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American Idol Recap: The Case of the Absent Charisma

AMERICAN IDOL: L-R: Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez, Josh Ledet and Hollie Cavanagh wait to hear how America voted on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, May 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Also pictured: Ryan Seacrest. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

After last night’s two-hour extravaganza, during which even the most ardent Idol fan had to have felt deeply jerked around, it is time for our results, delivered in a one-hour show built around four seconds of action. We should all start billing Fox directly.

There is a group number, because there were only three last night and this show doesn’t want us to go hungry. It is “California Dreamin’,” and there is a red carpet on the stage, with fans behind velvet ropes on either side. And the choreography consists of the top four glumly pacing from one end to the other, over and over again. This is just a taste of what you can witness LIVE this summer on the Idol tour! Ryan promises that everyone in the live audience will get tickets to one of those live shows. (What he fails to mention is that the show is in Des Moines, where ticket sales have been sluggish, and everyone’s responsible for their own travel.)

There is absolutely nothing to talk about here, so I will focus for a moment on their styling. The girls look like pageant mentors from Made, Phillip is in his uniform of earthtone on earthtone, and Joshua looks like a pack of Fruit Stripe. Wasn’t Tommy Hilfiger supposed to be helping out in this capacity? Was he able to escape?

Hey, you know that Ford Music Video that serves no purpose other than eating up a few minutes of the results show? Tonight, we take a look behind the scenes to see how it’s made! Once again, Phillip seems to have gotten a medical exemption. Hollie actually says: “The singing part is kind of awkward, because everyone is looking at you.” Sister, “singing while people are looking at you” is kind of the job description of the position you’re applying for. Come back, Colton Dixon; all is forgiven (through Christ).

There are only four people left, so they can’t really do a bottom three anymore. Instead they just let Jimmy evaluate everyone all at once. So here it is:

  • Phillip is “starting to hear his own voice,” which makes me wonder when he will start noticing how much it sounds like Dave Matthews’s. He also, with “Volcano,” “delivered on what we all thought he could do.” I don’t disagree, but more than anything, I wonder why he chose to pursue stardom via this show. Handsome white guys with guitars have a tendency to do well on their own, and no matter what happens down the line, he’s going to have to work hard to wipe the stink of this show off of him. “Go and busk” is terrible advice, but Phillip: go and busk.
  • Hollie “made a move in the wrong direction” with “Faithfully” and didn’t understand “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” therefore crashing and burning. Again: totally true. Hollie is way too young to be doing any of this; you can see her trying to please everyone, and I fear her talent will suffer for it in the long term. 
  • Joshua pulled the same old trick with “You Raise Me Up,” but his “It’s a Man’s World” was captivating. Good call! I’ve said all I can say about Joshua, but I will point out that in a backstage interview, he says: “Jennifer spoke Spanish to me, and it was ... hot,” and it is ... unconvincing.
  • Jessica does the same vocal feats over and over and “needs to leave the rabbit in the hat a little more.” Also, Jimmy reveals that Tommy Mottola says he’s going to her first concert. Congratulations, Jessica Sanchez! You’ve been chosen as Tommy Mottola’s next bride.

Overall, Jimmy doesn’t know who’s going to the finals, and neither do I (except we both know Phillip is going to be one of them). It’s not just because they’re all very good singers, it’s because they’ve all connected with the audience the exact same amount, which is zero.

And then they pull David Cook out of cold storage to make this top four look lively. Good God in heaven, this guy is a snooze. He’s like Live, but with less life. But at least it’s a breakup song. Is there such a thing as supercoffee? I would like a cup of supercoffee, please.

Jennifer Lopez’s performance is a perfect example of the inverse of this show’s problem. She is all charisma, all connection, and then also I guess she is singing but who has time to notice? Her new guy Casper dances with her in the song’s breakdown, and people? He is FINE. I generally don’t go for the little dancer boys (scruffy guitar boys are more my steez; hi, Phillip, call me), but this guy transcends. At the end of the song, he picks a piece of confetti out of Jennifer’s hair, and she responds, “He’s so cute.” He is. Don’t you dare Federline her, Casper.

All right. The first person in the top three ... JESSICA! Next ... JOSHUA! Leaving Phillip and Hollie in what Ryan pointedly avoids calling “the bottom two.” He primes us for a “huge surprise,” reminding us that Chris Daughtry got the ax at exactly this time in the proceedings, but the look on Hollie’s face tells us she’s not buying it. And indeed, she’s out.

She sings “The Climb” as her final song, and as has been the case more than once this season, the good-bye song winds up being her best performance ever. There is what looks like relief in her demeanor, and she seems lighter than she has in weeks. She goes and hugs the other three, which is a really nice moment, largely because it shows a tiny bit of the human emotion this group lacks. One can’t help but be a little sad for her; a 24-year-old Hollie Cavanagh would have slayed this thing.

Next week: The awkward top three go to their low-key hometowns to reunite with their laconic families! Double extraspresso, please.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX