Something strange happened on "American Idol" this week. The top seven singers actually performed current songs.
Wednesday's theme -- songs from 2010, 2011 or 2012 -- was a nice departure from previous weeks that made "Idol" and its singers appear dated.
It was a relatively enjoyable show with two clear highlights. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet smoked the competition, while everybody else fell somewhere between "pretty good" and "just OK." Akon was this week's mentor. Here's how I'd rank Wednesday's performances:
1. Jessica Sanchez, "Stuttering"
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2. Joshua Ledet, "Runaway Baby"
3. Skylar Laine, "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You"
4. Colton Dixon, "Love the Way You Lie"
5. Elise Testone, "You and I"
6. Phillip Phillips, "Give a Little More"
7. Hollie Cavanagh, "Perfect"
Who do you think will go home this week? Here's a full recap of Wednesday's show.
Skylar Laine, "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You": Skylar plays the guitar while singing this Kellie Pickler tune. There's also fire on stage. Strange. Anyway, the singing...it's a pretty good choice for Skylar. We see standard Skylar, complete with the solid country vocals that originally made me a Skylar fan. This performance doesn't change my opinion of Skylar, aside from proving that she could be a current country radio star. My only criticism? It gets a little predictable toward the end. Very nice overall.
Randy: "You are definitely back...You could have a hit with a song like that."
Jennifer: "It sounded like it was in perfect pitch...It was a perfect way to start the show."
Steven: "The crows may crow, but the hens deliver the goods." Sigh. Oh, Steven...
Colton Dixon, "Love the Way You Lie": No, Colton is not channeling Eminem tonight. Or Rihanna. He's going for Skylar Grey's take on the tune. He plays the piano. Fog and stringed instruments are involved. If you're not feeling a little emo, you probably won't enjoy this performance. I'm a little divided on it. I'm not a total Colton hater. He has some genuine potential and I like the bigger notes he hits in this song. But he also appears a little whiny a lot of the time. I think that's especially true when he sings at the piano.
Jennifer: "You always surprise me with your approach to the notes."
Steven: "You are such a rare talent."
Randy: "It showed the sensitivity...I love where your mind and your heart goes."
DUET TIME! Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone sing "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye. I'll admit, it's a bit much to hear this the night after "Glee" covered it. It's an OK performance, though they over-sing a bit. Elise, I'm mainly talking to you.
Steven: "You guys nailed it. That was beautiful."
Jennifer: Says Elise out-sang Phillip, "but the feeling of it was great."
Randy: "Great song...Elise, definitely you were better than Phillip."
Jessica Sanchez, "Stuttering": Haven't heard this Jazmine Sullivan tune? You're not alone. It's an obscure song, but Jessica does a great job with it. She sits near a piano and delivers a performance that's heavy on emotion and big notes. She constantly impresses me. Unlike some of the big voices we've seen in the past, she has a real sense of musical artistry on stage. Very solid performance. She's definitely one of the more consistent voices of the bunch.
Randy: "You set the bar really high...You did an amazing job...You slayed the biggest fish of the night."
Jennifer: "That was really beautiful."
Steven: "Every time I hear you sing, I forget where I am...You slay it every time."
Joshua Ledet, "Runaway Baby": I'm SO happy Joshua chose this fast-paced Bruno Mars tune over a ballad. Well done. It's a fun, energetic performance that's driven by lots of Joshua's signature big notes. I always think Joshua over-sings a bit, but his power notes work in this song. Overall, it's one of my favorite performances from Joshua this season. I hope he stays away from the ballads for a little longer. I'm enjoying Joshua's fun side. The judges give him a standing ovation.
Steven: "You can sell a song like a work of art."
Jennifer: "You have so much control in your voice."
Randy: "This was an unbelievable performance again for you."
DUET TIME! Skylar Laine and Colton Dixon sing "Don't You Wanna Stay" by Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean. It's a pretty rough performance. Colton just isn't a good vocal match for the song and Skylar can't hit the song's big notes. And "Idol" producers, please stop trying to force a Skylar/Colton showmance.
Steven: "That was beautiful."
Jennifer: "Really nice job."
Randy: "I thought that was OK."
Hollie Cavanagh, "Perfect": Another slow song for Hollie? Boo to this. The Pink song isn't a traditional sappy ballad, but she could've chosen a better song. She really over-sings this and adds too many big notes and not enough emotion. This song just really isn't designed for power belting, which is why I can't connect with Hollie tonight. She sits on the stage with just a guitarist, but she still seems really disconnected from the audience. Make no mistake: Hollie can definitely sing, as illustrated by this tune's final note. Not sure if that note can keep her in the competition.
Jennifer: "I feel you fighting...You sang beautifully tonight. You should be very proud of yourself."
Steven: "It wasn't perfect tonight for me."
Randy: "It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than where you were last week."
Phillip Phillips, "Give a Little More": We see some scenes from Leesburg, Ga., in Phillip's pre-performance footage. Yay for Georgia! Even though he talks about showing us something new, this performance boils down to three things we've been seeing all season. Phillip. A guitar. Angry vocals. There aren't any major flaws, but I think Phillip is getting a little too comfortable in this competition. I appreciate how he added an edge to this tune. Still, it wasn't as memorable as some of his previous performances.
Steven: "You kind of look like a Steve McQueen/Johnny Cash kind of guy."
Jennifer: "I've seen this performance now a couple of times...It wasn't everything that I know that you can give us."
Randy: "I don't know if it was your greatest performance here."
TRIO TIME! That's right...since there's an odd number of contestants, we'll get a trio rather than a duo. Hollie Cavanagh, Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet sing "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson. Hollie and Joshua are best friends, apparently. OK, this sounds kind of bad. Too many cooks in the kitchen, if you know what I mean. But I appreciate the power notes at the end.
Jennifer: "Really amazing."
Steven: "It was beautiful."
Randy: "This is a great trio right here."
Elise Testone, "You and I": I'm not too crazy about the song choice, mainly because Haley Reinhart sang it last season. Whatever. I'll get over it. I probably won't get over Elise's outfit, though. It's this strange spidery skirt with a random clump of fabric on the side. Elise starts the tune at the piano and then gets up and rocks out. It's one of her stronger performances, though I think she's trying a bit too hard at points. Still, Elise shows personality and appears relevant, which counts for something.
Randy: "Elise is back...That was the perfect song for you."
Jennifer: "You did exactly what you wanted to do."
Steven: "It was great."