NO ROCK, NO GLORY American Idol 2012: Top 6

Something’s happened to Hollie Cavanagh. It’s great news for the girl formerly known as Tinkerbell. It’s bad news for early American Idol front-runner Jessica Sanchez.

Maybe, staving off disaster last week primed Hollie for the big-time. Maybe, the realization that voters don’t always agree with Idol judges fueled her confidence. Whatever the reason, the promise glimpsed when Hollie sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” gushed out today as she belted our Miley Cyrus’ The Climb”.

Clothes sense was the least of the change. Barely into the first chorus of the song, I blinked and sat up. Tinkerbell was not just initiating eye contact with the audience; she actually had a twinkle in her eye — as she sang “and I hold my head up high”. And she just grew stronger deeper into the song: legs now in open stance, the arms loose and expressive, the neck relaxed (which explains the greater percentage of notes hit). As Hollie belted the notes home, a teeny weeny smile peeped out the corners of her mouth.

Despite the standing ovation given by the judges – her first – Hollie’s better song wasn’t as good as Jessica’s cover of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father Again”. This was a gleaming teardrop, a distillation of every child’s longing, of every adult’s yearning. That Jessica sang it without a single shriek only adds to the song’s power. That she sang it without letting a single actual tear fall, is sheer genius. That, for once, she let us see a glimpse of how a spirit could be broken and yet persevere, is a giant step for this shy girl.

The real danger to Jessica lies outside of the vocal sphere, in Hollie’s funny little cheerleader routine and the playful deep bow. I’m going to stop wishing for Jessica to display greater spirit, greater empathy, greater conversational engagement. Let’s admit it,  it’s beyond her at this point. That doesn’t make her a bad artist. Still, it does lead to technically flawless but ultimately disappointing performances. She’s not cold in the way Pia Toscano was. You can sense her heat and fire but through a glass, very darkly.

Jessica did one great song and skidded near disaster with the other one. With an entire repertoire of Queen to choose from, she picked “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

It’s a rare song that transcends its maudlin side. This classic worked chiefly because of Freddie Mercury, who could follow bathos with raucous without missing a beat. Truth is, only Jessica’s voice saved her. And it wasn’t even that good tonight, with a strong, brassy touch and a couple of real flats.

There was nothing believable in this song. Not the pseudo tragedy of having killed a man — Jessica’s face channeling “Sisa” post-breakdown rather than a repentant delinquent. Not the part about throwing it all away, where she pouts, a kid in a tantrum, instead of a soul in the throes of terror. Not the “three graces” attempt. Sorry, but this was embarrassing, ESPECIALLY when Jessica started that awkward stomping. What was she thinking of — “I Will Survive?” Jessica’s pop, not rock. She can’t do rock to save her life.

Hollie sang two ballads. Jessica could have chosen “Love of My Life” and ended all debate about who’s got the best voice on Idol. She could have done “Don’t Stop Me Now” if really she wanted to prance around. “Rhapsody” was the first time Jessica veered close to caricature levels. She’s lucky Hollie’s “Save Me” was just as fake and amateurish – and pitchy to boot – or she’d probably see the end of Idol tomorrow. Maybe not.

Nobody could have enjoyed the sight of Elise Testone harrying the poor guitarist  in “Bold as Love.” This was even worse than “Rhapsody”.

Testone’s performance was an outrage, transforming Jimi Hendrix into a cabaret vamp, down to fluttery ring scarf. Not a single genuine blues note in this woman, not when she can’t play with the melody, not when she demands the guitar man follow her every hand gesture.

It’s all a pose. Even a retro, tie-dyed duster and a tambourine can’t salvage any authenticity out of Testone. Don’t care if JLo jived orTyler hyperventilated. Sometimess they’re blinded by the spectacle. Nothing, nothing touched the eyes of this blond bombshell. And that spells death of a song and artist.

Phillip Phillips tried to subtle with “The Stone” by his idol Dave Matthews. He sank. The problem with Phillip is, his voice isn’t that nuanced. It’s his phrasing that is. Juggling nuance on both levels is slightly beyond P2.

“Stone’s” atonal quality of is part of the reason. It’s like “Crash Into Me”, a song of haunting depth – try closing your eyes to any clip – that just doesn’t work on a big stage.

If he had to do Mathhews, Phillip should have rocked to “Breakfast at Tiffany” and have girls young and not-so squirming in their seats. Still, his fun if self-indulgent take on “Fat-Bottomed Girls” will probably keep him safe, if ceding some ranking to Joshua Ledet.

There was nothing in “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” that merited the standing ovation for Joshua. It was slick but full of affectations, not coming close to the playfulness of the original. “I gotta be cool, relaxed” is far from Joshua’s truth this night. Not bad, just a bit fake.

In contrast, there was no false note in Joshua’s cover of “Ready for Love” by India Arie. I’ve watched it thrice as of this writing, marveling at just how good this young man is when he strips a song down to its essential. None of Joshua’s previous power ballad outings come close to the power of this performance. Try listening to it without the visuals, preferably with headphones and get swept away by the effortless ebb and flow of Joshua’s vocals AND emotions.  For this song, he deserves every single second of ovation.

For real character, however, Skylar Laine is tops at this point. I don’t know which placeTylerwants her voice to get to, because “Tatoos On This Town” has genuine peaks. It also showcases Skylar’s charisma and proves she has it in spades even without stomping around like a Holy Roller Jesus preacher.

“Tatoos” is the most record-ready of tonight’s lot. Skylar also exploits the song’s narrative arc and turns in a compelling, mature portrayal of real grit under the precious of a finicky heaven.

And who would have thought that of all the Idol contestants, it would be a lil gal fromTexas, with a voice just a lil nasal, to totally clean the floor with Queen. No tricks here, no posing in “The Show Must Go On”. Just, as JLo says, a trenchant articulation of a story. Once she started the second verse – “my soul is painted like the wings of a butterfly” – I was in awe. Diva? Check, the real thing. Rock your soul? Double check. They may have reserved the O’s for Joshua — who earned only one — and Hollie, who got one only because her baseline’s been so low. But the night belonged to Skylar. This girl now, is the one to beat.

2 thoughts on “NO ROCK, NO GLORY American Idol 2012: Top 6

  1. I respect your opinion, but Elise might have lost a bit of fire in her eyes last night due to constant critical and contradictory advice from the judges. I think she will be a star and I will miss her. Please check out my ode to Idol. Aloha


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