Encore, encore

Fourteen performances tonight; one new anything and one old soul song from each of the seven contestants. I’m ok with old soul, I’m sort of an old soul myself, but just once I’d like to tune in and see one of them run out on stage in canary yellow spandex, teased out frizzy hair and about five pounds of lipstick….. you know…. stick their tongue out, give the devil sign and break into “Highway to Hell” or something. Imagine tiny woodland creature Hollie doing that, or Phil-Phil……

Yeah, that’ll happen soon. I got the song list for tonight early, and it’s a decent set of songs. I’ve heard most of them, and I mostly like the ones I’ve heard. There are some potential train wrecks in there; Adele, Alicia Keys twice, Marvin Gaye twice, and of course Hollie and Phil-Phil sing twice each. Phil-Phil is covering Usher, that should be fun. Hollie will stick her head in the lion’s mouth right off the bat, taking on Adele. She can handle Adele songs (I’ve heard her do them), but we’ll see if she can handle “Rolling” under the kind of pressure Idol’s judges have been putting on her lately.

As a tribute to Ryan’s mentor, the always great and recently late Dick Clark and his rate-a-record segments on American Bandstand, I’m going to grade tonight’s performances from 35 to 98. If it has a nice beat and you can dance to it….

The Singers, the Songs:

Hollie, “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)

Adele is tough. Hollie is probably the only contestant from this season, let alone from the final seven, who can handle the power, the tone, and the long phrases without a place to breathe. She did all of that, delivering a powerful performance. Now the bad stuff: Hollie was, again, Hollie. She dove after and caught the big notes, threw them out at first base from her knees, then she let the run-ups go through her legs. Few Idol contestants have been more consistent than Hollie in both her good ways and her bad ways. She’s talented, and her voice is special, but she needs a couple of years to get the experience to sing in tune consistently and get free and natural with her rhythms. She has terrific rhythm, but she hasn’t learned how to flow between the beats yet. Tone, 98. Intonation, 78. Rhythm, 83. Delivery, 82. Degree of difficulty, 94. Overall: 87 (B+)

If anyone from this season’s show is going to surprise us in a few years, my money is on this kid. You can’t teach seven feet tall in basketball, and you can’t teach that kind of huge, powerful tone in music. She doesn’t need the hard things. She needs the easy, obvious things. Once she gets them worked out, all she needs is a good song to sing. For her sake I hope someone will still care by the time she gets there.

Colton, “Bad Romance” (Lady Gaga)

At first I thought, “why didn’t you do the rah rah thing at the beginning?” but he put it at the end and it was the perfect choice for a song that he had to condense to a minute and a half. He added a couple of small things, subtle touches that took the song past Karaoke and to a strong pure performance:

– All girl band, dressed in white and looking very hot, if not all that animated.

– The red streak in his hair, which shows that he understands merchandizing. Being self aware isn’t always arrogant. Sometimes it’s just knowing how to package whatcha got.

– He put in a small, punky low note thing in the middle that was really effective. His signature sound is sort of post-punk alternative, with some of the old punk tires still lying around the yard. That short passage allowed him to keep one foot on his own style without getting in the way of the song.

This might have been even better than last week’s Rhianna song, which was pretty amazing, because of the creativity he showed in the small, subtle details. It wasn’t a moment, but it was very strong. 92 (A-)

Colton’s little sister Schyler, who’s been in the front row for every live show, got to come up on stage and talk to Ryan for a minute. She said that she wasn’t sure if she was going to audition next season. Yeah, right. She’s a total Idol lifer; she already made it to Hollywood twice, came within a whisker of the final 42 this year, and she’s still only 16 years old. It might actually be a good idea to skip a year or two, though, and come back at 19 or 20. She is more talented than her brother if you ask me, but she needs experience or she’ll just be another Hollie or Shannon. Hollie can get away with it because she has a howitzer. Schyler doesn’t have that kind of huge voice.

Elise, “No One” (Alicia Keys)

You know what I would love to hear Elise sing? Some Reggae. Her weird pronunciations would fit the style perfectly, she has the free and easy rhythmic sense to pull it off, and she is just soooo cool when she gets to laugh and play with a song. That’s not to say that she didn’t pull it off tonight, though. She was terrific. The only imperfections were her falsetto notes. She has a decent falsetto, but she tends to use it on notes that are too low, and they end up sounding moosy. She looked sexy, too, which I only mention because she generally dresses in so many layers that you can’t really see her. That might help her, in a week when she needs any help that she can get. 89 (B+)

Those hand gestures that she does? Those are choir director/music teacher habits. Lots of music teachers teach their kids to move their hands up and down on quick, complicated runs to subconsciously remind their voices where to go.

