American Idol Recap: So Very Close

Sonika Vaid. Photo: FOX
American Idol
Episode Title
Top Four Perform
Editor’s Rating

Oh my goodness, the FAREWELL SEASON of American Idol is happening so fast. It seemed like we were in those dreary hotel ballrooms doing that first round of auditions forever, and now we're just blazing through the good part. The finale is in two weeks! At this rate, the reboot will premiere before President Trump is even inaugurated.

Tonight's show is broken up into two rounds. Up first are "rock songs," with special guest mentor Little Steven. If you listen to "Little Steven's Underground Garage," which you should, you know enough about Mr. Van Zandt's musical tastes to know that Vegas-y renditions of Bon Jovi songs are not his steez, but he is nothing if not a professional. (A professional and a committed wearer of silk blouses.)

As we enter this round, let me say this: The kids do not really have to stretch the way they used to. I miss the Idol of old, when a Lee DeWyze would have to stumble through "That's Life" and a Danny Gokey would have to take a shot at "Dream On." Making young singers try their hand at country or big band doesn't really prepare them for pop stardom, but it sure makes for some fascinating disasters, and sometimes you even get something like Kelly Clarkson's "Stuff Like That There." These days, they give us themes like "Music That Has Been Recorded Before" or "Songs Lovely People Have Sung" or "Things We Have Rehearsed and Cleared." Everyone does arrangements you see coming, and nobody challenges themselves. It's dull. We deserve better, especially as this show ends its run. Leave us wanting more, Idol.

Anyway, La'Porsha is up first, and she is in dreadlocks. It's a bold new look, though she still dresses like an alien queen in a Tyler Perry–directed reboot of Doctor Who. She does Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," which doesn't exactly suit her well, especially since she has such a poorly defined genre to choose from. ("Barracuda" was right there, La'P!) She struts, she does runs, she goes up on her lyrics, unless "I'm a cowboy, stibba stabba staw" was in some earlier unrecorded version of the song. It's not her best work, and the judges mostly agree. It is revealed that the dreads took 15 hours. It only took Michael Chiklis two hours to be turned into the Thing in the first Fantastic Four movie. (Factoid courtesy of DVD on TV.)

MacKenzie does a very MacKenzie version of "I Want You to Want Me," by which I mean it's slowed down by half, and it feels like something a love-struck 15-year-old has written for his first crush. I like it, because I am a 15-year-old girl in my heart, but the judges aren't onboard. If Idol history is any guide, this means the girls will text until their press-on nails pop off, and he'll make it to the top three for sure.

Trent Harmon does ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man," and while he wears a big floppy hat for his session with Little Steven, he opts for a tight-fitting sharkskin suit for the performance. So here's the thing: Trent is monstrously talented, but I can't get past all the vocal tricks and face dancing. It's especially galling here; this straight-ahead rock song is tarted all up and rendered almost unrecognizable. Jen calls it "fongo," which is some expression I've never heard. It sounds like she's saying "fungal." I find it fungal, myself.

And so, the bottom two are Sonika and Dalton. Young girls still swing the votes in this thing after all these years, so off you go, Ms. Vaid. Here's hoping your brief detour from med school becomes permanent; you have earned much success. And I'm sorry I couldn't make "This is how you Sonika" the wildly popular catchphrase it deserves to be.

Dalton combs the classic-rock pantheon and comes up with the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," so who even knows what "classic rock" means anymore? It's a very emotional performance, and he takes the extreme artistic risk of performing without eyeliner. If you've been watching this season, you already know what this looks and sounds like. My money's on Dalton going home next week.

The theme of round two is "Songs by Sia," which means they'll all be wrestling with Shia LaBeouf in nude bodysuits with filthy bare feet. Of course, we never see Sia's face during the show. Throughout her mentoring sessions, she's shot from the back, or they focus on her hands, or put her head behind a lampshade in the wide shot. She is committed to being a great big weirdo, our Sia, and I am here for it.

La'Porsha does "Elastic Heart," and it is great, and she's a monster singer, and I want to see her succeed, but I still don't know whether she's a star. I don't know what kind of music she'd sing; the belters this show has produced in its last few seasons haven't really gone anywhere, and I don't know if she's the kind of person who'll start a Twitter beef with Gigi Hadid or whatever, the way a young star needs to do now. I'd love to see her win, but I'd also love to see an American Idol winner have an influence on the larger world again.

MacKenzie at least has a shot at being a less-ethereal Jason Mraz or an all-American, ink-free Ed Sheeran. He worries that he won't hit the high note in "Titanium," but Sia urges him to try, which makes the whole performance one long countdown to the big note. He hits it! Harry thinks it's "nice," which is another backhanded compliment that will make the young ladies supervote their hearts out.

Trent gets "Chandelier," which feels unfair, especially since he slows it way down and Jerry Lewis telethons it way up. This is a gut-wrenching song just as it is; there's no need to amplify the pathos. But Trent's gotta Trent. He is also in a long sweater straight out of the Candace Cameron-Bure collection. I have never wanted to do a style intervention worse in my life.

Dalton takes us home with "Birds Set Free" in a paint-spattered sport coat, and it's pretty much a carbon copy of "God Only Knows" and also everything else he's done this season, except that he ends it in actual tears. Can't blame him — dude's had an emotional night.

So there it is. The kids had the whole "rock" category to choose from and nobody did the Beatles, the Stones, or Bruce Springsteen. Even worse, nobody in the Sia round went for "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine." This is a dull bunch. I'm calling it now: It's a Trent/La'Porsha finale. Who you got?