S11E16: Despite the day's news about Top 12 finalist Jermaine Jones' disqualification from American Idol, the remaining contestants managed to distract us from that little rain cloud. But no one provided more positive distraction than Louisiana's Joshua Ledet. Watch out, Jessica Sanchez, this boy just took the lead.
March 14 marked the most dreaded leg of the live show circuit: songs from the year the contestants were born. It's a cute idea that facilitates the back stories filled with adorable little baby pictures, but it's hard for the contestants to go back the year they could utter little more than "goo" and "gah" and pick out a song that speaks to their individual styles. To help with this difficult task, mentor Jimmy Iovine enlisted Black Eyed Peas front man Wil.I.Am, who mostly helped by adding his own creatively crafted compliments.
And while no contestant was awful - leaving an impossible task for voters - some chose their tunes more wisely than others. But whether the tune was a winner or not, the top 11's performances proved one thing: sing whatever you want as long as you bring it.
Here are our top 11 from the performance one judge called the "best performance on Idol ever" to friendly faces who are likely on the chopping block.
"When a Man Loves a Woman"
Joshua's performance was nothing short of amazing. Everything, from his old fashioned style to his intense emotional connection to the song to every facet of his beautiful voice took this performance beyond a bid at a reality show title. The kid was simply born to do this - and I'm not one to buy into those sort of cookie-cutter Idol-friendly characterizations. How Joshua was in the bottom three last week is beyond me, this performance was brain-melting good, but he's always simply AH-mazing. The judges love it and Jennifer even goes as far as to say it was the best performance on Idol ever. Steven tried to keep up with something about dawn coming through his eyes and how much he liked "the notes." Gotta love those notes. But in all seriousness, America, what was going on last week?
"Power of Love"
I have to start this section by first stating: called it! There was no way little miss 1994 was not going to sing Celine Dion's power ballad; it's arguably the most suitable song from that year for Hollie's powerful pipes. She had a few small pitch issues, but overall she sang the hell out of the song. In fact, Dion's ballad has almost become the go-to overdramatic song, but she still made it amazing. She still has the issue of finding a way to make her powerful voice stand out amongst such a strong bunch - if she doesn't she could go the way of last year's early castoff Pia Toscano.
"Sneaking Up On You"
This little lady may be as old as Steven's Aerosmith album Get a Grip, she's certainly no newbie on the stage. Jimmy and Wil.i.am try to steer her away from her chosen Bonnie Raitt tune, but she stands her ground and result is adorable, fiery, and fantastic: all the things we've come to expect from the half-pint singer. The judges agree her performance was fantastic, but Jennifer and Randy both note they didn't know the song - which for the record is not a valid criticism. On this show, it's not about the song, it's about the performance.
"Hard to Handle"
Poor Phillip had to have kidney stone surgery just a few days before the night's performance. The amazing thing is that while he looks like he might be in a little in pain here and there, his performance sounds effortless. Randy praises his "perfect" song choice, saying it's along the lines of what he should perform as a solo artist. I wouldn't necessarily say that this 90s style is what Phillip should go for considering the fact that from time to time his voice sounds just a little dated, but that doesn't mean the performance wasn't fantastic.
"Let's Stay Together"
Man, if only President Obama hasn't stolen Elise's thunder with that impromptu YouTube rendition of this classic song. Alright, this performance was great in spite of having to follow the President's, but Elise is a brave lady. But in all seriousness, I was not crazy about the slow, lounge singer intro but as soon as she kicked into the groove of the arrangement, it started working. Steven uses his moment to speak to praise her soul; JLo says this is a performance that shows who she is; and Randy says Elise is back "like butter." That about does it, unfortunately voters don't seem to be on the same page, but perhaps this week will have them changing their tunes.
"One Sweet Day"
This girl has no fear. After hitting a low note with her performance of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" last week, Shannon picked another impossible song. And it actually works. The beginning is a little shaky: she tries a run in the middle of the song and it doesn't work. But other than that it's beautiful - even the part where she mimics Mariah Carey's falcetto. Randy and Jennifer both admit they were terrified when they heard what song she was attempting, but that by the time she finished on stage, they were believers. Ryan just appreciates that she wore flats.
To each their own. I'm not a Colton fan, but I can recognize when someone is doing this right. His choice to sing an obscure White Lion song was actually a pretty smart move, because viewers aren't going to know it and it will essentially be a test drive of what he'll sound like when he does original material. He's still not my style, but this was right on. Jennifer says he's a lover and that his face looks pretty when he sings, though I can assure you, that's not why he's so high up on this list. Steven says it was the wrong song (again with the song choice issues), but Randy makes a valid point: the song doesn't matter because Colton's performance was so solid.
Erika Van Pelt
The problem with Erika is that she's always singing intensely - there are no soft moments. She needs to learn to infuse a little more dynamics into her performances; that way, those amazing big moments are truly huge.The judges all note that the strange arrangement did her a disservice, but Jennifer notes that her image is really coming together. It's an important factor considering I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone "Oh yes, Erika is a rocker chick" until this episode.
This song slipped by on a technicality because Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross did cover it the year Deandre was born and as adorable as his original choice was ("Can You Feel The Love Tonight") it was a slightly better option. The song provides a clean melody so he can really show off his voice, but as the judges note, the song can be a little boring if the singer isn't feeling it. And because Jimmy insisted Deandre switch the song, "not feeling" is Deandre's exact issue. It's a little disappointing because the unofficial theme of the evening is that the performance is what makes it, not the song choice, yet one of the best performers on the show didn't come out on top. Still, the judges all note that they understand Jimmy was persuasive and that his song choice was simply all wrong.
"Turn the Beat Around"
Expect to hear the word "swaggernaut" alongside Jessica's name for the next few weeks; we can thank Wil.I.Am for that one. But even with all that swag, this performance just didn't cut it. Here's the thing about Jessica: she sounds amazing singing everything. She does not deliver bad performances. This song choice just wasn't right. (Especially since I was hoping she'd take on Mariah Carey's 1996 hit "Always Be My Baby.") Amazing shiny pants or not, the syncopated bump of the song was in competition with her vibrato. Jlo agrees, the rhythm, syncopation make it hard for the great parts of her voice to sound the way it should. They judges are hard on her, but they're right - she can't just skate by her serious pipes. We see a little of that diva attitude when she blames her year for terrible song choices, but it's an excuse. Besides, Mariah would certainly beg to differ.
"Right Here Waiting"
This may be the end for Heejun. As usual, his voice is lovely, but the song is a bit sleepy and breathy and thanks to Jimmy's comments, not all I can hear is Heejun's accent when he sings. Randy says it was "pitchy" and that it's the wrong song; he needs more R&B swag from Heejun. The other two make note that his voice is special, but the song was all wrong. We knew Heejun would have to go eventually since he's up against some amazing people, but it's still sad to think that elimination is actually around the corner.
Who was your favorite singer of the night? Did Joshua's phenomenal performance have you seeing stars? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler