Welcome back for week two of Idol on Cream: time to feel old. That's right, it's "Songs From the Year You Were Born" week, in which I realize that this show's old hags are younger than me. Meanwhile, the teenage contestants are younger than a fine whiskey. The highlight of this episode is always the baby pictures and proud parents. What can I say, I'm a wrinkly old sap.
Will.i.am is mentoring this week, and seems to be having a lot of fun making bad suggestions and fabricating words. My boyfriend Phillip Phillips is up first. Turns out he was a preemie who had a lot of health problems. His father cries. (Fathers choking back tears is argument alone for the existence of reality TV.) Turns out health problems are still happening — Phillip had kidney stone surgery last Thursday. Yet here he is, wearing the hell out of a T-shirt. He sings "Hard to Handle." The production team seems to enjoy the optics of bringing the band up to play alongside him, which makes his performances feel less karaoke. The performance is solid, but I can't help think it's odd that a nationwide singing contest led us here, to this shuffling bar singer. The judges liked it, and are impressed that he was able to perform after having surgery less than a week ago. I am impressed with his face.
Jessica "little-girl-big-voice" Sanchez is up next. Childhood fun fact: She would cry until she fainted. Man, even her parents look young. Will.i.am (which is very annoying to type) says, "I saw you on TV the other day; you were good." Yeah, she's actually on a television program called American Idol. Jessica is singing "Turn the Beat Around." Will.i.am calls her a "swagger-naut." She comes out in some amazing high-waisted sparkle pants and struts around the stage. It's kind of an inconsequential performance — and she keeps pointing to her ear on the world "hear," which is literal and stupid. "You can't stray too far from what you sing best, which is ballads," says Steven. I might agree that this song choice wasn't great, but that is horrible advice. JLo (in a fabulous, structural orange frock) is concerned about Jessica's ability to really hit on the rhythm on an uptempo song. The judges are giving real advice! We are down the rabbit hole.
OMG, we get to meet Heejun's parents. His mom dances, again. I am obsessed with her. You really can see where his goofy sensibility comes from. His dad says that while his son sings he prays that he doesn't make mistakes. Then his mom cries. This is too much parental tenderness for one person to handle. Heejun is singing "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx. During the rehearsal footage, he mentions struggling with his accent on these songs. Never one to let a quip go undelivered, he asks will.i.am for Fergie's number. (Dude, you can do better.) The performance is just OK. It's a schmaltzy song — the type of thing you would hear re-recorded in an Asian restaurant and have trouble placing. That said, I definitely judge this kid on a different scale. I just love him so. And he had never sung for people before this competition! Randy says it was pitchy and also calls him on being kinda breathy, before claiming that when Heejun was auditioning, he was "singing R&B joints." Yes, Randy, like Michael Bolton.
Next up is Elise Testone, who laid an egg last week. She's singing "Let's Stay Together." We were born in the same year, but I wear more sunscreen. Will.i.am wants her to smile. The best part of this song choice is that it offers an opening to show Obama's wonderfully charming rendition. Elise claims, "Tonight, when I take the stage, people are going to be making babies." The judges really like this performance, but I sense something desperate and aggressive about it. It just doesn't have the breezy, casual sensuality the song needs. Like Obama's version!
Next up is The Hair. He was born in 1994! Childhood fun fact: His mother provides producers with footage of him performing The Music Man, in costume, in front of the TV. This is tremendously amazing. His initial song choice is "Can You Feel the Love," which makes sense since it's about lions (hair!). Jimmy and will.i.am convince him to sing "Endless Love," some dreary ballad instead. It is not about lions. His performance opens with a really intimate tracking shot that makes me uncomfortable. The song is cheesy, but there are some pretty moments. He looks nervous at the end. JLo gives him a "Hi, Baby." That's not good. But then she says he sung it beautifully — and criticizes Jimmy for steering him wrong in terms of song choice.
Tall Drink-O-Jesus is next. Childhood fun fact: She was obsessed with the song "Thumbelina" and her MLB vet dad used to get it stuck in his head when he was taking the mound. Now that's a good story! If only God's purview extended to removing annoying songs from one's head. ("Metal on Metal" from Anvil! The Story of Anvil, he's coming for you). Jimmy suggests No Doubt's "Don't Speak" which could have been interesting. Like a dummy, she opts instead for that Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men song "One Sweet Day," the middle-school slow dance staple. (Thinking about it now, it's odd that hormonal tweens got down to a song about people dying.) The song is way too big for her, but she does get to talk about heaven, so that's a plus. JLo gives her a gold star. Blerg, it was so lame and pageant-y, and Shannon is just so darn self-satisfied. Will.i.am had suggested a breathing method to help her prepare, and she says it "helped with her diaphragm." Don't tell dad.
