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Idol Inspiration

This week's "American Idol" performance show began with video of the contestants, both from childhood and from the show, as well as a brief montage of those who have been cut so far.

Host Ryan Seacrest began by asking the audience to shout out their favorites and show off their signs. He used the phrase from "The Hunger Games," saying "May the odds be always in your favor." Who will survive this week?

Top 9
The Top 9

This week's theme was the contestants' personal idols. The groups would also be performing as trios.

In a video package, they got a change to pick from American Idol branded clothing, designed by Tommy Hilfiger. Tommy predicted that by the finale, their styles will be outrageous.

Stevie Nicks was this week's celebrity guest mentor, who has performed with Jimmy Iovine. Ryan showed some old tape showing Jimmy in the recording studio with her as well as on stage. Yes, he had hair!

1) Colton Dixon was first, and Stevie told him, "Don't ever cut your hair off." He wanted to sing a song by Christian group Lighthouse called "Everything." Stevie liked the lyrics and felt they could appeal to women (if they ignore the fact that it's about God, I guess). Jimmy said that he believed in Colton singing this song. Colton performed without his piano this week, wearing a white jacket with some unusual details, such as buttons all the way down the forearm. Standing at a microphone, he concentrated on the lyrics. Onstage with him were three string musicians, and on the chorus, three banners unfurled from the ceiling. Despite the pageantry, his vocals were a bit strained in parts, which hampered the performance. He's got a nice tone, but he needs to learn how to not push too hard.

Steven Tyler said, "You make it bleed... and you've got that star quality." Jennifer Lopez was moved by the performance and liked the simplicity of his rendition, especially his composure and control. She also liked his white coat. Randy Jackson said he's been a fan since he met him. He believes him and feels his heart and his passion. He thought this performance was unbelievable. "I believe I could be looking at a contender for the final," he said.

Ryan asked him about his tears, and Colton said the song is his favorite worship song of all time. [COLTON'S PERFORMANCE]

2) Skylar Laine's idol is country singer Miranda Lambert, and she was singing "Gunpowder and Lead." Stevie commented that the choruses needed harmony, and she sang some with her to demonstrate. Then, she advised her to remember that she's telling a great story. Jimmy predicated that Skylar can do great if she's really on her game. Skylar entered the stage by descending the steps, which were lit purple. She wore a sparkly jacket which was terrific on her, over a shirt with an uneven hem that was too loose and willowy for someone so young and cute. She really knew this song and powered through it, pumping her fist and getting almost angry in parts, which was perfect for the song. Following Stevie's advice, there was a background singer doing harmony. I would advise her, though, to try to connect with the song more. I'm not sure she told the story as well as she could have.

Jennifer said that Skylar has unbridled, can't-keep-it-in-the-can energy. Steven thought it was "over the top" (in a good way) and that it sounded like she was singing it to an old friend. Randy loved it and underlined Stevie's advice to remember to tell a story. He liked that, at the end of the song, she'd shown range vocally. [SKYLAR'S PERFORMANCE]

3) Colton, Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips performed a Fleetwood Mac medley, starting with "Landslide." Colton kicked off the song, and the plaintive lyrics were perfect for him. Then Elise and Phillip joined in with harmonies, all of them wearing black in their distinctive styles. Elise sang "Edge of 17", and Phillip stepped in with "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," losing the melody a bit at the end of the first phrase. The other two saved him with harmonies, making all three of them sound better. I have to say, I like Colton in a group a lot better than some of his solo performances. [COLTON, ELISE & PHILLIP'S PERFORMANCE]

Only Steven commented on the performance, and he thought they nailed it.

4) Having been called out last week for not taking the competition seriously, Heejun Han chose to honor Donnie Hathaway, singing "A Song for You." Jimmy suggested that maybe Heejun is so sensitive that he needed to put up a front, and Stevie said that he probably doesn't want to be hurt if he doesn't win. He did correct him on his diction a little. Heejun wore a blue knit cap with a light blue embellished jacket with a rose decal, over a gray button-down shirt. He stood at the microphone and sang the ballad, putting his heart into it. Behind him was a piano player and a projected image of leaves falling. He did take some liberties with the melody, but judiciously, not just for the sake of it. The judges gave him a standing ovation.

