The Top 5 finalists hit the "American Idol" stage Wednesday evening in Hollywood, hoping to get through the night's performances with enough support to see them through to the Top 4. Although they undoubtedly have their fan bases that they can depend on for multiple votes, one has to wonder which contestant gets the extra votes of those viewing voters that chose a champion now eliminated, which finalist benefits most from their colleagues getting removed from the show. With such a talented and diverse bunch of singers for Season 11, the choices might be more difficult for those who continue to vote once their favorite is gone. And Wednesday night's performance show most likely didn't help that much.
Yes, it was that good. And being so, it was a judges praisefest...
The Top 5 were charged with singing two songs. In Round 1, the finalists would sing a song from the 1960s. For Round 2, they would render a version of a British pop tune. Although the performances weren't all great, they were all good, which puts pressure on the frontrunners if the voters at home picked a favorite for the night to vote for or decided to split their votes for multiple singers.
Hollie Cavanagh -- The 18-year-old Liverpudlian kicked off the night with Ike and Tina Turner's classic "River Deep -- Mountain High." A fair performance and she impressed the judges, which she would do again with her second cover, Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love." She showed her technical ability to sing with the worldwide hit and judge Randy Jackson told her she was two for two on the night.
Phillip Phillips -- The Georgia pawn shop worker-turned-heartthrob took his first tune, The Box Tops' "The Letter," and "Phillipsed" it, much like he did with Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and Billy Joel's "Movin' Out," making it nearly unrecognizable from the original, yet making it still worth listening to. The judges gave him kudos for his creativity (except Judge Jennifer Lopez, who loved it but said she was unfamiliar with the song, which is difficult to believe), then did the same for having the good sense not to get too creative with the classic music and lyrical delivery of his second performance, The Zombies "Time Of The Season." And if he wasn't being compared to Dave Matthews before that performance, there's no escaping it now.
Skylar Laine -- Third up was the 18-year-old Mississippi girl that hits the "Idol" stage like a runaway freight train. Her energetic performance of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" left her nearly breathless. Her verve was infectious and duly noted by the judges. But the teen seemed to slip a bit on her second performance, covering Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me." Her delivery didn't seem to carry conviction and her tone was hollow, but the judges didn't seem to notice, heaping more praise on the country girl.
Jessica Sanchez -- The youngest finalist, and by all indications the singer with the greatest range, also performed an Ike and Tina Turner classic, "Proud Mary." Although she did a passable job of gutsy growling and prancing on the stage, rocking performances are not her forte just yet (perhaps its her youth and seeming awkwardness). Judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez love the change-up to the power ballads but Jackson, though he found it a good performance, couldn't help but find it lacking in comparison to Tina Turner (which Lopez scolded was an unfair comparison, and rightly so, even if it was spot on). But Sanchez went back to her strength for her Brit Pop song, Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," proving again that she has the strongest, clearest, and most versatile vocal ability in the contest. Tyler told her she was going to "be number one" and Jackson said she was at the "top of the leaderboard."
Joshua Ledet -- The man with a dozen standing ovations got the "pimp spot," the preferred last position, on the show and started off with The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," a good performance which got good reviews from the judges. But Ledet pulled down the Baker's dozen in standing ovations from the judges with the night's final performance, The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." Ledet's soulful interpretation not only brought the judges to their feet yet again but also got Jackson to say that he was one of the two best singers to ever appear on "American Idol." Judge Lopez said he just might be one of the best singers to come along in the past 50 years.
Along with the solo performances, there were two other numbers offered. Phillips and Ledet performed The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." For two guys to have such different singing styles, they pulled it off, especially at the end when Phillips maintained the original line as Ledet did a little ad lib soul-screaming. The three girls performed Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." They did a so-so performance (that the judges praised anyway), but the differences in the vocal sounds and styles couldn't have been more starkly contrasted (as opposed to Phillips and Ledet, who did a good job of harmonizing). The song highlighted Laine's country twang (distracting in this song), Sanchez's power (and probably the reason why she may never sound great singing uptempo pop songs other than her own), and Cavanagh's technique (perhaps the only one of the three that sounded comfortable singing the song).
The Top 5 show may have been the most entertaining of the season. Besides the good and great performances by the finalists, mentor Jimmy Iovine was aided by long-time friend, professional partner, musical godson, and Bruce Springsteen's right-hand man and guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt. He and Iovine proved quite the comedic duo going back and forth while listening to and suggesting improvements to the finalists' chosen songs. The verbal to-and-fro often led to the contestants openly laughing at the wordplay. At one point, when Iovine was suggesting Phillips alter part of his cover of "The Letter," Van Zandt said he should leave it like he had it, causing a minor stand-off that ended with Van Zandt half turning to Iovine and sayin, "Do you watch the show?"
Even host Ryan Seacrest got in on the comedic mood. After Jessica Sanchez' second performance, he noticed she was far shorter than he and said he almost didn't recognize her, so he went and got her high heels from the edge of the stage and helped her put them on. Judge Jackson asked as he put them on the floor if he was going to put them on. Without missing a beat, Seacrest quipped, "No, that's what everybody wants."
With 14 more live performances behind them, the Top 5 finalists were left in the hands of the "American Idol" voters. Although it isn't looking too good for Hollie Cavanagh with regard to the power rankings and even the oddsmakers at Bovada have her at 40/1 odds to win (a really long shot, considering that the next individual with long odds to win is Skylar Laine -- but at a respectable 7/1 odds), she did a great job Wednesday evening and just might hang around for another week. Laine just might beat her to the exit since both her performances were simply alright.
And it is looking more and more as if the finale will be between either Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez or Phillips and Joshua Ledet. But Sanchez is only there due to a Save from the judges and Ledet has to worry about audience backlash against perceptions of favoritism (think: all those standing ovations, far more than any other "Idol" contestant). And although Phillips seems safe enough, having never been in the Bottom Three throughout the competition, Sanchez was eliminated without ever being there. So was Colton Dixon, who left the show in the seventh spot.
In short: Not one of the Top 5 finalists are truly safe from elimination.
Find out with the rest of America who received the least amount of votes Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. EST on Fox Television. The music guests will be international hitmakers Coldplay and "American Idol" Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood, whose latest album, Blown Away, was released Tuesday, May 1.
(photo credit: Manuel Martinez Perez, Creative Commons)