Last night on American Idol the Top 8 sang the ’80s. But instead of using Tang and Ocean Pacific for inspiration, the contestants got to train with Gwen Stefani and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal. And as they have all year, the singers stepped up to the challenge, giving us some of the best performances of the season. Read on to see which contestants will now and forever love the ’80s.The show started with a montage accompanied by Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” and the Drive font, and already we had goosies. So many overly dramatic/smooth songs to choose from! And we got some gems, spanning from cheesy balladry to iconic pop to legendary soundtrack cuts. Plus, the Idols were split into girl-guy pairs to perform one of four ’80s duets. And for once, those extra performances weren’t throwaways!
The question last night: could Jessica Sanchez go 2-for-2 with Whitney Houston covers? The answer: a resounding yes. She brought out her sassy alter ego Bebe Chez for Houston’s “How Will I Know,” and it was pretty much perfect. Jessica’s voice is more mature and powerful than most twice her age. Not to mention, at 16, most people’s personalities are more elastic than their underwear waistbands, yet Jessica is so self-assured that she has an alter ego.
Colton Dixon gave Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” the arena rock treatment, and nailed it in typical Colton fashion. He took an iconic song and made you forget for a minute that it wasn’t his. (Although, afterward he admitted to stealing that rock version from some other band’s cover. Tsk. A magician never gives up his secret, even when it’s plagiarism!)
DeAndre Brackensick had the unfortunate task of going first, but we didn’t forget about his rendition of DeBarge’s “I Like It.” Gwen noticed that he looks nervous when he performs and gave him a little pep talk. It resulted in one of his most fluid (and best) performances yet. The falsetto came out in full force, but he also showed great range by nailing the natural registers. Once again, he was reminiscent of Prince.
Joshua Ledet sang the Simply Red version of Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. This song was a double-edged sword for him: it gave Ledet the space for his vocal theatrics, but it also encouraged over-singing. Despite overpowering the song, he gave one of those undeniable performances. We’re not as crazy about Josh as the judges are — who gave him a standing O — because he has no restraint. When he goes all-out and pummels every melody, it can be like watching Al Pacino chew up the scenery: we know you’re good, but try some subtlety.
Skylar Laine has a voice like “ice cream” according to Gwen Stefani, so it’s only fitting that she chose a song from Beaches, a movie girls have been curling up with a sad bowl of ice cream to for over 20 years. Skylar’s country version of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” started off gracefully, almost soothing. And then — cue outdated Emeril reference — she channeled her inner game hunter and slaughtered it, bringing J.Lo to tears. This was Skylar’s best performance yet.
Phillip Phillips sang “That’s All” by Genesis, with his brother-in-law on the guitar (luckily the guy didn’t screw it up, or that would’ve made for some awkward Thanksgivings in the Phillips household). It sounded pretty weak in rehearsal, but Jimmy Iovine and company had faith in his ability to pull it off live. Unfortunately, Phil delivered a mediocre performance, sounding out of breath and strained throughout. Fortunately, an off-night for Phil is better than most other singers’ A-games.
Elise Testone followed last week‘s electrifying Zeppelin cover with the polar opposite: Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is.” Not surprisingly, her take was much rawer, and it almost had a Mary J. Blige quality to it. But if you only hear a 90-second snippet of that particular song, it’s kind of monotonous and languorous, so it just wasn’t a good fit for Elise’s force-of-nature voice.
The operatic Hollie Cavanagh took a risk performing Irene Cara’s massive proto-pop song “Flashdance…What A Feeling” (sans shower chain pull). Jimmy and Gwen encouraged her to be less technical and more emotional. So, like a tiny robot, she did as she was told, bopping around stage and working the judges’ table. But she seemed uncomfortable, and her voice missed some notes as a result. Hollie clearly has the vocal chops and the willingness to learn. And as we saw in the duet, she can be loose and playful. But she might be too young to combine all of that into a consistently poppy package.
At this stage in the competition, it would take a monumental meltdown to land in this section. Fingers crossed!
Best of the night: Honestly, since the ones in our “Good” section were outstanding, we can’t single one out. So we’ll highlight the duets. They all were loose yet commanding, and our three “So-So” singers did better here than in their individuals. Colton and Skylar showed great chemistry on Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands In The Stream,” and Hollie was convincing with DeAndre on The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited.” Elise and Phillip matched up like old jam session buddies on Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” And, somehow, the roof hadn’t been obliterated after Jessica and Joshua took on George Michael and Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
Worst of the night: Randy really took ’80s night to heart.
Tonight: The Wanted perform on the live elimination show.