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TV Column
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/03/2012

‘American Idol’: Mentor Steven Van Zandt wowed when Josh masters Bee Gees tune in 15 minutes


Jessica Sanchez (Michael Becker - Fox)

Only five Idolettes left on “American Idol” which means we’re in the home stretch, and each will have to sing two songs – one from the 60’s and one Britpop tune. Haven’t we covered both genres already this season?

After a week at death’s door, host Ryan Seacrest is feeling well eough again to resume tripping lightly down the Stairway from Paradise, in a gorgeous grey sharkskin suit.

The judges make their entrance. Steven Tyler is wearing one of his Palm Beach Matron pants suits. Randy Jackson is wearing a splendid gold silk jacket with the most gorgeous brooch on his lapel. Jennifer Lopez is dressed as the national flag of some central European country.

Wearing a dashing purple blazer is tonight’s celebrity mentor, Steven Van Zandt, the Springsteen sideman,“Sopranos” actor, and long-time buddy of “Idol” Mentor-In-Chief Jimmy Iovine.

Van Zandt gives Hollie Cavanagh some practical advice, finally, after weeks of being told to “stop thinking.” “Act like you don’t care what anybody thinks,” he says. She appears to comprehend, giving her best performance of the show to date, with Ike and Tina Turner number “River Deep, Mountain High.” “It’s the first time I heard you step out and use your blues,” Tyler says. “You showed me you got in you — thank you, Lord!”

Speaking of “act like you don’t care what anybody thinks,” Phillip2 is up next. He’s picked the Box Tops’ “The Letter.” Iovine and Van Zandt are adorable as they mix it up over Phil.

“It wasn’t exciting,” says Iovine.

“Leave him alone. He’s good!” says Van Zandt.

Phil has slowed the song down considerably and, for those who remember the original, it’s interesting; for those who don’t, it’s a good time to check if your load of laundry has finished its spin cycle.

Entertainment ensues as the judges try to find ways to say nice things about Phil’s performance. “Maybe it didn’t have quite as much melody (as the original)…but you made it new for me,” says Randy. “The song missed a little melody…But you’re so compelling to watch,” adds JLo. “Good news, bad news — I missed the melody,” says Tyler. “The good news is you get away with it.”

Takeaway for aspiring Idolettes at home? Melody: Overrated.

Skylar Laine wants to sing “Knock on Wood” but Iovine and Van Zandt talk her out of it – “I don’t think that’s going to get you anything, says Van Zandt — and into singing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” because “it’s a real song of rebellion,” says Iovine, and that’s how he sees her.

Skylar is back in her ultra-manic mode. We lost a pound just watching her. Tyler calls it Skylar’s “boot scoot.” We were thinking more all-terrain vehicle on black ice on a dark night in Branson. “You attack every single song,” JLo says for nth time -- we’ve lost count. “You’re like a slingshot,” Seacrest tells Skylar.

Joshua Ledet and Phil are forced to duet to the The Righteous Brothers’ “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Phil tells Seacrest he’s dreading it. Josh says it’s horrible and seems to mumble something about Phil not even knowing the tune. “We don’t have time to prepare it now, “ Seacrest says. Are they joking, or is it that Seacrest, now that he’s taking NBC News Interview Training, can’t help but elicit the truth from everyone

The performance is just awful. Phil starts out of tune. The harmonies are off. “Something beautiful’s dyin’,” Phil sings, telling us only what we already know. It gets better toward the end, as Josh uncorks one of his powerful ending moments, which even seems to turn up the thermostat on the normally set-at-68-degrees Phil. Then it all falls apart at the end when Phil tries to put his arm around Josh and Josh shakes him off. Tense

“You need to embrace each other!” says Tyler. “Look into each others eyes and sing that song! Get over it!” This just makes them more uncomfortable, so he quickly concludes the “duet was perfect.”

“I feel like you were so scared to sing that song together, but it was sung by two guys and it was major heartthrob time,” JLo explains.

Jessica Sanchez will try Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” “We all hate it,” says Van Zandt, in re musicians of his time. That’s because it was so overused by bar bands. “We came in prepared to try and talk her out of it…and then she blows your mind with how good a job she does.”

Jessica struts around, belts it out, puts some gravel in her voice. She even swings her hair, as JLo has advised her in the past. But, of course, she’s 16 years old, and no Tina Turner. Which Randy points out. “Whatever,” responds JLo, dismissively. Not sure why JLo thinks we should judge Jessica on a curve here, given that Jessica’s demonstrated she’s more than able to tackle Whitney Houston tunes.

Anyway, Tyler, who seems to pull off one great line per night, says “The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old.” The American Idol Decency Police faint dead away.

