'American Idol' Recap: Whitney vs. Stevie - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: Whitney vs. Stevie

Which contestant can make 40 million people cry?

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Colton Dixon performs in front of the Judges on 'American Idol.'

Michael Becker / FOX

Tonight the battle of the sexes is waging live on the stage of American Idol. But instead of getting dolled up in American Gladiator garb and duking it out, the women will sing Whitney Houston’s greatest hits while the men get the Stevie Wonder songbook. Tomorrow the guy and the girl with the lowest votes will face off in front of the judges, who will choose who gets to stay and who has to go.

Speaking of the judges, Steven Tyler is wearing Roy Lichtenstein-inspired pants (seriously – there’s a polka-dot face splayed across his lower extremities), and Randy Jackson is wearing what looks like a brooch of John Oates’ face. Screw the infamous Vogue closet: I want into the Idol wardrobe department.

To ameliorate tonight’s performances, mentoring music exec-with-the-mostest Jimmy Iovine has brought in Mary J. Blige to help critique the contestants. They start with Joshua Ledet. Since Stevie Wonder is firmly in his wheelhouse, it’s an easy and fairly predictable performance of “I Wish.” Randy calls him “flavorless,” but he quickly corrects himself to say “flawless.” I think both are accurate. For once the most succinct member of the panel is Steven Tyler, who says it best: “You listened to Mary J., and you nailed it.”

Elise Testone is given the Whitney classic “The Greatest Love of All,” but Jimmy hates it for her and makes her switch to “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Elise isn’t happy, because every chanteuse wants to wail out “The Greatest Love Of All,” and it’s probably irksome to be told you can’t sing it. Her performance of “I’m Your Baby Tonight” is solid, but you can tell she’d rather be doing her nails, or singing anything else. At the end of the performance, Jennifer Lopez declares, “Whitney’s a beast,” which may fall under the whole “don’t speak ill of the dead” thing. She also doesn’t think this is Elise’s best performance, which is true.

One thing we probably all could guess about so-called gentle giant Jermaine Jones is that he takes direction well. He eagerly listens to all the advice from Jimmy and Mary J., who in turn spout their love for the timbre of his voice and hope he doesn’t get eliminated. Mary J. asks him how old he is, and everyone (especially me) makes some WOW noises over the fact that Jermaine Jones is just 25 years old. He nails the song, because Stevie Wonder is who Jermaine was born to sing.

You know what gives me goosebumps? Jennifer Lopez choosing the word “Goosies!” as her highest compliment. It’s kind of a fingernail-on-a-chalkboard thing for me, yet when she tells Erika Van Pelt that her version of “I Believe in You” gave her goosebumps, I almost have to agree, because it was good. The judges love it and swear that this performance is just the tip of the Van Pelt iceberg.

Jimmy and Mary J. know that a Pete Wentz wannabe like Colton Dixon is not going to feel comfortable performing a Stevie Wonder song. Jimmy recommends that he get in touch with his vulnerability, which is good advice, because there’s nothing young ladies like more than a man with skunk hair and vulnerability. His rendition of “Lately” is slow and soulful and involves a lot of smoldering eyes. J.Lo thinks he was “challenged,” which probably isn’t the best choice of word, but whatever. Randy can’t help but rain on this Colton pride parade and point out that it was pitchy in parts, but he really loved the last eight bars. Eight bars!

Some brilliant stylist puts sixteen-year old Shannon Magrane in a leather jacket, sequined leggings and red heels to make her look far less Presbyterian than usual. I get bored halfway through her performance of “I Have Nothing” and start checking to see if her dad has filed a restraining order against Steven Tyler, or anything even remotely more interesting than this yawnfest. Apparently the judges are bored, too. No one is happy with her execution, and they make a lot of sorrowful clucking noises about how it just isn’t her night, and other things that very mournful hens would say. 

Deandre Brackensick needs an Idol nickname, stat. Can you think of a less rock star name? Luckily, the judges aren’t swayed by names, and they like his performance of “Master Blaster” so much that they don’t want it to stop. But it has to so we can see more Jennifer Lopez for Kohl’s commercials or, weirder, the ads for Q’Viva!, her show with ex Marc Antony. 

Once Mary J. suggests that country crooner Skylar Laine sing Whitney’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” softly, not wail on it like a broken down John Deere, things go much more smoothly. Steven Tyler thinks her version is a thing of beauty, while Randy thinks it proves that Skylar can sing any song, so long as it can be country-fied.

Backed only by strings, Heejun Han sings a very soft rendition of “All in Love Is Fair” that causes J.Lo to blurt, “I love you!” Randy says “It wasn’t perfect, but it was realllly good” in a husky phone sex voice.

“All the Man That I Need” is not the song I would have guessed that the teeny-tiny, oh-so young Hollie Cavanagh would elect to sing, because she’s 12, or looks it, and the song is about “filling me up” and “giving me love.” Squeamishness aside, Randy proclaims that she nailed it, and she did. Now if she could just buy some charisma to match her voice.

After not being chosen for the Top Ten by America, Jeremy Rosado is a bundle of nerves and insecurities, which unfortunately leach into his performance of “Ribbon in the Sky.” The judges say ominously vague things like, “I love to hear your interpretation of songs.”

No doubt you’ve been wondering which of the ladies is going to be saddled with singing Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.” It is Jessica Sanchez, the only one who has a real shot at doing the song justice. Just in case we don’t know to take the performance very seriously, they crank up the fog machine until you’re expecting the Phantom of the Opera to interrupt the song. Jessica nails it, and the audience and the judges are on their feet jumping up and down in excitement. Randy declares, “You are one of the best singers in this whole competition,” which . . . well, duh. J.Lo is speechless. Steven Tyler declares, “You may be the One. You just made 40 million people cry.” He probably meant it in a good way, except for her competitors, who are just plain crying.

One thing you can say about Phillip Phillips is that he’s not afraid to be really musical in his performances. It’s no surprise that his version of “Superstitious” is loud and riotous and fun. Everyone likes it!

Come back tomorrow when we find out who stays, who goes, and we can finally resolve the battle of the sexes forever.

Last episode: Lucky 13 


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