"American Idol" was down to four contestants, and as has become a habit this season, an opening montage played up the drama. Each contestant performed two songs. The first was songs by California artists and the second was a "song I wish I'd written."
The Top 4
1) Phillip Phillips kicked off the show with Credence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," standing at the mike with the female saxophonist and a guy playing an organ on stage. He wore a black V-neck shirt with a rumpled blue button-down overtop. The screen behind him played images of surfers for some strange reason. He stuck closer to the melody with this song than he has in recent weeks, but it was fairly unremarkable. [PHILLIP's 1st PERFORMANCE]
Steven Tyler told him he was proof that "the road to success is always under construction." Jennifer Lopez complimented his "Joe Cocker quality" to his vocals, which she claimed she never heard before. Randy Jackson said it was a bit rough in the beginning with the pitch. But by the first chorus "your whole vibe lightened up" and it was "sensational from then on out."
2) Hollie Cavanagh performed Journey's "Faithfully," on a stage full of pinlights and smoke, wearing a red sleeveless shirt that hung down further in the back, along with black leggings and turquoise dangling earrings. This song was very tepid, and the wind machine didn't help her add more drama to it. [HOLLIE's 1st PERFORMANCE]
Randy repeated a previous assertion that Hollie is peaking at the right time. I was momentarily distracted from his words, though, wondering about his coral plaid jacket, his contrasting plaid tie and the pin on his pocket reading "YO." Jennifer, dressed like the mother of the bride in a sequined long-sleeved top that went all the way up to the neck, praised Hollie's evolution as a singer. Steven said that her choice of song was "over the top," in a good way. He used a flower analogy and said that she "makes it flower every night."
Hollie admitted to Ryan that she initially wasn't sure of the true meaning of the song but that "I'm living that song right now." If you say so.
Then we saw a video of Jason Derulo recording the new song he wrote with help from "Idol" viewers. He urged people to continue to vote and upload more lyrics for the song, "Undefeated."
3) Joshua Ledet was dedicating his song, "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban, to his father, who "helps everyone." He wore a simple white shirt with a tan jacket with banded collar and a soft white scarf wrapped around his neck. The song, sung in the middle of the stage at the microphone, was a simple emotional song from the beginning. Halfway through, he was joined by background singers and violinists, as the song intensified. And then he pulled back, before building to a final big moment, as the stage he was standing on literally raised him up a couple feet. Nice literal turn on the song; a bit cheesy, but it worked. [JOSHUA's 1st PERFORMANCE]
Jennifer said "we have such amazing singers and great artists on this show." She called it "another great performance," and she liked the drama at the end (pronounced to rhyme with "banana"). Steven said, "You sang your little tush off today again." He said that the world is accepting him "like nobody's business." Randy called him an "amazing artist with a ginormous career ahead of you."
4) Jessica Sanchez sang a bluesy song by Etta James, "Steal Away," wearing a very young outfit of white jeans with a black stripe on the side, paired with a blousy white and black shirt and a black bolo leather jacket with pointy shoulders and bright blue stripes. She grooved on the song and used a bluesy growl in parts of it. A great performance. [JESSICA's 1st PERFORMANCE]
Jennifer said that Jessica is one of the best. Steven liked it because it showed "the other side of your voice." He complimented her for growing. Randy liked the soul and heart of it and added "your vocals are ridiculous." He thought she could sing the phone book.
5) Phillip and Joshua performed the Maroon 5 song "This Love" next, with Joshua starting out standing on a piano. Phillip came up and sat down on some steps in front of them, and Joshua joined him, without even looking at Phillip. Do these guys hate each other or what? The collaboration wasn't as awkward as the previous week's, and by the end, they were even looking at each other and dancing together. [PHILLIP & JOSHUA's PERFORMANCE]
Steven said, "Best song, best vocal, best duet" and that "whoever picked that song was brilliant." Nigel Lythgoe, producer of "Idol" was in the audience and took credit for it. Jennifer said it reminded her of Adam Levine and Usher getting together to sing, and found it an "unexpected treat." Randy said it's a great song, and they brought a "little something else to it." He liked that they had fun with it.
6) Singing "Eternal Flame" by the Bangles, Jessica and Hollie sang while swinging in large white swings, over a smoky stage. That's got to be one of the strangest stagings of "Idol" history. Perhaps because they had to concentrate on staying upright in the swings, they were a bit strained at the beginning. The harmonies were a little rough near the end, as well. [JESSICA & HOLLIE's PERFORMANCE]
Randy found it a little strange. He never felt like it went high enough for Hollie. "What's with the swings?" he asked. "And who are these kids in the swings?" Phillip and Joshua, meantime, had commandeered the swings, swinging quietly in the background. Steven said that "four months into L.A. you turn into our favorite swingers." Oh, boy.