Steven told him that he'd turned it around: "You let that song sing you." He liked that he made the song come alive, and he told him to keep believing in himself. Jennifer said, "You don't make it this far by mistake." She liked his tone and his vibrato. When he believes, she said, and when he connects, he moves people. Randy chimed in and said, while it wasn't perfect, "you have that buttery, that beautiful tone." He said, "Finally, the Heejun that we selected came back to us tonight."

Ryan asked, "Which Heejun will we get for the rest of the competition?" Heejun answered that last week was the fun side, but he didn't want to let everybody down, which is why he took a different approach this week. [HEEJUN'S PERFORMANCE]

5) Hollie Cavanaugh's idol is Carrie Underwood, and she was singing "Jesus Take the Wheel." Stevie tried to get her to understand how to put emotion into a song. She shared with her that her own mother had died recently, and she wanted Hollie to put that level of emotion into the song. When she sang during rehearsal, Stevie began crying. For her performance, Hollie wore a simple white dress with some sparkle to it, along with a gold necklace, performing amongst smoke, with snow falling behind her. I don't want to sound like Jennifer, but she actually gave me goosebumps. Despite a couple notes that weren't pitch perfect, overall her performance was her best so far.

Randy said he didn't know she was such a Carrie fan, and she'd done a good job. He noted there were pitchy moments in her lower range. Overall, he thought she did a good job. Jennifer disagreed with Randy: "To me, that was one of your best." She thought that Hollie connected with the song and felt it emotionally. Steven said, "I'm not going to mess with Jesus and/or Carrie." He wished that she'd sung a different song. "It was just OK for me," he said."

Ryan asked why Steven thought she should have done a different song, and Steven said that it didn't show her full range. [HOLLIE'S PERFORMANCE]

6) DeAndre Brackensick's idol is soul singer Eric Benet. Stevie thought his chosen song, "Sometimes I Cry," was too fast and advised him to slow it down. She told him that you have to remember where the camera is, that you should consider it a person. Jimmy said that "he's one of the guys in jeopardy" and "all eyes are on him." Wearing a black leather tuxedo jacket, black pants, and a white shirt, DeAndre walked out onto a smoky stage lit with spotlights. Slowing the song down was the right choice: it allowed him to concentrate on what he was singing. He sang a lot of it in the falsetto range, which was actually better than when he's stuck with the falsetto before. Another standing o. from the judges.

Steven said, "That was what your voice was made to do." He said, "You gave Prince a run for his money." Jennifer felt he has one of the most special voices in the competition and begged viewers to pick up their phones and vote for him. Randy rambled for a bit and then said he was happy that DeAndre went with R&B. He announced, "DeAndre's back in the house." [DEANDRE'S PERFORMANCE]

7) Jessica Sanchez idolized Beyonce and has since she was a little kid, when she used to try to imitate her moves. Jessica was singing "Sweet Dreams." Stevie thought that Jessica was a good student, and she gave Jessica some advice on phrasing. For her performance, Jessica entered through a door frame in the middle of the stage, and there were three other red doors on stage. Jessica wore a little black and white minidress with puffy sleeves and a gauzy train, with a big amber necklace. She handled the song beautifully, singing it as a ballad.

Jennifer liked that she left people wanting more. The judges complimented her for holding back, and Randy called her a born star, saying, "She's in it to win it." Aren't they all? [JESSICA'S PERFORMANCE]

8) The next trio was DeAndre, Joshua Ledet and Heejun, doing a Michael Jackson medley. DeAndre began with "Lady of My Life," the three of them all sitting on stools, wearing fedoras. DeAndre did a classic MJ move getting off the stool, and Heejun went into a disco-era song "Rock With You" before Joshua took it home with "PYT." The three marched onto the second stage and got the audience singing along. They loved it.

Jennifer loved it, too: "That was perfect," she said, laughing. She liked how they all highlighted their voices, although she thought their dancing was a little weak. [DEANDRE, HEEJUN AND JOSHUA'S PERFORMANCE]

9) Phillip Phillips idolized Jonny Lang and was going to sing "Still Rainin'" (nice choice!). Stevie predicted, "I think he's going to be very famous." She said that if he'd been friends with Lindsay Buckingham in 1975, they would have asked him to join Fleetwood Mac. She gave him pointers on the lyrics. "And last but not least," she added, "he's gorgeous." She thought he looked like the young Lindsay, and Jimmy, who dated Stevie for a little while, was jealous until she assured him he was cute, too. Phillip had his guitar with him, of course, when he sang "Look Out My Window," wearing a chocolate brown blazer and a gray button-down shirt. He's definitely a bluesman, and this was his wheelhouse. As a Jonny Lang fan myself, I loved his rendition of the song. He made it his own, and he was channeling a young Joe Cocker at points. This time, Jennifer and Randy gave him a standing ovation, and Steven joined them later.