Here he is, that mischievous wisp Colton Dixon, and he's wearing a leather vest! He had dinner with Chris Daughtry this week. How many leather wrist bands does it take to order a spinach-artichoke dip? His parents' house in Murfreesboro looks like an HGTV set, complete with roaring fire. He has chosen "Broken Heart" by White Lion, and all the discussion centers around the fact that it's a song no one has ever heard of. Even the band didn't know it. Colton does demonstrate that you don't need to pick from the list of pre-cleared songs if you're willing to do the work — it kind of nixes everyone else's complaints limited options. (I'm looking at you, Sanchez.) The performance is fine — it's a silly hair metal power ballad about, wait for it, a broken heart. As I implied last week, I think JLo has a thing for Mr. Skinny Jeans McGee. She says "Colton is a lover," and adds, "Also, you look pretty when you sing." Steven didn't like the song. He says it didn't go anywhere. Agreed! Randy likes Colton's outfit. That is a terrible sign.
Erika Van Pelt is up to bat. Her mom looks just like her. She's doing "Heaven," the quintessential awesome/stupid pop song that will never die. Tonight, she has finally gotten the styling together with an Adele sort of look — black lace sleeves, hair pulled back. Her voice sounds good, but she just sort of strolls across the stage casually. Then she does that thing where she leans over and touches fingertips with the kids up front. I HATE THAT. It is dumb and distracting. Overall, she simultaneously looks too lax and oversings it. The judges look concerned. Steven says, "I think you're too busy all over it." I agree. It didn't build. JLo comments on the improved fashion — Erika's past stumbles must have pained her. Randy takes another shot at Jimmy Iovine's tinkering.
Now we get the big Jermaine Jones announcement, teased all night. There is a videotaped sit-down with the producers. They say that his disqualification is more about the lack of disclosure for two charges — he gave a fake name to the police for both of them. Even now, he doesn't seem contrite and tells an odd story about falling down the stairs, which is something people get arrested for all the time. I mean, this is no one-time thing: The guys has four outstanding warrants. (Yes, this is all ironic considering his "gentle giant" moniker.) They show some rehearsal footage and then give him a slow-mo drive-away montage. I don't have much to say about this except that it was a very odd tone to strike for Idol.
Skylar Laine, my gal, is up next. She says she was a "horrible child." Her parents concur! Apparently she used to bang her head on things all the time when she was cranky. This makes perfect sense. She's gonna do Bonnie Rait's "Love Sneaking Up on You." Jimmy, again, tries to tinker with the song choice. Skylar sticks to her guns, even when will.i.am suggests Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage. (Yes, this happened. Also, Coolio is having quite the week.) She does the same expert, sassy thing she normally does. I do wish the song had a little more of a narrative, but that's just nitpicking. The judges liked it, too.
Next up is Joshua Ledet. Last week he mentioned that he missed the food from his home in Louisiana, so of course a giant tub of crawfish is wheeled onto the stage before his performance. Don't get crawfish juice on your white jacket! Childhood fun fact: He is the youngest of eight kids. He's chosen "When a Man Loves a Woman." I didn't write any notes while Joshua was performing. That is a very high compliment. He brought the house down. I am starting to believe that there might be something to the comparison with Fantasia — he takes you on a journey, and his performances seem to exist outside the competition. He just gets in the zone and does his thing. Plus, he can move. My only criticism is that I think the arrangement could have started more mellow so there was more room to build. (Reading over this recap, apparently I am very invested in songs building.) JLo calls it the best thing she's ever seen on Idol. Steven Tyler says, "God came through your eyes." They are two people who enjoy hyperbole.
Holly Cavanaugh is closing the show. Her father wins the Teary Pa of the Night Award due to his Britishness. She is singing "The Power of Love" by Celine Dion. (Everyone who has ever been interested in music and taste must go read Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Carl Wilson's entry in the 33 1/3 series, immediately.) She is wearing an odd ballad dress that looks like a figure skating costume extended to the floor. My, there are a lot of sequins tonight. The performance is on 10 the whole time. Which is what Celine is all about. (Read the book!) The last note was a little wonky. She is a very good singer, but this power ballad stuff rarely thrills me.
So, tonight was a little heavy on the schmaltzy songs from days gone by, but there were some solid performances. And baby pictures! My prediction for the ax: Erika.