Here are some things from 2010, 2011 and 2012, well-trod by singing competitions, that miraculously made zero appearances on American Idol's one-week acknowledgment of modern music: Adele. Ke$ha. "Only Girl (in the World)." Anything else by Rihanna, actually. "Fuck You." "Moves Like Jagger." Did we mention that we got through a 2010s week with zero Adele? Instead, we got some surprises: a track from the generally-underused-on-Idol Lady Gaga, semi-deep cuts from Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars, Gotye's "Someone That I Used To Know," a Jazmine Sullivan(!) track, a version of "Love the Way You Lie" that 75% of the viewers probably didn't know, and other choices that suggest that Idol's coaches and contestants actually do have some imagination left and don't just cull songs from the top of the Clear Channel playlist or end-of-year Billboard charts. Huzzah!
Now that we've said our huzzahs, we should note that only one of those song choices completely worked. We won't note it too harshly, though, because that might make Idol hunker back to moldy oldies. That would be bad. After all, none of the songs we mentioned above made it to...
THE HOPELESS: 30-25
30. Personal Contestant Hashtags: #no
29. This Quote: I’m enamored of the women on this show this year... The crows may crow, but the hens deliver the goods." And then get voted off.
28. Steven Tyler: Too many snakes died to clothe the above wit.
27. This Quote: "She’s a better singer than I am." Phillip, on Elise. The quote is hopeless because it won't get Elise more votes.
26. This Forced Rumor: "The romance rumors continue to fly with Colton and Skylar." You started those romance rumors, Ryan. They're flying because you flung them. Like Angry Birds. Amorous, angry birds.
25. Hollie Cavanagh: Hollie Cavanagh is from Texas, which makes sense, because there are probably toadstools tucked away somewhere with the cacti that could house a Seelie Court or portal to Liverpool (where she’s from, officially. And now you know.) What didn’t make sense was singing P!nk. Few singers are less like Alecia Moore, in demeanor and stage presence, than Hollie. You just don’t believe she’s ever dug her way out of blood or fire, or that her life’s silly in ways not involving stardust and baby’s breath, or that she’d ever say “the only thing I should be drinking is an ice-cold beer” or “fucking perfect”--and this is P!nk’s tamest single, from a career that also includes things like “don’t tell me you adore me, ‘cause all you’re thinking about is fucking me” or “it’s just you and your hand tonight” or “I could cut you into pieces” or “you could have called me back, you stupid fuck.” Nothing Hollie sang was believable or meaningful or even human, and that’s before you realize that “Perfect” didn’t need to be made even more of a ballad or that her pitch made a wrong turn once or twice. The judges realized all this; beneath their utter silence, you could sense them straining to find a pleasant way to say her performance wouldn’t pass a Turing test. We’ve retired the comparison for a few weeks, but now it needs saying: Hallie Day would have killed this. But that’d require the show’s audience to understand emotional complexity, particularly in female singers, and that won’t do. So instead we get ringingly hollow, faerie-dusted pap. After all, it’s what Idol asked for.
For dead dear and a deadened Gotye song (which one?!) click NEXT.
THE HAPLESS: 24-17
24. Skylar and Colton’s Duet: Colton: They’re not dating, damn it, because Skylar owns a gun. Was this a dealbreaker? Did Skylar take him back to her Idol-mansion room one night while the cameras slept but forget she’d kept her other-other gun tucked under her pillow? What would that make their “making love when [they] were singing” (Steven, obviously), and what should you make of Steven later mentioning a “turnaround”? Ugh. Let’s talk about the song choice instead, because he song choice was not good. The last thing Skylar needs at this stage in the competition, where all three remaining women are vocal powerhouses, is to be compared unfavorably to Kelly Clarkson. Colton did fine, because he had nothing to do.
23. Deer: “We’re gonna get that big deer next year,” promised Skylar’s grandpa. In a related story, a legion of deer fled the Brandon, MI area last evening.
