This is what happens when you don't trap "American Idol" contestants in an antiquated song catalog.
On Wednesday's episode of "American Idol," the nine singers performed songs by their musical idols. The result? A show that left me craving more -- in a good way.
Yes, even Heejun was pretty good. (Hey, I said "good," not "great.") Did the judges go a little overboard on standing ovations? Maybe. Consider this: Deandre and Heejun got standing ovations, but Jessica Sanchez somehow didn't get the judges on their feet. Do standing ovations reflect reality? You decide.
Nonetheless, it was still a pretty strong episode. The show featured both individual performances and three musical trios. Here's how I'd rank Wednesday's performances. Share your rankings in the comments section.
1. Elise Testone, "Whole Lotta Love"
2. Phillip Phillips, "Still Rainin'"
3. Jessica Sanchez, "Sweet Dreams"
4. Colton Dixon, "Everything"
5. Joshua Ledet, "Without You"
6. Skylar Laine, "Gunpowder & Lead"
7. Hollie Cavanagh, "Jesus, Take the Wheel"
8. Heejun Han, "A Song for You"
9. Deandre Brackensick, "Sometimes I Cry"
Note: I debated spots No. 8 and 9 for quite some time. Ultimately, they're interchangeable. Bottom line: Neither of them were that amazing.
Here's a full recap of Wednesday's episode, when Stevie Nicks mentored the singers.
Colton Dixon, "Everything": Colton says this Lifehouse song is his favorite worship tune. I'm a little unsure at first, but Colton wins me over tonight. That's saying a lot...I'm usually not a Colton fan. But tonight he seems the most genuine I've seen him all season. I've previously criticized Colton for seeming too much like a poser on the "Idol" stage. This week, however, I really believe him. It's a solid, emotion-driven effort. Colton cries after his performance.
Steven: "You are a dream come true for a judge on Idol."
Jennifer: "What a way to start the show. It was so emotional."
Randy: "I believe you in every song you choose...I feel your heart and I feel your passion in everything you do...That performance was unbelievable...I think I could be looking at a contender for the title."
Skylar Laine, "Gunpowder & Lead": Wow, I'm totally surprised that Skylar chose this Miranda Lambert song. NOT. Naturally, she's totally in her element and delivers a pretty impressive performance. My only criticism? I didn't really learn anything new about Skylar this week. In one sense, that's OK. She's consistent, and I know what I'm going to get every week. But somehow, I'm craving more uniqueness. I mean, we already have a Miranda Lambert. Right?
Jennifer: "It looks like you won over the crowd right now."
Steven: "That was over the top...That was beautiful, good for you."
Randy: "I loved it...You are a powerhouse singer."
TRIO TIME! Phillip Phillips, Elise Testone and Colton Dixon sing a Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac medley. We get "Landslide," "Edge of Seventeen" and "Don't Stop." Very good overall. Elise really impresses me.
Steven: "That was most excellent...Beautiful."
Heejun Han, "A Song for You": After last week's debacle, Heejun decides to be a little more genuine this week. The result? A pretty good performance. Heejun delivers some pretty good power notes and vocally, it's one of the stronger performances he's delivered this season. That said, this performance still feels a little sleepy at times. And a broader question: I'm just not sure what kind of artist he wants to be. That's a major issue. Nonetheless, the judges give him a standing ovation.
Steven: "You turned it around...You don't even know how good you sing."
Jennifer: "When you connect and you really sing to us, you move us."
Randy: "It wasn't perfect, but what I love...Finally the Heejun that we selected came back to us tonight."
Hollie Cavanagh, "Jesus, Take the Wheel": Groan. This song is so overdone on "Idol." I started the season loving Hollie, but I really feel like she's lacked creativity and originality in recent weeks. Still, Hollie sounds fine on this song. The start seems a little shaky, but there are no major vocal flaws. And as usual, she really pulls out some good big notes toward the end. Summary judgment? A little better than average.
Randy: "I think you did a really good job with that...I don't think, once again, it was perfect."
Jennifer: "To me, that was one of your best."
Steven: "I heard the emotion, I felt it...I just wish that you had sang a different song."
Deandre Brackensick, "Sometimes I Cry": This Eric Benet tune is a good choice. Deandre delivers a ton of his signature falsetto. The whole thing has a very old-school, R&B vibe. It's the most confident we've seen Deandre in quite some time, though for some reason I still really can't connect with him when he's on stage. Given his mid-pack placement, I'm not entirely sure he's safe this week. The judges give him a standing ovation.
Steven: "That's what your voice was made to do."
Jennifer: "To me you have one of the most special voices in the competition."
Randy: "That was beautiful. That's who you are."
Jessica Sanchez, "Sweet Dreams": Jessica makes a ballad out of this fast-paced Beyonce tune. The final product is...wow. Wow. Wow. In the past, I've been divided on Jessica. Vocally, she's always "on," but I worried she was almost on auto pilot while on stage. This week seems really different. She delivers some of the vocal "grit" I wanted to see earlier in this phase of the competition. Awesome performance. My only criticism? Get those random doors off the stage!
Jennifer: "It was a really, really beautiful rendition of it."
Steven: "Great performance...I think you're a star no matter what."
Randy: "You just innately have this unbelievable talent."
TRIO TIME! Heejun Han, Joshua Ledet and Deandre Brackensick sing a Michael Jackson medley of "Lady in My Life," "Rock With You" and "P.Y.T." It's pretty good...the highlight is clearly Joshua Ledet on "P.Y.T."
Jennifer: "That was perfect...I have to say it's a good thing you're not here for So You Think You Can Dance."
Phillip Phillips, "Still Rainin'": Phillip Phillips on a Jonny Lang tune? Yes, please! I have high expectations for Phillip on this song, and he exceeds my expectations. He takes the stage with his guitar and gives us his standard dose of big energy and gritty vocals. He's consistent in his performance style, but he offers an element of risk that some of this season's younger contestants lack. Killer performance...maybe my favorite from him so far. I think the judges get up on their feet, too.
Steven: "I feel like every song you sing you own."
Randy: "I love you...I love the artist that you are."
Joshua Ledet, "Without You": Joshua sings the Mariah Carey version of this tune. Initially, I'm nervous for Joshua. The opening verses seem a little shaky. He really goes big on the chorus, though. We get his signature gospel-inspired vocals and a ton of emotion. Joshua gets especially emotional toward the end of the song. It's a very ambitious song choice, but I think Joshua does a good job with it. The judges give him a standing ovation.
Randy: "When you have a voice this big, you need to sing big songs...I think that was flawless."
Steven: "You pushed yourself so far tonight...That's beautiful."
Jennifer: "You're a phenom."
TRIO TIME! Skylar Laine, Hollie Cavanagh and Jessica Sanchez sing a Madonna medley of "Like a Prayer," "Borderline" and "Express Yourself." They seem a bit stiff at times. I wish there was a little more attitude in this performance. Blame it on youth?
Randy: "That was very fun."
Elise Testone, "Whole Lotta Love": Elise closes the show with one of the strongest performances of the season. She's in her element with this Led Zeppelin tune, dancing around the stage and rocking out. Oh yeah, her vocals sound really good, too. Seriously...I feel like I'm watching a real rock concert. If you weren't sold on Elise's star power, this performance likely changed your mind. The judges give her a standing ovation. What a night!
Steven: "You made Robert Plant proud tonight."
Jennifer: "That was some real rock star stuff."
Randy: "You did an amazing job. Congrats."