Phillip Phillips and Heejun Han did well by ignoring advice Wednesday.
There must be some reason the folks at “American Idol” think that the best way to find tomorrow’s pop star is to have them sing songs that were popular a generation ago as opposed to, you know, actual hit singles from today. We’ve gone from Whitney Houston/Stevie Wonder to Songs from Your Birth Year to ... Billy Joel. When do we get Lawrence Welk week?
Steven Tyler set the bar high Wednesday by noting that if you can’t sing Billy Joel, you can’t sing. Then he dropped it lower by saying that he’d never heard of “She’s Got a Way” before Joshua Ledet picked it as his song this week. (Clearly the Aerosmith-Joel tour never got off the ground.)
In a way, Tyler's comments set the tone for the performances. This week also featured not only Diddy as the guest mentor, but Tommy Hilfiger again offering fashion advice. Ironically, some of the singers who did the best ignored both.
Phillip Phillips, for example, had both Jimmy Iovine and Diddy tell him to ditch his guitar, and Hilfiger order him not to wear gray. “Not to be rude, but I think you need some help,” Hilfiger told the hopeful.
Not to be ruder, but Phillips wore gray anyway, brought along his guitar and sang a compelling version of “My Way.” That’ll get even more people flocking to the pawn shop where he used to work.
Heejun Han also lived dangerously by keeping the comedy act going for another week, even if it’s becoming obvious that the “Idol” influences are getting tired of the act. He asked Diddy for advice on dealing with criticism and just wasted Hilfiger’s time with inane comments.
“I don’t know if he’s an actor, a con man ... I don’t even know if he’s Asian. He might be black,” Diddy said.
And it looked like Han might be a goner when he seemed to forget his place at the beginning of “My Life” ... but it was just a trick. He stripped off his suit to reveal a funky T-shirt, started into a dance routine and breathed some fun into a night that was very heavy on the ballads. He should be safe ... for now. But he’d better not do anything wrong the rest of the way because Steven, for one, seems ready to bail. “At some point, you have to take it more serious,” the rocker said.
Meanwhile, most people in Elise Testone’s position would do whatever the experts wanted in the hopes of sticking around. Jimmy warned her that picking “Vienna” was a big risk because about 1 percent of the audience knew the tune. But she sang the best she has all season, she looked good, she smiled a lot, she brought some of the girls she’s a vocal coach for onstage and gushed about their abilities. If she goes home anyway, at least she’ll have done everything in her power to change voters’ minds.
Others were less surprising. Skylar Laine picked “Shameless,” of course, which most know as a country cover anyway. Jessica Sanchez sang "Everybody Has a Dream" very well, as usual. Ledet shouldn’t have much to worry about, even if Steven didn't know his song.
And would it be a Billy Joel concert without saving “Piano Man” for the finish? Of course not. Colton Dixon closed the show with that, had the audience chanting his name and should be in the game for a long time.
Who does that leave in trouble? Hollie Cavanagh's performance of "Honesty" wasn’t great and she needs to step it up next week, but she handled the criticism with aplomb and is fine for now. So aside from Testone, who has to be a favorite to be in the bottom three strictly based on her track record, DeAndre Brackensick and Erika Van Pelt have the most to worry about.
Brackensick opened the show with “Only the Good Die Young” and did very little memorable with it. Considering the song is about trying to get a girl into bed, his performance lacked any sense of seduction or sex appeal. It wasn’t enough to get him a goodnight kiss, let alone anything more.
On the other hand, Van Pelt was memorable mostly because she allowed Hilfiger to give her the Kris Jenner “Kardashian Matriarch” look instead of her own distinctive hairstyle. Everyone will remember that, but who remembers how she sounded on "New York State of Mind"? We’ll find out Thursday whether the extreme makeover was a blessing or a curse.
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