It’s ’80s Week on “American Idol” so, naturally, the show’s three judges have come dressed like it’s finals week at Clown School. Steven Tyler is dressed in skinny white pants on which have been painted even skinnier legs. Jennifer Lopez is dressed in tinsel. Randy’s in a red polka dot shirt white tie and black jacket – he needs bigger shoes, though, and tears painted under one eye. If they don’t start tumbling, or riding bareback we’ll be disappointed.
Show host Ryan Seacrest, meanwhile, is wearing his newest-member-of-the-NBC-family suit. He’s just come from Rockefeller Center where, this morning, he informed Matt Lauer he’s been groomed to replace him eventually.
This week each Idolette will be asked what they miss most while in Los Angeles, shacking up at Foreclosure Plaza Hollywood, and working seven days a week learning songs, shilling for “Idol,” and selling Ford cars.
Who better to mentor the Idolettes during ’80s week than No Doubt’s singer Gwen Stefani and drummer Tony Kanal.
DeAndre Brackensick really misses driving. Gwen tells him he has to stop with the scared puppy look during and after each performance and “Idol” Mentor in Chief Jimmy Iovine tells him he’s got to conquer his nerves or it’s all over for him tonight.
I’m only 17,” DeAndre responds.
He sings “I Like It” by DeBarge and – no, it was all just manufactured suspense. He’s completely at ease, working the stage, going in and out of his falsetto. He should just hop into the “Back to the Future” DeLorean and go be a star in the second Reagan administration.
“I was comfortable and I know I brought it,” DeAndre tells Seacrest afer it’s over.
Big props from the judging table. Randy “loved you used more of your natural voice not just falsetto…You could be a 2012 version of DeBarge!” Randy enthuses.
Elise Testone first wants to sing Leonard Cohen’s misery song “Hallelujah,” but the judges convince her to sing Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” because Stefani says her voice is sick and the rehearsal performance of that tune gave her and Kanal goosebumps. Kanal corrects Stefani, explaining “they’re called ‘goosies’ on this show.”
It’s merely dull, not wrist-slitting. The verse is out of her range on the low side and she’s pitchy, too. It’s so rare for the judges to ding a contestant that we’re jolted out of our seats when they agree that Elise blew it, though adding that she’s still great and can do nothing to diminish her greatness. “I’m not sure if that song was the right song for you baby,” says Tyler.
More bad news: the Idolettes will be paired off to sing duets this week. First victims: Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine do Kenny and Dolly doing “Islands In the Stream,” the country hit from 1983. Hey -- turns out they are a calming influence on each other, and that’s all to the good. Restrained from chewing scenery all over the stage, the two deliver straight ahead performances that really work, especially for Skylar who gives what might be her best performance of the competition to date. No, there’s no chemistry between them -- but you can’t have everything.
Nonetheless, Skylar says backstage, “Everybody is asking on Twitter if me and Colton are dating…We’re not,” while no doubt off-camera a publicist gives her a big thumbs-up.
Phillip, who misses playing guitar with his brother-in-law, is going to sing “That’s All,” by Genesis. During rehearsal, Kanal suggests Phil stop playing the guitar during the song for some dramatic emphasis and – Kanal doesn’t say it but we will -- to give the audience a break from the self-absorbed strumming that gives that muddled background to all of Phil’s performances. Of course, that schtick from a scruffy, good-looking white guy with guitar has worked like gangbusters for the last several “Idol” winners, so Phil should probably ignore Kanal’s advice. Which Phil mostly does, in a performance that’s okay at best, and most notable for the fact that he’s brought his brother-in-law to strum along, making a big move on the Family Voting Bloc.
“You’re just a wildflower aren’t you?” Tyler asks, confusing Phillip. Tyler loves “that you brought your bro up here” – though JLo shockingly hints that maybe the brother-in-law wasn’t such a great idea. He “plays loud,” she says, adding that Phil looked like that threw him off track at the start. Randy settles it by coming down firmly on the side of brothers-in-law as sidemen.
Hollie and DeAndre perform The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited.” His soft voice combined with her piercing one is the sonic equivalent of taking a bite of a hot buttered English muffin and then sucking on a lemon.
And now…Moments of Wisdom from the Judges’ Table. How goes the evening so far, Ryan asks each? Hard to judge for Steven because “the ’80s wasn’t really good for me…I was other places.” Randy announces it doesn’t matter what song an Idolette chooses because “if you sing it great, it won’t matter,” negating every season of “Idol” before this one.
