Ready, set, scream! With only a week until the finale, the audience at CBS Television City was deafening as the top three American Idol contestants took the stage during Choice Week. Singing songs selected by the judges, mentor Jimmy Iovine, and himself, Phillip Phillips was clearly the lady’s choice of the evening.
It didn’t take much for Phillip to get the girls screaming Wednesday night. A little wave or boyish grin seemed to get them going before he even had a mike in his hand. From my seat in the second row at CBS, I can also tell you he seemed to be a crewmember favorite. Off-stage, he shook hands, gave high fives, and always remembered to acknowledge his band. He even encouraged the audience to cheer for stage manager Debbie Williams before the show started. But this is not a competition about who is the kindest; it’s about the music (or at least it should be).
As the final performer of the night, Phillip first took the stage to sing the judges’ choice, Madcon’s “Beggin’,” which had the crowd on their feet almost instantly. Jennifer Lopez was bouncing out of her seat while the girls in the audience continued to contribute to my future hearing aid fund. Randy Jackson called it just right when he proclaimed that it was a Phillip Phillips concert. Even the comment alone elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night.
While the judges seemed less than impressed by Phillip’s own choice, “Disease” by Matchbox 20, the girls once again didn’t wait to give him a standing ovation. Joining in on the Phillip love was this season’s fallen Idols, who were grooving along with Phillip’s covers. And before he made his exit, several girls hollered, “We Love You” — in case we hadn’t guessed it already.
It was his final performance of the night, a nearly perfect rendition of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” that may have won Phillip a ticket to next week’s American Idol finale (at least if the girls in the studio have anything to say about it). He had the crowd transfixed from the first non-guitar-accompanied note. Not to mention the judges — it was bleeped on your televisions, of course, but following the performance, Steven, who expressed his love for the performance, was reduced to curse words, telling Phillip “When you first came out here, you sang like you didn’t give a s**t.” But Phillip has more famous fans outside the panel — in fact, a special guest slipped in just to watch him sing. Standing in front of me was none other than Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend, Julianne Hough, who come out from backstage just to see Phillip.
Backstage, Phillip told reporters the night was more about the Top 3 enjoying themselves than the competition itself. "It was a crazy night … I just did something and had fun,” he said. “We're all so numb because there's nothing we can feel since it's almost over. We pray before we go onstage and tonight we just talked about how much fun we're gonna have. It's not a competition. Everyone is so different. I'm not the best singer, but I love having fun with the music."
Adopting Phillip’s let-loose attitude, Joshua Ledet also delivered memorable performances, starting with the judges’ selection, “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James. As he sang, girls swayed to the music and waved their hands in the air while the judges nodded their heads to the song. After receiving a standing ovation from the judges and audience, Joshua left the stage with new air of confidence — moments before the performance he had been nervously pacing.
Joshua’s selection of “Imagine” by John Lennon surprisingly seemed to be one of the toughest sells of the night. While nearly everyone knows the words to this classic, it took until the end of the performance for him to receive a standing ovation from the audience. While Jennifer, Randy, and Steven all looked impressed by the performance, they weren’t their usual excitable selves when it came to Joshua.
After receiving hugs from Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, Joshua took the stage one more time to sing Jimmy’s choice, “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige. After playing it safe all night, he finally showed why he is still in the competition with this performance. The past idols in the crowd lead everyone into a standing ovation as Jennifer and Randy rocked out together. The audience even refused to sit as the judges began their critiques.
And let’s not forget about Jessica Sanchez, who may have made the riskiest choices on Wednesday night. Hello, singing Aerosmith in front of Steven?! She started off her night with “My All” by Mariah Carey, certainly not an easy pick from the judges. But though her low register was spotty, she managed to hit Mariah’s big notes — what more could her fans ask for? She also had the judges in the palm of her 16-year-old hand as Jennifer swayed and Randy nodded his head to the music.
