“What we call the beginning
is often the end,
and to make an end,
is to make a beginning.
The end is
where we start from.”
A new round of “American Idol” opens with an excerpt of a T.S. Eliot poem, while video rolls of poor Jessica Sanchez, this season’s best vocalist, and recipient of the Three Judges’s Save last week after America gave her the hook. Please tell us this is not leading up to a “Cats” theme on “Idol” next week.
The Three Judges’ Entrance: Jennifer Lopez wears a very short, clingy silver dress that’s giving her flanks some much-needed air. Randy is a vision in lavender, and Stephen Tyler is dressed as one of the Three Musketeers on Casual Friday.
Show host Ryan Seacrest descends from the Stairway to Paradise, but he’s not grinning as usual. He’s somber. He takes a moment to remember Dick Clark, the man who, as President Obama said earlier Wednesday, “reshaped the television landscape forever as a creative and innovative producer.” Seacrest, of course, is the heir to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve show on Times Square.
“Without Dick a show like this would not exist,” Seacrest says of “Idol.”
“I know that he’s in a better placing saying ‘Hey, let’s get on with the show!’ You got it, boss.”
Tonight the remaining Idolettes will sing one song from the year 2000 to the present. After that, they’ll sing a soul classic.
Hollie Cavanagh, The Girl Who Thinks Too Much, finally turns her narrative around. Her performance of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” is her best performance in weeks and weeks. The judges finally show her some respect—and immediately take credit. JLo : “When we said not thinking –that’s what you did!...I’m so happy for you!”
Colton Dixon, the man who “has the female vote that back him like a stone wall” (“Idol” Mentor-In-Chief Jimmy Iovine) takes on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and it’s Gaga Lite with some parts too low for his range. But Colton can sing while bending over for dramatic effect, and make his Colton Face on the difficult notes -- plus he’s backed by an all-girl band dressed in white – so hey, it’s a show!
Always look for the good in Colton, the judges urge us. JLo: “Parts got a tiny bit low and lost us a little bit, but you have so much character when you sing…It doesn’t really matter.”
Iovine pegs Elise Testone’s problem. While this season’s other singers have built fan bases, “you are like Etch-A-Sketch -- you have to prove yourself every week.” The song is “No One” by Alica Keys, and Elise does prove herself, technically, though this performance of this song is not going to win her new votes. The judges try to lend a hand: “Got my first goosies of the night right there,” says JLo. “I was wishing for a better chorus…but you sang your little tushie off,” adds Tyler. Interview time with Seacrest, who looks like he knows something. “You were having an emotional rehearsal,” he begins, trying the Leading Question Technique he no doubt was just studying in the NBC News Manual. “I found out my dog is really, really sick and might not make it,” Elise says, suppressing tears. Well, if she didn’t have a fan base a few minutes ago – she’s got one now!
Phil Phillips goes with Usher’s “U Got It Bad.” He’s a little flat to start, and we’ve basically heard him do this groove often before, so all the appeal is in—look, Phil2’s the Scruffy White Usher with Guitar! It’s enough to get him a Standing O from the judges. “You fool us all the way down the line…You got melody now!” says Tyler, while JLo’s take is: “that was sexy!”
Jessica Sanchez is “singing for redemption,” this time, Seacrest tells us. “She’s got to have A Moment,” Iovine says on tape. So what’s her song choice? “Falling” by Alicia Keys, though “Plodding” is more like it. Jessica pours it on, and makes it as interesting as this song might be. But if there was A Moment, we missed it. The judges agree they did the right thing saving Jessica last week. “Your talent is so other worldly…The girl blew the box out of the song, yo!” Randy explodes, in a cloud of lavender.
Great song choice for Skylar Laine -- Lady Gaga’s country version of “Born This Way.” Iovine coaches her to start the song with the bridge, giving her the chance to start strong. As usual she’s hard to understand but, fortunately, most people already know the lyrics and, also on the bright side, she’s abandoned all that annoying schtick – the running in place, the “I burned my fingers” manic hand waving. Skylar is Showing Growth -- that most prized of “Idol” attributes.
“A more perfect song for you does not exist,” JLo enthuses, because Skylar is “a fighter.”
Joshua Ledet will sing “I Believe” in honor of Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino who, he gushes, is “one of the reasons I auditioned for ‘Idol’.” Last week, Joshua was in the Bottom Three, so he too is looking for redemption, but the whole Mantasia thing isn’t really working. He’s shouting, the chorus is too loud, the lights are giving us a headache. The judges jump to their feet. “You leave it all on the stage every single time…Your eyes are tearing, your throat is bulging!” raves JLo.
Time for the next round in which, in an unfortunate coincidence, the producers long ago worked out a deal to pay tribute to Don Cornelius and his long-running music variety show “Soul Train,” only it’s on the same day Dick Clark, of the even longer-running “American Bandstand,” has died. That’s show biz!
Hollie Cavanagh, fresh from her big comeback, will press her luck with “Son of a Preacher Man.” We’re talking major Showing Growth if she can pull this off. Ah, no. She mostly seems lost in the song, the subject matter and the arrangement. Randy and JLo pronounce this performance better than her first one, while Tyler was left thinking “you can push it even more.”
Colton, who usually does well, seated at the piano, sings Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” But, while he sings, a large dead purple tree lurks next to him on stage, golden leaves rain down apocalyptically in the background, and Colton’s blonde raccoon “baby” appears to have been mortally wounded and is bleeding quietly on Colton’s forehead. It’s all too sad – like a T.S. Elliot poem.
Speaking of sad: the judges have turned against Colton. “I think your voice is a lot more powerful than that song,” says Tyler. Randy nicks Colton for not going “out of your comfort zone.”
You’d think Marvin Gaye’s bedroom eyes classic “Let’s Get It On” would be a great number for Elise, based on how well she’s performed similar tunes in the past. But it’s not great and instead reads “over eager” and showy. Randy pegs it, saying Elise “over-sang it” and should have “let it breathe.”
Hello, Phil2! He’s undocked himself from his guitar -- look at him try to shake his self around the stage. He’s actually having fun on Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” instead of, well, lecturing us in song. And he’s fun to watch. “You make we want to get up there and do that little step with you!” giggles JLo. “Brilliantly awkward,” says Tyler -- the best line of the night, and a vast improvement over his usual “what can I say?”
“Try A Little Tenderness” is Jessica Sanchez’s second Redemption Shot, but she belts it out hoarsely, angrily, like someone thumbing her nose at all of you who did not vote for her last week. Tyler likes it but JLo seems stumped; ditto Randy.
Skylar, on the other hand, is having herself a night, hitting a home run with the judges with “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” “Every time you come on stage it’s a party,” Randy says. “We love your spunkiness,” says JLo.
Ryan promises us “an emotional civil rights anthem” from Joshua singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Joshua delivers. We don’t get the eye-flirt thing he does at the outset, and someone really should have advised the “Idol” anemone in the mosh pit to can The Wave thing on the civil rights anthem. But Joshua does a great job on this wonderful song – even a hacked-up-for-time version. Standing O from TJR. “Please, America, don’t send this boy home!” JLo shouts. Randy takes a moment to self-promote: “This talent is better than any show on TV! Period!” In fairness, he is correct.
Besides the voice, the most endearing thing about Joshua for our money is his ability to deflect any effort by Seacrest to glam him up. Tonight, Seacrest wonders what was going through his mind as he sang an emotional civil rights anthem on this, the best show on TV? Actually, says Josh, he couldn’t take his eyes off “those abs on the side of that dress,” and points at JLo.