The Top 13
1) Joshua Ledet was first, and as he worked with guest mentor Mary J. Blige he was worried about his song choice, "I Wish." He had a lot of swagger, wearing a dove gray vest, darker gray shirt with white collar, and a charcoal gray jacket. As he pranced around the stage, delivering a bouncy rendition of the song, his only missed moment was a pointless call-out to J. Lo, a.k.a. judge Jennifer Lopez. Don't do that, Joshua. Based on the strength of his vocals, I'll go out on a limb and say that he may have gone first, but he's not in danger.
Randy Jackson thought he'd "blown it out" (in a good way). He thought this song was right in his wheelhouse and was glad he didn't go for another ballad. Jennifer "felt" the performance, but she wasn't sure about his hand gestures. Steven Tyler said, "she wants to punch you in the arm because you keep getting better and better," referring to Jennifer saying last week that he was so good she wanted to punch him. [JOSHUA'S PERFORMANCE]
2) Elise Testone originally picked "Greatest Love of All," but music mentor Jimmy Iovine recommended she sing the upbeat "I'm Your Baby Tonight" instead. Mary emphasized that she had to work on her timing and told her that "your voice is so dope if you crash and burn, it will be so unfair." Rocking an artsy-looking minidress in rust with a gold mandala-style print, Elise got jazzy and took command of the stage. Certainly, she seemed to have the timing down, but the song didn't give her much chance to show off her vocals.
Jennifer thought that the song choice was not great, and that it wasn't her best. Steven advised her to look for opportunities to build up within a song. Randy said it felt like she was boxing with the song: "You don't have to prove it every note, that you have that big old voice." He also thought it wasn't her best.
Afterward, Ryan asked her about the song change, and she said she hadn't known this song before it was given to her. "But there's no excuse; you've got to find a way to make it your own, no matter how much time you have," she added. That was a good way to acknowledge the issue without sounding whiney. [ELISE'S PERFORMANCE]
3) Jermaine Jones chose "Knocks Me Off My Feet," and Mary wanted him to keep the first line simpler, without embellishing it. He wore a pink river boat shirt and a black and red baseball jacket that was super bulky on him and kind of distracting. Jermaine has a very different voice from Stevie, and his opening was stronger than the middle, where it seemed like he was wading through syrup, trying to achieve the bounciness of the original.
Steven thought the song was a good fit for his voice, and he can't wait to see what's in store from Jermaine next. Jennifer advised him to try to connect with the song more, now that he's capable of nailing all the notes. She told him to think about what he's singing, and it might help him relax. Randy reiterated that he's glad he's back, and he compared him to Jerry Butler. He liked the verses but did not enjoy the chorus, because he'd changed the melody. [JERMAINE'S PERFORMANCE]
4) Erika Van Pelt, wearing a red evening dress, sang "I Believe in You and Me." Her smoky alto seemed a bit out of place for much of this song. Not that it was bad, but much as I like her, I'm on the fence about it.
Randy said she has an amazing voice and an unbelievable tone. "You sold me." Then he called her "dude." Jennifer got "goosies" even before she started singing. "The way you interpret the songs, combined with the tone of your voice... really, really makes songs come alive." She criticized her for playing it safe and told her to "stop thinking." Steven agreed that she has a "beautiful, fantastic voice." He found the performance "perfect." [ERIKA'S PERFORMANCE]
5) Colton Dixon had trouble in the rehearsal, because both Jimmy and Mary weren't feeling it with his rendition of "Lately." They had him play one of his own songs to "get context." Jimmy told him to rely on his vulnerability. Wearing a black dinner jacket with a white formal button-down shirt and a black tie, he threw in a lot of somewhat strange vocal jumps (not sure if they were in the original, but it sounded wrong). On the chorus, he seemed more comfortable and managed to find the melody.
Steven thought it was astounding and unreal. Hmm. Jennifer conceded he'd been the most challenged with Stevie Wonder, and she said that showing his heart is his strength. She liked that he did it with this song. Randy said it wasn't picture perfect, but the most off-key sections were soft and low. At the end, though, he said it was "flawless." [COLTON'S PERFORMANCE]
6) Shannon Magrane got some advice from Mary to "stop running" to get to the big note in "I Have Nothing." For her performance, she wore a white T-shirt with pink and blue bands at the waist, along with a black bolero jacket and black leather pants. I guess she was trying to avoid the "prom dress" criticism. The opening of the song was kind of forgettable, and when she got to the big note, she really blew it. Damn. I feel bad for her: that was embarrassing. She nailed it in rehearsal, according to the video we'd just seen.
Jennifer told her that, in the future, she needs to just "relax and tell the story." Steven acknowledged that she'd "crashed and burned in the turnaround." Shannon jumped in and said that she can sing her butt off with that song but just didn't do it tonight. Randy agreed that her nerves got the best of her. [SHANNON'S PERFORMANCE]
7) DeAndre Brackensick was singing "Master Blaster," and Mary told him not to sing it so "pretty." He wore a white button-down shirt, a silver jacket with black lapels, and black pants. He stayed away from falsetto, and his tenor voice was pleasant. Bouncing around like a young gazelle, he was trying to inject some fun into the song, and for the most part he succeeded.
