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'American Idol' recap: We're all in the mood for a melody

By Annie Barrett, EW.com
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Thu March 22, 2012
Erika Van Pelt got a sleek, short cut inspired by Pink.
Erika Van Pelt got a sleek, short cut inspired by Pink.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 'Idol' Top 10 got schooled in style by Tommy Hilfiger and in singing by Diddy
  • Joshua Ledet gave "She's Got a Way" the gospel treatment
  • The first section of Skylar Laine's "Shameless" was way too low

(EW.com) -- Big Billy Joel night on "Idol!"

I can't be the only one who was hoping for someone to choose "The Downeaster Alexa," if only so we could giggle at the preposterous background visual effects laid thick upon an Idol at Sea. But whoever sang that would surely get dinged for lack of emotional connection to the song.

"I didn't quite buy that you're a fisherman who's got bills to pay and children who need clothes, despite the empty swordfish traps whipping in the furious ocean winds behind you," Randy would say in his patented tone of faux disappointment. "You've gotta make us believe that you're cruising through Block Island Sound. Ai-yi-yiiiiii...yo."

Let's get to the non-fictional performances, shall we?

This week the Top 10 got schooled in style by new, boring fashion mentor Tommy Hilfiger and in singing by a more-huggable-than-I'd-ever-suspected Diddy. J. Lo accidentally called him "Puffy" at one point. I had absolutely forgotten they were a couple.

What a world. We've seen it all, America. Just like Billy Joel.

I don't think DeAndre Brackensick quite grasped the meaning of "Only the Good Die Young." It's basically a song about persuading a girl to have sex, while DeAndre's boppy, smiley, and downright corny interpretation seemed dead set on persuading a girl to join him for a hair-braiding session in a meadow. I mean, count me in for that. Absolutely. But it didn't work considering the song's content. Steven Tyler pretended not to mind.

"First I thought 'too happy,' but isn't that what the world needs right now?" wondered Steven. Dream on, man! The world needs more frustration and abject misery.

Every time I hear or read or hear "Erika Van Pelt," I think of a long and lifeless weave. Not anymore! She got a dark, sleek, short cut inspired by Pink. Like Cher in "Clueless," my main thrill in life is a makeover, so Erika's new 'do combined with her right-on-pitch cover of "New York State of Mind" was one of my favorite performances of the night. If I had to nitpick, I'd agree with Steven that she could do more runs and take more liberties at the end of songs. And makeover-wise, I wish the hair was slightly longer and lighter but with dark pink, red, or purple highlights. That's pretty specific! I wonder if she'll "mess it up" a bit for the results show. Then maybe J. Lo won't be "looking past her" onstage. (Unintentional insult of the night?)

Anyway, I dig the makeover in general, but I wonder if Erika will be like the "America's Next Top Model" contestant who gets her head shaved one day and is voted out the next (after some sort of crazy doomed photo shoot for a muscle-relaxing shampoo or something). "Not since the Sanjaya pony-hawk have we seen such an Idol transformation onstage," said Ryan, who had a big tweeting night backstage. Twitter was blowing up!

I knew I wasn't really vibing on Tommy Hilfiger when Joshua Ledet said he likes to wear his fancy suits one size too small and the fashion designer said, "That's smart." I think I might be in the minority here, but I really enjoyed the gospel treatment Joshua gave "She's Got a Way" -- a song he'd never heard before this week. I could tell he was resisting the urge to growl and oversing during the initial verses (at Jimmy Iovine and Diddy's suggestion) and I appreciated that. So when the choir sauntered in midway through, I was like "Okay, I'll allow this ridiculata; he held back earlier." I realize this is absurd and that Joshua's rendition bore little resemblance to the actual pace or melody of the original, but I just didn't mind it this time. It was just a big ol' production and I was amused by where he took things.

Randy wasn't buying Josh's connection to the lyrics, while Steven -- who had never heard the song before?! -- thought Joshua "sang the sweat out of it." I bet if you're a huge "She's Got a Way" fan, you thought this spectacle was annoying, but if you're "eh" on it or it was new to you, this was fun.

The first section of Skylar Laine's "Shameless" was way too low for her and, looking back, the whole performance suffered as a result because she was so off on some of those notes that people will remember them. Still, I thought Skylar got into a comfortable groove once the chorus kicked in, and she somehow managed to caress that keytar player's back for like 10 seconds without coming off as a weirdo. That's a fairly impressive feat. She's just a damn strong singer when she's in her element, and I admire her unrelenting confidence. "You're not shameless; you're fearless," cooed J. Lo. "You just go into every song and eat it up." Mmmm, food.

Wait, didn't Skylar spend her entire style consultation obsessing over boots? What's with the black high heels? How did this fit in with Tommy Hilfiger's plan to "evolve your look without abandoning the boot idea"? I'm so confused.

Speaking of confusing evolving looks, Randy Jackson was back at it with his piece of flair this week -- another sparkly pin! WHAT IS IT?

I think it was just "Randy Jackson," but some of my Twitter friends had some more creative suggestions, including but not limited to Al Roker (@fosterro), will.i.am or a reverse Teenage Mustant Ninja Turtle (@MissKayleKing), an acorn wrapped in Christmas garland (@PQpopquiz), sparkly pieces of chocolate (@apronhike), a demon (@daisyjohnson1), a grinch (@8bar), and "a crystallized piece of his s--- because he acts like his s--- don't stink" (@inthesegenes).

That's a lot to unpack! I'm also still trying to figure out what's on his shirt. ("South Park characters?" --@ForReelBlog) Just shapes, I guess. Big, fun circles. Good looking out.

