'American Idol' Recap: Live for Today

Top seven tackle a mixed bag of recent pop hits (and misses)

american idol duet
Michael Becker / FOX
Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine perform on 'American Idol.'
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The pressure's on. Now that Deandre Brackensick has been sent packing, most of the fat has finally been cut from this season of American Idol. About time, right?

Despite the clunky title, this week's theme, Music from 2010 to Today, seems promising . . . until most of the top seven pick obscure songs and mediocre hits. What could have been a fun night of chart-topping show-stoppers is somewhat of a snooze-fest. The most recognizable tracks are "Perfect," "Runaway Baby" and "You and I." (Bonus points if you can name all three recording artists without relying on Google.)

The night kicks off with Tommy Hilfiger once again doling out fashion tips to the contestants. If they want to be the next American Idol they need to dress the part, both onstage and off. While no one gets a complete overhaul a la makeover roadkill Erika Van Pelt, they do get to raid a walk-in closet the size of my apartment. The one person who looks exactly the same in the end? Phillip Phillips, of course. Fame be damned. Don't change me, man!

The first to perform is Skylar Laine, who chooses a Kellie Pickler song ("Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You") that neither Jimmy Iovine nor guest mentor Akon have ever heard, which leaves little hope for the rest of us. Still, it certainly showcases her voice. So, well played, Skylar. Well played.

Judges Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez both agree she has "perfect pitch," while dirty old man Steven Tyler unsurprisingly admits he's "enamored" by the women on the show this year. "The crows may crow, but the hens deliver the goods," he says with a smirk. Could this be the Year of the Woman? (The last lady to win was Jordin Sparks, way back in 2007!) 

Next up is Colton Dixon, who's visibly irked when Jimmy compares him to Phillip during rehearsal. But it's less about them being similar in sound or style and more about them being in competition with each other when it comes to vying for the hearts and votes of lovesick tweens. Sorry, Joshua Ledet, but apparently you're not making any tongues wag.

Photos: 'American idol' Season 11

Colton's version of "Love the Way You Lie" by Skylar Grey – sung by Rihanna in Eminem's song of the same name – finds him sitting at a pearl-white piano surrounded by billowing smoke and a string orchestra. While J.Lo wishes he did "more" with the song, it's obvious Steven has a serious man-crush on Colton. He lights up anytime the guy's onstage, calling him a "rare talent" and coveting his ringmaster-like jacket.

To fill the two-hour run time with only seven contestants, the show gets stretched out with hometown clips – screaming fan montages! homemade signs! taxidermied wildlife! – and duets. You know, the standard Idol filler. 

Obviously hoping to fuel rumors of budding behind-the-scenes relationships, the producers pair Phillip with Elise Testone on Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" and Colton and Skylar on "Don't You Wanna Stay" by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson. While the former have as much chemistry as Steven and J.Lo, the latter really gel. But does that mean they're dating? Hell to the no, the two repeatedly claim.

Then it's time for Jessica Sanchez, who sings "Stuttering" by Jazmine Sullivan. Who-what now? Exactly. Despite the judges looking bored immediately following her performance, they gush about her as usual. Randy even adds a new word to his repertoire: "superb." But while week after week they act like she's the greatest thing since sliced singing bread (or at least last season, when they certainly said the same things to someone else), Jennifer hints at Jessica's biggest flaw: She's boring. "Dig a little deeper," she advises, which is code for: stop playing it safe with ballads. 'Cause we all know where that got Pia Toscano . . .

Enter Joshua, who season three winner Fantasia labels "Mantasia" during a pre-taped birthday wish. He's the first to tackle a big-name artist with Bruno Mars' frenetic "Runaway Baby," complete with a horn section and go-go dancer. It's the only performance of the night to get all three judges up on their feet. "You can sell a song like a work of art," gushes Steven.

But the night's love-fest comes to an end when Hollie Cavanagh steps on stage to sing Pink's "Perfect," which she distractingly pronounces as "pear-fict." It lacks the gritty emotion of the original, so chances are she'll wind up in the bottom three once again, especially since the judges clearly want to give her the heave-ho. You know she's in serious trouble when Steven looks genuinely pained and the only positive feedback she gets is J.Lo saying, "Well, you look beautiful." A death knell if there ever was one.

Getting caught in the crossfire is Phillip, who takes the stage right after Hollie's suck-fest. During rehearsal, Akon says Phillip's rendition of "Give a Little More" by Maroon 5 "isn't exciting enough," and Jimmy once again pits Phillip against Colton. Troublemakers!

After Phillip's gravelly-voiced acoustic performance, Steven praises his Steve McQueen-meets-Johnny Cash vibe while Randy and Jennifer express disappointment in the fact that he stayed in his comfort zone. What I really wish someone would point out is how high he looks every week. Forget a makeover, just hand the kid some Visine for those glassy, bloodshot eyes.

In another time-filler, the trio of Joshua, Hollie and Jessica rip through Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger," in which Jessica's shaky vocals make Hollie sound like Celine Dion. After her equally warbly take on Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" last week, it's clear why Jessica avoids uptempo tracks like the plague.

Landing the "pimp spot," a.k.a. the prime slot right before voting opens, is Elise, which means she'll most likely stick around for another week. Her Janis Joplin-y, piano-tinkle take on Lady Gaga's "You and I" causes Randy to declare, "Elise is back!" Yeah, dawg.

When host Ryan Seacrest does a final sweep to ask the judges their overall opinions of the night, everyone except Hollie and, surprisingly, Colton is called out as being worthy of viewers' votes. Is that an indication of what's to come during tomorrow night's elimination show? 

Last episode: Master Blaster