Apparently, the naturally built-in drama of American Idol isn’t enough. Perhaps it’s because the reality series now has to compete with series both flashier and fresher (see: The Voice, The X Factor). Perhaps it’s because the series is attempting to spice up its formula, despite the fact that that same formula has continued to deliver delicious drama year after year. (Seasons 3, 6, and 9 notwithstanding.) But between Idol’s ridiculous introduction packages that make us feel like we already live in a Hunger Games-esque dystopian society (that might explain J. Lo’s electrical tape dress. Fashion survival guide!), and the clearly manufactured romance and rivalry talk, the series is starting to feel like a soap opera fit to air on daytime television (before, of course, being replaced by a horrible, lazily produced talk show).
It’s funny, because, quite honestly, this season doesn’t need any sort of heightened drama. Minus one contestant (ahem, Hollie), the remaining Idols of season 11 are offering up performances as tasty as Godiva-filled Hostess cupcakes. (And on a night, Songs of the 2010s, featuring relevant music no less!) And enthusiasm for the crop of contestants shows, based on audience reaction — the crowd at CBS Television City was so excited to see Ryan Seacrest descend the staircase last night, you would think he offered everyone in the audience their own show on E!. And, look, I don’t blame the riled-up crowd — as a 11-season Idol fanatic (yes, I’ve seen almost every season live on tour. And yes, I’ve seen almost every season live on tour… with my mom), I literally get the shakes waiting for my favorite contestant to take the stage. This is not a healthy reaction, coming from an almost 30-year-old woman. But even with The Voice’s A-list clout, and The X Factor’s Simon Cowell factor, it’s hard to deny: American Idol’s still got it. (And proof is in the paper — Idol topped The Voice in ratings last week.) At least, that’s what I’ll continue to tell myself until the day the network replaces Idol with a show in which Snooki’s baby competes with Courtney Stodden for the love of a pawn star while sitting on spinning chairs on a deserted island.
So, Idol, don’t feel the need to pretend your contestants love or hate one another. I’m going to watch anyway, my similarly Idol-obsessed mother (who texts me wonderfully mom-like insights about the contestants week in and week out) in tow. But before my love for the show gets as out of hand as guest mentor Akon on stage, let’s get to the performances! Here we go, from worst to best!
Whether we like it or not, yes, Hollie is still around. And whether we like it or not, yes, Hollie still relies on The. Big. Note. And, yet again, Hollie still seemed unable to connect with her song, despite Jimmy’s insistence that she would score the Last Note of the Night Awards. (Which is an honor with about as much weight as the Jimmy Iovine Sunglasses During the Day Lifetime Achievement Award.)
I find it difficult week in and week out to concentrate on Hollie’s performances — her tendency to exclusively sing melodramatic tunes that are better fit for a dentist’s office elevator than the Idol stage only drives me to focus my attention on her horrible clothing choices, or the fact that I should become one of those people who brush their teeth midday in the office bathroom. This time around, rather than honing in on her vocals, I couldn’t help my mind from shifting straight to the rose floating in the backdrop, which brought my mind straight to Beauty and the Beast, which brought me straight to my DVD shelf… until I remembered I had a recapping job to do. I would say Steven agreed with me, but I’m not sure whether “it kinda laid there for me” is a good thing or not in the Aerosmith rocker’s world.
Texts From My Mom: She sucks. Ugly ugly dress. She’s awful.
NEXT: Colton vs. Phillip?
Joshua, Hollie, Jessica
Sigh. These three. Just no. I don’t have the energy, guys. I’ll let my mom describe the trio’s performance of “Stronger.”
Texts From My Mom: Stronger not good. Weaker.
I’m not sure where to begin with Elise’s performance of “Yoü and I.” First, there was the cringe-inducing Jeff, Who Lives at Home advertisement, complete with a Jason Segel cameo that made me wonder whether I should continue defending Bad Teacher. Then there was that cringe-inducing outfit that made her look like Cher after a trip through the washing machine. Then there was the fact that Elise had planned to pull a Reed Grimm (I shudder just writing the name) by beginning the song on drums, before Jimmy wisely(!) talked her out of it. And, on top of all that, there was a note at the song’s crescendo that was so butchered, even the umlaut wanted to run out of CBS Television City.
Sure, Elise’s “Yoü and I” was passable, but during Top 7 week, should passable be considered acceptable? It’s undeniable that Lady Gaga, love her or hate her, slays that song like its one of Daenerys’ dragons. Elise merely pinched it, denying its lyrics their deserved ardor. And that’s disappointing, considering Elise actually boasts a voice much stronger than Gaga’s. For someone who’s constantly teetering on the edge of Idol glory, Elise seemed more fatigued than fabulous, even after being rewarded the coveted pimp slot. Elise, this is how it’s done.
