Even Ryan looks unhappy about this bottom three.
The Top 7 of "American Idol," Season 11, kicked off the results show with a group performance of the Pink song "Raise Your Glass." It was a bit rough but had some fun choreography. [TOP 7 GROUP PERFORMANCE]
This week's Ford video showed the Top 7 incorporated into notebook drawings, such as a spaceship, to the music "Great Escape." It was a creative way of getting around the fact that the contestants had Sunday off for Easter.
Then it was a mailbox segment, where host Ryan Seacrest highlighted some fan mail, from both famous people (on Twitter), including Kellie Pickler, Jasmine Sullivan and Skylar Gray. There was also mail from everyday viewers: like a girl asking Colton Dixon to her prom or a guy asking Hollie Cavanaugh to his formal. A jewelry maker had crafted some feather earrings for Elise Testone and Steven Tyler. How much do you bet that crafters and artisans all over the globe will now be sending the contestants tons of free items?
First to hear results were Hollie Cavanaugh and Jessica Sanchez. Music mentor Jimmy Iovine said the two are very strong technical singers, but Hollie has learned a lot of habits that have made her stiff and calculated, whereas Jessica must have been watching soul singers, which makes her seem effortless. Jessica won the night, he said, whereas Hollie just wasn't right.
Ryan asked Hollie to start a group on the far side of the stage, whereas Jessica started a group on the near side... and thus begins the Huff, so named for George Huff, the first contestant who was asked to choose which group he belonged in, after all the contestants had been divided up.
Off his debut album, "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster," James Durbin returned to "Idol" for a performance. The song, "Higher Than Heaven," was a hard rock song, performed with plenty of lights and flash. He was in full-on rocker mode, in a black denim vest with a skull on the pocket, tight black pants, and of course, his handkerchief hanging out of his back pocket. He's dyed his hair very blonde. For this song, he was singing into some sort of a box type microphone which seemed to be adding some vocal effects to portions of the song. The tune was very catchy; a great one for him. Once, he had to lift up his leg to keep from tripping on the chord attached to his mike, but he made it seem like he was doing it on purpose. A cutaway shot to the Top 7 showed them applauding weakly, probably all too consumed with worrying about the elimination. [JAMES DURBIN'S PERFORMANCE]
Ryan interviewed him afterward, revealing that James got married last year, and his tour would begin after the show at the Viper Room. He's sold 100,000 records so far. Nice to see him doing the sort of music he's most comfortable with.
Next for results were Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone, both of whom Jimmy called singer-songwriters. Jimmy said that singer songwriters usually have soul and character, and the lyrics are the other part of what they do. But without the original material, you've got Phillip, who was influenced by Dave Matthews, doing an impression of Dave Matthews singing a Maroon 5 song. He predicted Phillip would be in the bottom three, and he thought Elise might be there, too.
Ryan told Phillip to join Hollie, and he asked Elise to join Jessica. Elise looked relieved.
After the break, Jennifer Hudson performed, looking sleek and sexy in a black leather skirt and a fitted black and silver top, her hair in a thick braid, with curls on top. She sang "Think Like a Man" with Ne-Yo and was, as always, amazing. I'm sure that Jessica has learned a lot of her stagecraft from watching singers like her. [JENNIFER HUDSON & NE-YO'S PERFORMANCE]
Then it was time for Joshua Ledet and Colton Dixon to hear results. Jimmy thought they both did well, calling Joshua's performance natural and flawless. He thought Colton's performance was believable: "I believed every word of it." Joshua was asked to join Jessica and Elise, and Colton was told to join Phillip.
Skylar was the last contestant sitting on the couch. Ryan asked her, "Have you figured this out yet?" She said she hadn't, but if she'd watched the show before, she must have soon realized she would be playing George Huff this evening and have to choose which group she should join.
In videotaped comments, Jimmy said that Skylar is "somebody I'm afraid will be left behind in this competition." He called her both a singer-songwriter and a technical singer. He thought her performance last night floored him. He thought playing the guitar was a mistake, though. The bottom three, he said, in terms of performance, would be Phillip, Hollie and Elise.
So Ryan told Skylar that she was safe! She hugged Hollie, Phillip and Colton, who were nearest to the couch (normally the safe zone). Ryan told her, "Pick the group you think you belong with." Of course, poor Skylar wouldn't choose (and risk annoying both her fellow contestants and the audience), so she sat on the couch instead. Ryan dragged her over to stand with... Hollie, Phillip and Colton. They were the safe group? This meant Joshua, Elise and Jessica were in the bottom three. Unreal.
Jimmy, who was in the audience, was asked about these results. "Everybody did a good job last night, but that shouldn't be the bottom three." He looked almost angry.
Judge Randy Jackson said, "This is a ridiculous bottom three, America. I've never said this. They got it wrong tonight." Fellow judge Steven Tyler said, "We're going to use our card tonight, especially with an outcome like this." Meaning the judges were going to use the save, no matter which of these there was in the bottom. Somewhere, Nigel Lythgoe was saying, "No! Don't give it away! We want drama!"
After the commercial break, Ryan asked Elise to explain the bottom three and asked her why she was laughing. She said she laughs a lot when she gets nervous. After the nationwide vote, it was Joshua who was safe. The person at risk of leaving was... Jessica Sanchez. That can't be true. The crowd shouted their disbelief.
As Jessica sang for her life, singing "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" by Deborah Cox, the judges joined her on stage, with Jennifer saying, "Give me the mike. This is crazy. Yes, we're using the save. Go sit down."
Randy said, "We are saving Jessica without any doubt." He said that she's one of the best singers in America. "Everybody, please vote for the best."
Ryan called Jessica back over, for hugs from the judges. After more vamping, Ryan asked Jessica to sing the show out. The rests of the Top 7 joined her, dancing along while she sang. Her family joined her onstage, too. [JESSICA'S ELIMINATION AND SAVE]
This would be a complete WTF moment... if I hadn't seen it too often on past seasons. Ironically, tonight's featured performer, Jennifer Hudson, was herself eliminated in a shocking bottom three that included her fellow divas, LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino. Don't forget, as well, that Chris Daughtry was eliminated in the number four slot when many had envisioned him in the finals. Melinda Doolittle's "Idol" run, many felt, was cut short, as well as highly-accomplished technical singer Pia Toscana.
The question is: why? I am not one of the conspiracy theorists who thinks that "Idol" is rigged. When these sort of shockers take place, with a strong competitor eliminated, there are always other factors at play. Tonight's results show, pairing up similar singers, may give us some insight into why. If it is true that Jessica and Hollie were both competing for the fans of technical singers, than Hollie probably benefitted from getting a pity vote. Despite what many believed was a strong performance, she might have received some of the votes that ordinarily would have gone to Jessica.
Then, of course, there's the girls v. guys factor. It's been several seasons since a female won "American Idol." Often, the belief is that the younger viewers are voting for the guys they find cute. I don't know if it's quite that simple, but it is certainly a factor.
Another possible factor is that Jessica tends to be relatively soft-spoken. She carries herself with a dignified composure well beyond her years, and that might be costing her votes. It's not that Jessica needs to be bouncy and brassy like Skylar. But it would help her if she could find a way to loosen up a little and let her personality shine through. Alison Iraheta, who made it to fourth place on season 8, struggled with similar concerns. A naturally quiet person, she eventually started to show more of her personality.
While in the three previous seasons, the contestant who was saved did not go on to win, Jessica may still be capable of beating the odds. But the likelihood of a female winner this year, sadly, is looking more doubtful.
Voting on "Idol" is complicated business.