'American Idol' Recap: The Billy Joel Songbook - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: The Billy Joel Songbook

Contestants shoot for a ‘New York State of Mind’

american idol elise

Elise Testone performs on 'American Idol.'

Michael Becker / FOX

This week’s episode of Idol is billed as the Top 10 duking it out, and yet the show starts with tears. An entire montage of behind-the-scenes heartache and tear-filled farewells. But these Idol contestants are tough cookies, and even after saying goodbye to Shannon Magrane, they pull it together so they don’t appear red-eyed and snot-nosed in the weekly photo shoot. They are professionals, after all.

This week’s theme is Billy Joel. Which, as Steven Tyler says, but does not demonstrate, “If you can’t sing Billy Joel, you can’t sing at all.”

Ever wonder how a rock & roll star figures out “their” look? Me either, and yet we get Tommy Hilfiger trying to stay relevant by sticking himself into American Idol and telling Deandre Brackensick to let his hair down, literally. Stellar advice. Diddy joins Jimmy Iovine in the mentoring suite, so I guess he and J.Lo are friendly exes. Jimmy and Diddy argue about who has less street cred, the better to understand Billy Joel. If we parse that sentence, it’s clear that someone should be offended. But, hey, Diddy looks pretty street compared to Jimmy, or Billy or, for that matter, Deandre, whose performance of “Only the Good Die Young” is anything but gangsta. The crowd loves its Fresh Beat Band sound, and the judges are okay with it.

Erika Van Pelt is going to sing “New York State of Mind” despite the inescapable and, according to Diddy, insurmountable fact that she is from Rhode Island. He tells her to just pretend she’s in Yankee Stadium, which she’s not willing to do, because of Red Socks Nation or some nonsense. Tommy Hilfiger has decided that Erika Van Pelt needs to cut her hair into . . . well, Kris Kardashian Jenner’s haircut. It’s like America’s Next Top Model, and Erika will get kicked off despite having dyed her hair black because Tyra . . . er, Tommy, said to. In her performance, Erika does her best to channel a New Yorker, and she mostly succeeds. The judges assure her she is one of the best singers in the competition. She’ll still end up in the bottom three, but she can’t look back and regret anything, except birthing the Kardashian sisters, of course.

Photos: ‘American Idol’ Season 11

Joshua Ledet is more special than an all-black outfit, according to Tommy Hilfiger. But Joshua must have low self-esteem, because when he shows up on stage to sing “She’s Got a Way,” he’s still wearing all black. His performance with a backing choir is a crowd-pleaser, but when they cut to the judges Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson are deep in conversation. Turns out J.Lo didn’t think Joshua really connected with the lyrics. Luckily Steven Tyler disagrees and says the complete opposite. Randy agrees with them both. This is undoubtedly extremely helpful to the young singer. The judges then swear they love him and that he is also one of the best singers on the competition.

Tommy Hilfiger wants Skylar Laine to evolve her country look into something way less country. He decks her out in statement earrings, black stilettos and a python-print dress for her rendition of “Shameless.” She is a little pitchy at the beginning of the song, and the judges each make of note of it while also assuring her she was great. This is not so much constructive criticism but a high school support group.

Jimmy is concerned that Elise Testone chose a song, “Vienna,” that no one knows and she will end up in the bottom three again. But Diddy is more encouraging. He tells her not to give up, but to step up to the challenge. Tommy and Elise agree that she should be wearing high-waisted bell bottoms, yet when she shows up on stage she’s wearing a floor-length dress with a flowy long vest thing. I’m starting to think that no one trusts Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion advice. The judges give her a standing ovation for her performance, and the producers try to give her some youth appeal by dragging some of her vocal students on stage. Will that be enough to save Elise? Probably not in the long run.

Further proving the point that no one listens to Tommy is that Phillip Phillips is wearing grey on top of grey, despite the fact that Tommy plainly told him grey is the worst color to wear on stage. Phil-Phil could be trying to prove to the ladies that he’s a bad boy, because even though Jimmy and Diddy told him not bring his guitar on stage for his rendition of “Movin’ Out,” he did that, too! He’s a rebel, a loner, there are things about him you couldn’t understand, things about him you shouldn’t understand. Don’t understand? Let Steven explain: “You Phillip Phillips-ed that song!” Exactly. For his trouble, Steven tosses him a scarf, which Phillip tosses to the ladies in the front, two of whom grab a corner and don’t let go. Ryan even stops the proceedings to make sure they aren’t going to kill each other on live TV.

Apparently Tommy Hilfiger thinks wee Hollie Cavanaugh should be dressed like Celine Dion, because what 18-year-old doesn’t want to dress like an 80-year-old chanteuse? Unfortunately, her performance of “Honesty” is wobbly, and the judges chide her for not nailing every note. “You’ve just gotta let go,” Randy says.

Heejun Han can’t take this competition seriously. Probably because he never once sang in public before auditioning for the show and it all feels like a dream or something. Which is why he has no problem starting “My Life” as a torch song, telling the piano player to kick it up, ripping off his shirt to reveal a much goofier shirt, parading around the stage and serenading the judges. Of course he doesn’t hit a single note, but for some reason no one seems to care, except for Steven Tyler, who sees right through this BS. You may need to reassess your life when Steven Tyler thinks your behavior is verging on outrageous.  

When Jessica Sanchez finishes wailing on “Everybody Has a Dream” the judges are on their feet. Steven preaches, “When God was giving out vocal cords, you were way at the front of the line,” and then he thanks her for letting him sing. J.Lo is tearing up and has goosies, and Randy is speechless. So I guess they liked it okay.

Shockingly, Colton Dixon wants to be considered “very edgy.” But Tommy Hilfiger disapproves of his hair, so their relationship is going nowhere fast. He and Diddy, however, are BFF after Diddy says he would buy Colton’s CD. LOL, as if Diddy buys CDs. Colton is playing “Piano Man,” and he’s really pouring his emotion into the song as he sits at a red piano surrounded by spotlights. It’s a great song choice for him, because he can really emo it up and wear a velvet Sgt. Pepper coat and everyone will think Freddy Mercury instead of Liberace.

Jessica, Colton, Elise and Phillip get the highest praise from the judges. Come back tomorrow to see who gets sent home.

Last episode: Results Are In


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