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TV Column
Posted at 01:57 AM ET, 03/22/2012

‘American Idol’ 2012: Top 10 perform Billy Joel songs


”Idol” Top 10: Phillip Phillips, Elise Testone, DeAndre Brackensick, Hollie Cavanaugh, Colton Dixon, Skylar Laine, Heejun Han, Jessica Sanchez, Josh Ledet and Erika Van Pelt. (Michael Becker - Fox)

Who knew the Idolettes were so partial to Shannon Magrane, the very tall 16 year-old who was cut from the show last week? As Wednesday night’s episode opens, they are overwhelmed by tears over Shannon’s departure, until a photographer tells them to brighten up for a photo shoot because… This Is “American Idol”!

Enter the judges: Randy Jackson, wearing a shirt that looks like the rug in front of the concession stand of the AMC 13-plex at the end of a Saturday night…Steven Tyler wearing some kind of striped boating jacket and looking like a man who fell into the drink watching the Henley Regatta…and Jennifer Lopez in a form fitting leather number -- a sort of full-body Jimmy Choo.

Tonight is the song book of Billy Joel night on “Idol.” Congratulations, Billy Joel on reaching this pinnacle of your career. Nothing left but the Kennedy Center Honors now!

And who better to coach the Idolettes than the man who is known as The Man Who Nobody Has the Nerve to Say Is Nothing Like Billy Joel, Really – Sean Combs. What shall we call you tonight, Mr. Combs, among your rich catalogue of names? Just Diddy, apparently.

Plus…fashion advice from Tommy Hilfiger, the man known as The Poor Man’s Ralph Lauren.

How young is DeAndre Brackensick? Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were already divorced when he was born, that’s how young. Diddy and “Idol” staff mentor Jimmy Iovine try to explain to DeAndre that “Only the Good Die Young” is about a shy teenager trying to win the favors of a Catholic girl; DeAndre is listening like a kid who’s never had a problem in that department. “Sing it to Jennifer, “ Jimmy advises. “She’s a Catholic girl.”

Tommy’s fashion advice to DeAndre is to perform with his hair not tied back. Tommy has apparently missed this season of “Idol” to date, which has seen plenty of DeAndre’s hair swinging.

DeAndre’s singing never quite gets on top of this song, though his hair does keep perfect time. The judges declare it the perfect way to start a Billy Joel retrospective.


Erika Van Pelt (Michael Becker - Fox)
The jazzy Erika Van Pelt gets told by the mentors to tone it down on “A New York State of Mind” and yet “deliver it like a New Yorker walking down the street.” So she may have been in a confused state of mind when Tommy Hilfiger gets his hands on her and convinces her to cut short her blonde hair, dye it, and style it like The New Darker Justin Bieber Look. And yet, she still delivers the song in her same, jazzy style. “Idol” teaches strength of character, that’s for sure.

JLo sees in her look “a Pat Benatar vibe” and advises her to loosen up on stage. Randy delivers some kind of sage advice about those who can, do, and those who can’t, don’t, adding that Erika did.

Billy Joel, a reach for sure for the gospel singer Joshua Ledet, and his choice of “She’s Got a Way” is as good as any. Diddy has his work cut out for him. “Once we got him to be present, to be all the way there, it’s magic,” Diddy affirms.

Tommy wants Joshua to look like a “polished superstar” in a tux.

Joshua does not wear a tux on stage. He is, however, wearing a dark jacket. He is a bit lost in the song until a gospel choir comes on stage to back him and this simple little love song begins to sound like the road to redemption.

JLo says he lacked conviction; Randy calls it half a good performance. Tyler follows along the same lines. Then they spend exactly as much time as they’d spent giving pointers in apologizing for giving pointers.

Country Idolette Skylar Laine is awed by Diddy and asks for his autograph. His coaching: “the truth will make you free.” Diddy is pleased with the results. “You loved that she loved you,” Jimmy snarks.


Skylar Laine (Michael Becker - Fox)
Tommy looks at Skylar’s fringed cowboy boots on rehearsal day. Skylar tells Tommy she owns a lot of boots. “Let’s try evolving your look without abandoning your boot idea,” he says and he suggests that to go with her grey dress they consider “color matching the boots.”

