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American Idol Recap: Diddy Explains Your Favorite Billy Joel Cuts

Tonight is going to be weird! It’s Billy Joel night! Diddy is our mentor for some reason! And Tommy Hilfiger begins his tenure as the finalists’ style coach. His advice, unless I specifically indicate otherwise, is “wear attractive clothing.” He’s the boss. Also he looks like a lesbian who is running for city council. 

Deandre is up first with “Only the Good Die Young.” It’s an interesting choice for him, and a good mentor might point out that a bi-racial kid could bring something new and knowing to the song’s Jewish boy/Catholic girl lyrics. But our mentor is Diddy, who says the song is about when Billy Joel “had Christie Brinkley off to the side, money fallin’ out the sky, big-ass mansions and 767s,” which is neither helpful nor remotely accurate. Deandre’s performance somehow turns out both bubbly and leaden. I can’t believe I’m going to write these words, but what about “Tell Her About It” or “River of Dreams” or something similarly cheesy, breezy, and Deandre-ful? The judges aren’t jumping up and down. Do you think that, if it were your job and your job paid well into seven figures, and you were at your job for eleven years, you would come up with another way of expressing ambivalence than “I wasn’t jumping up and down”? Randy does not share your work ethic. Deandre is in trouble, hair or no hair. 

Speaking of hair! Tommy asks Erika whose style she admires, and she says Pink. So he suggests she cut all her hair off and copy Pink’s exact hairdo. And she hairdoes! It looks kind of okay, if a little Kris Jennery! She chooses “New York State of Mind,” which Diddy tells her she has to sing “like a New Yorker,” which again is not really correct. The song is about longing more than boasting, and luckily Erika knows the difference. It’s good! The judges agree! 

Joshua Ledet is not the least bit familiar with “She’s Got a Way,” and it shows. This is a song about subtlety and intimacy, a song I picture Billy Joel singing to a woman alone in an apartment. But the JoshuaMart does not carry subtlety or intimacy; if he sang his version to someone alone in an apartment, that person would be blasted through the wall, leaving a cutout in the shape of their body. If ever there were a song to bring out Joshua’s more personal side, this would be it, but either the mentors fail to make this point or Joshua just doesn’t have one. Also there is a choir because of course there is. The judges love it.

(Did you notice my careful gender-non-specificity when I speculated about to whom Joshua might sing that song? I get a Jason Russell vibe from Joshua, if you catch my meaning, which you do.)

When Ryan said it was Billy Joel night, my first thought was Skylar Laine will do the Garth Brooks version of "Shameless,” which totally happens. Diddy tells her to dial it back: “When you overcompensate, you lose who you are.” To clarify: The man who is saying these words is wearing a $700 T-shirt with Mickey Mouse on it. Her performance starts with her flanked by male audience members who are clapping along, and I will remind you that this is a low-to-mid-tempo song. Have you ever clapped along to a low-to-mid-tempo song? You cannot do it without looking incredibly listless and bored. It starts the song at an energy deficit, which Skylar eventually makes up. It’s fine. The judges are low-to-mid-enthusiastic about it. Randy Jackson is really trying to make man-brooches happen.

At last we get a deep cut! Elise Testone tries “Vienna” and nails the shit out of it. She finally looks like she’s enjoying herself! There is one egregious run at the end, which is the part Randy loves. Of course. Two of Elise’s rock-vocal students are in the house, and Ryan calls them up onstage: “Come on up here, let’s remember the night.” What? They are sprinting up there, but Ryan is impatient: “Come on, girls. Come on.” They finally make it, and Ryan asks them what they thought. We cannot hear their reply because they don’t put the microphone up in their mouth areas, which would seem to be something you might cover in a rock-vocals class, but whatever. Ryan says, “Use the mike. Use the mike.” One of the girls finally does, and says “Ameezing.” Ryan replies: “Moments like this are what it’s all about.” Ryan, you took the words right out of my mouth.

Diddy tells Phillip to put the guitar down, and Tommy tells him to stop wearing earth tones, and Phillip does not listen to either of them in his performance of “Movin’ Out.” It’s vintage Phillip, which is a thing now; acoustic and vaguely menacing. I like it. He takes just enough liberties with the melody to make the song sound fresh. He is going to have to show some versatility at some point here, but this is not the week. Also I think we should kiss. 

Tommy aims to style Hollie in a more youthful way, and somehow it results in her looking like Juice Newton performing on Solid Gold. She does “Honesty,” and Jimmy actually gives her some good advice: think about your first heartbreak when you sing this song. And ... Hollie has apparently not experienced her first heartbreak. It’s fine, and I imagine she’ll be safe, but she needs a breakout performance badly. The judges agree. Oh, also she’s on a platform, and Ryan pulls up a chair to stand on when he interviews her, because height. Randy says: “Ryan! How silly!” Tonight’s American Idol is brought to you by un-self-awareness.

And then we get to the curious case of Heejun Han. To bring you up to date, here is my problem with Heejun: He seems to be a little rascal with a mischievous sense of humor, which is great! It’s something this show could use, frankly! There is too much gravity, too many tears, too much Seacrestian self-regard. But his performances have all been deadly serious. He’s needed a song to match his personality. And tonight he gets it, in “My Life.” He even Elvis Costello–on-SNLs it at the beginning: The pianist starts with a slow song, then Heejun says “No — I wanna dance.” Now, here’s the problem with Heejun: Since his fun side and his performance side have stayed separate for so long, now that they’re finally intersecting, you can’t tell whether he’s being sincere. It’s like when you talk to a young person who is so used to being sarcastic that it’s become their accent, and when they pay you a compliment you have a panic attack. He flounces and mugs and seems to be having a good time, and I don’t know what to make of it. Neither do the judges, especially Steven, who says this: “Are you happy that you took the piss out of that song?” Jeezy Creezy; Deandre may not understand Catholic girls, but Steven sho’nuff understands nuns. It is all very strange. Also, and I know this is a minor concern on a show like this and I feel petty for even bringing it up, but Heejun sings almost none of the right notes.

If Elise is the kind of person who can benefit from a Billy Joel week, Jessica Sanchez is the kind who can really suffer. She was born in a year by which Billy had basically stopped recording, so if she’s unfamiliar with his catalogue — which she is — she’ll just rummage through until she finds something that sounds like something she would already have sung. That’s what she does with “Everybody Has a Dream,” which she makes sound like something from a Disney movie. She and Joshua are probably the two best singers in this group, but their performances display by far the lowest amounts of personality. I want to know what Jessica’s very favorite song is, and I want to hear her tear into it. Whatever; the judges go bananas.

Colton tells Tommy that his style is “punk rock,” and then Ian MacKaye gets into a grave just so he can roll in it. He chooses “Piano Man,” which is the least surprising thing that has ever happened in history. It’s pretty good; he still does too much fluttering and hiccuping around the high notes, like he learned to sing by listening to the Cranberries on the radio, which chronology-wise is actually pretty likely. The judges love it. Ryan asks Colton what he was thinking before he started his performance, and he says: “I was just asking God to use me. I want Him to shine through first and foremost.” Yeah, that’s my favorite part of the Bible, where God is like “Throw my name around when you’re trying to get famous.” The crowd goes wild.

Indeed, that was weird. I think the boys are in trouble: Deandre, Heejun, and Joshua look the most vulnerable. But overall, it’s a good thing Billy Joel recorded “You’re Only Human (Second Wind),” otherwise I would be considering suicide. See you tomorrow!

Photo: FOX