'American Idol' Recap: I Can't Make You Love Me - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: I Can’t Make You Love Me

Unless I’m Joshua Ledet

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Hollie Cavanagh performs in front of the judges on 'American Idol.'

Michael Becker / FOX

It’s the Final Four! In just 14 days we will be watching the season finale and one of these tiny little teenagers will be crowned America’s Most Wanted Idol. But before we can winnow the herd, or separate the wheat from the chaff, we have to get through two hours of performances by the four finalists. That’s a solid half hour of wailing, belting and yowling by each of the contestants, although once you account for commercials, product placements, the judges’ meandering statements, Ryan Seacrest’s shoe color commentary and Jimmy Iovine’s keeping-it-realisms, there’s really only going to be about 12 minutes of singing.

Tonight is another multi-theme episode, where Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Hollie Cavanagh and Phillip Phillips will be singing songs selected from both the “California Dreamin'” canon as well as the “Songs You Wish You Had Written” oeuvre. California Dreamin’ makes more sense as a prom theme than as a singing competition concept, but Phil-Phil gives it a whirl with “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which is, I guess, topical. While CCR didn’t do any favors for the dearly departed Skylar Laine, who butchered one of their songs last week, Phillip knows how to do it right. And by right I mean bringing a sexy blonde tattooed lady to play saxophone and hold down stage right. That alone should keep him around through next week. In response Steven Tyler says, “You’re living proof that the road to success is always under construction.” No idea if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe it needs a sexy construction lady?

Hollie steps up next, gleefully expanding the California Dreamin’ theme to remind us (me) that she has been down this road before: she tried out for Idol with Journey’s “Faithfully,” because nothing says “California Dreamin'” like a lovelorn, smoke-filled bar ballad. Really, it is all in the lost verse of the Mamas and the Papas song.

Hollie does her best to imbue meaning into the song, but each lyric is just a reminder that she’s 16 and has the life experience of your average house plant, and when she sings about being “forever yours, faithfully” she’s probably thinking about Edward and Bella. Ugh, who gave that girl Journey to play with? Randy Jackson, who is dressed for the Kentucky Derby (you missed it, dawg!) and is personal best friends with the “Journey boys,” loved it. Jennifer Lopez’s Tim Burton Collection lipstick color is mesmerizing and I don’t hear what she says, and finally Steven Tyler starts on about positive affirmations and I go take a walk outside and think about my life choices.

Photos: ‘American Idol’ Season 11

Joshua Ledet has realized that he can out-Josh Groban Josh Groban if he sings “You Lift Me Up” on an elevated platform with a gospel choir accompanying him. The effect is solid enough that I’m not even going to question what this song has to do with California Dreamin’. Joshua’s performance reminds J.Lo why he’s here and how she knew he would be in the finals with Phillip, Jessica . . . even Hollie. Oh J.Lo, your mauve lipstick is covering some pure evil.

Jessica Sanchez opts for a bluesy Etta James song, which if this was earlier in the competition she would probably get dinged for choosing, because what tween has heard of Etta James except at her grandma’s house when grandpa’s had one too many scotch and sodas? Luckily she wears electric blue earrings and racing-striped pants to keep it modern. J.Lo thinks it was “crazy crazy crazy.”

After last week’s resounding failure of Joshua and Phillip’s duet, the Idol producers boldly do it again, making the two polar opposites sing “This Love.” The outcome is more successful than last week’s, but if you had hooked up a mic to two hamsters getting saucy in the sawdust, it would have been equally more successful. J.Lo thinks it sounded like Adam Levine and Usher, which is Randy’s self-aggrandizing springboard to talk about how he loves Adam Levine, who is his best friend.

In their footsteps, Hollie and Jessica sing the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame.” Randy hates the performance so much he doesn’t even bother making a personal anecdote about the Bangles. To increase the awkwardness factor, Steven Tyler wakes from his meditation to make a joke about turning the Idols into swingers. To 16-year-olds! Ryan gracefully changes the subject by pretending Phillip and Joshua are in a “bromance,” which is ridiculous.

Instead of a Ford-inspired music video, this week the Idol contestants are forced into a Rock of Ages cross-promotion, a movie that neither Jessica nor Hollie could see without their parents. Why would this be happening, you ask? Because Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend, Julianne Hough, stars in the movie. Speaking of “the young Julianna Hough” (which is a creepy way to refer to your own girlfriend), Ryan Seacrest pranks the tween audience by asking Julianna Hough a very important question that he’s been wanting to ask her for a long time. *Dramatic pause as he fishes around in his pocket for something.* Then he asks, “Will you hand this note to Tom Cruise?” She giggles, but you know that will set off a firestorm of Ryan Seacrest-Tom Cruise fan fiction a la 50 Shades of Grey, but with more L. Ron Hubbard.

Then the finalists sing yet another song, because there are still 20 minutes left in the show and what else would we do? We are treated to a group sing of Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” which is so awful that the judges don’t even bother critiquing, as if hoping to pretend it never happened and we are all going to go buy tickets to the live show. Then we finally move on to round two, where the contestants will sing the vague “song you wish you had written.” These so-called themes are clearly leading up to the dramatic finale when they are asked to sing “songs.” Phillip Phillips opts to sing “Volcano” by Damien Rice on a darkened stage. The result is something Steven Tyler could listen to on his headphones, which is  better than blaring out the windows of his ‘Stang as he cruises the high schools. 

Hollie chooses “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which is a bad, bad choice because Hollie can sing, but she can’t sing like Bonnie Raitt. Her voice lacks the texture and grit. Jimmy Iovine, who is a welcome sight at this point, thinks the problem with Hollie is that she’s an emotionless android like in Small Wonder (I’m paraphrasing), so if she can show people the little tiny Bonnie Raitt hiding inside her it might help her chances. Unfortunately, she sings it like the mini Celine Dion she is and no one likes it and the judges line up to critique her. 

Joshua Ledet doesn’t have that problem. Even amid a Busby Berkeley cavalcade of ladies lining up and playing their instruments, Joshua’s rendition of “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” stands out. His singing gets so intense J.Lo takes a break, pushing herself back from the table and taking a deep breath. As the last note drifts up to the cheap seats, the judges are on their feet, J.Lo is bowing, the audience is screaming, it’s kinda nuts. Steven has never heard anything like that in his life. IN HIS LIFE. J.Lo breaks into Spanish, because she can and she lacks the words in English. Joshua took J.Lo to Church! To Church! Joshua just calmly stands and smiles as he awaits his record contract.

Jessica Sanchez is singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” which was performed by Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls. It’s a memorable performance, not only for showing how a 16-year-old (who is not Hollie) can sing a song too emotionally mature for her and nail it, but also notable for how wide that tiny little girl can open her mouth. The judges get up slightly reluctantly, making it seem that they are contractually obligated to rise for the last song of the night. Steven Tyler just shakes his head in surprise. As he talks, the camera zooms closer and closer to Jessica’s face as a lone tear rolls down. J.Lo stammers that there is nothing to say. Unsure of what else to add, Randy randomly shouts out that Julian Lennon is in the house. And that is what Idol is all about.

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