Going in, here’s the dynamic as I see it. The final needs to be Joshua and Phillip. Not because Jessica is a lesser talent-- she may be one of the finest technical singers in the show’s history. But the guys have something going for them that she does not-- they are interesting when they are not singing. Phil is just an indie slacker-looking guy with an unassuming air about him, while Josh is over-the-top foppish and expressive. I figure that will make the difference to vault them to next week.
First round, songs picked by the judges.
JOSHUA rolls out with “I Would Rather Go Blind,” sung by Etta James in 1968 and Rod Stewart (among others) thereafter. It was another superb song choice and another home run performance. He has a mastery of stage presence very few have achieved in this show. The only question is how much it resonates with the voting audience.
JESSICA takes her first step toward the door with exactly the kind of song that does her no favors at all. Wrapping her with dreck from Mariah Carey just makes her look like a cute kid who can sing really nice.
PHIL once again tackles the challenge of an unfamiliar song by an unfamiliar artist. “Beggin’ was a Four Seasons record, but the modern incarnation is from a Norwegian hip-hop act called Madcon. Doesn’t matter. In Phil’s hands, it’s a Phil song, and if America is digging what he does, he will win this thing.
Second round, songs the contestants pick.
JOSH’s hometown trip just reinforced my complete 180 with him. Five weeks ago, he annoyed the hell out of me. Now he strikes me as a fine young man with a great family from a great background and a personality that is actually growing on me. That said, his choice of “Imagine” just didn’t click. It’s not his age. It wasn’t a great arrangement, and it took me back to when David Archuleta nailed this song in Season 7.
(Pause button. It also annoys me when people glom onto this song like it is uplifting. It is undoubtedly beautiful, but “Imagine there’s no heaven?” “No possessions?” “No country?” “Nothing to kill or die for?” What a nihilistic, socialist, defeatist crap concept. And I love Lennon and the Beatles. But come on.)
JESSICA benefits from a trip home to a town with more than 5,000 people in it. Nice angle with the military Dad and the rousing welcome, but I’m just not feelin’ it. Nor did I feel it as she paraded “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” right in front of Steven Tyler. Very, very ordinary.
I loved PHIL’s hometown trip as much as I love Phil. Great family, great reception, great humility. But not a great selection with an obscure Matchbox 20 record, “Disease.” Judges are right, he can do this kind of easy bouncy thing in his sleep. He needs a big third tune.
Third round, Jimmy Iovine picks.
For JOSHUA, he serves up “No More Drama” from Mary J. Blige, which should work in theory because Josh is as big a diva as she is. But theory is one thing, the performance is another. It was big, showy and dramatic like everything Josh does. But it left me lukewarm. He is much better on stylish old classics. Two less than stellar songs from him, this could get tense. Judges’ overpraise is out of control here.
Jimmy offers Jessica the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” which seems like genius. A young sounding song that will appeal to older voters, too. Ten seconds in, I knew it was a great idea. And when she did the lower octave verse as well as Michael’s, she showcased her entire package-- youthful energy but timeless skill.
“We’ve Got Tonight” is an interesting challenge for PHIL. I was thinking I would have picked another, less schmaltzy Seger record. But what do I know? Randy is right. This was the best performance of the year by one of the most interesting artists in Idol history.
SO NOW WHAT? Jessica has to go. She’s a great kid and an amazing talent, but Phil and Josh just have so much more in their respective bags. So get it right, America. Give us the Final we deserve.