22. Skylar Laine: Kellie Pickler finished sixth on her season of American Idol. The sixth-place finish of this season isn’t too far away. We’re just saying: this is like choosing a Bucky Covington or Kristy Lee Cook song to prove your top-5 mettle. The song’s certainly no standout; it sounds like Miranda Lambert’s latest single, which sounds like “Free Fallin’,” and more importantly, it calls for a brassier, bigger voice than Skylar has. (Elise, for instance, would have killed.) Skylar, usually intimidating, just seemed small. Perhaps she should’ve brought her gun.
21. Akon: Did nothing.
20. Tommy Hilfiger: Stressed the importance of looking like a star offstage as well as onstage. This tip, which could have been simplified into a email, resulted in a five-minute montage.
19. Ryan Seacrest: His glee for the Olympics has been replaced with glee for shipping every male/female contestant pair. This is not glee we can share.
18. Fantasia: Her words said, “Happy birthday from Fantasia to Mantasia!” Her location said, “I’m in a studio! Wearing headphones! This means I’m recording an album you should eventually buy!”
17. Elise And Phillip’s Duet: Idol acknowledges Gotye! In the form of Randy mumbling “thisAustraliansingersongwriterguy,” Elise gushing over it (!) and Phillip sedatedly going along with it, but still. Unfortunately, Idol also butchered Gotye. It’s a bit too intimate for the Idolstage, but beyond that, rearranging “Someone That I Used To Know” is a horrible idea. It’s already a duet, where Kimbra’s verse reveals Gotye’s verses as one-sided bellyaching. Giving Kimbra’s part to Elise is also a terrible idea, because it requires undersinging Elise’s voice isn’t quite suited to, and giving a song to Phillip that he can’t Phillip Phillips is useless. Basically, this was the night’s biggest opportunity. Oh, and because this was another boy/girl duet, Ryan tried to gin up sexual tension and tried to set them up on a third duet. He probably thinks this means they have to sleep together afterward.
For lapel pins, go-go dancing and a fallen favorite, click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 16-7
16. Phillip Phillips: Let’s all take a brief moment and imagine the collective quivers of palpitation from the Idol-watching-and/or-recapping population brought about by Phillip Phillips singing “you were wrong, for turning me on and on and on / and on and on, you make it so hard.” Imagining this? Good, because in your imagination it shall stay. Phillip didn’t do that verse. He did the other verses of “Give a Little More” (not a smash, Ryan; it was on the radio for about five days), but he didn’t do them particularly well. Maroon 5’s music doesn’t really take well to balladization or added saxophone, and Phillip’s voice doesn’t take well to falsetto. Yes, Adam Levine’s falsetto is mostly computer-generated, but still. That said, this worked far more than the judges said.
15. Jimmy Iovine: Said "you don't have to be different for the sake of being different, you have to be good for the sake of being good," suggested Jessica eat a hamburger and pitted Phillip against Colton in order to light a fire under both of their asses. All good things. Well, the last might not be so good--you could also interpret it as Jimmy being some oracular channel for Nigel Lythgoe's hopes of a boy/boy final--but we'll reserve judgment until Jimmy inevitably mentions this four more times tonight.
14. The Go-Go Dancer During Josh’s Song: Steven urged Josh to "get her number" no fewer than four times. because what this show needed was more invented innuendo.
13. Hollie, Josh and Jessica’s Duet: Hollie and Josh had way more chemistry than any supposed couple so far--just watch them playing Twister, or even just note that Twister happened--but acknowledging possible interracial flirting is up there with acknowledging gay contestants on the list of things Idol won’t do. Anyway. They did Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” It was workmanlike until people decided to harmonize, but that only happened for a verse or so.
12. Jennifer Lopez: Anyone catch that moment where she muttered "I hate you." when Ryan called on her to deliver some platitudes? Is she going rogue again, tired of acting wacky? We choose to think so.
11. Hollie’s Personal Guitarist: Kellan Lutz’ doppelganger wore a beanie and made faces that either said “I’m feeling this music” or “I’m feeling constipated.”
10. Phillip’s Personal Saxophonist: Lady Gaga’s doppelganger wore a tiny black dress and cradled her sax like a baby when she wasn’t playing. Like Mother Monster with her Little Monsters.
