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TV Column
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/17/2012

‘American Idol’ 2012: The final three and the search for a ‘moment-moment-moment’

(Note: Lisa de Moraes is covering the upfronts in New York, and will return to recap the season finale next week.)

America, we’re down to your final three! Is this the lineup you imagined? As knock-out talented as both Joshua and Jessica are, I assumed that voters wouldn’t get him and that they wouldn’t warm to her. Though of course we have Phillip here, as we always knew we would. And here you have me. My name is Amy, and I’ll be your recapper tonight.

The attire tonight for judges is business-formal. Jennifer Lopez is in a blush-colored pantsuit poofed at the ankles. Randy is in a shiny orange blazer. Steven Tyler in simple dark lizard skin.

Ryan presages the big event on the horizon — just seven days from now they’ll be coming to us from the Nokia Theatre, blah blah, wait what? Rewind. Next week the finals are ONE DAY EARLIER — performance on Tuesday, finale on Wednesday. Now you tell us? Likewise, the Idolettes were just left to guess about the dress code. So Joshua is done up like George Hamilton on a first date; Jessica is wrapped in a purple bustled strapless ballgown; Phillip is wearing what he wore yesterday and the day before that: Light-gray shirt over medium-gray shirt.

Tonight’s three rounds: Judges’ picks, Idols’ picks, Jimmy’s picks.

For Joshua, Randy has chosen a bluesy R&B song — Etta James’s “I’d Rather Be Blind.” Joshua blasts it, as usual, with that fascinating lispy thing creeping around the edges, Mantasia style. But it’s not the catchiest song at this delicate point in the proceedings; we know very well that if Randy hadn’t picked it, he’d have been all, “I dunno, dawg, you needed to pick something the folks at home know. . .” This show’s just not fair.

Steven’s into it: “Out of 70,000 there’s only one American Idol, and you sang like that one tonight.” J-Lo coos that he’s “such a throwback” and “we love that about you,” and something in her voice makes it sound like she’s getting ready to break it off with Joshua. Randy gives him the line about how he’s “such a classic stylist,” and how “I’m hoping you can take what you can do and bring that into modern times” — just, presumably, for someone else’s record label.

Ryan’s banter with Joshua is so awkward that I decide to FFWD through all subsequent Ryan pre-commercial banter, so this is the last you’ll see of him in this recap. Thanks for alerting us to next week’s schedule change, though, Ryan. Seacrest OUT!

Ah, look who’s in the audience — the rest of the top 12. Jimmy Iovine is pretending that he doesn’t realize HeeJun is sitting right behind him. Oh, hey, sorry — didn’t see you there!

For Jessica’s song, J-Lo wants to sidestep all the power ballads for a tune called “My All,” by that mistress of subtlety, Mariah Carey: “There’s a tenderness in this ballad I feel she will kill.” Well, Jessica definitely killed the tenderness, but probably not in the way J-Lo meant. She sounds a little wobbly and shrill and breathy.

Well, what do I know? They liked it. Or did they? “Yo, I mean, that was absolutely beautiful,” says Randy, while noting that he generally warns Idols never to tackle a Mariah song because it’s oh-so-difficult (and has he mentioned that he’s worked with Mariah?). J-Lo’s praise has a certain undermining quality: “It’s a hard song! I could tell in the middle. . . It’s about doing it your own way. You didn’t go to the big part in the end, and we loved that!” Steven claims that people hang on Jessica’s every note and implies that she’ll “be the last one standing.” (Which, didn’t he just tell that to Joshua?)

For Phillip, Steven wants a song that will get him “to hit the melodies a little stronger” (I’m liking the passive-aggression tonight), and he has chosen Madcon’s “Beggin’”

What? Oh, that song. Phillip does his usual Dave Matthews fratty jamboree-funk — fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. J-Lo seat-dances with that horizontal chin-jut move of hers — but here’s where I need to point out that “American Idol” once again has some pretty serious provenance issues. “Beggin’” is not “a Madcon song.” It’s a song by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons that Madcon just happened to cover a couple years ago. “American Idol” does this all the time — whether it’s letting the kids sing a “birth year” song that’s actually a cover or re-release; or over-praising the kids for “totally reinventing” an old song when they’ve simply done a note-for-note ripoff of someone else’s new arrangement. J-Lo giggles that Phillip just can’t help but “mess with” a song: “You catch a groove that’s all yours and ride it home!” And indeed, P-squared’s version is a little different from Madcon’s hip-hop reboot of “Beggin.’” But you know, it’s not all that different from the original Four Seasons’ version. So give me a break.

Then Steven really lays it on. “I’m hoping you write your own songs,” he declares to Phillip. “Because you could be a New Age Boss, a new Springsteen.” Which is like Steven Tyler telling me he’s hoping I run a sub-six-minute mile, because then I could win the New York City Marathon.

Hometown visits — they’re hard to resist, right? Joshua flies a private jet to a tiny airport, gets a police escort through the country roads of Westlake, La. It’s all adorable: a town too small to muster much of a Beatlemania mob. He goes back to his little country church and to his old high school and sings at the local arena. What’s not to like?

Back in the Idoldome, Joshua’s song choice is John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I’ve never loved the song, but he kills the tenderness, as J-Lo would say. I’m totally in the tank for him. I’d be as pleased as punch if Mantasia won the title. J-Lo gives him some more gentle-letdown rhetoric about how we’re down to the final three and everyone is beautiful in their own way. Randy loves how Joshua found meaning in the song and hopes that he carries that wonderful quality with him in his career. In other words: We wish you the best in your future projects.

