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Right Time to Peak

At the top of this week's "American Idol," host Ryan Seacrest pointed out that the heat is on for the Top 5. They would celebrate the '60s and then Brit Pop, with the help of guest mentor Steven "Little Steven" Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Little Steven also happens to be a good friend of this season's music mentor, Jimmy Iovine.



Top 5
The Top 5



1)Starting out the '60s round, Haleigh Canavagh sang the Ike and Tina Turner song "River Deep Mountain High." Little Steven advised her to stop trying to please everyone. She started out her performance in the audience, wearing a cute sparkly minidress in pink, white and tan geometric patterns. The dress was the best part of her performance, though. She was in over her head with this one: resorting to shouting most of it. The producers did their best to help her, what with a crew of background singers and musicians on stage with her. But overall, she was just pushing too hard, and her voice ended up sounding pinched.

Steven Tyler was surprised to find some bluesy flavor in her vocals this week. Jennifer Lopez could "feel her attacking the song," which was apparently a good thing, as she summed up that it was "really good." Randy Jackson asked the others if they both loved it, and they agreed they did. He then announced, "I loved it, too." (Naturally!) He told her that "you've got to sing it like you mean it." And he thought that she had.




2) Phillip Phillips sang the Box Tops song "The Letter," and Little Steven and Jimmy disagreed over his plans to rework it. Jimmy disliked it, while Little Steven thought he should be allowed to do what he wanted. Phillip won out, playing his guitar and doing a bluesy, acoustic version, wearing an olive button-down shirt over a gray V-neck shirt and black pants. It was a very affected performance, with emphasis on every syllable and onlya barely recognizable connection to the original melody. He was backed up onstage with a full band, including a brass section.

Randy said that he liked the fact that Phillip made it his own. "You made it new for me, in your own sort of jam-bandy Phillip Phillips kind of way." Jennifer said she doesn't know the original song by the Box Tops, so she didn't know how to compare it. (I'm guessing that's because it was so far from the original that she didn't recognize it, because I can't imagine someone her age hasn't at least heard this song.) She thought the song lacked melody, though, the way Phillip did it. Still, she applauded him as a dynamic performer. Steven said the bad news was "I missed the melody." But the good news is "you get away with it" like the Stones get away with it (when did the Stones do a cover that completely disregarded the melody of the original?). He liked that Phillip "waves his freak flag."



3) Skylar Laine had chosen "Knock on Wood" but Little Steven didn't like how it was working and suggested she do Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" instead. Jimmy said that, because she'd been in the bottom three, she needed to "put a jetpack on" with this song. For her performance, she wore a sparkly white and black minidress with fringe at her hips, paired with bedazzled cowboy boots. The countrified version of the song was a good fit for her. You could tell she was paying attention to the lyrics, too.

Jennifer praised her energy and her natural performance ability. Steven said he likes when she "boot scoots" out there, and he liked her dress, too. Randy said that CCR is one of the greatest bands and they would be really proud of her.



4) Then, in their first time as partners, Phillip and Joshua Ledet performed the Righteous Brothers song "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." It was a strange song choice, with both of them apparently awkward. It was really rough on Phillip's part. Joshua didn't do terribly well, either.

Steven told them they need to embrace each other and look in each other's eyes to sing that song. He praised Joshua's high notes. The team, he said, was a "match made in heaven." Jennifer thought it was funny that they had been nervous about singing the song together, because it had originally been sung by two guys. Randy thought it started out slow but thought it came alive near the end.




5) Jessica Sanchez would be doing the Ike and Tina Turner tune "Proud Mary," and Little Steven said that he's heard it so much in bars that he kind of hates it. He came in determined to talk her out of it but only suggested some tweaking for the song, instead. Jimmy said the song is a tall order. Jessica wore a slinky white minidress with a chain vest. The arrangement was interesting, but she didn't really sell it in the intro. At the tempo change, she was throwing in a lot of "heys" that took away from the melody. I wanted to like it, but if it had been my first time seeing her, I would have wondered what she was thinking.

Jennifer called her a cross between Tina and Beyonce and was glad she moved around the stage. Steven was hearing the blues in her vocals, liked how she was shouting part of it. "That's the blues, baby." Randy looked at it differently, saying it was "barely OK for me." He remarked that she'd taken on the "biggest dragon of the light" but "it didn't really quite sit with me; I didn't get anything." Jennifer injected that you can't compare a 16-year-old to Tina Turner in her heyday. Well, if you say so.



6) Joshua would be doing "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations, and Little Steven and Jimmy liked it so much they said he has a gift. For his performance, Joshua wore a black jacket with white and gray striped sleeves, which looked a little like an old-time baseball uniform. He had a bright yellow daffodil in his lapel pocket and wore a bright blue button-down shirt. His background singers wore black short-shorts and white jackets. As distracting as his outfit was, it didn't harm his performance, which was very soulful and right on the money.