She sings “Shameless” in leggings and high heels.

It’s a bit of a forced country fit for a Joel song. After, she tells the judges she modeled it on Garth Brooks’s version. “I love your attack” says JLo. “Every time you hit a chorus you hit it with such conviction,” Tyler adds.

Elise Testone “would look incredible in a pair of high-wasted bell bottoms, maybe a short jacket on top,” Tommy advises her during rehearsal.

Elise hits the stage in a floor-length red dress with a plunging neckline, and long black vest. Tommy Hilfiger: Most Ignored Fashion Maven In America!

Jimmy says he can’t figure why Elise is such a strong singer and winds up in the bottom three. He urges her not to go with the number she’s picked -- something from a footnote of the Billy Joel Songbook, “Vienna Waits for You,” warning her that if she picks a tune people don’t know, she could be toast (viewers do the voting in this competition).

Elise insists she was meant to sing this tune. She sells it hard with all kinds of riffs and high points, including a strange, if impressive melodic ending that may have been from Debussy.

Standing O from the wildly enthusiastic judges, who, in their comments, ooze desperation to keep Elise in the competition. Tyler: “Just brilliant…You picked your song, you picked your dress.” Randy: “she had a moment tonight…That run at the end is so difficult . I don’t know any singers that can sing it other than you.”

Phil Philips puts in some chat time with show host Ryan Seacrest – who, BTW, is on a one-man mission to bring back the three-piece suit -- while the Coca-Cola logo flashes next to Phil and the big red and white bubbles appear behind him. Okay, we get it: Idolettes from the South are good for Coke.

“Not to be rude but I think you need help,” Tommy tells Phil during the rehearsal process. Tommy apparently has not watched enough “Idol” to know that being The Scruffy Guy, like Phil, has often been a winning strategy on the show. Phil is quite insistent that “I just want to bring the music first.” Tommy warns him that no one should wear grey on camera because grey is very dull. A grey shirt would be just fine, Phil says. “America will not vote for him,” if he doesn’t follow Tommy’s advice, Tommy warns. America will not be “looking at a star.”

On to the musical mentoring. Diddy makes Phil stop singing and takes away Phil’s guitar. Diddy apparently has not watched enough “Idol” to know that being the Scruffy Guy with Guitar is THE winning formula for “Idol” these days.. But Diddy has an even better idea: make Phil sing to a group of hot chicks who inexplicably have appeared in the rehearsal room and we assume are Diddy’s entourage. Phil complies and sings to the chicks, now surrounding Diddy, but Phil looks ill at ease. As if Diddy would notice! “You got it!” Diddy shrieks.

On performance night, Phil is wearing not one, but two grey shirts. He’s also playing his guitar.

He performs a slowed down version of “Moving Out,” with a Later Bruce Springsteen take on the song, which we never noticed before is kind of an anguished protest song, even if Billy Joel didn’t write it, or sing it, that way.

The judges love it, particularly because it allows them to take a shot at their weekly tormentor, Jimmy Iovine, and maybe also at Diddy. Particularly JLo, who used to be a Diddy item: “I felt you were taking out a little bit of aggression on your mentors at the end there!” she gushed, approvingly. Randy points out that Tommy told him not to wear grey and he’s wearing “grey-on-grey” and Diddy took away his guitar and he’s got his guitar. Tyler tosses Phil one of his scarves which, only after much prompting from Ryan, Phil tosses to a gaggle of screaming tween girls who make up a huge “Idol” voting bloc and who we have to thank for the slew of scruffy guys with guitars who have won this thing for too many seasons. “I want the music to be first,” Phil repeats, we think, though it’s hard to hear him over the squealing.

Singing American Girl doll Hollie Cavanagh will perform “Honesty,” but there’s a problem in rehearsal. Jimmy thinks that, at 18, she hasn’t suffered enough disillusionment to convey the spirit of the song. So that leaves her, what three days before live show, to get disillusioned? Well, she puts on her best Disillusioned Face for the performance, and concentrates real hard on sounding embittered, with the result that her usually strong singing is frequently out of range and the overall effect is a mess. Overthinking, is the diagnosis of both Randy and Tyler. So now Hollie has a real disillusioned face.