It may have taken until the final note, but Jessica received a second standing ovation for her performance of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. Throughout the performance, the room appeared mesmerized by Jessica’s stage presence. But unfortunately for Jessica, her final performance was her weakest. Even though she received a standing ovation from the crowd almost immediately, the judges wanted to see more. But, Randy’s comment about just liking it, not loving it, made the crowd erupt in boos.
Do you think Phillip’s female fans will sway the vote? Who will make to the finale? Come back tomorrow to find out and read more of my backstage scoop from the Idol set.
[Photo Credit: FOX]
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Forget California dreaming. Last night, at CBS Television City — where I sat watching the show — it was all about American Idol dreaming. At least, the vision of a confetti shower must have been dancing through our Top 4’s heads — as the four contestants took the stage, the audience did indeed see that these singers were in it to win it, as our dear Randy Jackson would say.
From my seat inside the theater, it was clear the audience had their favorites (hello, Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips!), but, if you listen to the judges, it was still anyone’s game. Singing a song that they wish they had written and a hit based on the Golden State, each contestant proved they’re aiming for gold during at least one of their performances.
Phillip kicked off the night with his rendition of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Even as teenage girls screamed, Phillip looked relaxed as he took the stage and gave Debbie Williams, the stage manager, a high five moments before his performance. It didn’t take him long to get the whole audience on their feet — even Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson were grooving along. But the enthusiasm might have been short-lived — the first major audience boos came when Randy mentioned the performance’s pitch issues. From that moment forward, the crowd was amped.
Phillip took the stage again later in the night to sing Damien Rice’s “Volcano.” Even though he designed a performance with a simple set (no, inside the theater, we did not see TV’s hologram-esque treatment), girls still continued to screech for the artist. Jimmy Lovine claimed that Phillip had found himself this week — and the crowd found a Phillip they adored. For the first time this season, Phillip could be seen laughing during the commercial breaks and giving a lot more love to the audience. In fact, there was a major “aww” moment when he hugged a young fan before his second performance. So much for his feeling under the weather.
Backstage, Phillip said he also noticed the difference tonight with his performances. “Tonight I felt good. I had fun on the first one and I was so nervous I didn't know what was going on,” he said. “But I pushed through it and the second song — I was just really into that. I love Damien Rice.”
Hollie Cavanagh’s first song, Journey’s “Faithfully,” may have been her strongest performance yet in the competition, at least from where I was sitting. Nearly everyone in the audience was singing along with her — but then again, isn’t that a requirement for all Journey music? Randy and Jennifer quickly whispered to one another during her performance, but Steven didn’t look away once, swaying in his chair. After receiving the positive judges’ feedback, Hollie gave a quick fist bump to Ryan Seacrest before exiting the stage.
Unfortunately, Hollie’s second performance may cost her the competition. While Jennifer looked impressed during the opening lyrics, the contestant stumbled near the end of the song. The big notes were stellar, sure, but she failed to truly captivate the crowd in the same way as the other performers. After the judges criticized the number, Ryan was there to give her a supportive pat on the back.
Hollie still seemed worried regarding the judges’ comments about her own connection to the music. "It's tough only because it's not good to get bad criticism at this point," she said backstage. "I felt it, I felt the lyrics in it. They can tell me I didn't feel it, but I felt it.”While Joshua Ledet may not have started out as fan favorite (at least in the theater), he was able to turn it around by the end of the night, receiving some of the loudest audience cheers. His final performance of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” was a home run for the crowd, who was just as eager as the judges to give him a standing ovation. Jennifer, for one, was literally bouncing out of her seat.
His first performance of “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban had a slightly less intense reaction from the audience — still, people sitting in the rows around me couldn’t take their eyes off him. What you didn’t see on TV? The planning that went into Joshua’s pedestal. During the commercial break, a stagehand practiced the lift and then showed Joshua exactly where to stand.