Ryan joked that there was a bromance between Phillip and Joshua and that together they were now known as Jillip.
Then, there was some video footage from a visit by Adam Shankman, director of the movie musical "Rock of Ages," to their mansion. They have a gym and a "disco." And of course, a grand piano in the living room. But the real reason he was there was to give them a preview of the movie.
Ryan, who is dating Julianne Hough, star of the film, punked her, saying he wanted to ask her a question and pulling something out of his jacket. "Would you give this note to [movie co-star] Tom Cruise? I'm a big fan." She looked both relieved that it wasn't a proposal on live television and annoyed at the prank.
7) The Top 4 sang together, Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You." Of course, when they got to the chorus, the girls sang "for a guy like you" and the guys sang "for a girl like you." But despite the wrenching of the lyrics, it was a pleasant performance. [TOP 4 GROUP PERFORMANCE]
8) For Phillip's second performance, "Volcano" by Damien Rice, Jimmy Iovine worked with him and told him that he's turning into a butterfly. Phillip played his guitar, barely lit, wearing a brown jacket and dark shirt. His version of "Volcano" was simple and melodic and just what he needed to do. He proved that he's more than just hype: he can really sing. [PHILLIP's 2nd PERFORMANCE]
Steven said that he heard the musician in it and "I never heard you sing like that before." He said he could listen to that on headphones over and over. Jennifer said that very few people could have pulled it off, which is "a testament to who you are and who you want to be as an artist." She found it a beautiful, poignant moment and gave props to the background singer who served as a duet partner. Randy said it was one of his best performances of the whole season. Sometimes, he said, a simple statement has more volume.
9) Hollie did "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt, and Jimmy advised her to feel it and not oversing it. He called her a dark horse and said she has to do magnificent. No pressure! She wore a black sleeveless pantsuit with a black belt and lots of cut-outs at the shoulder and back. She wondered forward through a smoke-filled stage lit with orange lights (which they must think is the most flattering for her strawberry-blonde hair). She clutched her chest a lot as she sang, as if pulling those emotions from inside her chest. It was pretty good, but I don't think it met Jimmy's criteria of being magnificent. [hollie's 2nd PERFORMANCE]
Steven agreed that, with a song like that, you have to feel it: "It's not so much how you sing it as how you say the words." He felt that she'd his her "dynamic range." Jennifer said that, for someone like her, she could have brought more to it by thinking of her own personal meaning (like trying to make voters love her). She thought there was too much vibrato. Randy thought it wasn't so much her lack of maturity as just the song. While it's a great song, she's a different kind of singer from Bonnie Raitt and needs a song with a bigger moment.
10) Joshua sang "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown. Jimmy, who had seen James Brown record in the theater, told Joshua he sang the "heck out of that song." He wore a shiny black suit, strutting from the back of the stage to the front, between violinists. Based on what he said to Jimmy, he had found a good way into the song, thinking not just about how much he admires his dad, who's a strong man, but also how his mother is a big part of his success. Because this is a James Brown song, it's almost impossible to oversing it, provided that it's aligned with the emotion of the song. In this case it was. Although I was skeptical of the song choice initially, he killed it and wiped the floor with it. And yes, one more standing o. from the judges. [JOSHUA's 2nd PERFORMANCE]
Randy couldn't stop saying "yo" while the audience was also cheering wildly. Steven said, "Neither man nor woman has ever sang that good with that much compassion on this show ever." He said he'd never heard anything like that in his life. Jennifer said that the people at home probably thought they'd seen everything he can do, but "we hadn't." It was so good she had to speak Spanish, she said. Randy said, this was the greatest song for him and one of the greatest performances in "any singing show, including ours."
11) Jessica's second song was "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" by Jennifer Holliday from "Dreamgirls," and Jimmy liked it in rehearsal. She wore a black miniskirt with a bright blue one-sleeved top with a purple arm (more noticeable because of how she flapped it around. She laid it all on the stage, growling at the end as she embellished the heck out of it. The judges gave her a standing ovation. [JESSICA's 2nd PERFORMANCE]
Steven called it "another winning performance," then joked, "Tell me how you really feel." Jennifer said that, with a performance like that, "I don't know who's going to win." She said there was nothing to say, because her vocal ability is "not something you see every time." Randy said that she was finally "in it to really win it." He said that this was one of the hardest songs to sing and she slaid it. He gave a shout-out to Julian Lennon, saying, "This is what Idol's all about. What do you think?" Julian nodded and made a prayer gesture towards the stage, to honor her.
Kudos to Joshua and to Jessica. I predict Hollie being in the bottom two, but the way things are going, I'm not sure who will join her. It should be Hollie's night to go home, since her performances were good but not fantastic.
It only gets harder to imagine who's going to go the better they get!