Heejun Han, who at any time may or may not be punking those around him, seems to be sincere when he tells Jimmy and Diddy that he was hurt by the criticism from the judges last week. “You have to have tough skin,” Diddy advises him earnestly. Later, however, Diddy seems unsure as to whether he too was being punked. “I don’t know if he’s an actor or a con man,” Diddy tells Iovine. “I don’t even know if he’s Asian. Maybe he’s black.”


Heejun Han ( Michael Becker - Fox)
The guileless Tommy Hilfiger turns out to be the perfect straight man for Heejun. Tommy asks Heejun who he looks up to for fashion sense. “Jessica Sanchez,” says Heejun – Sanchez being a fellow Idolette. “Madonna?” Heejun guesses when Tommy suggests he try again. Tommy suggests he pick a guy fashion role model. “I think Heejun was testing me…I think he wanted to see if was going to push him,” Tommy affirms earnestly.

Heejun hits the stage in a tux and black knit cap, but the tux turns out to be a breakaway jacket to reveal the worse fashion choice of the evening: a patterned T-shirt over a red long sleeved dress shirt, and a knit cap. Heejun really works the stage, then the audience, then the stage again singing “My Life.” It’s frat-house antics and his diction isn’t up to the lyrics.

JLo raves about the goofy fun of it all. Then, for the first time since he joined “Idol,” a clearly annoyed Tyler clobbers an Idolette, sternly telling Heejun “the music business will kick your ass” and suggesting he “take it a little more serious.” Randy seems somewhat taken aback, and he compliments Heejun, apologetically, for having a good time.

“You want to look taller,” Tommy suggest to the tiny Jessica Sanchez. He likes the dress she has chosen though he suggests she shorten it.

During rehearsal, Jessica sings “Everybody Has a Dream” and Diddy interrupts her vocal histrionics, telling her, “I don’t believe you” because of her over-singing. He tells her to knock off the excess and Iovine tells her she’s a whole lot better when she stops swinging her head and flinging her hair and focuses on someone and sings to them, suggesting she sing to Diddy. She does, and she’s much better.

She does same during her performance. And, hey! She’s wearing the dress Tommy signed off on — score one for America’s Most Ignored Fashion Maven! Truth is, this song is pretty dull, but Jessica does a good job of wringing some interest out of it.

JLo thinks the performance “a defining moment.” Randy thanks Jimmy, Diddy and Tommy for their “excellent mentoring” of Jessica. Tyler says she’s beyond his critiquing, adding, “When god was giving out vocal cords you were SO at the front of the line!”

Last up is Colton Dixon and right away he and Tommy have a conflict over his skunk coxcomb hairdo. “I’m a little worried about the hair,” Tommy says, suggesting the haircut is a distraction. “My hair’s my baby,” Colton pouts, creepily. Tommy is right — the whole hair thing makes Colton look like one of the Angry Birds and at any moment about to dash off in hot pursuit of green pigs.

Colton is a good enough piano player so he’s got a slam dunk on his hands with “Piano Man.” He sings loud, he sings clear, he sings a near Billy Joel imitation, with some hammy bits. “I had goosies from head to toe!” Jennifer enthuses. “Your choice of chords when your voice resolved was stunning,” adds Tyler — which in lay parlance means, “I had goosies from head to toe!” And Randy loves Colton’s hair.


Colton Dixon (Michael Becker - Fox)
So, good inning for Colton! But it gets better. Ryan asks about Colton’s seeming hesitance to start playing at the beginning of the number. Colton explains, “I’ve been praying before this whole thing…saying, ‘God, use me’.” Next week, Colton gets the Coke logo and the red and white bubbles – just you watch!

Related reading:

Last Thursday: Top 10 Idolettes make summer tour, Shannon Magrane is sent packing

Last Wednesday: Producers toss Jermaine Jones; survivors perform songs from the year they were born

By  |  01:57 AM ET, 03/22/2012

 
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