Finally, Jessica took to the stage to sing Etta James’ “Steal Away” and Jennifer Holliday’s “And I’m Telling You.” From the early footage of Jessica singing to her jaw-dropping final performance, this week, Jessica proved that the judges were right to save her. Talk about peaking at the right time.
And then there were those duets. The girls might have taken the prize last week, but their other half was far superior during Top 4. How could you not love watching goofsters Joshua and Phillip belt out “This Love?” Jillip, anyone?
However, Hollie and Jessica had more difficulty connecting with their fans. While it was fun to see the girls on ridiculously giant swing set, their song choice failed to captivate the crowd. The judges themselves never seemed to truly become invested in the performance either, criticizing it as Jillip snuck out onto the set.
And as all you gossip mongers loved seeing Wednesday night, Julianne Hough, Ryan’s girlfriend, was in the audience to promote her upcoming film, Rock of Ages. While Ryan joked on camera about popping the question, it was clear to anyone with a B.S. meter that the host was messing with us — even if some of the teenage girls were on the edge of their seats. But Ryan did make the effort to visit his girlfriend in the audience several times throughout the night.
Did you like this week’s themes? Or should they have just made it a full-on Rock of Ages cross-promotional night? And who will go home tonight? Come back Friday for all of the inside scoop from tonight’s elimination!
[Image Credit: FOX]
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Year in and year out, the American Idol judges’ panel claims the current crop of contestants is the best. Top 13. Of. All. Time. While it’s most certainly up for debate whether or not season 11 is made up of the most talented singers — season 7 would raise Phillip a David Cook while season 8 would raise Joshua an Adam Lambert — it seems after last night that we’re certainly looking at the smartest Top 13. Of. All. Time. While the remaining six contestants all presented viewers with perfectly enjoyable, tap-your-knee renditions of Queen’s greatest hits, they also picked (with the exception of our dear magical pixie Hollie) more obscure songs for their personal choice number.
Jennifer Lopez might have thought this was a risky endeavor, but, then again, so is showing up to a televised pop culture event without Kelly and Michelle to wear House of Dereon alongside you. Or officially passing the People’s Most Beautiful torch to Beyoncé via one of MC Hammer’s old pairs of pajamas. Or going anywhere without your trusty sidekick R2D2. I can’t stop. So… many… jokes about J. Lo’s outfit. Help us, Tommy Hilfiger, you’re our only hope!
But we can’t say Jennifer was wrong to label the song choices risky Wednesday night. But we can say they were as smart as Hollie desperately pleading with a sympathetic audience to save her. If these past few weeks have proved anything, it’s that American Idol is an unpredictable beast. But these past few years have proved it’s also the biggest media outlet on which to showcase your talent and musical style. For our Top 6, Idol is not so much about winning anymore — it’s about attracting a record label that will suit your musical needs and desires. Sure, Phillip, Elise, and Joshua could win performing lazy covers of crowd-pleasers like “Against All Odds,” “I Have Nothing,” and “Hallelujah,” but what can you lose by showing viewers and record labels who you really are?
NEXT: Phillip Phillips: Master of The (Kidney) StoneFor example, take Phillip Phillips. During his first number — an aggressive rendition of “Fat-Bottomed Girls” that left his face so cherry-red, I thought he would pop, much like many girls hearing the words “Phillip,” “cherry,” and ”pop” in the same sentence — I feared he might be walking into Jason Castro territory. After all, why not sabotage yourself on a series in which sensitive rockers have struggled following their respective victories? (I still love you though, David Cook and Kris Allen. And I still love to quickly change your iTunes version of “Treat Her Like a Lady” when I fear the stranger on the subway next to me is peering over my shoulder, Lee DeWyze.) But lest you think his choice to sing Dave Matthews was an attempt to mock his own reputation, just listen to his rendition of the aptly titled “The Stone.” It will kick you right in the kidney. The song’s lyrics even seem to atone to more lazy performances like “Fat-Bottomed Girls”: “Oh, I’ve been praying / For some way to show them / I’m not what they see.”