Steven called Joshua "one of the top two best Idols of all time," although he found both the pretty background singers and his sleeves distracting. Jennifer said he was a throwback to another area. She said he's so "sick" she doesn't know what to say to him. Randy compared him to Terence Trent D'Arby and said he could bring R&B back in an interesting way. He thought the jacket was fly, and he loved the flower. Asking Ryan to agree, Ryan said that "you can pull it off better." He asked Joshua what kind of flower it was, and neither of them knew, so Ryan told him to give "the tulip" to one of the girls in the front row. Joshua complied.

Asked who won round one, Randy said, "Hollie, Skylar, and Joshua." Jennifer picked Joshua and Hollie. Steven said, "Joshua, Skylar and Hollie."



7) For her second song, Hollie chose the Leona Lewis song "Bleeding Love." Little Steven advised her to keep it intimate and sing it to one person. She wore a black evening gown and sat on the piano. This tender, heartfelt performance was one of her best.

Steven admitted he didn't know the song but liked how she hit the notes and delivered. Jennifer agreed with the advice to sing to one person. She thought there was a breathtaking run before the end and said she'd like what Hollie did when she let go. Randy said it's a big song, big hit for Leona Lewis, which came from a "British talent show" and "our friend Simon Cowell." He said, "You're peaking now at the right time."



8) For Phillip's second song, "Time of the Season" by the Zombies, Little Steven suggested he take some liberties with it at the end. As he performed tie-dyed swirls rotated on the screens behind him. For some reason, he popped the ear bud out of his ear at the beginning of the song. Maybe there was some feedback? The verses were good, but it was way too high for him on the chorus.

Randy thought it was a "relaxed, subdued" Phil Phillips. He liked it and wanted to hear more of the guitar. It was nice, but he wasn't "jumping up and down." Jennifer thought it really suited his style and that he did a good job. Steven was glad he chose the song and sang the melody, and he thought Phillip sang it well. "So good for you."



9) Time for girl power: the three girls sang a trio, Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher." Jessica started it off, and then Hollie and Skylar joined in. They did much better with their number than the guys had done with theirs, blending their voices when they sang together and singing strongly in their solo portions.

Steven thought it was a "weird arrangement" but they "sang the hell out of it." Jennifer liked seeing them all sing together. "I think you're all getting your confidence up there." She found it cute and compared them to "little dolls." Randy thought all three of them sounded amazing but agreed the arrangement was weird.



10) For her second song, Skylar chose "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" by Dusty Springfield. She wore a floor-length brown wrap dress with a slit in the front. The song worked well as a modern country ballad. As she sang "believe me" at the end, I bet the audience really did.

Randy told her that she's peaking at the right time, and he believes her. "I'm transfixed on everything that you're doing." His question about the staging, though, was why there had been some people sitting on a bench for part of it. That was a little odd, but I honestly hadn't noticed it! Jennifer said that Skylar is "winning the hearts of America as we speak." She thought Skylar was very natural. Steven said, "Just more proof that it works when you work it." He praised her for bringing the song into the 21st century.



11) For her second song, Jessica sang "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker (who I always thought was an American!). Jimmy suggested a 12-string acoustic guitar for the arrangement, which is what they did. Jessica started out the song sitting on the stage, surrounded by candles and smoke, wearing a black and white dress that looked very soft, almost like a nightgown. Unlike the first song, this was a great fit for her, and she sold it.

Steven said, "You once again showed America just how beautiful your voice is." Jennifer reminded the audience of the save from a few weeks ago, "How could we have let this girl go home." She thought Jessica did a great job. Randy said that round two, Jessica is "on the top of the leader board." He liked how she holds a note and then adds a little vibrato at the end, which he said is "so pro."



12) Joshua did "To Love Somebody" by the Bee Gees for his second song, a song he hadn't known before this week, but he still blew Little Steven away in rehearsal. He wore a black leather jacket with big felt lapels and stood center stage, surrounded by some lit orbs (I think) and some smoke. You would never have guessed this song was new to him: he's finally singing with passion but without oversinging. Wait. I said that too early. He did take it to church at the end of the song. A bit much. The judges, though, gave him a standing o.

Randy was in awe of it and gave a big shout-out to Robin Gibb, who's battling an illness. "Now, that is what it's really all about," he said of Joshua's performance. He said that Joshua is one of the best singers ever on this show.



Kudos to Skylar and Joshua, with a nod to Hollie. I think Jessica is almost guaranteed a trip to the bottom three again, and Phillip will probably be there, too. If Ryan calls out a bottom three, Joshua might see himself there, if only because of the duet. As far as who's going home, it's more likely to be Jessica, who was previously eliminated, than Phillip, who's never been in the bottom three again. But as this season has shown, anything can happen!
Tags: american idol, music, television
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