Before tonight, I thought Phillip Phillips had a practical lock on the finals.
But after tonight, I’m not so sure. His vocal limitations, which he had hidden so well to date with growls, came through big time during “Time of the Season.”
Good news for Hollie Cavanagh fans. She is lifting her game just as the competition gets truly heated and should survive. And while Joshua Ledet was solid, Jennifer Lopez took hyperbole to great heights by saying he was the best singer of the past half century.
Who may go home? Despite Phillip’s way off night, he may not have fallen far enough to get eliminated. I think he did so poorly, his fan base will vote extra to save him. Hollie hit a home run so her fans will load up on votes. I think Joshua pleased his fans, too, and should live on to the top four.
So that leaves the Skylar Laine and Jessica Sanchez. Skylar had a good night, not great. So that could keep her fans from voting with enough fervor. Jessica is in a similar boat. Her second song was so sleepy, it might lull her followers to sleep. I predict Skylar goes home by a hair over Jessica. It’s going to be close.
Stevie Van Zandt was a fun guest mentor, joshing a lot with his buddy Jimmy Iovine.
First up: the 1960s theme
Hollie (”River Deep, Mountain High” Ike & Tina Turner) – As Van Zandt noted, she opted for a song with an extremely high degree of difficulty. While this wasn’t close to Tina Turner quality (and she missed a few notes here and there), it was a confident show of her vocals and steadily improving stage presence. She hits her big final note, too. Grade: A-minus
Phillip (”The Letter” The Box Tops) – He virtually obliterated the melody and turned it into a bluesy Phil Phillipsy feel. While I absolutely adore the original, he changed this one so much, I kept comparing them. But once I let that go, I realized this was vintage Phil and enjoyed it, especially on a second listen. Grade: B-plus
Skylar (”Fortunate Son” CCR) – I remember this being an angry song and her take felt too upbeat for the lyrics. Her stage presence is without peer among the remaining five. He is just having fun as she turns this into rabble rouser. I liked it but didn’t love it. Grade: B-plus
Phillip and Joshua (”You’ve Lost Your Lovin’ Feelin’ – Righteous Brothers) – Phillip was out of his element so he took it as a goof. They both smiled through what is theoretically a sad song. The harmonies were better than you’d expect given how different the two vocal styles are. Joshua really dialed it back to adjust to Phillip. Grade: B-minus
Jessica (”Proud Mary” CCR) – I love that Steven Van Zandt tried to talk her out of this song because he has heard it so much in bars and is kind of sick of it. He even had the opening changed up for her. Her way-too-tight outfit distracted me but I give her points (like Hollie) for picking an insanely difficult song. And she admitted she’s not great moving around on stage but tried it anyway in high heels. Again, props to that. I actually liked it more than many of the live bloggers. Grade: A-minus
Joshua (”Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” Temptations) – Steven Van Zandt loves him to pieces. He dominates this “Big Chill” classic in his vintage gospelized style, which means dialing it up a bit more than the original. Sometimes, he grates that way but this version worked fine. Grade: A-minus
Second thematics: songs by Brits
Hollie (”Bleeding Love” Leona Lewis) – This ubiquitous radio hit from 2007-08 worried me because I wondered if an 18 year old like her could tap into the pain in this song. But lo and behold, she does. She never over-emotes, dialing it back but carrying just enough of the weight to make it work and work well. This is my favorite performance of the night. Grade: A
Phillip (”Time of the Season” The Zombies) – It opened okay. He handled the verses fine. But when he hit the chorus and chose to actually just sing the melodies and not growl the higher notes, and I felt pain – his pain. He struggled to give that upper register any power. It just came off as anemic. This was his weakest performance of the season and he can’t afford for that to happen again if he wants to make the finals. Grade: C
Jessica, Skylar, Hollie (”Higher” Jackie Wilson) – This gave us a chance to contrast the three female vocalists and the teens all have strong voices, just very different styles. Jessica has the huskiest voice. Hollie had the most angelic voice. Skylar brought the most grit. The judges deemed the arrangement strange but I don’t know what was so strange about it. Grade: A-minus
Skylar (”You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” Dusty Springfield) – A perfectly viable version of this classic. She didn’t do anything. I merely liked it okay, though. Maybe the textures in her voice for this type of song didn’t quite touch me the way the original did. Grade: B-plus
Jessica (”You are So Beautiful” Joe Cocker) – Now why didn’t Phil sing this? He would have killed! But he would have been criticized as he was last year for aping someone so similar to him. So Jessica went against type. Technically, she hit this one perfectly. The problem: the arrangement was elevator-music worthy and she never really connected with the song. I felt like she wasn’t singing this to anyone in particular. It was pretty but pretty empty. Grade: B
Joshua (”To Love Somebody” Bee Gees) – I tend to prefer him when he isn’t caterwauling. So the first half of this is spot on. Once he goes into high octane mode, it becomes a matter of taste. You either buy into it or don’t. I sometimes do. I sometimes don’t. This was just okay for me this time to go full Joshua. The haters will hate him even more, though, because the judges were way over the top in their praise. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk