S11E14: This isn't even fair. There are simply too many fantastic singers this year. American Idol's judges always say that "this year" is the strongest year they've ever had, but this year is actually what I hope for every time I tune into this show: too much good stuff. And to top it all off, I was afraid that having the ladies take on Whitney Houston would be a huge mistake, but it provided magnificent "goosies" moments for three of our six girls. And on the guys' side, the magic of Stevie Wonder proved fertile for the top performers. And to help them reach those heights, Mary J. Blige joined Jimmy Iovine as a capable and genre-appropriate coach for the top 13.
Unfortunately, though the gender separation clearly has no place in this competition, it doesn't stop at song choices. The results episode will find the bottom girl and the bottom guy facing off, and the judges will decide their fates a la Simon Cowell's X-Factor. This could be a move to prevent a truly-talented, yet under-appreciated singer from going home because with a crowd this fantastic, one false move could send an undeserving singer home.
There's not a single person without immense talent in this top 13, but all it took was the formidable catalogs of two music legends to separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. Here are the night's performances, from the weak to the mind-melting.
"I Will Always Love You"
Oh. my. God. Who is this girl and where did she come from? This performance is nothing short of INCREDIBLE. Randy won't come out and say she's the best in the competition, but I'll say it. She's the best singer in this competition - and that's a tough thing to say in year like this. Steven says she may be the one, and I certainly hope she is. I have no more words. She's simply amazing.
He's a natural. Much like Jessica Sanchez did in her last performance of "Love You I Do," he's got that professional bump. He knows every facet of the song and he gets loose and gets into it. Randy says he can do anything, and he's probably right. Jennifer notes that he really feels the music, and it's true. Joshua performs with his whole being. Steven also loves it, but as usual he just repeats what everyone else says.
"All The Man I Need"
See what I mean about this being a tough year? Hollie chose a ridiculously difficult song; next to "I Will Always Love You" it may be the most challenging Whitney song she could have chosen and she actually performed it beautifully. I never expect her to sing like that, but she absolutely kills it. Jennifer stops herself from calling Hollie "the s--t." But I'll say it: Hollie is the s--t.
"Where Do Broken Hearts Go"
Okay, this is where I start to repeat myself: this is not fair. Skylar is fantastic too. She says she didn't grow up listening to Whitney and she's wary of the giant shoes she's attempting to fill, but it seems like that might be the best angle to come from because she's able to really sing it in her own way. She gave me a case of Jennifer's "goosies." She absolutely slays it. Jennifer and Randy say the beginning was rocky - I disagree - but that the end was the moment of the night, which was true until Jessica sang. Sorry, Skylar! Even with Jessica looming over the competition, this little firecracker still has a very solid spot in the competition.
The reason this rock and roll imagining of Stevie's song works is because he doesn't let go of its Motown roots. They're still there, just with a blues-rock dressing. He performs the hell out of this song. I've got no complaints; he's got a great, strong voice. He is his music. The judges all love his unique take, and I just long for the day that we'll here him do something original.
"Master Blaster (Jammin')"
Dear God, Deandre. Just hearing him rehearse made me melt. This particular song has never been my favorite Stevie Wonder song, but give it to Deandre and it has that extra special something. My only fear is that this song might Reed-Grimm him. He doesn't get as many chances to really extend his voice and it's not a song the majority of the audience can get into. Steven loves it, Jennifer loves it, and Randy loves that he showed another side of his personality. Even with the obstacle of the song, he delivers one hell of a performance.
"All In Love is Fair"
His is a very different rendition than Stevie Wonder's; Heejun's voice is just inherently a little more subtle than Stevie's. It was a little too light in the beginning, but then he built to the chorus and it was beautiful when he hit that final note. Jennifer and Steven love it. Randy says "It wasn't perfect, but it was really good." My thoughts exactly.
"Knocks Me Off My Feet"
You've got to love Jermaine, and this week he does his thing even if he goes flat a few times and (as Jennifer notes) fails to make a real connection with the audience. Still it's easy to see why Jimmy Iovine is happy the judges brought him back. It's a great song choice and he sings beautifully, but it's not quite perfect. Randy doesn't like the way he rearranged the chorus and I agree. If it ain't broke don't fix it, and it's Stevie Wonder so it definitely ain't broke.
Colton just does his thing, and some people will think this is fantastic. I can't fault him for too many technical reasons - he was a bit out of tune at the softer moments - but it literally hurt my heart to hear a Stevie Wonder classic become a 30 Seconds to Mars ballad. It's not his fault - he didn't choose Stevie. The judges all love it, and while he's perfectly packaged for today's indie-rocker void, I'm just a little tired of the kids coming out of that mold.
Erika Van Pelt
"I Believe in You and Me"
Mary J. Blige calls Erika's voice "steak and potatoes," but says she can't go too Whitney. And that's exactly what she didn't do. The judges all love it, but they note that she's still playing it safe. And it's true. She's got a lot more fire to her voice; if we go back to her initial audition, it's got more punch than anything we've seen on the Idol stage.
"Ribbon in the Sky"
This is nice, but nothing more. My problem with Jeremy is that he's just good. He's got a great voice, but his nickname is simply too fitting. Jer-bear is like chicken noodle soup - it's great, but this competition is all about finding something and someone new and chicken soup is just too expected and familiar. Randy hits the nail on the head when he says Jeremy needs more swag; that's been his problem all along. He sings beautifully, but he doesn't own it and with these other singers around, he may not last very long.
"I'm Your Baby Tonight"
She wanted to sing "Greatest Love of All" but Jimmy Iovine rightly tells her to do "I'm Your Baby Tonight." She seems a little resistant to the switch since she doesn't know the song, but her hesitation is what kills the performance. It's still obvious that she's got a great voice, but she's in contention with the song the entire time and the judges note that as well. Steven seems to think the song choice was the problem, but that's certainly not true. Elise needed to make a better effort to get into the song, but it was obvious she resisted at every turn.
"I Have Nothing"
In rehearsals she sounds fantastic, but when she hits the stage it's like she's afraid to actually hit those notes. In fairness, she picked a significantly difficult song, but in the end, she's reaching for notes and shying away from them when she gets there and is doesn't work. Jennifer says she's got the chops, but her nerves did her in and that's exactly what happened. It's just sad that she may go home when in reality, she's got the pipes.
Who was your favorite? Who would you send home based on the night's performances? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler