Not only is tonight the semi-finals of the Best American Idol EverTM, but it is also our big chance to see how these lucky, talented performers live when they are at home and not kicking it in the former porn site that is the Idol mansion. Between all the home visits, we will see three performances by each singer – one they chose themselves, one the judges chose for them and one chosen by Jimmy Iovine. As much as I live to poke fun at the show, these contestants are all closely matched, and I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them take the title. I wouldn't even be surprised to see Randy Jackson storm the stage and take the crown and sash for himself.
Because there are two hours to fill and only three contestants left, Ryan Seacrest lets the crowd scream for the first five minutes of the show. Seems reasonable at this point, and frankly, I'd rather watch girls beg Ryan to be their prom date (really!) than listen to Randy Jackson spew a string of adjectives and adverbs together and wait for us to imbue them with meaning. Speaking of the word maestro, Randy picks Etta James' "I'd Rather Be Blind" for Joshua Ledet, despite the fact that the judges keep complaining that Joshua is too gospel-y. So why give him a song with serious gospel undertones? I don't know! Also, the title is actually "I'd Rather Go Blind." Only Randy Jackson would pick a song for someone and then biff the title. Isn't Etta James your personal best friend, Randy?
At the end of Josh's stirring rendition, Steven Tyler and Randy are up on their feet, but Jennifer Lopez, who just announced that she is not returning to the show, waits a beat or two before standing up, because she can now. Obviously, it was a great performance. "Why fix what's not broken?" Randy wonders. No idea, Randy. No idea.
J.Lo claims she immediately knew what song she wanted Jessica Sanchez to perform: "My All," which is possibly the most key-changing, non-melodic Mariah Carey number ever. So it's a really good choice. At the end of the song, the judges don't get off their duffs, and Randy starts it with a curt "Yo," so you expect it to be bad. But Randy thinks it was excellent, and did he mention that Mariah Carey is his personal best friend? Steven goes so far as to almost bet on Jessica being the Idol winner, but he says that to all the ladies.
The judges love Phillip Phillips' rendition of "Beggin'," a song that only makes me think of Beggin' Strips. Potential sponsor, Idol? "You are who you are, and we love it," Randy cheers. Steven goes a little overboard, saying Phil-Phil has the potential to be "a new-age Boss – a new Springsteen." I mean, sure. Lest you take anything Steven says too seriously and are ferociously drafting an angry letter on your "Number 1 Springsteen Fan" stationery, he follows that compliment with this Confucian wonder: "When you're facing the sun, the shadows fall behind you." J.Lo remains mute.
Joshua Ledet takes us to New Orleans for a sheriff's crawfish boil, where a bunch of crazy old ladies (one in an eyepatch!) pat him and grab his hands and ensure him that their prayer circles have been working round the clock on his behalf. Then he takes us to church – literally, for once – and shows off his daddy's house of worship, which is filled with wood paneling and babies wearing Team Josh shirts and guys with Team Josh painted on the side of their heads. A parade filled with old ladies in Mardi Gras beads leads to a stadium packed to its gills waiting for Josh to perform his greatest hit, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." Back in Hollywood, Joshua sings "Imagine" with a piano accompaniment, because he heard the song on the radio on the drive over and thought it sounded nice. Good enough!
Jessica is flown to her hometown of Chula Vista, California in a helicopter. She takes us to the stadium in San Diego where she auditioned for Idol and then sings in the packed Chula Vista Amphitheater. They must give those tickets away for free, right? I mean why else would an entire amphitheater of people be hanging out in Chula Vista in the middle of the day?
At her home, Jessica tells her little brothers that she is going to try and win it for them. Then there's the obligatory parade and triumphant return to the high school that she doesn't go to. You see, Jessica is home-schooled, and also admits that she was "the dork." That's pretty rough.
Jessica also gets to sing "Dance With My Father" on the USS Midway in front of a crowd of sailors, who are under orders from their commander to nod politely. Back on the Idol stage, Jessica makes the bizarre and potentially fatal decision to sing the especially cheesy Aerosmith song "I Don't Want to Miss A Thing." With all eyes on Steven Tyler he tells her, "You just took a good song and made it great." Randy follows up that kind compliment with, "Dude, you delivered, man, yo, whoa, I’m like yo, all right, all right." Thank you, Randy Jackson.
During the commercial break we find out the real reason Jessica sang an Aerosmith song: Steven needs money. Why else would he be in a Burger King commercial? Buy more Aerosmith songs, America.
Next, Phil-Phil tears up as his dad, Phillip Phillips, Sr., waxes on about his son reaching his dreams. Also, his dad is armed. No, really, he has a gun on his belt. That's the only security that Phil needs while visiting the family homestead in Georgia. He rides in a limo, greets his mom, hugs his sister and then, upon his return to Idol, he chooses to sing Matchbox Twenty with bongos and the sexy saxophonist. The judges aren't super impressed. J.Lo apologizes, but she doesn't think it was the "wow" performance that he needs to win it. The crowd sounds very determined to prove her wrong.
Thank god Jimmy is here to choose the right song for these contestants. First choice? Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama" for Joshua, because he can just go off on the ending, which is apparently important. And go off he does, even stripping his jacket off in the middle, because "no more drama" is just a suggestion. For some reason, right at the end of Joshua's performance the camera cuts to the giant Shannon Magrane gesticulating wildly at wee Hollie Cavanagh like she's going to eat her up. Save Hollie, America!
During her home visit, Jessica received a large promotional item from AT&T and Jimmy Iovine: a Beats by Dre speaker. Why? Because Jimmy Iovine owns half the damn company. All this free promotion is to say that he chose "I'll Be There" by the Jackson 5 for her to sing, which seems like a weird choice for the wannabe diva. The judges aren't overwhelmingly impressed. It's a beautiful song, but in the words of Randy, it lacked a "moment moment moment."
Along with his product placement, Phillip is assigned the task of singing Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," which is sure to give heart palpitations to all the little ladies who wish he was singing it to them. The judges think it was his best performance on the show ever. Or in Randy parlance, "[He] had a giant moment!" Steven Tyler gets bleeped, because he is so passionate about the fact that as it turns out, Phil-Phil can sing a melody when he wants to. That's all it takes to win in this competition! The judges really think that Phil-Phil could take it all, which is nice for him, but also unfortunate, because Idol needs someone other than a nice white guy to win.
Come back tomorrow when we find out who is going to the finals, and also because Lisa Marie Presley is performing, and she is extremely relevant and we should all care immensely.
Last episode: Three Is the Magic Number