TONIGHT! Our top six rock the songs of Queen! Or: Your recapper grimly counts down to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” And then the kids will sing other songs they feel like singing, just to stretch it to two hours because the producers of American Idol actively hate you.
Now, Nikki Finke tells us that Ryan Seacrest was violently ill before tonight’s show started — one does not absorb the soul of Dick Clark without some unpleasant side effects — and that they were scrambling to find a fill-in. I’m going to put this out there: I have live television experience, I am a ten-minute drive from the studio, and I have been blessed with a naturally even skin tone that does not require makeup. Let’s do this, Nigel Lythgoe.
Alas, we will not be doing this tonight, as Ryan has made a miraculous recovery (and is oddly huggsy for someone who was recently booting). He looks none the worse for it. Jennifer is dressed like MC Hammer, Steven is working an outfit from the Shirley MacLaine on Broadway collection at Hot Topic, and Randy has on a brooch that reads "YO," just in case he forgets to say it a million times, which I suspect he will not.
A microphone picks up Randy asking Ryan, “You aight? YOU AIGHT?” and receiving only a beaming smile as his answer. Ryan is as mysterious as the Sphinx, but less emotionally expressive. The package on Queen is voiced by Randy, though, so something was clearly up today; Ryan is not one to turn down work. (Speaking of the package on Queen: We were unafraid of tight pants in the seventies, weren’t we?)
There’s a rare performance-night group number with the actual Brian May and Roger Taylor, which is a nice touch for filler. It starts off with a very Lawrence Welk version of “Fat Bottomed Girls,” continues through a shaky “Another One Bites the Dust,” and ends on a listless “We Are the Champions.” Each singer gets one big moment and each big moment happens while the camera is on someone else, because apparently when the host is in Barftown, we don’t rehearse.
Now, just because they are keeping us here all night, don’t go getting the idea that we’ll be hearing whole songs. No, the show starts with Jessica doing a 90-second version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” She is backed up by three versions of her own disembodied head projected on the Stage Oval, and when the song kicks into its fast movement, the show goes from black and white to color. This is the first work of art to simultaneously evoke Superman II and The Wizard of Oz. The judges love it, but they don’t think she is convincing in a rock format. I like it okay, but I don’t see the point of a 90-second "Bo-Rhapz."
Skylar makes a truly interesting choice by taking on “The Show Must Go On.” And it’s a pretty uncountrified version, too. This is good! It lacks a little emotional connection, but vocally it’s aces! The judges love it, especially her high degree of emotional connection.
Joshua does “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Jesus. Okay, here’s my thing with that song: It has always seemed to me like a fluke, a genre exercise that became a hit because it was catchy and Queen were at their commercial peak. For a spectacular, melodramatic singer like Joshua to meet a spectacular, melodramatic band like Queen and pull this song out is a huge mistake. It’s like if they did a Prince night and someone sang “Batdance.” He yells through it, because he yells through things, but there are dozens of great Queen songs to yell through! If only there were people whose job it was to judge these performances. Just kidding! There are and they give him a unanimous standing ovation. (Has there been a non-unanimous standing ovation? A non-unanimous anything?)
Elise Testone picks “I Want It All,” which suits her personality but not her voice. The moments when she modulates the song up an octave are the only times you can hear her. Again, no judge calls this out, which pretty much counts as malpractice in my book.
Phillip doesn’t let his earlier group version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” stop him from doing it again. Does it matter what it sounds like, now that Colton’s gone and he’s got a clear shot at the finals? It does not. But if you’re wondering: It sounds like Dave Matthews doing “Fat Bottomed Girls.” The judges love it, which also doesn’t matter.
Hollie does “Save Me,” and it’s about on par with what we’ve been getting from her in the past few weeks. She’s just a little too reserved, and in the moments where she loses herself in the song, her voice cracks. Jennifer offers some good advice about forgetting the audience and just having fun, which is something she could have said weeks ago.