Phil, “You Got It Bad” (Usher)

I still can’t tell whether he’s a genius or he’s just putting us on, and I doubt that Phil-Phil knows either. He’s just doing his thing. I liked that he picked his guitar a little tonight, and he sounded good by his own standards. The song choice was either genius, or a put-on. Just like Phil-Phil is. 90 (B+)

Jessica, “Fallin’”(Alicia Keys)

They are really playing up last week’s results show, with Jessica being the bottom vote getter. They hammered it at the top of the show, and again right before her performance. I still don’t believe Idol was honest last week. Jessica wasn’t anywhere near the bottom three. That makes me wonder: Did they decide that Jessica has to win now, or that she has to lose now?

If you ask me it’s a load of crap that they care enough to get involved. Be careful, Idol. Don’t disenfranchise the voters, or you won’t have any. Let them make the decisions. Jennifer Hudson was an Idol success story, and Chris Daughtry was a success story, partly because they didn’t win. Adam Lambert ain’t crying over his second place finish; he’s out on tour kicking butt. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the best singer needs to win. The key isn’t results of the voting. It’s the integrity of the voting. Stay out of the process, and just keep count. Please. Thank you. I’m glad we got to have this conversation.

If she was worried about some emotional disconnect, this song didn’t fix it. She sang beautifully, as she always does, and if we were still in 2002 or 2003 she would be running the rest of the competition off the stage. It’s 2012, though, and Idol’s last four winners were David Cook (alternative rocker), Kris Allen (human care bear), Lee Dewyze (alternative rocker) and Scotty McCreery (old school country singer). It’s been a while since a power pop diva won. 86 (B+) “I can’t dance to it, but its pretty”….

Skylar, “Born This Way” (Lady Gaga)

Give her a couple of years and she’ll find ways to “bounce” the melody up to where he voice is stronger, but tonight she showed her inexperience by getting trapped where she doesn’t have any weapons. In every other way this was a typically bouncy, entertaining Skylar performance; and she made just that one small, simple mistake – for 30 seconds during a 90 second performance. That’s way too long to get away with. 86 (B+)

Idol provided Skylar with her breakout, they are her dream makers, but at this point I wonder if Idol is actually holding her back a little. She is starting to develop some bad habits; habits that might dog her when she gets toNashville. She won’t be wearing a prom dress or trying to crap out an extra half octave on Country radio. Her largest sell (other than looking like Reba) is her sweet, powerful, lilting tone. It’s been several weeks since she’s been free to show it off, without a bunch of extra competition crap getting in the way.

Joshua, “I Believe” (Fantasia Barrino)

I have no idea what happened. Joshua has always been one of those rare Idols who never missed a note, but he was flat the entire song tonight. I have no idea why. Give him a pass? Well, sure. Hollie misses notes all the time, Skylar misses notes all the time, Phil for chrissakes misses 30% of his notes all the time. It happens. Even with the pass, though, I didn’t feel a thing from Josh this time. He was drowned out by the backup singers, which might be why he was flat. If he was a racehorse, this would be what handicappers call a toss-out. The song was a poor choice, driven by an emotion that has no place in a competition (he loves Fantasia), and the arrangement stunk. The band blew it too, by being way too loud and drowning him out. It was, at best, a 72 (C+); but as I said I would just toss it out. Every performer has that one bad, worst case scenario night. Josh just had his. He gets another shot later.

Hollie, “Son of a Preacher Man” (DustySpringfield)

I’m Hollie’s biggest fan, but that sucked. No inflections, no cool phrasing, no cool rhythms, no nothing. I’ve heard drunken bar flies sing it better. She sang it like she learned it this morning and she was scared to make a mistake. For the first time, Hollie was exactly what the judges have been calling her for weeks. 58 (D+). I’m bummed about it, but I kind of expected it. You don’t learn how to sing songs like this in high school, and Hollie ain’t a blues singer. She hit the notes she sang, though she picked crappy notes. That’s about it for positive things.

Soooo weird…. Steven was the only one who talked about her lack of soul chops, but even he didn’t really hammer her. This was Hollie’s worst performance of the season, and she received her most positive critiques. I’m a fan, so I root for her, but she stunk that song up. Has anyone on Idol ever heard a blues song before other than Steven, who noticed that she didn’t go for the cool notes? They all react to blues songs like virgins react to strippers; they can’t tell a good one from a bad one, so they just love them all.

Colton, “September” (Earth, Wind and Fire)

What’s weird about Colton, to me, is that while I never really connect with his performances enough to call them moments I always seem to be impressed by what he’s trying to do. He is naturally intense, but at the same time he’s naturally relaxed. That’s a combination that will take him far if he can write good songs. I heard one of his songs two years ago (he was 17 at the time), and it was really good.

