Jessica Sanchez is like a gymnast always pursuing the most difficult possible routine. A few weeks back, she covered Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” one of the toughest, showiest songs in history to pull off. The consensus: excellent!
Last week, she attempted Tina Turner’s “‘Proud Mary.” Consensus: more miss, than hit. Tonight, she not only covered an Etta James song with plaudits, but then tackled the ultimate in “Look at me! I’m a singer!” song: “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” This teen’s got gumption! From a technical standpoint, she was spot on.
But does she bring the angst and grit of either Holliday or Jennifer Hudson? Not quite. Maybe it’s youth. Or her personality. Still, plenty of fans think she just punched her ticket to the finals.
In fact, the debate has been going on for weeks: is Jessica authentic or a robot?
Hollie Cavanagh is facing a similar critique. Is she connecting with what she’s singing? Is she mature enough to embody some of the mature topics within the lyrics of songs she picks? She seems rather young at times but warmer and more likable than Jessica.
She did a rather faithful version of Journey’s “Faithfully” but picked the wrong song for herself with Bonnie Raitt’s heart-breaking “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She was able to properly channel heartache last week with “Bleeding Love” but couldn’t quite do it this time around.
Phillip Phillips is not even 5% of the singer Jessica is. But he can emote. And his Damien Rice “Volcano” cover may have saved him after his “why am I still here?” performances last week. Maybe his kidney didn’t act up so much this week.
Joshua Ledet, whose style is nothing if not divisive among the readers here, can grab a song and embody it in a way that neither lady in the competition can. While he almost held back too much on “You Raise Me Up,” he gave plenty of power to “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” (The judges gave him a standing ovation only for the second one.)
The judges were brutal (relatively speaking) on Hollie this week. Will her sympathy votes keep her around this time? I’m not so sure with only four left. She and Joshua will be in the bottom two and she will go home.
My quick recap of the 10 performances
Round one: “California Dreamin’ ” – songs by California artists or have some connection to the state
- Phillip (”Have You Ever Seen the Rain” Creedance Clearwater Revival) – This week, he was smart to choose a song that didn’t need a lot of range, especially on the high end, like “Time of the Season.” The lead singer John Fogerty has a gritty voice too, so this complemented Phillip. He did seem far more chipper about it than Fogerty, which didn’t work for me too well. Still, he felt more comfortable than he did last week with the Zombies. Bonus points though for sexy sax player Mindi Abair! Grade: B-plus.
- Hollie (”Faithfully” Journey) - She looks great, enhanced by wind machine. But she does a virtual note for note copy of the original. Lyrically, this song doesn’t seem to have much to do with her at all (a wizened rock star on the road with a family). Ultimately, it was not distinguishable performance good or bad. Grade: B
- Joshua (”You Raise Me Up” Josh Grobin) – I tend to enjoy Joshua when he’s understated but I’m not sure he brought enough energy to truly raise me up on this one. At least he didn’t go into total scream mode at any point. Interestingly, he didn’t get a standing ovation. Grade: B-plus
- Jessica (”Steal Away” Etta James) – It’s tough to sing the blues when you’re not a truly bluesy person. Again, she sings another technical marvel that is missing the soulful credence of the late great James. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
- Joshua/Phillip (”This Love” Maroon 5) – After last week’s uncomfortable “You’ve Lost This Lovin’ Feelin’,” the pair regrouped and put together a delightful version of this nearly decade-old Maroon 5 hit. Note the ebony/ivory pianos.Grade: A-minus
- Jessica/Hollie (”Eternal Flame” The Bangles) – As Randy Jackson said, this arrangement felt odd. Jessica kept hitting the lower register in the harmonies and was swallowed by Hollie, especially near the end. The swings may have meant these two are just teens. Maybe they’ll play jacks next time? Grade: B
- Group sing (”Waiting For a Girl Like You” Foreigner) – Harmonies were off. The singers didn’t really capture Lou Gramm’s longing. As is typical in group sings, the coherence was off. Grade: B-minus
Round 2: songs I wish I had written
- Phillip (”Volcano” Damien Rice) – What a revelation! Phillip is singularly compelling on a bracingly painful song. Grade: A
- Hollie (”I Can’t Make You Love You” Bonnie Raitt) – She tried, oh, she tried. It fails to click but the judges were much tougher on her than she deserved. Grade: B-plus
- Joshua (”It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” James Brown) – The judges were a wee bit hyperbolic tonight again, eh? Best performance of any music show ever, Randy Jackson? Really? Sure, it’s vintage Joshua, with all the runs, the energy, the gospel touches. From that standpoint, it was excellent. Grade: A-minus
- Jessica (”And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” Jennifer Holliday) – As I noted earlier, she hit every note with precision, her vocal and breath control incredible. It’s almost as good as the original. Almost. Grade: A-minus/A
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk