'American Idol' Recap: 80s Night Is All About Song Choice

April 5th, 2012 9:56am EDT

AMERICAN IDOL: Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet Tonight the theme seemed to be song selection. Steve hammered it home. Jimmy was very concerned with it. It was on everybody’s minds. You’d think with the entire decade of the 80s to choose a song from, it’d be pretty easy to come up with the correct song.

Yet, it never seems to happen. It just never seems to happen. And when it does, it’s an exception to what should be a rule. I’m going to offer an easy primer on how to pick the right song.

It’s very simple. Listen to the track. Does the vocal stand out? Is it ever more about the rhythm, the instruments or anything like that than it is the singer? Are the vocals impressive?

As long as the vocal stands out, it’s a good song. That’s it. Pick a song for singers, not one just because you like the melody.

See? It’s pretty simple.

So who picked the right song last night? Let’s find out…

Random Thoughts Waiting for the Actual Show to Start…

My prom was in 2002. They played ‘I Had the Time of My Life’ as the last dance song. I think anybody born after 1962 had 80s music played at their prom.

All right! Duets tonight! Expect an even more half-assed recap of those than the trios. One fewer person equals one less thing to talk about.

When something happens like DeAndre’s giving Seacrest a shoulder rub when he’s trying to do the intro, don’t you think part of Seacrest is saying, “Drink it in kid. You’ll be a nobody in 2 weeks and I’ll still be one of the most

And here we go…

DeAndre Brackensick sang “I Like It” by DeBarge

Steven Said: Totally captivating. I forgot where I was

J-Lo Said: I like it. I like it a lot!

Randy Said: It was perfect. A perfect song for you.

The Verdict:

It’s hard to have high hopes for a performance when it’s introduced by Jimmy fading out and saying, “I think he’ll be in the bottom three.” It’s even harder when DeAndre starts by sitting in the audience next to a couple of petrified girls who are just waiting for Phillip Phillips.

What’s really hard though is when he just doesn’t do anything interesting with the song. He actually sang it okay, it was just so boring. So safe. So dull. I blame the song more than DeAndre. It seemed like it had a total of three notes in it and there was just nothing much for him to do. He went off on some runs here and there, but they just felt so tacked on.

This actually may have been his least messy performance vocally, but that’s only because he didn’t have much to take on.

Grade: C+

Prediction: Big time raves. Enough to survive the leadoff spot? Maybe.

Elise Testone sang “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by Foreigner

Steven Said: I’m not sure if that was the right song for you.

J-Lo Said: It wasn’t totally right every single moment.

Randy Said: You never quite hit the pitch right.

The Verdict:

She’s up against it right from the start by picking one of the worst songs ever recorded. It’s even worse because the arrangement is really weird. It feels rushed and dreary at the same time. Very elevator music. Though I guess that’s what this song is to begin with.

The opening is incredibly mundane. Like DeAndre, Elise just has nothing to do. Nowhere to let her big voice out as she just sloughs through a verse and chorus of boredom. Strangely, it never really grows from there. She just kind of stays in an empty and flat lane. I was expecting some runs, some rock licks, something. All I really got was nothing.

Grade: D+

Prediction: Bad reviews coupled with forgettable performance this early? She’s gone.

Colton and Skylar sang “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Best performance Honeycutt Nursing Home ever did see.

Did you know people cared if they were dating? I sure didn’t. Know or care.

Phillip Phillips sang “That’s All” by Genesis

Steven Said: You love being who you are and that’s making you great every time I hear you.

J-Lo Said: I felt like the beginning you weren’t in your comfort zone but you brought it home by the end.

Randy Said: I loved it. That was a great performance.

The Verdict:

Now this isn’t bad. A really interesting song choice that kind of surprised me when he first said it. Definitely not the type of song we normally see on this show, and it worked for him.

Normally, I feel like Phillip takes the teeth out of songs. He waters them down and turns them into Matchbox Twenty Records. Here he totally flipped it and injected some dirt into the English pop. It was very different and kinda cool. Of course, because it was Phillip, it was still kinda boring too.

Grade: B-

Prediction: So very very safe.

DeAndre and Hollie sang “I’m So Excited” by The Pointer Sisters

I’ll admit, as soon as I heard this wasn’t going to be “Jump (For My Love)” I hit fast forward in a fit of disgust.

Though DeAndre singing it with that hair can’t help but recall images of:

Joshua Ledet sang “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Simply Red

Steven Said: How could someone sing like you at your age?

J-Lo Said: We asked for a powerhouse performance and that’s what we got.

Randy Said: It was so mature. You were so in your zone.

The Verdict:

Here’s a perfect singer picking a perfect song for him. Real deep soul for a real deep soul singer. And he killed it. Killed it from the word go. Left it in smithereens at his feet. He dug his emotions, his voice, his stage presence right into the performance before he even stepped on stage and never lost that grip.

There were about nine “Wow!” moments in this performance and the rest was just as solid as silk. This guy looks like a soul legend up there and nobody knew who he was 10 weeks ago. Great work.