Skylar gets the “she’s going to be a star in Nashville” treatment, like Scotty and Lauren got last year, but Colton’s future isn’t talked about like that. Maybe it should be. He might not be the best singer around (he isn’t), but he fits a genre that sells albums and he is smart and savvy. It’s not as if he can’t sing at all, he’s a good singer. Haley is getting some major backing right now, and James Durbin sold over 100,000 albums without even finishing in the top three last year. Colton, in a year, might be exactly where they are. He might not need to win to sell albums. 93 (A-)

Judge disconnect. Colton smoked it, but they didn’t have enough imagination to understand what he did. They need to give this judging panel a serious enema, don’t they?

Elise, “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye)

I thought Hollie played safe, but Elise made Hollie look like Indiana Jones in the temple of doom. What was she thinking; doing two ballads and not hitting one single glory run the whole way through her last song? Phil-Phil can get away with that kind of crap, but Elise can’t. 62 (D+)

Judges: bla bla bla…. Translation: sing better.

J-Lo animatedly agreed with Elise when she talked about trying to condense a song to a minute and a half. Elise is the “old” contestant already so she is up against it, and it ain’t helping her that the judges connect with her more than the other contestants because of her experience. They want to give her advice, after just passing most of the other contestants through because they are children. It might help Elise down the road if they keep caring, but it’s killing her on the show. She is getting singled out, and killed with love.

Phil, “In the Midnight Hour” (Wilson Pickett)

It hurt my ears. Wilson Pickett should come to LA and kick Nigel in the crotch for letting him sing his song. 47 (D-)

Steven called it beautifully awkward, which is Steven-speak for “it sucked but if say anything bad about you Nigel will give me a wedgie”.

Jessica, “Try a Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding)

I hope Jessie didn’t make a deal with the devil tonight, using her heavy, powerful, vocal chord sucking scratch for half that song like she did. Her voice has been struggling as it is, and what she just did was like a sore armed pitcher trying to get that one last strikeout by bringing everything he has for a few last pitches. We’ll know in a week or two.

This is one of my favorite songs and I know every note of it, so I got more of in insight into Jessie’s vocal chops than I have before. I was able to see some of the tiny flaws in her 16 year old game; flaws that don’t show up unless you are taking a microscope to her performances. She is rhythmic on her runs, but not so much when she is just singing a melody. Siobhan had that same issue. She has power and she has range, but she doesn’t have both at the same time. If she’s hitting a high note she pops it instead of holding it. Don’t hold that against her, though. No one else other than Joshua can hold a truly huge note in this crowd.

That’s all quibbles. Jessie smoked it, by any normal standards. I loved the “Duets” version, but Jessie did it better than Three Dog Night did it, and she wasn’t far from Otis himself. 93 (A-). Let’s hope she didn’t ruin her voice in the process. What she did had to hurt, considering how messed up her voice was already.

Skylar, “Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye)

Actually, she did the Gladys Knight version. She will be so much better when she gets some road experience. I thought she nailed the mood and the rhythms, but her melody was amateurish. She hit the notes, though, so it wasn’t that bad. It was almost as good as her moment singing “Stay with Me” in the semis. The only real difference between the performances is that everyone else has gotten so much better around her so it didn’t stand out like “Stay With Me” did. 84 (B)

Joshua, “A Change is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke)

Why don’t they finish their songs? All of them kind of blew off the endings tonight, other than Jessica andColton. Hollie always blows her endings, and Skylar does once in awhile, but tonight they all seemed to lose interest at the end. Did they go through extra rehearsals that burned them out?

I’m maybe fatigued by fourteen performances, but I didn’t feel Joshua on this song. To me he wasted most of the song vamping, tried to make up for it at the end, then he didn’t finish it off. It was almost like he had to catch a train or something. It felt sort of mailed in. He hit the notes, and he is Joshua so he hit them really well, but it was barely decent Karaoke. 79 (B-)

Safe to in Danger:

Colton

Phil

Jessica

Skylar

Joshua

Elise

Hollie

The cute boys are safe, and Jessie should be very safe unless there is a huge disconnect going on. Skylar is where Hollie was around top 10, safe but gonna be in trouble soon. Joshua and Elise, if they have voting blocs, should be safe. Do they have voting blocs? Hollie had good feedback tonight, but she didn’t sing as well as her main competition for the bottom three and she was supposed to go last week. She went first, too, so she might be forgotten.

My projected bottom three is Hollie, Elise and Joshua; with Skylar as the one who might be there if Joshua gets his voters motivated. Hollie or Elise will go home, with my guess being Hollie 65% to Elise 30%, and the other 5% split among the rest of the contestants.