Round two! The kids sing whatever they feel like, and we learn that they are mostly bad decision-makers. Jessica is up first with “Dance With My Father,” before which she reveals that her father is about to be deployed to Singapore. This translates roughly to: vote for me or you are with the terrorists. Oh, also, we are treated to video packages of the Idols dishing on each other; Jessica, we learn here, is small and quiet. Duly noted! Phillip thinks she might be an alien. I think Phillip might be a “wake and bake” kind of guy. Anyway, Jessica’s performance has some actual emotion to it, which is a refreshing change of pace. The Stage Oval displays father and child stock images that are so on-the-nose, Hallmark Cards rejected them. Jessica and the Stage Oval are not working out as a couple.
The gang thinks Skylar is a little firecracker. So far, these packages are not too shocking. Hollie does call Skylar “thick-boned,” by which she means “thick-skinned,” which the producers kind of try to make into a moment. Her version of “Tattoos on This Town” is vintage Skylar; there is no way this girl won’t be a huge country star, but since we know that already, why not take some chances? Randy gets to the root of things as he says, “What are we even judging? This is all so good?” Well, yes: It makes perfect sense that the remaining six singers out of tens of thousands would make the right sounds with their mouths, but since you’re making more money this season than any of them are likely to in their entire careers, why not guide them toward better, stronger choices? Why not, you know, judge them, so we’re not seeing the same thing over and over for three hours a week? Again, producers: I am close, I am experienced, and I am stunningly handsome on-camera.
Here’s the deal, Idol: Your two-hour shows are making me crabby. You are even boring your live audience; there is another, bigger audience yawn this week! (See below, to right of Tyler's head.) You are playing a dangerous game here, Fox.
The other Idols tell us how crazy and fun Joshua is, which comes as a genuine surprise. Where does the fun guy go? We’re not going to see him tonight, as he takes on India.Arie’s “Ready for Love.” I give him points for giving us what I’ve been begging for: He actually dials it back for once. But I dock him points for looking like he’s having a terrible time. So, no points. The judges give him a standing ovation. I go outside for a walk to clear my head. Except really.
Apparently Elise laughs after everything she says. The Idols tell us this in a way that reveals that they are genuinely annoyed by it. Huh. I’m thrilled to tell you she does Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,” and although her vocal is a little too tricky, I’ll allow it. Steven Tyler will not. He thinks she needs to choose a more familiar song, which he expressed thusly: “You can’t pick cherries with your back to the tree.” It hurts to say it, but he’s probably right. (About the song; cherry-picking technology has evolved to accommodate most any posture.)
Okay. So then the Idols get to talking about Phillip Phillips. They say he contorts his face when he sings, but don’t mention that he does it exactly the way Dave Matthews does. They point out that he does a little Charleston dance with his feet and knees when he’s playing guitar, but somehow fail to share that that’s exactly what Dave Matthews does when he plays guitar. Then Phillip Phillips goes out there and plays a Dave Matthews song and does it pretty much exactly like Dave Matthews does, and all the judges give him points for being his own artist. Listen: I like Phillip, but somebody needs to steer him out of this skid, because it is now officially ridiculous. If he came out in a wedding dress with a lace bow in his hair and a BOY TOY belt buckle week after week, surely someone would tell him to cool it with the 1985 Madonna, right? Worst of all, he chooses “The Stone,” one of those meandering twelve-minute album tracks that I can never quite get through. If you’re going to take us to the Dave Matthews Experience at Knott’s Berry Farm, could you at least give us “Tripping Billies”?
Hollie closes us out with “The Climb,” which she’s already done on this show and which apparently got her to the top 40 last year, which I didn’t know. It’s good, she’s looser than ever (maybe because it’s her eighth performance tonight), but this song continues its long history of not quite getting her there. But the judges give her a standing ovation (unanimously), and Jennifer does an impression of Hollie’s accent by saying the word “GOVERNOR” just like an American would. All three syllables: GOVERNOR. It’s possible that Jennifer thinks a British accent is just pretending everyone is the Governor.
So there it is. It was very long, it seemed much longer, the judges seemed to have been watching different shows entirely on some kind of tablet device, the blondes are in trouble, and I know why the caged Seacrest barfs.