Jessica gets ready to go home, and apparently she’s from a little suburb of Los Angeles known as San Diego; you can only get there via helicopter. She reveals that “I was homeschooled, I didn’t have a lot of friends.” But when she went back for her home visit, “guys were chasing my car, and that’s never happened to me before!” (Poor dear. If you go to regular school, that happens ALL THE TIME.) She gets a plaque from the mayor at the Chula Vista amphitheater and goes to a rally at a high school that presumably she’s never set foot in, and does a photo op on Navy vessel; her dad is a reservist, it turns out.

Back in the Idoldome, she’s done up in haute-Pocahontas style, earth-tone frock and massive turquoise jewelry. Her song choice: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.” Awww, teacher’s pet! She’s a helluva belter. But do you know who a great American Idol is? It’s someone who comes out singing a familiar song, and for the first couple bars you think, “Dang, this is a good song” — until you realize that, no, you’ve always hated this song, but they’ve somehow transformed it. I saw Carrie Underwood do that with “Islands in the Stream,” and Taylor Hicks, bless his heart, with, like, half a dozen Michael McDonald tunes. But Jessica Sanchez doesn’t do that. For all her virtues, she does not elevate a song. She actually made me a little bored here with a song I kind of like. Sorry.

But what do I know? Steven Tyler tells her she took a great song and made it greater. J-Lo says “that note at the end, oh wow, sends everybody into the heavens.” Randy thinks it started a little slow but yo, she delivered, and he’s like yo.

Phillip Phillips takes a jet back to Leesburg, Ga., and little girls are squealing on the tarmac. Then big girls are squealing at his parade. And there’s a crowd outside his dad’s pawn shop. The Internet tells me that Leesburg is only half the size of Westlake, La., but damned if he hasn’t drawn a serious mob. I suppose they’re on the right side of history.

Back in the Idoldome, he’s changed into a taupe shirt. His song choice is “Disease” by Matchbox 20. You know: That band whose sound dominated the airwaves in the late 90s, and then a decade later inspired the sound of three consecutive soft-rock guy Idol winners whose careers haven’t amounted to much. He gives his dirt-eating grin and that head-cocking wince, and I’ll be honest right now. There have been times this season when Phillip Phillps has broken through to me, melted my reserve. Stevie Nicks was right — he does look like a young Lindsey Buckingham, and sometimes he is just undeniable. But this is not one of those times.

What do I know? EVERYTHING, that’s what. J-Lo also didn’t feel it! (“I’m sorry, baby.”) Steven tries to diagnose the problem (“You don’t have the disease, you have the bug. Rock it out”). And Randy didn’t like it either: “You can do those things in your sleep.”

Finally, it’s time for Jimmy Iovine, the great sage and savior of this season, to issue his picks. Flashback to Joshua riding around Louisiana in his limo. A text from Jimmy: “No More Drama,” by Mary J. Blige. “You’ve got that,” declares a relative, and the sweetly smug look on Joshua’s face is like the guy who knows he’s got the Final Jeopardy question nailed.

Joshua comes out in sparkly epaulets, bouncing from the knees Fantasia style. As usual he sounds great. But is he connecting? I don’t think he is. But then: He does the Fantasia strut. Loses the jacket. And in the audience, Holly and Shannon (remember her?) are fist-pumping as Joshua does some growly talk-sing riff at the end. Connecting!

The judges finally greet him with praise that sounds optimistic. “You have laid everything on this stage there is to lay,” says Randy. “People should just stand up and vote for you.” J-Lo is bowled over by “the magic that happens — you know you’re gonna take off the jacket, but it’s when you take off that jacket, it’s how you take off that jacket.”

Flashback to Jessica at her parents’ house. Jimmy texted Joshua, but he’s mailed Jessica a new phone with his text on it. Did she not have one of her own? Also, a fancy little speaker box thingy. Her assignment, if she chooses to accept it: “I’ll Be There,” by the Jackson Five.

Jimmy explains that the choice was about conveying to the audience how young she is, and YES! Finally! All season long, Lisa and I have bemoaned the fact that they’ve been dressing her like a 28-year-old cocktail waitress instead of the sweet suburban kid she is. And so to sing this sweet teenage song, Jessica walks out in . . . a bright red blazer with bedazzled pockets and black leggings, looking like something Morgan Fairchild might have worn on whatever show Morgan Fairchild was ever on. But she sounds awesome, frankly. “Perfect song, perfect voice,” says Steven, and J-Lo agrees. Randy, though, complains that there was never a Moment. “It needed, like, a moment-moment-moment.”

Flashback to Phillip in Georgia, where he also gets a big package in the mail from Jimmy Iovine — phone, speakers. (Hey, Joshua, where’s yours?) Song choice for Phillip: “We’ve Got Tonight,” by Bob Seger.

On a dimly lit stage, Phillip wears all black and sort of nervously massages his own thigh in a way you can’t stop watching. Either he or his vocal coach have come up with an intriguing way to rework the bridge, and you know — wait, what was that? Darn it, did he just have a moment? A moment-moment-moment? I give up, I give in. The judges are on their feet. Shannon and Holly fan themselves, swooningly. “You had a giant moment!” says Randy. “In it to win it!” Steven is so blown away that they have to bleep him out. J-Lo says some more words but I didn’t type them. Because, well, we all know where this is going.

Related reading:

TV Column: Fox execs say ‘Idol’ will be “tweaked” next year; reports surface that J-Lo is quitting

Last week’s results show: Hollie Cavanagh goes home

Last week’s performance show: Final four perform

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/17/2012

Tags:  American Idol, American Idol 2012

 
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