Ahoy-hoy, my fellow travelers on this epic Idol journey. We're almost there! I swear. This week, we're going to be treated to three (three!) performances from the top three as well as footage from the annual "hometown visits." Let's get to it.
First round features a judges' pick. For Joshua, Randy has chosen an Etta James song, "I'd Rather." Mr. Ledet does his thing on it, and into an old fashioned microphone no less. I like a mid-tempo ballad on him. He gets a standing ovation, of course. I thought it was a great performance, but let's give him some room to top himself. Steven says, "This is another Joshua moment." It's interesting that the judges have helped solidify his brand as a "throwback" artist. I don't feel like that was as clear early in the season.
Jessica Sanchez sings "My All" by Mariah Carey to bring out "her tenderness," according to J-Lo. Mariah is probably the last of the big divas that Jessica hasn't tackled. The performance is a bit of a mess. She seems out of her depth on this one. Plus, as is usually the case with robo-Sanchez, it's all so predictable — the mist, the big, aging ballad gown. I don't think this song will win her very many votes. The judges look concerned. J-Lo notes that she looked like she was working. I was really hoping for a female victor this year, but why did my last option have to be her? Come back, Skylar!
Steven picked "Beggin" by Madcon for Phillip Phillips, because he wants him to finally sing a melody. Phillip looks extra sexy tonight. I wish they would have kept the whole song solo acoustic. This was a good song choice for Phillip, and I liked the bridge especially. The best part: Phillip actually seemed to be enjoying himself. The crowd is going insane. J-Lo jokes about how he STILL didn't sing the melody, but it was still "great." Steven says, "I'm really hoping that you write your own songs, because you could be a new-age Boss, the next Springsteen." Yes, that is IF this handsome kid from Georgia just happens to be a lyrical giant of his generation. Steven Tyler: Taking idiocy to a new level since 2011.
For round two, the contestants pick their own song. Plus, hometown visits! We get to see video of Joshua heading back to Westlake, La., and more evidence of his fear of flying (the private jet should help). I love his dad, and his dad's mustache. "They are really acting like I'm Barack Obama, with all these cop cars," he jokes. The highlight is a visit to his dad's church, a tiny little thing on the edge of the woods. A pro location scout couldn't have done better. After a little praisin', there is a parade! And a dog in a top hat! And a woman with an eye patch! Thousands of people come out to see him, and it's nice to see. If nothing ever works out on a national stage, he'll still be a hometown hero forever. Now, on to the singing! He picked "Imagine." It's an interesting choice. He did a really nice, restrained job. I do wish the arrangement had been even more stripped down (What? I have specific tastes). I really like this guy, and he is by far the best dressed person on this show. Love the tux jacket.
Next we have Robo-Sanchez, going home to Chula Vista, a short jaunt down the highway from Idol — they put her in a helicopter to up the travel drama. Before the package we learn a little about how Jessica ended up so uninteresting: "When I was at home, I was home-schooled. I didn't have a lot of friends. Nobody really liked me." Oy. Is this sad or does it explain everything? Both. As I mentioned earlier this season, hometown visits are never as successful for urban/suburban kids, and this one is no different. We do learn that her Navy reserve father is a hunk! As her personal choice, this 16-year-old has selected "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." Cue eye-rolling and gagging. I can't even take this song seriously. Has she even seen Armageddon!? Plus, the song doesn't really work for her voice. Steven says she made it better. He is wrong.
Phillip Phillips had a dish back in Leesburg, Ga., named after him — it's chicken cheese nachos, no veggies. Amazing. As his package (the best one of the three) shows, this kid really does have an endearing personality, mostly because he kind of acknowledges the ridiculousness of this whole thing. Plus, he seems terrified. He should be. When he visits his dad at the pawn shop, an overweight woman lunges at him, all soft hands and sweat. Inside, his dad is overcome with emotion (dads overcome with emotion being one my favorite things). During the parade, Phillip breaks down into tears, and pretty much wins the whole shebang in that moment. He has picked "Disease" by Matchbox 20. Ha! Is this a deep cut? I've never heard it before, not that I'm a Matchbox 20 expert. This performance is totally meh. Very easy listening, and the complete opposite of the dreamy intensity of "Volcano" last week. J-Lo says it wasn't "wow." Goodness! Color me shocked. I mean, she's right, but they never criticize this dude. After 30 seconds of being a dick, Randy admits that he didn't really like it either.
The final round is comprised of Jimmy Iovine picks. Joshua is singing "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige. He's wearing a bling-y jacket. This arrangement, again, feels really busy and all his bouncing is oddly distracting. He does bring it home at the end — ripping off his jacket, and finally infusing the lyrics with some real verve. The crowd loved it, especially the rest of the Top 12, who are in attendance. Randy says he's a great artist. Steven adds, "I watched you and felt the last 40 years of the music business." As Richard Lawson noted over at The Atlantic Wire, there is something wonderfully odd about Joshua — both his spirituality and his unbridled energy — that makes it surprising America has embraced him. Maybe after last year's milquetoast-o-rama, we needed a little grit.
Jimmy has chosen "I'll Be There" for Jessica. This is not a very exciting choice. I like her outfit — it actually feels youthful. She sings so many songs I've heard 100 times that it's hard for me to ever get emotionally invested in a performance. Plus, she sounds like muzak. J-Lo and Steven are enthusiastic. Randy didn't love it.
Phillip is closing out the show with "We've Got Tonight" by Bob Seger. Jimmy might have managed to finally get this kid to really sing. And he's good! Sure, he reaches for those notes with his eyes closed (focus!) but it sounds wonderful. I am surprised and impressed. The performance is the perfect blend of sexy, sad and sweet. Why didn't he show this side before? Randy says Phillip is "in it to win it." J-Lo says that a lot of ladies wish he was singing to them (hand raised).
I hope Jessica gets the boot tonight, and I think it just might happen. Downside: all dude finale. Upside: all human finale.