But the best part about Phillip is that — during most of his performances, like “Movin’ Out,” “U Got It Bad,” and “Still Rainin’” — Phillip is what the audience sees. As Randy told the contestant in a rare moment of poetic lucidity, “Die, sink, or swim, Phil Phillips will always be Phil Phillips.” We’re talking about a guy who so refuses to change, he won’t even wear a primary color. This isn’t a contestant who will unwisely sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Proud to be an American” in an attempt to get votes — this is a singer who knows exactly who he is: A former pawn shop worker who can carry a tune as well as he can carry a large stuffed turkey. And nothing could be more attractive to a record company than an attractive singer who can attract a legion of fans through an already patented brand of music.
For Joshua Ledet, that brand of music is a little more unclear. Though the vocal powerhouse has become a judges’ favorite via his gospel take on hits, he’s realized he could find better success and marketability channeling the likes of Bruno Mars. It’s a smart segue, and an effective one — though Tim Urban, David Radford, Taylor Hicks, and Fantasia tried before him, not one Idol contestant had delivered a semi-decent version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” until Joshua stuck his retro-soul stamp on the song.
Smart as he may be, though, Idol’s judges have been rash in their judgments, doing the contestant little service leading up to the Top 5. Let me break it down for you: Twelve standing ovations. Twelve. Just how many solos have we seen from Joshua since the semifinals? Eleven, including Wednesday night’s “Ready For Love,” which, interesting a song choice it may be, hardly made me ready to get on my feet. Look, many of them were deserved, but the judges have been giving away standing ovations like a 2007 hipster gives away Juno quotes about China giving away babies like free iPods, Homeskillet. Not only does that turn off cynical Idol viewers looking for reasons to conspiracy theorize that Joshua is the target of judge favoritism (J. Lo literally telling Joshua that he’s her favorite doesn’t help), but it also makes it difficult for viewers to distinguish when we should really be blown away by Joshua. If every performance is special enough to receive a standing ovation, then, really, no performance is special enough to receive a standing ovation. You may want to give him “four checks” after every song, but, Randy, you’ve got to make sure you give him a balance of critiques.
NEXT: Boldly go where no one wants to ever go. Elise Testone might have evolved enough over the course of the competition to realize her strength resides in bohemian rock, but the contestant has yet to reign in her vocal style, just like she has yet to reign in her personal style. Singing in front of a ridiculous backdrop featuring the alphabet — the letters of which Randy furiously collected so he could later ask Joshua to sing them — Elise did rock out on “I Want It All,” finding her niche with a groovy beat and a tambourine. Or perhaps she simply connected with the title of the song, since it’s what she says every time she walks into a jewelry store.
But though her choice of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” was refreshingly, well, bold, her execution of the song just made us wonder how the singer got Badger from Breaking Bad to accompany her on guitar. We needed the distraction hearing the performance — otherwise, we’d be forced to listen to the sound of Hendrix rolling in his grave. Honestly, “Bold As Love” is a difficult song to tackle, but Elise pounced on it like she was at WrestleMania. She beat out all of the song’s simplicity, turning it into a vanity number with as many runs as a Taco Bell bathroom. (SORRY!)
Surprisingly, though, on Wednesday night I wasn’t running from Hollie Cavanagh, who all but sealed a slot in the Top 5 thanks to a little help from her friends the producers (pimp spot!) and a crafty choice of song. First off was “Save Me” from Queen, one of those songs that can either work for you — literally demanding Idol’s voting fanbase to dial your number — or against you, placing you in the ranks of previous Idols with unfortunate cast-off songs. (Sorry, Charles Grigsby. Indeed, “You Can’t Win.”) Though I can’t be the only one uncomfortable with watching Hollie sing the lyric “I’m naked and I’m far from home,” which I’m pretty sure is the slogan for Four Loko.
