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When Singing Isn't Enough

Some fans are bound to be disappointed by the elimination from "American Idol" last night, but when you think about it, the cut isn't exactly shocking.




Erika Van Pelt
Erika Van Pelt gets a hug from Joshua.



The results show for Billy Joel Week on "American Idol" started, of course, with the Top 10 singing "For the Longest Time." The performance was fun, and it made me wonder what would have happened with some of the singers if they'd gone with a simple song like this for last night's show. For some reason, most of the group was on stage already singing when Heejun finally made his entrance. Wonder why he got the star treatment? For the surprise of it? There was also a really cheesey moment where Elise sat on judge Steven Tyler's lap. [GROUP PERFORMANCE]

For this week's Ford video, to the song "You Found Me," the Top 10 played hide and seek in the mansion where the top nine will get to live, a tasteful, colorful, youthful looking place with a grand piano in the living room (of course). It was clearly shot pre-makeover for Erika Van Pelt, as she's still sporting the long, two-tone hair.




To get their results, first to center stage were Hollie Cavanaugh, Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. Music mentor Jimmy Iovine thought that Hollie was too different from Billy Joel, and her technique had faltered. He thought that Tommy did a great job with her look, and he thought the audience would save her. About Skylar, Jimmy agreed with Randy Jackson's assessment that it wasn't her best performance. He said that instead of moving forward, she's starting to stall. She's got to get creative and grow, he said, and do it now. Jimmy repeated that he'd been concerned about Elise singing "Vienna," but he loved her confidence and her clothing. "I got goosies," he said, imitating judge Jennifer Lopez's frequent assertion when she hears a good performance.

Hollie learned she was moving into the mansion; she was safe. Of Skylar and Elise, the person moving into the mansion was Skylar. Then, Ryan called Elise over and, remarking that she'd been in the bottom three the last two weeks, told her that this time, she was actually safe. Oh, Ryan, you're such a card!

Lana Del Rey, whom Randy had name-checked in an earlier episode, sang her single, "Video Games," which started out pretty tuneless. Her enunciation was horrible: it sounded like she was singing with a mouth full of marbles. But her little white '50s party dress was cute. At the end of the performances, rose petals and glitter rained from the ceiling. Yay, it's over! [LANA DEL REY PERFORMANCE]

This year, for Steven Tyler's birthday, instead of a cake, they brought out guitarist Joe Perry, who played "Happy Birthday," with the contestants and the audience singing along. Reaction shot of his family sitting in the audience: wow, all the kids look just like him!

Then it was time for more results, with DeAndre Brackensick, Joshua Ledet, and Jessica Sanchez being called forward by Ryan to learn their fates. About DeAndre, Jimmy was unhappy with the way he was bouncing around, and he predicted that is "really going to hurt him." Regarding Joshua's performance, Jimmy thought that he didn't understand the song and over sang the bridge, doing a "Darth Vader" deep voice in the middle of it. About Jessica, Jimmy said she'd done a great job and earned "A's across the board."

Both Jessica and Joshua were safe, meaning that DeAndre was in the bottom three.

Following a commercial break, Season 10 finalist Haley Reinhart performed her single, "Free," wearing a slinky red dress with her hair pouffed high, dancing around a large bird cage. Yes, she definitely should have won. Hopefully, this single will work out well for her, because she certainly deserves it.



Called to the stage next were Erika Van Pelt, Heejun Han, Phillip Phillips and Colton Dixon. About Colton, Jimmy said that Billy Joel had e-mailed the show to say that Colton did a great job. Jimmy said Colton might be one of the three who could win, along with Jessica and Joshua. About Phillip and the way he had rejected advice from both his singing and fashion mentors, Jimmy remarked that collaboration is important in the real world. He advised Phillip that, when he's in this competition, "Young man, take all the advice you can get." About Erika, Jimmy said that Tommy was amazing, getting her to cut her hair. He liked her performance but was confused about Randy's assertion that people who can over sing should do so. About Heejun, Jimmy said that Heejun's performance was like four minutes of an Adam Sandler movie that went straight to DVD. He thought it would come back to bite him in the butt.

Ryan asked Heejun to respond, and he talked about his performance, saying that ripping his clothes off symbolized getting down to his real safe.

Then, time for the news. Ryan told Colton that "you've been safe the last couple of weeks, but tonight, things have changed. I'm not going to mess with you. I'm going to send you to the couches. You are safe." Ha-ha. Joke's getting old, Ryan. Erika, however, was sent to the stools, but she ran over to the couches first to grab some little maracas from Elise (an in-joke? Maybe they planned to party on the bottom three stools together?). Ryan told Phillip he was moving out of the hotel into the mansion, and Heejun was in the bottom three.

Jennifer's reaction? She told Heejun that he's a star. Of the bottom three in general, she said they're all great singers and everyone who goes home is a loss.

After the break, Ryan sent one person to safety: DeAndre. Then it was down to Erika and Heejun, and the person in danger of leaving was Erika. Heejun was safe. He looked really sad and sober as he hugged her. Unbelievable (but then again, I did predict it).

She sang "I Believe in You and Me," her rich, smoky voice making the judges shake their heads as they seemed to be bewildered at America's choice. Would they use their one save of the season on her? She definitely did her best, leaving it all on the stage.



Randy said that unfortunately no, they weren't going to use their one save on her. She looked a bit perturbed, but I think she probably shouldn't have been surprised. They'd already gone to bat for her once, when they made her a wild card pick. After that, it had been up to her to connect with the viewers, a challenge which she was not able to meet.

The first to hug her after the final montage was Elise, who seemed to be her best friend in the competition and probably thinks that now, the writing is on the wall for her, since her age and style of singing are so similar.

Why was it Erika heading home last night, instead of DeAndre or Heejun? There are a number of possible reasons. Certainly, her singing should not have been a factor, since she turned in one of the most solid performances of the night. However, consistency has been a problem for the wedding singer, who seems to follow good performances with not-so-good performances.

While Erika was wise to use Tommy's advice for remaking her image, the change probably came too late. Appearance can be a factor in the competition, and Erika's chosen fashions to date have tended to be blousy and frumpy, adding up to 10 years to her age. When she's already one of the oldest contestants in the competition, that was bound to hurt her amongst younger viewers.

Then, there's the problem of personality, or rather, lack of it. Aside from her low-key friendship with Elise, little has come up in the videotaped sequences so far that has helped to personalize Erika. Aside from the fact that she's been a wedding singer and "mobile DJ," moving from gig to gig, there's been little about Erika that made stand out.

Now, on one hand, the producers did not feature her prominently during the audition shows. But on the other hand, past contestants such as Haley Reinhart, Allison Iraheta and even Season 8 winner Kris Allen were ignored during the audition shows and still managed to make an impression. This season, contestants had more of an opportunity than in previous years to control their own message, since they were given video cameras and told to shoot video from their hometown visit. Erika's video just showed her carting DJ equipment around, which would have been fine for a job resume but didn't help viewers connect with her.

The most important factor, however, was probably vote splitting. Since her vocal style (the jazzy "throwback") is so similar to Elise, and Elise had a phenomenal week, votes for her probably suffered.

At least Erika showed that she's willing to take advice, and she will get further seasoning on the summer tour. Even though she was eliminated so early, she still has one of the best chances for a successful career in years to come.

Moral:
Ultimately, it's always about more than just the singing.

NOTE ABOUT THE VIDEO LINKS: Fremantle Media, the parent company of 19 Entertainment, which produces the show, has begun to remove user videos from YouTube again. Where possible, I will try to link to officially-sanctioned videos in my recaps. I cannot guarantee that other links will be available indefinitely.


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