Steven called him a "male Naima," referring to one of last year's finalists. He liked it. Jennifer said he has rhythm and soul, although the ending was a little weird. Randy liked that he showed another side of himself. He thought it was in "perfect rhythm." [DEANDRE'S PERFORMANCE]
8) Skylar Laine did not grow up listening to Whitney Houston. Her radio must have never turned the dial from the country station, because I find that hard to fathom. Mary advised her to keep her singing softer. She started out sitting on a stool, wearing a black bedazzled tank top with a white jacket and gray snakeskin jeans as she sang "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." Despite the coaching, she just belted the chorus. But she hit the key change and sailed away with the melody, ending strong on a big note.
Jennifer called her "the definition of composure." She felt the front part of it got nasally, but "you kept it together" and "gave us our biggest moment of the night." Steven said it was "a thing of beauty." He liked how she "climbed the stair" at the beginning and then nailed it. Randy said she'd just proved that "you can sing any song." [SKYLAR'S PERFORMANCE]
9) Heejun Han got an interview with Ryan that featured some very entertaining Twitter photos: one where he was "eating" Hollie, thanks to a creative use of perspective. While practicing "All is Fair in Love," Mary said she'd been surprised about his voice and liked the softness. He sat on a stool for the opening, wearing a white button-down shirt and a black jacket with black pants. While the song started a little slow, with him over-enunciating some words, he hit his stride in the middle, achieving some real emotional intensity and hitting some beautiful notes.
Jennifer said, "I love you" and has since the first time he sang for her. He commented that Jeremy had hugged her last week, but she hadn't hugged him so he thought "she was playing hard to get." Steven observed, "But you hugged me." Randy said, "It wasn't perfect, but it was really good." [HEEJUN'S PERFORMANCE]
10) Hollie Cavanaugh was next. Mary said that, if Hollie takes her advice, "she'll steal the show tonight." Wearing a black glittery cocktail dress, she launched into a soaring rendition of "All the Man That I Need." I wish she'd stop adjusting her grip on the microphone; it's a picky thing, but it's distracting. Otherwise, excellent.
Randy said this was Whitney's "prime joint" and "you nailed it." Jennifer said that's the Hollie "I know between last year and this year" and predicted there might be a sing-off between two girls in the final. Steven said it was "really nice." [HOLLIE'S PERFORMANCE]
11) Jeremy Rosado, Jimmy said, has a lot to prove and is "very vulnerable." He wore a blue Oxford shirt over a black T-shirt, with a gray cardigan and dark pants while he sang "Ribbon in the Sky." His pitch seemed about perfect for most of the song, and he threw in a little falsetto near the end. Was it too safe, though?
Steven liked his "velvety smooth" voice but "you didn't get a chance to fly like you normally do." Jennifer likes his interpretation of songs, and she found it "really beautiful." Randy thought it was a difficult song and it wasn't his best performance, since it lacked "swag." [JEREMY'S PERFORMANCE]
12) Jessica Sanchez chose "I Will Always Love You." Mary advised her to take her time with the chorus. She wore a one-shoulder blue gown but wisely chose to wear her long hair loose, so it looked less formal. Beginning with dramatic lighting, she seemingly emerged from the dark as she walked into a stage filled with smoke to hit the chorus. Backlit, she stunned with her voice. The last note was stellar, as she climbed to the stars with her voice. She really does remind me of Jennifer Hudson; hopefully, there will be no surprise elimination brewing for her this season!
Randy said, "Yo, Jessica Sanchez is legit." He called it the best vocal of the night and said she was one of the best singers in the whole competition. Jennifer called it just amazing and claimed she was speechless. "I think you were even surprising yourself" at the end. Steven said, "You may be the one. You just made 40 million people cry." [JESSICA'S PERFORMANCE]
13) Phillip Phillips was doing "Superstition," accompanying himself on guitar. Jimmy and Mary helped him a little with his arrangement. Standing center stage with two members of the band, he wore a simple gray river boat shirt and dark pants. His rock-based arrangement stole the fun out of the song. He flattened it out and went for power when he could have played with the vocals more. For part of it, he was sing-talking. Not his best.
Steven said "you've got a lot of forgettabout it" in your voice and added, "You just are." Jennifer had been worried about him but "you made it your own and you killed it." Randy said that "we need you in this competition" because "you're the most different artist." He liked that "you drive your own car in your own lane." [PHILLIPS'S PERFORMANCE]
Ryan asked the judges who was in trouble. Ryan refused to answer but thought that Joshua and Jessica were "crazy good." When Jennifer was singled out, Jennifer said that she'd say Shannon and she couldn't come up with another name. She thought the girls were stronger, just a little bit. Steven, when asked who he was worried about, said Elise and Shannon. The standouts, he said, were "Jessica Sanchez and Jessica Sanchez."
Kudos to Joshua, Hollie and Jessica, with a nod to Erika, Skylar, and Heejun. All of them should be safe this week.
In danger of appearing in the bottom two are: for the girls, Shannon and Elise, and for the guys, Jeremy and DeAndre. While Phillip deserves to be down there, too, he got the pimp spot, and he's got a huge fan base, so for this week, he should be safe. The bottom for the girls is most likely to be Shannon, and the bottom for the guys will probably be Jeremy, not because he did anything wrong but just because he was forgettable. I'm not certain how the judges will make their decision, but if they base it on performance, they'll send Shannon home.
It's possible to take a big song by a popular artist and make it your own.