Texts From My Mom: Ugliest clothes of the night. Violin players kept busy tonight. Saloon-y, like a local band chick.
As if Elise’s pre-performance segment — brought to you by Jeff, Who Lives At Home and Embarrassment, Inc. — wasn’t manufactured enough, Idol attempted to stir up trouble between the competition’s two good ol’ boys, Colton and Phillip. And Jimmy perfectly played the part of that s**t-stirrer you don’t know why you befriended in 7th grade, who told you that your friend Hillary was telling people you look terrible in those butterfly clips while telling your friend Hillary that you told people she hadn’t washed her low-rise jeans in two months. Or something like that.
And, boy, did Colton take the bait — after Jimmy told Colton that he thought he was “behind Phillip,” while simultaneously telling Phillip that Colton has the girls on his side, Colton decided he needed to overtake his male competition. And how does an Idol contestant become the Idol Alpha? Through uncomfortable, inappropriate, smoldering stares at the camera during “Love the Way You Lie,” that’s how! (Didn’t hurt that leftover smoke from Skylar’s flaming hobo pails helped enhance the drama. More on that later.)
After all, without Colton’s Blue Steel, I would have said his performance was infinitely more passionless than any of his previous numbers. I would have said it lacked oomph. But then, during that final note, he looked at the camera… and straight into my soul. Suddenly, he transformed my opinion about the ho-hum performance like water into wine. And then transformed my wine into more wine. Oh wait, I did that. (Hey, you do what you gotta do 20 minutes through a two-hour show.)
Texts From My Mom (who typically fears Colton because of his lack of a defined derriere): Meh for me. He’s a good guy.
Elise and Phillip
For me, for you, for me, this duet didn’t feel like the Phillip and Elise I used to know — at least, the duo that performed last week’s awesomely rockin’ “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” Rather, their ho-hum Gotye rendition only got me (get it?) checking to see if I needed a refill of wine. Of course, perhaps that’s what the backdrop’s subconscious-burrowing psycho-hypnotic spiral was trying to make me think: Boring! There can be no final two outside Joshua and Jessica! Well, I don’t know, my sweet little id. Elise and Phillip did have good harmon — But, OMG, remember when Jessica sang “I Will Always Love You?” But Phillip and Elise DO have marketable voic — Need to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia! (Apparently, my subconscious can’t avoid making continuous Zoolander references.) If nothing else, though, at least the performance gave Steven the opportunity to share his Idol fan fiction by suggesting the two contestants enjoy a romance. Of course, Elise’s supposed harassing and headband-wearing ways make them a bit less Hepburn and Tracy and more Minnelli and Gest.
Texts From My Mom: Duet better than the original.
NEXT: Colton and Skylar aren't dating. I'm not sure how many times I can tell you after you in no way asked.
Colton and Skylar
You guys, Colton and Skylar aren’t dating. No way, no how. I’m not sure how many times I can tell you after you in no way asked. So don’t you dare start believing they are a couple, not even when the two contestants constantly remind us that they aren’t together. And come on — whatever you do, don’t start thinking they have feelings towards one another because they sang “Don’t You Want To Stay” to each other. It’s just a song — why would you jump to conclusions? And, please, whatever you do, don’t talk to your friends and fellow Idol fans about their possible romance next week when they duet on “Let’s Get It On” and Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” okay? Not. Dating.
Texts From My (Indecisive) Mom: I hate that song. Great gun line. Skylar sounds better than Kelly. Overproduced.
Moving on to the contestant who often makes me the most uncomfortable. And not because his Twitter fan group is named #jjewels. (I’m sorry. I don’t really want to see J’s Jewels.) No, I’m uncomfortable watching Joshua week in and week out because it’s almost embarrassing how badly Idol wants him to win. Not only did the possible Season 11 winner get a special shout-out from Season 3 winner Fantasia, but Ryan even went so far as to invite Joshua’s dad on the stage to give him a post-performance hug. Look, he ran away with Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” sure, but even Randy had to peer pressure J. Lo and Steven to give Joshua their weekly standing ovation.
That being said, this week Joshua was more fun than his bright white-and-pink ensemble. How refreshing to see the contestant ditch the tired gospel choir act for a fabulous go-go dancer and the whitest group of trumpet players I have ever seen! Unfortunately, Joshua’s charm doesn’t quite pop off the screen like Bruno Mars’, but that won’t stop the judges from attempting to force him to sing a terrible victory song in May — Randy said he’s “gotta have it” like a Birthday Cake Remix, and Steven told Joshua, “You can sell a song like a work of art.” Tell that to Van Gogh.