NEXT: Hollie climbs?But as soon as Hollie was finished icily suggesting that Emily Thorne should stop dating her son Daniel, she changed into a fresh new wardrobe with a fresh new outlook to match. Typically, I hate contestants that sing the “I Believe I Can Fly” for the Twitter generation, but “The Climb” suited Hollie’s tone, helping us viewers remember the singer who expertly covered “The Power of Love” back during Top 11 week. Still, Hollie is hardly powerful enough to reach Idol’s confetti-filled summit, but this could help her climb the list of Idol’s power players.
Especially when Jessica Sanchez seems to be inviting Hollie to fill her teen-friendly slot in the competition. Ever since the contestant flirted with elimination two weeks back, she has yet to show us the return of that perky performer who somehow sucked in the maturity of a 50-something diva and channeled it into jaw-dropping performances like “I Will Always Love You.” (As my trusty Idol companion and mother said, “I feel like she got whipped and has no spirit in her heart.”) Despite the fact that Queen’s music somehow seemed to suit Jessica’s voice best — she sang circles around the rest of the Top 6 during the beginning group number — the contestant couldn’t quite deliver the proper drama needed to perform “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And that’s despite all the bells and whistles — the odd black-and-white footage, the backdrop that resembled a terrifying meth-induced nightmare… it all failed to even add up to the admittedly horrible, but no less entertaining, versions of the song we saw from the likes of Kellie Pickler and Constantine Maroulis (and paled in comparison to Michael Johns’ Hollywood version in season 7).
Of course, she made up for her lackluster “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a version of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” that had Grammy Performance written all over it. The gorgeous dress, dramatic lighting, wind machine that has gotten so much play, it might as well be named the seventh contestant — not to mention the vote-friendly family story behind her choosing the song. That said, though many might feel sympathy that Jessica’s father is being deployed to Singapore, she may be in danger of real elimination Thursday night. Not only because she was forced to sing in that cursed No. 1 slot, but also because the judges were less enthusiastic than Brian May at an Ace Young concert. In fact, even though J. Lo claimed Jessica’s “Dance With My Father” was the best version of the song she had ever heard, the trio failed to give the singer anything close to a standing ovation. Perhaps that’s just because they’re saving it for next week for when Joshua sings LFO’s “Summer Girls.”
And last, but most definitely not least, we have Skylar Laine, perhaps the smartest contestant of all. Who doesn’t reach for the pre-sale button knowing the contestant has a song under her noose-covered belt called “Diamond-Studded Pistol”? What religious Colton Dixon fan doesn’t shift their votes to Skylar after hearing she has a God-inspired tattoo? Who doesn’t turn up their televisions hearing her bursting version of “The Show Must Go On,” which came refreshingly devoid of the emotional histrionics reserved for most big Idol numbers? And who doesn’t have a hard time believing that “Tattoos on This Town” is actually a Jason Aldean song, and not a Skylar Laine original? Any other year, Skylar would be considered a favorite to win the whole shebang, but, with Joshua clinching the judge support, the young country star in the making might have to settle for being Idol’s dark horse. Still, I have a feeling this dark horse could ride straight into the finale, diamond-studded pistol in hand.
Readers, who do you think is the smartest Idol left? Was it not-so-smart for Hollie to accidentally call Skylar “thick-boned?” Was it nice to see Brian May and Roger Taylor back on Idol, especially when they’re not yelling at Ace Young? Did you wish Jimmy Iovine was around Wednesday to wear hats and coach contestants into choosing the wrong song? Why did Randy choose to talk when the pin on his jacket, “Yo,” could have pretty much done all the work for him? Was it not adorable watching Julianne Hough’s Phil Phillips crush be revealed — and then seeing her mouth “Oh s**t!” realizing cameras were filming her embarrassment? Can Ryan rock a pompadour? Is there any answer to that question besides “No”?
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Photo Credit: FOX]
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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.