Grade: A

Prediction: He’s gotta be safe again after that.

Jessica Sanchez sang “How Will I Know?” by Whitney Houston

Steven Said: I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing where I can judge you. Your voice is just so fantastic.

J-Lo Said: Your vocals just make everything go away for me.

Randy Said: I can’t believe the maturity in you. She’s gotta have it!

The Verdict:

It’s weird for there to be a contestant who you get frustrated with when they DON’T choose Whitney, but Jessica is that contestant. She just has to pick songs from her, right? She’s got too big a voice to limit herself with anybody else as we saw on the Gloria Estefan debacle.

This is a much better way for her to get away from the ballads. Here she’s taking on a song that’s vocally challenging enough for her to be able to show off her chops while upbeat and fun enough that she’s able to show off a different side.

Again, though, this side just isn’t as good at the ballads. She shows a maturity and connection not those ballads that really sets her apart. Here, she’s just a really good singer out of her element. It was fun, but there’s still something a bit off. I dug it though.

And hey, David Cook’s creepy uncle on the guitar! Can’t say no to that.

Grade: B

Prediction: Super super safe.

Phillip and Elise sang “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks

According to me, this is the second-most underrated duet of all time.

After hearing what happens when it’s in the hands of lesser singers, I’m starting to think it should be first.

Hollie Cavanagh sang “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” by Irene Cara

Steven Said: Your pitch was all over the place.

J-Lo Said: You have to let it go.

Randy Said: Your voice is amazing. If you stop thinking the bad things won’t happen to you.

The Verdict:

I’m really starting to veer into the camp of Hollie’s being a technical marvel more than she is an actual singer. Here that’s very apparent. Yes, her voice sounds great. Yes, she grabs all the notes. There’s nothing wrong with her performance, and that’ really where the problem is.

She just doesn’t seem to be able to lose herself in a song. You can see and hear her thinking her way through the performance. Like she’s looking at the sheet music and trying to hit it perfect rather than just connecting with the song and rocking it out.

Again, her voice is great. There’s nothing wrong here. It just felt a bit distant and forced.

Grade: C+

Prediction: Bottom three last week. I think she’s there again this week.

Jessica and Joshua sang “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” by George Michael and Aretha Franklin

How good is Joshua? He just absolutely blew Jessica off the stage here without even trying.

Colton Dixon sang “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper

Steven Said: You could do a record right now.

J-Lo Said: I felt so many different things as I was watching that. It was amazing.

Randy Said: You’re so current. I love watching you to see what you’re gonna do.

The Verdict:

I love the arrangement. Totally dig the arrangement. Taking a great song and making it your own is tough, but Colton definitely does that here when he turns this into an Emo Anthem that could have been originated by Panic! At the Disco and nobody would think anything of it. That’s an accomplishment.

Still tough to get over the fact, though, that Colton really can’t sing that well. He’s a poor man’s Jared Leto when it comes to the vocals and has a stage presence similar to his character in ‘Panic Room’.

I like what he does with the music here. I just don’t know about him.

UH-OH. CAVEAT: He admits to stealing the arrangement. I would have given him a “B”, but down goes a letter grade. Well, part of one.

Grade: C+

Prediction: He’ll be around awhile.

Skylar Laine sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler

Steven Said: That’s the best song you coulda picked for your voice and the end of the night.

J-Lo Said: You said to America: “Do not count me out.”

Randy Said: Wow. Wow. Be all you can be.

The Verdict:

Holy wow! I Here I thought Skylar was just a one-type-of-performance wonder. That we already saw all she had. It was going to be honky tonk bar girl every night and nothing more.

Tonight she showed that isn’t true. She takes a pop ballad, country fries it, and makes it work. Even more, she showed a side of herself that was completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. I didn’t know she had this type of performance in her. But she did. Almost.

Yes, it wasn’t perfect. She’s no Carrie Underwood for sure. Some pitch issues. Some inability to really let her voice soar, but for the most part she acquitted herself very well here.

Grade: B

Prediction: Super super safe.

Final Thoughts:

So who picked the right song? Actually, a lot of them. Surprising after a slow start to the song selection to see a lot of interesting and correct choices come down the line. That made for a pretty solid night overall. Not the best night ever, but certainly one to remember.

Also one very easy to predict. It’s either going to be Hollie or Elise. I’m going to go with Hollie because she bottom-threed last week and got eviscerated in a memorable fashion, which may be enough to make her get a few fewer votes than the non-memorable Elise.

The third member? Doesn’t really matter, but I’ll go with the leadoff man: DeAndre. He’s safe though.

What did everybody else think of last night’s show?

Follow me on Twitter: @Paynehumor

Related: American Idol, Colton Dixon, DeAndre Brackensick, Elise Testone, Hollie Cavanagh, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Sanchez, Jimmy Iovine, Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Skylar Laine, Steven Tyler, Starpulse Exclusives, Recaps, Television, Reality

© 2012

Photo Credits: Michael Becker / FOX

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