“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations is Joshua’s first solo number. He’s wearing a conservative dark blazer — in the middle, anyway. The sleeves have been borrowed from a baseball uniform, and he’s wearing an oversized yellow jonquil in his lapel, which Seacrest mistakes for a tulip. Too bad the song wasn’t as dynamic as the outfit, though Josh’s end run, and suave 60’s dance steps in unison with some hot backup dancers, saves the performance.

“You’ve got to be one of the top two best Idols of all time,” says Tyler, who declines to name the other one; we assume he’s not referring to any of the past three winners. “You could make a record like this…and bring R&B back,” says Randy. “You are so sick, it’s crazy,” adds JLo.

Under prodding from Seacrest, the reticent Josh hands his flower to one of the Sea Anemone Chicks who wave about at the front of the stage every week. He and Seacrest watch them fight over it for a moment.

Seacrest asks the judges to name the winners of Round 1. No one names Phil.

For her Britpop selection, Hollie will sing Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love.” This is Growing Up Before Our Eyes Week for Hollie. Van Zandt advises her to sing this tune “to one person” and “keep it intimate.” Which she does, while sitting on a piano, wearing a very grown up black gown. Is Van Zandt reall Hollie’s muse? Tyler says he loved it, loved it, loved it. JLo calls it “breathtaking.” Randy thinks she’s peaking at the right time in the competition.

Speaking of growth, here’s Phil2 again, who’s so anti-evolution, he’s positively creationist. For his Britpop number he will take another well-known tune and slow it down. This time it’s “Time of the Season” by The Zombies. If you know this song, it’s mildly interesting; if you don’t it’s a good time to check on the dryer. Things get even slower during two pointless instrumental breaks that aren’t really instrumental, and about half way through the number Phil gives up even trying to hit the high notes. Next week, watch Phil step outside to take a smoke break during his song’s chorus.

Cut to the judges’ table, where JLo appears to be reading a takeout menu. Seriously.

Entertainment ensues again as the judges struggle to find nice things to say about Phil. “He can really sing the melody!” Randy marvels, adding, “That’s a cool thing!” Adds Tyler: “I’m glad you sang the melody…it’s a crime in some songs not to sing the melody.”

The three remaining Chickolettes — Jessica, Skylar and Hollie — are together to sing a trio, but first, Seacrest suggests they mimic each other’s verbal and musical tics. Skylar does Hollie’s English accent. “I don’t sound like that,” Hollie says humorlessly. Hollie imitates Jessica’s singing style. Jessica glares at her.

Their song: “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher.” It’s just okay.

“It was so cute for me!” gushes JLo. “You’re like three cute little dolls!”

For her second, solo, tune, Skylar has chosen Dusty Springfield hit “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” In Skylar’s defense, it’s not her fault the producers placed some random couple on a park bench on stage to ignore her, like some scene from “Sunday in the Park with Skylar.” Props to her for overcoming that strange distraction, but, otherwise, her performance is country ham, including her trademark I Burned My Fingers! hand wave.

No matter, the judges love her.

“Winning over the hearts of America as we speak,” gushes JLo. “Peaking at the right time,” says Randy, though we’ve seen all her moves before and she landed in the Bottom 3 just last week. Randy asks, “Who were those weird people sitting on that bench over there and what were they talking about?” “Celebrating an anniversary, or something,” suggests Seacrest.

Jessica Sanchez is back, to sing Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful..” Iovine worries it’s too “lounge-y” minus Cocker’s grimaces and scratchy voice. Van Zandt tells Iovine to knock it off because Jessica is a great singer. Iovine suggests she sing it with a bunch of violins playing – violins aren’t lounge-y. She does a wonderful job – we’ve no doubt it had tweener girls, aka “Idol” voters, weeping -- even while sitting in the stage floor, surrounded by an inferno of pillar candles and smoke.

“Once again you showed America just how beautiful your voice is…You’re gonna be No. 1,” predicts Tyler, though we think he meant in the real world, not “Idol.” “This girl’s in the top of the leader board right now, dude,” adds Randy.

Gentlemanly moment follows, in which Seacrest walks to the edge of the stage, picks up Jessica’s eight-inch heels (she performed barefooted), brings them to her at center stage, kneels and puts them on her feet. Try pulling that off, Matt Lauer!

Josh blows Van Zandt away in rehearsal when he learns the BeeGees’ “To Love Somebody” cold in 15 minutes after Van Zandt and Iovine talking him out of doing a Tom Jones tune and instead suggest this number. Josh’s performance is destined to be the high point of the night.

“You are one of the best singers ever on this show, no matter what goes down!” raves Randy. JLo wants to top that. “One of the best singers I’ve seen in 50 years.”

Oops!

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/03/2012

Tags:  American Idol, American Idol 2012

 
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