Hello boobs. Right away Elise Testone drew me in on the first few notes of "Vienna," and it wasn't just because of that low-cut dress. I find her very compelling in that I never know where she'll go on a melody or phrase -- but then no matter what she does, I'm like "Oh, wow, that was the right choice." There was so much variation in this performance, from the non-geeky dancing (always an "Idol" stage triumph) to the controlled yelling ("Slow down!") to the incredible run at the end. Randy doesn't even know any other singers who could do that! The only thing I think Elise should lose is the way she literally directs her voice with her left hand. That might get old. But maybe not! All three judges were on their feet. Randy was even doing the Wayne's World/We're Not Worthy move by raising and lowering his arms while mouthing "Oh my God" and "What do you think of my pin?"

Bringing two of Elise's young voice students onstage was a deliberate move by the producers to give Elise some youth appeal -- and I'll take it! Was anyone else joyfully weeping here along with little Mackenzie and Mary? And did anyone else rewind this part so everyone could joyfully weep all over again? Just me? That's fine. This never happened.

Rebel yeller Phillip Phillips threw Tommy Hilfiger's recommendation to wear any color but gray out the window (into a gray and soul-deadening sky) and proceeded to wear two shades of gray for his cover of "Movin' Out" -- because to not wear gray would compromise Phillip Phillips' integrity. He just LOVES GRAY. We've all got our exotic quirks. Let him have this one. It's not like he's pawning a baby at a store.

Phillip didn't like having to sing awkwardly to four random girls during an uncomfortable mentoring session. I was so happy we only had to watch three seconds of that mess. But Diddy kept being all "What is your damage, Heather?" and wanted Phillip to "groove" for him. Clearly embarrassed of his potential sexiness, Phillip left the embellishment to his vocals onstage. He definitely knows what he's doing and does it well; I just wonder if he loaded too much variation onto a song that didn't really need it. I like that he stuck to his guns about using his guitar, though.

Why didn't Phillip toss Steven Tyler's black sparkly scarf at ME? Those girls in the front row weren't even old enough to be the next ones to get married. Ugh!!!

That giant dandelion coming undone during Hollie Cavanagh's rendition of "Honesty" was super creepy. Nothing that small should be expanded and animated on a huge screen. I honestly got a bit of a sperm vibe. This was a miss for Hollie. Even if she'd been able to channel the "salty bits and disappointment" of B.J.'s life, her vocal was pitchy throughout. I hate to use that dreaded favorite word of Randy's, but it really is the best one. So many notes were off. I was pretty shocked; our woodland creature playing dress-up has been so consistent until now. The belly tube and high-waisted sequined pants weren't really working for me either. Hollie already channels Celine Dion vocally; she doesn't need to dress like her idol in the '90s and today.

Haley Reinhart's performing tonight! "My new single, 'Free.' Check it ouuuut." Yeah man, totally, will do.

"I don't know if he's an actor or a con man," Diddy said of Heejun Han. "I don't even know if he's Asian." The possibly Asian contestant acted out right at the beginning of his performance of "My Life," pretending to forgo a slower ballad because he just wanted to dance! So he jumped into the front row of little girls and Nigel Lythgoe, sashayed across the judges' table, taking care not to linger too long on a clearly NOT amused Steven Tyler, and basically treated the performance as if he were a karaoke star. Which he kind of is, if you really want to get technical re: what this show is all about.

Randy and J. Lo appreciated how much fun Heejun brought to a ballad-heavy night, but Steven just wasn't buying it at all. "Are you happy that you took the piss out of that song?" he asked. The question clearly startled Heejun, who is used to directing the flow of sarcasm and subversiveness himself. I've grown tired of his shtick, so I liked that Steven of all people was able to cut through the bulls--- and call Heejun out for clown-like behavior. "The music business will kick your ass," Steven warned. "Sometimes you gotta take it more serious."

"Everybody Has a Dream" was expressly written for 16-year-old American Idol contestant Jessica Sanchez, it turns out. I can't find any fault in her vocals here. She took direction well and pulled it back on the first verse, careful not to overpower too soon -- and then she killed it on the high notes. What stuck me about this entire segment is that I think Jimmy and Diddy's "We don't believe what you're singing" critique of Jessica during her mentoring session was deliberately orchestrated so that we the audience would be conditioned into believing what she was singing.

Does that make any sense? I didn't believe that they didn't believe, basically. I think the producers want to facilitate an emotional connection with Jessica that the audience is much less likely to make on its own.

Oh my God, is a spaceship about to land?

Nope, it's just Colton Dixon -- don't touch his hair -- singing "Piano Man" while playing a fabulous red piano. He was really bouncing hard on that bench toward the end of this 90-second snippet of a long song! I'll go out on a dandelion limb here and say that Colton Dixon is the bounciest pianist we've ever seen on Idol. I thought he sounded great tonight, and the gravity of the "pimp spot" threw all of his calculated vocal choices (the chirping, the breaks) into the intergalactic spotlight. Steven gave Colton his ultimate "musician's musician" stamp of approval -- one he doesn't give out too often. "The choice of chords when your voice resolved was stunning." I had to play it back to get what he meant, but he was obviously right. This was Colton's defining moment of the season. I suspect he might win it all.

Ryan set a beautiful, just beautiful pick and roll for Colton to give a shout-out to the big guy upstairs. "I'd been praying before, saying 'God, use me.' I want Him to shine through, first and foremost." Dude, relax, it was just a song.

See you tomorrow after the idols sing us a song tonight! Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis....

Who do you think goes home tonight?

See the full article at EW.com

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