd song. Tyler is oblique but seems displeased, concluding with “you found your niche” that sounds like he’s saying, “and you can hang yourself with it.” JLo is more direct, telling Phil “there will be a time and place when you can do that whenever you want,” but now he “needs songs to get you on that last show, so you can win.” Randy, on the other hand, says it appeals to his own artistic side, noting he, Randy, is both a producer AND a musician.
Cut to Seacrest who seems to have overcome his nausea and is standing, at least temporarily. His girlfriend, Julianne Hough is back stage, he says mock-huffy, and when Phil went by “she sighed and blushed and I thought I heard her say ‘yummy’.”
“Phil,” Seacrest says, “quite the ladies’ man.”
Poor Hollie. Hasn’t she suffered enough this season, without having to watch video of her fellow Idolettes’ comments about her? Phil McNasty is convinced Hollie is a Texas girl pretentiously trying to sound English. “She talks like she has a speech problem,” he says. (Hollie is from Texas but grew up in England.). “The accent is weird,” she acknowledges in the tape. “It’s mixed up. I know… Next question.”
Hollie will reprieve a song that worked for her during the show’s auditions, Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” which not only fits her pop princess voice but is all about “my faith is shaking but I gotta keep trying” – aka, her backstory on “Idol” — so it’s working for her. “The Climb” is like the one song Hollie does well. She gets a Standing O from the judges, which gets Hollie so excited she jumps up and down on stage. It’s a welcome, sweet moment in a mean second half of the show.