March 28, 2012 at 11:41 PM ET
You have to give this much to the nine remaining finalists on “American Idol” – they aren’t making it easy to vote them off. Singing songs from their own personal idols seemed to inspire everyone to greater heights this week.
Granted, that’s partially because the judges were in an especially generous mood on Wednesday night, giving no fewer than five standing ovations on the night. None, however, was more surprising than the first.
Heejun Han had been getting increasing criticism for the perception that he wasn’t taking the competition seriously. After being in the bottom two a week ago, he played it straight and sang Donny Hathway's “A Song For You” well enough that he even won over Steve Tyler. No small feat, considering last week the judge looked like he was ready to leap up and wipe that smirk of Han’s face himself, old school.
“He-Man, you did it. You did it, man. You turned it around,” Steven said. “When you have a voice as good as yours ... you make it come alive.”
Very surprising. And very well-timed. Another joking performance and he’d have been the obvious choice to go home, but now it’s anyone’s guess who the unlucky singer will be.
Making it especially interesting was that two other singers who have been in trouble this season -- DeAndre Brackensick and Elise Testone -- likewise won high praise. The judges love themselves that Brackensick falsetto, and he got every opportunity to use it while singing Eric Benet’s “Sometimes I Cry.” Then again, the judges have always loved Brackensick, and the voters have typically shrugged and said, “Not so much.”
Testone closed the show, and did so with an energetic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” People who love Testone really, really love her. Trust us – we see all of the tweets. But it also bears repeating that she’s already been in danger a couple of times and a singer like her has never won “Idol,” or even come close to doing so.
The other two honored with the standing ovations were Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips. Phillips was a little surprising in that he sounded pretty much like he sounds every week. Not that that’s bad. He’s always going to sound good doing a Jonny Lang number. It wasn’t anything different from what we’ve already heard.
Ledet covered the Mariah Carey version of “Without You” and ... well, the judges liked it more than we did. He didn’t oversing, and Randy Jackson always appreciates any opportunity to remind everyone that he knows Mariah Carey and has her cellphone number, but it was a big song that he didn’t quite pull off. Unless you’re listening with J.Lo’s ears. She called him “an absolute angel from Heaven.”
Jessica Sanchez and Skylar Laine did not get the standing ovations, but deserved them. Sanchez has already shown she can belt out the high notes, and showed Wednesday that she could give an understated performance as well with a slowed down version of Beyonce-as-Sasha-Fierce’s “Sweet Dreams.” Laine sang Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” and is a good bet to stay around as long as people continue to like country rock. Though really ... Miranda Lambert is Laine’s idol? She's the one? Doesn't that seem hard to believe?
That leaves Colton Dixon and Hollie Cavanagh. Dixon makes no secret of the role his faith plays in his life, and he picked Lifehouse’s “Everything” because it’s his favorite worship song. He did it well, but we’ll see how the voters respond. Cavanagh went with ex-"Idol" Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” and did fine, but was the worst of the remaining women and at some point, the judges are going to have to demand more from her than they have thus far.
The finalists also took the stage a second time as three trios singling medleys. The less said about that, the better. If we’re going to talk about time-wasting filler, how about the pictures of a young Jimmy Iovine rocking out with guest mentor Stevie Nicks three decades ago? Believe it or not, at one point in his life, Iovine had long hair! Also, we can’t believe for a minute that people have asked Jason Derulo if that giant neck brace is an accessory. Even Tommy Hilfiger wouldn’t have suggested that look for a singer.
At the end, no judge was willing to cite either favorites or those in trouble. “I think tonight was a magical mystery tour of over-the-top talent and emotion,” Steven said.
That’s going to make for a very interesting results show. With everyone doing well, will the same singers who were in trouble a week ago be back on the bottom again? That would be bad news for Han and Brackensick, as well as Testone since she’s been among the lowest vote-getters before. It could also be bad for Dixon, who sang first, or for Cavanagh. We’ll find out Thursday which of the singers who moved the judges so much didn’t inspire the viewers to get out of their seats to vote.
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