View Photo Gallery: The 11th season of “American Idol.”

“American Idol” sets sail for uncharted waters tonight: The Idolettes will sing songs from the last few years.

Enter the judges: Steven Tyler, wearing a shower curtain. Jennifer Lopez in a gorgeous black dress made of horizontal slabs of fabric, bringing back happy memories of last week’s brisket. Randy Jackson is in a coat which, for older viewers, will bring back happy memories of Captain Kangaroo.

Can you believe “the finale is just over a month away?” asks host Ryan Seacrest.

Yes, we can.

And now, it’s time for a few minutes with Tommy Hilfiger in a segment titled America’s Most Barely Tolerated Fashion Expert.

This week Tommy explains to the Idolettes -- again -- that they must find their own look, by choosing among the available fashions from the American Idol “Icon” clothing line. And once again, the Idolettes will visibly Barely Tolerate Him.

Tonight’s celebrity mentor joining Mentor-In-Chief Jimmy Iovine: Akon, the “mega-hit maker,” as Seacrest says. Akon was the first to sign Lady Gaga so the Idolettes better listen up and be mentored.

Skylar Laine is the first of the remaining seven Idolettes to perform and she’s chosen Kellie Pickler’s “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” and she says she’ll sing it with a guitar. Oh no you won’t, says Iovine, who thinks it will hold back her performance – which could use a little holding back. Iovine tells her it’s not about “Can I play the guitar? Can I juggle? Can I eat an orange?”

Fortunately, she has no idea what he’s talking about and does, indeed, sing with her guitar, which does, indeed, restrain her manic stage mannerisms, for which we’d like to thank the guitar. She’s got a great voice, but, sadly, the song builds, and builds, and her voice rises, and her head shakes, and her Farrah Fawcett bangs start to bob, and she’s off again.

“Crows may crow but hens deliver the goods,” Tyler says of Skylar’s performance. Actually, it’s roosters that crow, but we’ll let it go.

“It’s you against Phillip. I think you’re behind Phillip – how are we going to pass him,” Iovine tells Colton Dixon, trying to get him amped up to go out and thrash Phil Phillips.

Colton is not looking amped. Of course, you know, and I know that what Iovine should have told him to get him amped is, “Phil thinks your hair looks like a dog’s shredded chew toy.”

Colton’s song is “Love the Way You Lie” by Skylar Grey, which he works his way through as a slow ballad and it works well for him. Tyler and Randy fight over Colton’s jacket.

Elise Testone and Phil will duet on “Somebody I Used to Know” by Gotye, and in the taped bit Phil builds it up that Elise chose the song and smacked him and threw things at him and generally dragged him along by the ear. That Phil, nobody can tell him nothin’.

Actually Elise did him a favor. It’s a good tune for her, but it pushes him out of his comfort zone and there are glimpses of what he might be if he’d get out of his Phil rut – sorta Sting like. But he won’t.

Akon loves Jessica Sanchez. Iovine says Akon told him long ago, “That’s the one. Feed her a few more hamburgers and she’s ready go.” (Jessica is a tiny 16-year-old). “She’s gonna be a legend one day,” Akon adds.

Unfortunately, Jessica has not picked a “legend” vehicle tonight: “Stuttering” from Jazmine Sullivan. She makes the most of it, however, and she’s a pleasure to listen to, as usual.

“You just slayed the biggest fish of the night!” raves Randy.

“Ever think you’d be called a fish slayer?” Seacrest asks Jessica.

“It’s like she took down a whale, dude!” shouts Randy. Whales are not fish, but we’ll let it go too.

“Not that we advocate taking down a whale,” Seacrest hastens to tell America, speaking for “Idol.”

Joshua Ledet -- the other great singer of the show -- gets a surprise taped shout-out from Fantasia Barrino, “from Fantasia to Mantasia,” she says. Please, Lord, do not saddle Joshua with Fantasia’s post-Idol career arc.

Joshua will perform Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby”. Iovine plainly loves Joshua but throws a nervous genre-fit question to Akon: “As an urban artist…is he connecting with you?”