Bring on Joshua Ledet the best male singer, already! He will perform “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” from Simply Red. The mentors are enthusiastic during rehearsal. In fact, Jimmy says he’s going to stand outside the hall and “sell Holy Ghost tee-shirts” because Joshua’s performance is sure to inspire people to buy the T-shirts. It’s a music-industry inside joke, we guess?
Joshua starts at a leisurely pace, and there’s a large drown-the-singer choir, but he manages to sidestep them and keeps on building. Joshua’s the real deal. The judges are buying the T-shirts. “Spectacular!” raves JLo. “I think we found someone tonight who’s got to have it,” screams Randy. Seacrest screams “You gots to have it!”
Joshua, on the other hand, is disarmingly modest, telling Seacrest, who asks how he can sing a tune like that, “I don’t know anything about the songs. I’m only 19 years old – I can’t say I’ve had any love problems.”
Jessica Sanchez, by far the best female vocalist, has been having some issues lately, pulling it all together into a really satisfying performance. She’s going to do “How Will I Know,” from the Whitney Houston songbook. Stefani advises Jessica to try some stage moves instead of her usual lounge-singer shtick. Jessica promises that she will surprise everybody by displaying her “alter ego.”
The alter ego turns out to be more imaginary friend. Jessica stage presence is virtually identical to that of her other performances: mostly about walking around and sometimes wagging her head. As always, her voice is strong, but this should have been a high-energy turn for her and it’s just medium energy. No matter, judges love it. “Everything you do is beautiful,” says Tyler. Randy is moved to a rare double-stroke judge’s commentary, in which he both manages to fawn over himself and Seacrest: “I had the pleasure of working on that song” he begins, and ends with, “Ryan, some might say she’s an Olympic performer. Are you going to judge the Olympics?” Ryan demurs.
Philip and Elise are supposed to duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” She’s pitchy again and we’re just going to walk away quickly.
Oh dear, Hollie Cavanagh, The Girl Who Thinks Too Much. Mentors come and mentors go, but always the advice is the same: think less, feel more. And always she goes out on stage and counts “feel, two, three, “feel, two, three.” So when we hear that her song choice this week is “What a Feeling” from the flick “Flashdance” we think – at last the solution to Hollie’s problem! A song in which she gets a big bucket of water dumped on her head!
As if. Hollie’s pitchy, she does a lot of stage walking, even a twirl, but stays dry. “Stop thinking and get up here and feel it,” JLo urges. And so the cycle starts again.
Jessica and Joshua duet the George Michael/Aretha Franklin tune, “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me.” They’re very good at vocal dueling.
We would have loved to listen to them riffing off each other more, but “Idol” rules require a large back-up choir to intervene. Even so, JLo forecasts they will be the two finalists. That would be great – but, it’s probably not accurate since neither is a scruffy white guy with a guitar.
True fact: Colton Dixon is a face painter from a family of face painters. Roll tape of somebody spray-painting a child’s face blue and white. We know this must explain a lot about Colton, but are stuck on the fact that there are people who paint children –and people who allow their children to be painted – like quarter panels in a body shop.
He’s going to perform Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and gets honored with some Gwen Stefani harmonizing during rehearsals. The mentors suggest he sing over a drum solo at one point for extra drama.
Colton is just okay, but one of the weaker singers of the night. The highlight is indeed the drum solo. The judges rave about the drummer. The director refuses to put a camera on the drummer so we can see his reaction. Randy raves about how both Colton and Phil “took these songs and made them your own.” Major points for Colton for then confessing to Ryan that, in fact, he lifted the arrangement from the band Quiet Drive. “I completely ripped them off.”
Idol’s producers are all Brits, which must explain their endless fascination with the fact that Skylar Laine, from rural Mississippi, behaves like a rural American, hunting deer, eating deer sausage and driving off road in an ATV. Because once again they are rolling tape of Skylar, huntin’, sausage-eatin’, shootin’, and off-road drivin’ – all of which she says she misses.
The mentors warn her off the conventional choice of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” for which we are forever in their debt. They steer her toward the less conventional choice of Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” The song choice, and the dress choice (floor length) are both good ideas, because they restrain Skylar’s usual impulse to tool around the stage like she’s back on the ATV. But the mood can’t last, and Skylar starts to ham it up toward the end, including her trademark temper-tantrum fist waving, though the last few notes are great – except that flat final one.
Nonetheless, Standing O from the judges. “You just said to America…do not count me out,” JLo says. Skylar tells Randy “I thought I’d put on a pretty ol’ dress and sing a pretty ballad…and show my full range.”
Any final guidance for the voters from the judge’s table? Ryan asks. America should “vote for the full package, and who makes you feel good,” Tyler advises. The other judges agree we vote for who makes us feel good. And, we might add, don’t think so much.