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If American Idol's top 9 contestants were really going to sing songs by their idols, Mariah and Stevie and Whitney and Michael would all be represented, over and over, with maybe an Adele pick from one of the kids. If they were going to sing songs by their spiritual idols, then Colton would pick Patrick Stump, Jessica Sanchez would probably still pick Mariah or Adele, Hollie would pick a crystalline Degas figure and Steven, who would want to get in on the singing, would be a swamp wraith.

None of this transpired. What transpired instead was the best performance night Idol's seen in years. Contestants singing songs by artists they genuinely like? What a concept! You could do great things with it, or if you're Idol you could bumble back to Disco Night or something next week. The choice is yours.


33. The Swaybots: Shouldn’t robots programmed to sway be able to sway on the beat? Poor contestants--it must be like watching a broken teenage metronome.

32. Signage:

31. Randy’s Necklace: Pretty sure he stole that necklace from day camp. Pretty sure he stole his glasses from Sally Jesse Raphael.

30. Steven Tyler: Idol's sleaze-coated janitor's mop said an array of unremarkable thing save for one anecdote: a birthday dinner with Mick Fleetwood during which they talked about Stevie Nicks all night. This is not a conversation you want to picture, right? Steven being Steven about her, Mick trying to decide whether it'd be a good or a bad idea to tell tales, and I'm going to stop here because Fleetwood Mac/Aerosmith real-person slash is not something I really want under my byline. Picture it yourself. You already are.

29. This Quote: “It’s falsetto time!” --DeAndre. It is never that time.

28. Deandre Brackensick: Falsetto works like a bell curve. Use none, and you're missing a chance to be sexy; use some, and men and women melt alike; but use too much, and you're tossed right back into the outlier boonies of absolute sexlessness. Deandre used more than too much, and everyone telling Erika and Joshua that they oversing aren't really getting it. To wit: Steven likes it, because he would. J. Lo yells at the audience to PICK UP YOUR PHONES AND VOTE!, which is completely pointless because the lines aren't open. Finally, we should note that Eric Benet is a cheating piece of shit and not someone you really want to go around talking about as if he's "exactly what [you] want to be."

For creepy quotes, odd hashtags and Donny Hathaway, click NEXT.


27. Colton Dixon: Lifehouse is Colton's idol, which is the most fandom Lifehouse has ever inspired. Lifehouse just isn't Stevie Nicks, you know? Lifehouse wouldn't share a hand-clench connection with him. Lifehouse wouldn't tell him that he's the "third dark horse," which is like telling him he's like Jon Huntsman or Johnny Keyser or this guy from the 1876 election with fantastic hair. It's less a backhanded compliment than a smiling diss. So maybe Stevie isn't Colton's idol either. Shame. He could use an idol. An idol would've kept him from singing first or singing this ballad and especially from singing it like he's slowly sinking into melted cotton candy, until he can't move or sing anymore but quiver amid the syrupy muck. The judges pretend to be moved without being moved, and Randy makes two separate references to him "throwing down the gauntlet" because that's the only way anyone'll remember what he did. At least Colton's still got fantastic hair.

26. Skylar/Hollie/Jessica Trio: A Madonna medley by a girl-grouped Skylar, Hollie and Jessica should be fantastic. It wasn't. There was no sass when two out of three have more than proven their sass abilities; there wasn't much good singing when three out of three are excellent singers, there were Michael Jackson impersonator costumes and it kind of came off like they all learned the songs this week. Why aren't parents teaching their kids old Madonna? And why didn't Idol even mention that hey, Madonna has an entire album out this week?

25. Jason Derulo: You ignore the Queen of Pop but devote an entire five minutes to advertising a Jason Derulo single that doesn't even exist yet? I didn't even listen to the words because I was staring at his glittery Darth Vader neck brace. Steven was doing the same.

24. Tommy Hilfiger: Directs a fashion show amongst the contestants in which he shouts, “Fantastic!” “Great look!” and “There ya go!” while they all twirl around. It wasn’t as unnecessary and strange as it sounds! Oh, wait, it absolutely was.

23. The Deandre/Heejun/Joshua Trio: Michael Jackson and Idol honestly just cancel themselves out at this point, and Joshua is the only one of the trio who can sorta pull MJ off. This is called foreshadowing.