“I’m connected,” Akon says.

Joshua gets the best production number yet—some very sexy dancer at the top of the staircase from which Joshua descends. This number is pure fun energy. He gets the night’s first standing ovation. “How tall are you?” Tyler asks. He’s 5’11”. “Did you see that girl? Six feet tall! Get that number, my brother,” Tyler says of the sexy dancer.

Seacrest calls Josh’s preacher dad up on stage. “Do you approve of the go-go girl?” Seacrest asks. “I reckon,” Dad answers without conviction.

Next up, Idol’s running joke: that Skylar and Colton have romantic chemistry. Seacrest manfully pushes this teaser, though we know darn well Colton’s only chemistry is with his hair. And spray painting small children, we learned last week.

They duet. She out-sings him.

Oh, dear, it’s the Never Ending Story that is Hollie Cavanagh. She sings, the judges tell her that she lacks feeling, she sings again, the judges tell her that she lacks feeling, etc. Hey judges! -- how about the feelings of futility you have instilled in her -- does that count?

Hollie has chosen “Perfect” by Pink. It’s the perfect song choice, because it keeps her in her really strong mid-range -- and it’s a song about being judged as inadequate, for goodness sake! It’s Hollie’s best performance in a long while, but somehow we sense the fight has gone out of her – not surprising given that the judges have got her pegged and refuse to veer off their script. They tell her it was better than last week.

Iovine tries the same locker-room speech on Phil Phillips that he used on Colton Dixon, saying they “both have the female vote” then adding, “Now, he could be ahead of you on the female vote.” Iovine’s just messing with him. “You really want to win it?” Iovine presses. “Yeah,” Phil offers mildly.

The song is “Give a Little More” by Maroon 5 and Phil starts off, at the mentors’ suggestion, out of character in that he’s pursuing the song for the melody. But, discipline breaks down and he’s back to strumming his way through a typical Phil rendition. Weirdly, Tyler commends him “for the way you’ve changed and evolved” into a “Steve McQueen/Johnny Cash kinda guy.”

JLo agrees that if Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash had had a baby, “that’s you.” But she dares to call Phil’s performance, “a little underwhelming” and adds, “I’ve seen this performance now a couple of times – I want to see you break out.” Then Randy agrees with JLo and adds that the performance was better at the beginning when he thought “Okay, this is going somewhere,” but then Phil reverted to his “normalized” self.

Well, here’s surprise: Joshua and Hollie are best buds and we see them wrestling like on the floor like much younger kids. “It’s just strange,” says Jessica Sanchez. She and the wrestlers are going to sing as a trio the Kelly Clarkson song “Stronger”. It’s pitchy, their voices are straining. Guess it’s the Hollie curse.

Elise will sing Lady Gaga. But first, Elise tells Ryan that she went to see a Jason Segel movie over the weekend. And, what do you know, Jason pops up in a live webcam from home to say “hi, Elise,” and when he pauses, she says “Is that all you got?” It’s a mark of Jason’s professionalism that he doesn’t disconnect the Skype on Elise, but continues with the script to wish tell her, “I think you’re amazing” and wish her luck.

If ever there was a Mentor’s Save on “Idol,” this is it. Elise in rehearsal is singing while playing the drums. Yes, her comeback from last week’s over-rocked disaster performance is to hide behind a drum set. “She’s on the road to destruction,” says Akon. They pry her off the drums for her performance of Gaga’s “You and I” and apparently convince her to drop her delusions of being a rock goddess and focus on her strong suit, the jazzy/bluesy Elise. It works. “You needed A Moment – you got it,” Randy gushes.

And in conclusion, Seacrest tries to get the judges to commit to something – anything -- about tonight’s performances and who’s ahead. But they’ll have none of it, knowing full well that whatever they say will come back at them in Iovine’s acid-tinged commentaries Thursday night. People will vote for their favorites, is JLo’s analysis. “It’s about being a great everything,” Randy affirms.

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