Jennifer said, "We're standing up too much tonight. It's crazy." She commented on him wanting the music to come first. He said he makes everything else go away when he sings. Steven felt the same way: "Every song you sing you own, and it's in your body and soul. And I think there's still someone in there trying to climb out." Randy said that Jonny is a friend of his (of course). He likes Phillip's individuality and gave him "big props." [PHILLIP'S PERFORMANCE]

10) Joshua Ledet was singing a Mariah Carey song, "Without You," which Jimmy pointed out was originally sung by Harry Nilsson. Jimmy said that the song was a great idea, provided he delivered. Stevie advised him to pay attention to his posture, which would help him hit the notes. Wearing a white jacket with a black diamond pattern on it, Joshua wandered through a fake forest before standing in front of a group of violinists. His tendency to over sing was really evident on this song. He began to break down, sounding like he was ready to cry, near the end of the song (although there were no tears), and the judges gave him another standing o.

Randy noted it was Mariah's birthday yesterday, and he said that he'd been talking to her (of course he had). He thought Joshua has a giant voice and he found the performance flawless. Steven thought that everyone had been pushing themselves beyond their limits, "and you did that tonight." He liked that Joshua had an emotional breakdown at the end. Jennifer called him a phenom and "an angel from heaven" and said his voice was "god-sent."

Ryan asked him what he'd been thinking of at the end of the song. Joshua said that he'd been thinking of some of his life's struggles and his hopes that him singing this song could help somebody. Much better answer than Hollie, who when asked a similar question of Ryan earlier in the program, said she was just thinking about what a big star Carrie Underwood was and how she looked up to her. [JOSHUA'S PERFORMANCE]

11) Jessica, Hollie and Skylar did a Madonna medley next. Jessica started out with "Like a Prayer," at the top of the stairs. Then Hollie walked in, and finally Skylar. They went into "Borderline." They were all in black and white, with Skylar in a white fedora. They ended the medley with "Express Yourself." Jessica was the only one who seemed really comfortable with those songs.

Randy thought it was fun: "I love these throwback medleys." [JESSICA, HOLLIE & SKYLAR'S PERFORMANCE]

12) Elise Testone was doing "Whole Lotta Loving" by Led Zeppelin. Stevie said she was surprised by how well Elise did, and told her "Don't change a thing." She thought Robert Plant would be very proud. Jimmy encouraged her to sing Stevie's song "Dreams" during rehearsal and harmonize with her. Stevie felt a kindred spirit with her and said, "If I needed a singer, I'd hire her in a second." Elise was in rocker mode for this song, with a black tunic with sequins and striped bell bottoms, her hair loose on her shoulders. Onstage with her were a guitarist, bassist and drummer, and she gave it her all. The ending was magic. Standing o.

Jennifer complained, "I didn't want to get up. You made me get up." Steven said he wasn't sure how she could pull that off, but "You made Robert Plant proud tonight." Jennifer said it was "crazy," in a good way. Randy said that's "the hardest song in the world to sing" and he liked the flavor she put in it.

Ryan pointed out that Elise was wearing the same pants as Steven, and Steven showed his off by putting his leg up on the table. Nice. [ELISE'S PERFORMANCE]

At the close of the show Ryan asked the judges who was in danger and who stood out. Randy said there were some performers who weren't on par but "it's hard to say." Steven thought it was "a Magical Mystery Tour of talent and emotion." He asked the Top 9 to keep it up. Jennifer said there were a lot of standout moments for her, and "I just couldn't stay in my chair."

Kudos to Phillip and Elise and a nod to Heejun and Skylar, but really everyone was pretty much at their best. Based primarily on previous results, I'm going to predict a bottom three of Hollie, DeAndre and Joshua, with DeAndre going home.

It's easier to connect with a song when it's a song and artist you already idolize.

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Tags: american idol, music, television

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