Another pair of vague open-ended themes. It seems to me that the themes have been less restrictive this year; there've been a pair of specific artist nights (Whitney/Stevie, Billy Joel), but none of the genre nights we used to get. Theoretically, I suppose that allows everyone to be at their best each week, but I don't think the number of great performances has been any higher, or the number of disasters any lower. Bring back disco and country and showtunes!
ROUND ONE: CALIFORNIA DREAMING
Phillip, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" -- Aside from some quirky phrasing on "comin' down on a sunny day," this is less affected than Phillip has ever been, and it's a smart song choice, since his tone is in the same ballpark as Fogerty's. And when you get rid of the smirk and the overly bluesy inflections, he's a mildly pleasant singer. He's not much more than that, but even that is an improvement over what he's been for most of the season.
Hollie, "Faithfully" -- This is a song about being on the road too long, struggling with the stress that separation puts on a relationship. It takes a certain amount of life experience, of world-weariness, to understand what that's like, and Hollie doesn't convey any of that. The notes are pretty enough, but that's all they are -- a long series of pretty notes, with no emotional significance or meaning. She might as well be singing about potato chips.
Joshua, "You Raise Me Up" -- The stylistic conversion from Groban's bland pop works very well; it's as if the song had always been waiting for an organ and a gospel choir. Joshua's performance is, as always, technically impeccable and entertaining. I fear that he's falling into a stylistic rut, though, and I think he needs to do something wildly unexpected.
Jessica, "Steal Away" -- Sultry and raspy aren't Jessica's strengths. The pop up to head voice (on the word "late") never quite gets all the way up to pitch. And while I wouldn't argue that Jessica should be restricted to songs about puppies and rainbows, there is something unnerving and creepy about this performance coming from a 16-year-old; if nothing else, it'll lock up the dirty old man vote.
For Round One: Joshua, Phillip, Jessica, Hollie.
ROUND TWO: SONGS WE WISH WE WROTE
Phillip, "Volcano" -- I feel like we're finally starting to see who Phillip really is as a singer behind all those layers of shtick he hides behind. This is really nice. I appreciate the fact that he's not oversinging, and is willing to trust the song to stand on its own without having to work so hard to sell it. I still don't think he's a particularly interesting singer, but I can at least begin to understand what the judges might have seen in him.
Hollie, "I Can't Make You Love Me" -- How dull was that performance? So dull that I was more interested in the set (What was up with that runway of vaguely satanic yellow lights?). There was nothing there. Low notes were inaudible, and the song had the emotional life of tofu. (Which, for the record, is even more boring than potato chips.)
Joshua, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" -- When he's spitting out the words through clenched teeth ("but it wouldn't mean nothing"), I'm literally giggling at how much fun this is. I'm still curious to know what he can do outside the classic R&B groove, but when he's on, watching him work within that groove is an absolute delight. (And I like the touch of the all-female band.)
Jessica, "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going" -- Her technique is truly formidable. So is her preparation; she's listened to enough great singers that she knows how to use that technique to deliver a spectacular simulation of anger and passion and fear of abandonment. And when she learns how to make those emotions real, instead of merely lifelike, she will have people tearing their hearts out with this song, instead of just marveling at her breath control and precise timing.
For Round Two: Joshua, Jessica, Phillip, Hollie
For the night: Joshua, Jessica, Phillip, Hollie
For the season: Joshua, Jessica, Hollie, Phillip
Let's send home: Even after his best night of the season, I still think Phillip's a step behind the rest of the pack, but Hollie's blandness is likely to end her run.