9. Randy Jackson: Today's lapel pin was a zinnia. These have to be part of a plan, some sinister plot, in which all his lapel pins will unite at the end of the season, opening up a portal to American Idol's Tartarus of felled contestants. And lo, out will swarm the quirks and squeaks of Reed Grimm, the guttural growls of Richie Law and unwise cracks of Adam Brock, and they've probably got Camille Von Hugel in there somewhere, waiting and plotting. Ahem. Sorry. We just wanted to remind everyone of what show lurks beneath Idol's shiny, mostly well-sung facade right now.
8. Jason Segal: His words said Elise was awesome. His presence said he has a movie coming out. We'll forgive that, though, because we'll forgive almost anyone who says Elise is awesome and gets her votes.
7. Elise Testone: That said: oh, Elise. Oh no. “You and I” is a Mutt Lange scorcher, a demand to get an ex back that demands an equally scorching, raw vocal. But Elise’s seemingly gotten it into her head that she’s oversinging and letting go too much--she has never oversung, and letting so is good--and sang Gaga’s song as if it was a lieder for her college vocal juries: too trained and far too restrained. What wasn’t soporific was distressingly pitchy, and even Elise’s fantastic interpretation (the first few bars were way too promising) couldn’t save it. Maybe she just did the wrong Born This Way choice? The title track wouldn’t work, and “Judas” wouldn’t translate, but “The Edge of Glory” saved Erika and might’ve saved Elise, and “Marry the Night” would have absolutely killed. But again, that’d require Idol knowing how to handle female singers who can rock. Maybe next season. (Sigh.)
For drawling kids, YouTube whizzes and two killer song choices, click NEXT.
THE FLAWLESS: 6-1
6. The Three Most Southern Kids Ever Born Who Greet Skylar: Our first words from Randy were 'I love those kids." Are they available for parties?
5. Hollie’s Parents: Continue to be adorable and British. Regarding Hollie’s spot in the bottom 3 last week, her mum said, "I joost can’t get me ‘ead ‘round it." After hearing it, we almost can't either.
4. Colton Dixon: Nothing Colton says should be trusted. Predicting himself and Phillip for a (finale) showdown? Over-hasty. Calling his performance a game-changer before it exists? Over-hasty. Saying he's got a one-in-seven chance of winning? Statistically off, because votes are not determined by dice roll, and besides, it directly contradicts that Phillip prognostication. You can probably trust his performance OK, though; he managed to let some emotion surface from the rippling seas of fog and swaybots, pry some feeling out of the graphic vortex of thorns and the way he sang "like the way it 'urts" and was not unlike RENT. And doing Skylar Grey's version of "Love the Way You Lie" was smart, because when nobody knows the extra words, it's that much easier to say Colton made it his own. None of the judges, by the way, said Colton made it his own. J. Lo shaded Skylar: "I wish it had been more of a song." And Steven said this: "Colton still hasn't found his top." MOVING ON.
3. Elise’s Friend: Made an utterly deadpan, utterly brilliant tutorial on how to vote for Elise, in case she's in the bottom 3 so often because people just don't know. Here it is. Hopefully its views and Elise’s votes will increase exponentially.
2. Joshua Ledet: “Runaway Baby” was brilliant for three reasons: it’s an uptempo, contemporary song, it’s an unsappy Bruno Mars song, something not common, and it never, ever sounded like Bruno Mars. Every week, I expect Joshua to be lackluster; every week, he very much isn’t. Dark horse?
1. Jessica Sanchez: Did anyone ever expect Jazmine Sullivan--someone relevant in R&B now, as opposed to decades ago, and who doesn’t perform at a genre remove like Adele--to make an Idol appearance? No. Nobody did. “Stuttering” was an awesome choice, age-appropriate but vocally challenging, and Jessica was fantastic. Shame only Randy knew what to make of it; J. Lo compared her to Joshua for no reason, and Steven talked about her shoes. This is what Idol's judging has become, guys. Fortunately, Jessica doesn't need it.