22. These Creepy Quotes In Response To Joshua Ledet: "You had an emotional breakdown... That's what someone like me wants to see someone else do." - Steven. "Give me all those teeth, I like it.” - J. Lo. For additional creepiness, imagine these quotes in response to one another.

21. Randy Jackson: His method of critique is to name-drop the first people he can think of for any given genre, like he's playing Sporcle. Christian-ish rock? MuteMath and Switchfoot. Spark-plug country? Carrie Underwood and Reba. Mariah Carey? That time he met Mariah Carey, because Mariah's genre has no other people. Is it blatant positioning? More than blatant. Does it work? Yeah, somewhat.

20. Twitter: They're now broadcasting the contestants' Twitter handles. SLaine (Skyler Laine) is the only cool-sounding handle (sorry, HHan). They're also telling us to tweet #myidol, but at the bottom of the screenm it simply said #idol. How about #midol?

19. Mic Stand: Got caught in Deandre’s hair! We’re dying for an exclusive interview with the mic stand regarding what else he saw living in that beast.

18. "Landslide": Played during a segment in memoriam of the contestants we’ve lost so far. At one point, the most recently ousted Erika Van Pelt looks at a snow-covered hill, presumably seeing her reflection in it.

17. Heejun Han: Wearing an embroidered-rose jacket that Tommy must've stolen from Steven in some Robin Hood act, he chose Donny Hathaway. This choice has meaning. It means he's promising to be all contrite and SRSBNS and beautiful, and indeed, he was all contrite and SRSBNS and maybe a little beautiful. It's the closest he's had to a breakthrough moment, even if pop radio will treat this reheated balladry like anthrax. (Or Anthrax, for its complete opposite.)

For hotness, flirting and praise somehow for the trio concept, click NEXT.


16. The Colton/Elise/Phillip Trio: Colton was boring on a song that shouldn't be, Phillip's weakness is having to sing a song straightforward, on its original pitch, without whipping up a guitar froth, and Elise, on "Edge of Seventeen," is the savior of Idol rock.

15. The Concept Of Trios: This is absolutely filler. None of them worked entirely. But like The Voice's battle rounds or Idol's group night, these work really well to identify standouts. Joshua and Elise were the respective standouts in their trios; so they were on the show. Again--foreshadowing!

14. The Violinists: Continuing its open employment practices, Idol has hired four violinists who look like they're in 8th grade. But their rhythm was impeccable. Why couldn't they be in the front row?

13. Ryan Seacrest: Oddly flirty tonight, right? He flirted with Randy, who'd been shouting his name, with a look like his insides were beset by Portuguese men o'war. He flirted with Heejun like so: "I aim to please. Whatever you want, Heejun," and there's absolutely no way Heejun is a top but still. He flirted with Jessica, or at least her subconscious, by emerging from the red door she entered in her fog-machine dreamcloud. He probably flirted with someone, somewhere, by implying the judges were J. Lo's wingmen. In other words, he's what Steve Jones was supposed to be on The X Factor. And you know what? It works. Flirt on, Ryan. When you inevitably exit this show, at least you'll have some stories to tell.

12. Jennifer Lopez: Has apparently been instructed to act as much like Paula Abdul as possible. Does so.

11. Hot Pianist: Taye Diggs lookalike. Wearing a ring. D:

10. Hot Guitarist: Kris Allen lookalike. No ring. :D

9. Hollie Cavanagh: Her idol is Carrie Underwood, which only makes sense if you interpret this as her idol being an Idol winner. It doesn't make musical sense; any Carrie song would be such a complete mismatch of singer to song, even "Jesus Take the Wheel." Her performance was decent, but in unremarkable ways--technically good, pitchy on the verses, a little lifeless. The background was more interesting: a forest snowscape where nobody, not even Jesus, should take the car wheels, that turns hellish once Hollie's been critiqued as if it were Hades from Hercules. Subconscious drama! The sort Hollie could channel while singing if she wanted to! Jesus, Hollie, --take that wheelhouse.

For sass bouillon cubes, portentous red doors and more fantastic singers than we ever expected to see on one night, click NEXT.