Texts From My Mom: Good voice no Bruno. I don’t think he deserves the Standing O. Bruno killed that song on Grammys.
Funny what a difference a year makes. Last season, the judges’ panel tore into poor Haley Reinhart for choosing a then-unknown future hit, “Yoü and I,” by a very famous artist, Lady Gaga. This season, the judges’ praised Skylar for selecting a now-unknown song, “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You,” by an artist most famous for her Idol ties, Kellie Pickler. (Or, as Steven Tyler said, “The crows may crow, but the hen delivers the goods.” I think a man just left his apartment to hand an unmarked manila envelope to a Russian spy.) Perhaps the judges didn’t want to knock a former contestant. Perhaps this is just a continuation of their country ignorance. But I’m hoping they’re simply older and wiser and have begun to understand that choosing an unknown song is actually an intelligent strategy on the Idol stage — especially when an artist like Skylar, whose only struggle is being compared to Reba McEntire, can make virtually any song sound like it belongs on top of the country charts. Now, anyone hearing “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” will immediately associate it with Skylar, much like how her stage boyfriend Colton will be associated with White Lion’s “Broken Heart.”
Even Akon couldn’t help but love Skylar’s rendition. “Your voice is stupid,” he told her. And you know what else is? Trying to enhance the Idol stage atmosphere with a series of garbage cans on fire. The only downside to Skylar’s performance this week was the ridiculous stage flair, which only got worse since that flaming hawk attacked our TV sets last week. Garbage cans on fire? Surrounding Skylar on a guitar? Really? When Skylar is singing “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You,” is she talking about fingerless gloves?
Texts From My Mom (apparently channeling a critical Frankenstein who quickly changes his opinions): Fire dumb. Why the guitar? It doesn’t add anything. Very good. Country star.
NEXT: Jessica endangers species.
There’s no hiding it, friends. I’m a #philatic. There’s something about his Dave Matthews-esque growl that takes me back to junior high, and something about the way he sells turkey statues that takes me back to my Minnesota home state’s Prairie Chicken monument. He’s TV comfort food, serving up warm, wonderful plates of musical mac and cheese, complete with a smile and a wink that says, “Fine, Tommy Hilfiger. I’ll add some beige to my wardrobe, but only because of fans like Kate.” So I couldn’t help but devour his performance of Maroon 5’s “Give A Little More” last night, sexy sax woman and all. J. Lo might confuse his consistency for banality, but fans know exactly what kind of album to expect from Phillip post-Idol. (And that’s more that you can say for some of the season’s most confused contestants. Ahem, Hollie.) Here’s hoping he continues to give us a lot more.
Texts From My (Also Philatic) Mom: Me likey.
Jessica is a contestant that defies all Idol logic. Over the past 11 seasons, all Idol performers under the age of 18 have been passionless. (See: Jasmine Trias.) All Idol performers under the age of 18 have been precocious and cloying. (See: Sanjaya.) But Jessica manages to be as powerful and poised as a President Barbie, without the rigidity. She might be a young diva in training, but she’s still as approachable as that nice girl in your social studies class your mom keeps telling you to hang out with. And the singer was no different Wednesday night — Jessica appeared on stage, wearing a dress reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, which is appropriate, since this contestant is just as confounding. How is it possible that she can sing absolutely anything? How is it possible that she can wear absolutely anything? How is it possible that we still like her? Where does the staircase end? And will Ryan Seacrest walk down it?
Gracefully sitting atop a piano while performing Jazmine Sullivan’s “Stuttering,” Jessica, like Skylar, transformed an unknown song into a viable hit, sending me to my iTunes faster than J. Lo to her bronzer. And I’m not the only one who found Jessica effervescent — according to Randy, Jessica was so “dope,” she’ll appear on the next season of Whale Wars. If only J.Lo was likin’ it, Danny Noriega-style — the judge oddly told Jessica she was hoping to see a “Joshua-level” impact performance, a bizarre request for a contestant who so regularly gets the dramatic spotlight treatment, she might as well take up residence there. What more could Jessica have done for impact? More hobo garbage pails on fire?
Texts From My Mom: Magnificent. J. Lo was wrong. Whale is not a fish.
Thoughts, fellow Idol fanatics? Were you pleased to see that our contestants actually can perform hits in our era? Do you like American Idol: Soap Opera Edition? Which aquatic animal do you think Jessica killed? And was it in self-defense?
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard