Tonight, the wannabes take on songs by their own personal idols, so we'll get a chance to see if any of them have a sense of music history that goes back any earlier than junior high. We also get trios from the singers, as part of Fox's quiet acknowledgement that they have nothing else worth airing, so they have to keep padding Idol to two hours.
The rundown (which will ignore the trios, since they aren't supposed to be considered as part of the competition):
Colton, "Everything" -- Colton tells us this is a "worship song," which apparently means a song with lyrics vague enough that they could be about Jesus or about the pretty girl he's stalking because he doesn't dare talk to her after algebra class. Either way, it's not a very interesting song; the vagueness of the lyrics melds with the generic tune to create a big heap of bland. And the performance doesn't do much to help; it's very low energy, which is part of why the enunciation is mushy all the way through. Ending the song by faling to his knees was a cynically brilliant move, though; the judges aren't going to offend America by criticizing a guy who just ended by praying to Jesus.
Skylar, "Gunpowder and Lead" -- Her enunciation continues to be sloppy, which is a particular problem when you're trying to tell a story. She doesn't have the mood of the song quite right; she's chipper and feisty where bloodthirsty anger is called for. She's also too young for the song; when she sings about "what little girls are made of," we shouldn't be able to take the phrase quite so literally. At least there's some energy and life to the performance.
Heejun, 'A Song for You" -- By far the best thing he's done yet. Still some serious problems -- there's often too much air in his sound for him to sustain the pitches (and note that he's chopping in half what are already fairly short phrases), and he's shouting the loud notes more than he is singing them -- but it's a big improvement.
Hollie, "Jesus, Take the Wheel" -- I get that they have to edit songs for time, but cutting out the part about losing control of the car sucks the meat out of the song; very bad editing choice. Aside from that, a good performance, with more dynamic range than Hollie's given us the last couple of weeks. She taps into the right vein of emotionally manipulative schlock (which I do not mean as a pejorative) for the song. Final note was a bit wobbly on pitch, though.
DeAndre, "Sometimes I Cry" -- This is not a style I much care for; falsetto should be a condiment, not an entree. To return to tonight's common theme, it's much harder to enunciate clearly in falsetto, and DeAndre does have some problems there. On the other hand, his pitch is generally quite good, which is also difficult in falsetto, so that's a plus. This sort of R&B ballad seems to be his comfort zone, and I think I'd enjoy hearing him sing one in a lower register.
Jessica, "Sweet Dreams" -- Breathing in the middle of a word? Almost never a good thing. Breathing in the middle of a word when it causes confusion about your meaning, for instance, "beautiful night (breathe) mare"? Inexcusable. Aside from that, yeah, she's got a lovely voice (though she often gets carried away with the vibrato), but there's not much going on emotionally in this performance. It's pretty to listen to, but you won't remember it by the time the show's over.
Phillip, "Still Raining" -- I don't know that he should be smiling quite so broadly as he sings "I watch my world slowly slipping away," but that's about the biggest thing that's wrong with it. It's not a great performance, but it's very good, and on a night marked by mediocrity, that's enough to put him near the top of the heap.
Joshua, "Without You" -- And that's how you do a magic trick, boys and girls. Aside from a slightly odd pinched vowel sound on the "you" of "without you," this was marvelous. And whatever the tears at the end were about, they aren't going to hurt him with the voting public.
Elise, "Whole Lotta Love" -- Finally, we find out what Elise does well. Given the theme nights, it's not something she's likely to get many more opportunities to do, and rocker chicks have not traditionally done all that well on Idol, but I'm glad she's had this chance to show off her talent at its best.
For the night: Joshua, Elise, Phillip, Jessica, DeAndre, Hollie, Heejun, Skylar, Colton.
For the season: Joshua, Jessica, Hollie, Skylar, Phillip, Colton, Elise, DeAndre, Heejun.
Let's send home: It feels cruel to say so after he's had his best night, but Heejun is still well behind the pack. I suspect that the voters think more in terms of week-to-week, though, and I would be nervous if I were Skylar.