Open: Host Ryan Seacrest doing his Rightful Heir to Dick Clark Mantle routine with the judges and the Idolettes, asking everybody if they are ready to rock.
We get a better look at the judges and – intense fashion moment! Steven Tyler is wearing a bus-stop ad for Maybelline. Jennifer Lopez has come dressed for a yachting party on Ralph Lauren’s boat. And Randy Jackson, in a beautiful white shirt that’s hanging out, the long jacket, and the sequined sad-face lapel pin, has just escaped from an Edwardian bacchanal.
Tonight is the 400th episode, says Ryan. Some of tonight’s contestants were only a few episodes old when the show launched!
The reading of the rules: Guys, Stevie Wonder songs, Girls, Whitney Houston songs. Tomorrow night, the reveal of the guy and girl who got the fewest viewer votes and the judges will decide which one goes. Take that Simon Cowell — “Idol” has just lifted your one good “X Factor” gimmick! Game on!
Super Mentor and Designated Truth Teller Jimmy Iovine has brought in Mary J. Blige as Guest Mentor. First mentee: Joshua Ledet, who may be the best male voice of the season. Joshua comes out of a gospel singing background so Mary suggests he church it up a bit on “I Wish.” It works. “That’s my Mantasia,” he says after. Judges love him.
Elise “I’m Not Enjoying This At All” Testone goes in to see Mary and Jimmy wanting to do “Greatest Love of All” but they disabuse her of that and she is Not Enjoying That At All. “I didn’t feel like the feedback was lining up with the situation I was in,” she whines on tape. They put her on “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and, while she’s got a strong voice, she is clearly Not Enjoying This At All. After listening to the judges get all down on her — “Felt like you were boxing with the song,” says Randy – she even snaps at inoffensive Ryan when he tries to push aside a stray hair from her face. “You don’t like that?” she snarls.
Jermaine Jones follows the Super Mentors advice and doesn’t overplay his version of “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” His voice is rich and he’s a pleasure to listen to. Some picking of nits by the judges: JLo thinks he needs to loosen up and stop concentrating on the notes. Jermaine seems unimpressed. “I think I did a pretty good job,” he says when Ryan asks.
Erika Van Pelt is having one of her good nights, with “I Believe In You and Me.” “When you stopped thinking…it as unbelievable,” Randy gushes, while JLo agrees, in re the whole “thinking – bad” thing. Tyler, who’s never gonna be accused of too much thinking, pronounces it beautiful.
Colton Dixon has a problem. His wheelhouse is alt-vampire rock but now he has to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.” The Super Mentors have him sing one of his own songs in rehearsal to get him in touch with his “vulnerability,” as Iovine says. His performance is “very Coldplay,” enthuses Randy. We’ve have left off “play.” Randy points out. Lopez likes that he “showed his heart” and Ryan wants all the girls to notice his “smoldering eyes.” Colton obliges and smolders his eyes one more time for the camera.
The Super Mentors tell Shannon Magrane to stop thinking. Why are they all so down on brain activity tonight? She gets swallowed up by the song on stage — not because she is thinking, but because she’s actually not such a hot singer. Even Tyler is provoked to thought. “I think your nerves got the best of you,” he says, noting that in particular “on the turnaround you crashed and burned.”
Deandre Brackensick is advised by Mary J. Blige to un-pretty his voice and does go easy on the falsetto in a reggae arrangement of “Master Blaster.” It’s weak but thank you whoever advised him to pull his hair back so he’d stop flipping it manically. JLo lovers his “soul” and “swagger.”
Skylar Laine starts to run over “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” with her country all terrain vehicle style, but Mary J. wisely tells her to tone it down, which Skylar does well in rehearsal and much less so during her live performance. Sitting on a stool center stage at the start, Skylar opens as though she’s going to give pleasant enough straight-ahead performance. But, a minute later, she’s hopped back on her vocal ATV and is roaring her way around the stage. Jennifer finds it a bit “nasally,” but still announces that Skylar delivered the “biggest moment of the night” — quite a statement, given that about a third of the Idolettes have yet to perform.
Class clown Heejun Han is next. Ryan shows a funny picture of Heejun trying to eat Deandre’s hair. When he sees Deandre, Heejun explains in his standard deadpan, “it makes me want to eat some noodles.” He concludes his training session with Jimmy and Mary by giving them autographed photos of himself, signed “Love you” to Jimmy, and “Love you more than Jimmy” to Mary.
We love this guy. Everybody loves this guy, and wants to grade his singing on a curve. Heejun’s always better than you expect, but worse than he ought to be. And so it is in “All In Love Is Fair.” “I loved you from the first time you sang for me,” coos JLo, while Randy’s judgment is that “it wasn’t perfect, but it was really good.”
Hollie Cavanagh, the Little Girl With the Big Voice attempts “All The Man I Need,” and it’s little girl-big voice rote performance. We blame it on thinking. The judges enthuse, however. “This is like Whitney’s prime joint right there…you nailed it,” Randy gushes.
Jeremy Rosado, who was voted off but saved because he has the uncanny power to both make JLo cry and get the goooosies at the same time, which apparently causes her to stop thinking, says he wants to prove himself to America with a difficult song. So it’s “Ribbons In the Sky” for Jeremy. It’s too big a song for him and he seems a bit lost, or maybe the band is just getting mixed too loud which is always a possibility on “Idol.” We swear we see JLo’s eyes well up. Tyler says Jeremy “didn’t get to fly like you usually do” but it “doesn’t matter.” But Randy is stern: “You have to put more swag into it to make it believable,” which we believe is shorthand for swagger and not a request for a payoff.
Next up, Jessica Sanchez, the best singer of this competition or maybe ever, in the “Idol”verse. She takes on the poor dead Whitney anthem, “I Will Always Love You” and it’s flawless — though, maybe slightly creepy, given that it was such a perfect replica. Standing ovation from the judges. “Jessica Sanchez is legit!” shouts Randy. “You may be the one,” Tyler says. “You just made 40 million people cry.”
Last up, Phillip Phillips, This Year’s Scruffy Guy With Guitar. He tackles “Superstition” like some kind of angry screed from Bruce Springsteen’s later, midlife crisis years. Guess Phillip is really down on superstition. His delivery is all riffs, no melodies, and while the rockin’ guitarists on stage with him work, the horn section seems out of character. It’s a bit of a mess, which the judges find is a strong indication that he “made it his own.” Tyler gets tonight’s Paula Abdul Memorial Cup for Public Speaking Without Meaning, telling Phillip he’s “ a very interesting character, man. You got a lot of ‘forget about it’ in your voice. There’s no words for it -- you just are. You know what I’m saying?”
But before they go, Ryan puts the judges on the spot. Who did Randy like the best tonight? Joshua and Jessica. Who does JLo think is in trouble? Shannon. And Tyler says he’s worried about Shannon and the dour Elise, adding, “The standouts were Jessica Sanchez — and Jessica Sanchez.”
Tomorrow night, the voting results and, we hope, less thinking.