Why, after 10 seasons of telling us that Whitney Houston songs are to be challenged only at mortal risk of humiliation and failure, did you make the six remaining women take her on this week. Isn’t everyone nervous enough in this first week of the finals without having that kind of mountain to climb?
And if you’re going to do that, why allow the men to skate by with Stevie Wonder. OK, he’s got some challenging songs in his catalog … but there’s so much to work with, and we’ve seen everything done so much on “Idol” and other singing shows already that there’s much more of a comfort level there. It may be harder to stand out when everyone is singing a Stevie Wonder song, but the risk of catastrophe is also much less.
Not surprisingly, we had two singers crash and burn on Wednesday, and both were women. Shannon Magrane was the worst, falling victim to nerves and looking like someone who was questioning every note as she sang. Elise Testone, who was so brilliant a week ago, wasn’t much better. Judge Randy Jackson referred to her as “boxing with the song,” an apt metaphor considering she was fighting it the whole way.
That doesn’t mean every woman struggled. The star of the night was Jessica Sanchez, who wowed the judges with “I Will Always Love You.” Jennifer Lopez gestured to the crowd asking for a standing ovation, and all the judges picked that as a highlight of the night. Of course, former “Idol” contestant Jennifer Hudson just performed that very song on the Grammy Awards and was better, but maybe the J. Lo nip slip (or not) at the Oscars erased that from everyone's memory. At any rate, Sanchez deserves credit for taking on a song that could easily have buried her and selling the performance well.
Also shining among the women were Hollie Cavanagh and Skylar Laine. Cavanagh was understated on “All the Man that I Need,” and Laine turned “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” into country rock, shrewdly turning a troublesome theme week for her into a strength. Erika Van Pelt was somewhere in between the two extremes ... she didn't hurt herself, but didn't make a strong statment either.
There was good news for the women, however. Even if Magrane or Testone are the lowest vote-getter, they may not be going home. That’s because this week it’s men vs. women, and the judges will make the decision among the last-place finisher of each gender.
It has the potential to be a very difficult call, because the men were more evenly matched. Heejun Han did his usual routine of playing for laughs, handing autographed pictures to Jimmy Iovine and guest mentor Mary J. Blige that told Iovine that he loved her, and Blige that he loved her more (and really, who doesn’t?). But to his credit, he did very well on “All in Love is Fair,” showing that he’s more than just the plucky comic relief.
Phillip Phillips closed the show strong, and Colton Dixon slowed himself down enough to make “Lately” into something resembling a rock ballad. DeAndre Brackensick got the eye-opening performance he needed after needing a wild-card entry just to make the finals.
Who does that leave in danger? Joshua Ledet should be fine, but he did open the show and that’s never a good thing when there’s about 1:50 between when you finish singing and when fans can actually vote. Jermaine James and Jeremy Rosado could both run out of chances – James did fine but also sang early, and Rosado’s ballad was thin compared to the rest of the guys.