8. Phillip Phillips: Received the "epic compliment" that he could join Fleetwood Mac and that Stevie Nicks, like every recapper this season, finds him attractive. What is there even left to say about his performance at this point? They are all exactly the same. He's like Microsoft Sam, if Microsoft Sam had Dave Matthews for a voice actor and a hunk for an avatar. Someone on Idol, sometime on Idol, should rip through his sleepy clothing to reveal the robot beneath.

7. Jimmy Iovine: Standard Jimmy fare tonight BUT we got to see video footage of Jimmy doing his Jimmy thing in the 80’s! He was so dancey! So silly! So hairy! He could’ve easily been a Ramone. His first name certainly would have fit into the mix.

6. Skylar Laine: Ryan promises that she'll "show off her sassy side." Can Skylar be said to have a sassy side? Isn't she more like sass compressed down into a sass bouillon cube? More like Miranda Lambert, in other words, which makes her choice of idol and of song entirely unsurprising. Idol probably planned her singing "Gunpowder and Lead"--itself a reality-TV offshoot--from the moment they let her through, which is actually kind of awesome because millions of sheltered Idol watchers are now listening to spitfire and vitriol abut shooting the shit out of some guy. Of course, that's more Miranda Lambert (and, earlier, Martina McBride)'s doing, which was my main niggle here: everything Skylar did well, Miranda did equally well. Skylar Laine and Miranda Lambert are just too similar as performers for this not to seem like karaoke--the best karaoke ever, but still. Also: Points for the fake newspaper headline reading "hell on heels," points retracted for leaving in the lorem ipsum, and points thrown up in the air in confusion when Steven implied Skylar was singing things like "his fist is big, but my gun is bigger" to her old friend.

5. Stevie Nicks: Protected Colton’s hair. Harmonized with Skylar. Cracked Heejun. Opened up to Hollie. Shared DeAndre’s hair in the 80s. Reassured Jessica. Invited Phillip into Fleetwood Mac. Jammed with Elise. Wowed us. Teased Jimmy (it’s like they dated back in the day or something...). She also said stuff like...

4. This Quote: "You had the little Greek body of life.” -Stevie about Jimmy. Not sure what this means. Not sure that it’s even a compliment. Quite sure that we’re obsessed with it.

3. Jessica Sanchez: Let's turn it over to fellow recapper Michael Slezak, who is right: "How come when guys rearrange a song, the judges talk about “artistry,” but when a teenage girl does it, there’s no mention of the ‘A’ word?" Slowing a song down is the easiest way ever to reinterpret it, but that's basically what David Cook (then) and Phillip Phillips (now) did to mass adoration; we're not talking Blake Lewis out-of-the-beatbox arrangements here. To that, we'll add: How come Jessica got zero credit for picking "Sweet Dreams"--an absolutely underrated Beyonce single--and not talent-show bait like "Listen" or "Halo"? Or dipping down to the lower register for the word "nightmare," which makes absolute sense with the lyrics but isn't on the studio version? Or for probably having an alter ego, Bebe Chez, at age preteen, which could be seen as entitled but which we're seeing as awesome? This is the first time Jessica Sanchez has lived up to her hype--all her hype, season-winner and game-changer and all. Really, the only problem with this was the red doors, but don't pretend your dream symbolism isn't just as cliched.

2. Joshua Ledet: They really should announce it when R. Kelly performs on this show. "Without You" has no bejeezus left in it. That is all.

1. Elise Testone: Elise Testone singing Led Zeppelin, and specifically "Whole Lotta Love," is neither the hardest thing to sing in the world, Randy, nor the most inspired idea in the world--she's done it with her band, and this particular song has had fantastic Idol outings before (by Adam Lambert, specifically), but Elise's rendition was fantastic and raucous (she's much better doing bluesy rock than bluesy ballads), and the last note was the best thing I have heard on Idol in about eight seasons. The last note is the sort of thing that wins seasons and launches careers--well, it would if this weren't Elise Testone and America weren't misusing its collective phone privileges by not keeping her out of the bottom three. If you're not voting for Elise, you're wrong, so in a futile attempt to convince you otherwise, here's something to ponder: Elise got to duet with Stevie Nicks. Nobody else got to duet with Stevie Nicks. Think about why.