Idol's Top 8 do the 1980s: Fall from Soaring to Boring in one week

Norman Byrd's picture

The "American Idol" Top 8 finalists tackled "Songs from the 1980s" this week. Does anyone from that time remember the music being so boring?

If you were around during the 1980s, you probably don't remember the music being quite so boring as what was covered by the Top 8 finalists on Wednesday evening's "American Idol" performance show. I mean, come on, where was the rock, the metal, the hair band power ballads?

Now, after having probably the best night ever in "Idol" history with the Top 9 performances, where hardly a mistake was made on "Their Personal Idols" covers, the gang floated out what was not actually terrible music but, taken as a whole, very boring. Since only one of them, Elise Testone, was born in that decade, it might have been difficult for them to connect with the material, but still...

And Testone's version of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is" was sub-par as well.

But the 1980s were the years of Reagan and Bush I, big hair, New Wave music, leg warmers and getting physical, the rise of Metallica and heavy metal, "Miami Vice," glam (or hair) metal, MTV, the fall of the Berlin Wall (symbolically ending the Cold War), and the resurrection of Aerosmith. The angst-driven sound of the alternative rock movement was still in its infancy and known only as college rock.

Still, one could cut the Top 8 some slack -- 1980s music was the high school and college music of their parents, aunts, and uncles, so...

It started with DeAndre Brackensick performing DeBarge's "I Like It." DeBarge never rose above the light pop R&B sound, so there was little hope there would be any electricity in the performance, but Brackensick did a better than average rendition.

After her "Whole Lotta Love" performance the week before, one wondered if Elise Testone could keep up her momentum. She chose Foreigner's uplifting "I Want To Know What Love Is" and seemed to be off-key in the verses but spot-on in the choruses.

Phillip Phillips, who has wowed the judges throughout the competition, chose a song more suited to his quirkiness, Genesis' "That's All." His brother-in-law, Ben, got to sit in for the arrangement and the cover turned out to be one of the best performances of the night.

The judges were noticing a bit of yawn-time had crept into the performances and made a comment that the finalists needed to present more powerful performances. Judge Jennifer Lopez would note after the next performance, "Ask and you shall receive," and that they did.

Joshua Ledet infused some soul in "If You Don't Know Me By Now," a song originally performed by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes but repopularized by Simply Red in the 80s. He got the first of two standing ovations of the night -- and deservedly so.

Then tiny Jessica Sanchez, the show's youngest performer (16), let loose her alter-ego, "Bibi Chez," to belt out "How Will I Know?" from Whitney Houston. The girl proved she can sing anything but there seems to be something missing -- presence and style? -- when she does up-tempo numbers.

Hollie Cavanagh was sixth up. Cavanagh is another big-voiced girl and has had trouble with the judges in that they don't believe she has been connecting with the songs she sings or with the audience. Singing Irene Cara's "Flashdance... What A Feeling," she had the same problems. There was no "feeling" in her "What A Feeling."

Colton Dixon was next and if there was anyone who might have pulled off a Flock of Seagulls, Howard Jones, or even a Poison ("Something To Believe In" would have been right down his alley) or Motley Crue tune ("Home Sweet Home" on the piano?). He gave the "American Idol" audience an obscure White Lion tune ("Broken Heart") for his "Year They Were Born" offering (Top 11) and that band had its biggest success in the 1980s. Instead, he sang the much-covered "Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper's classic. In his defense, though, he did pep it up a bit with the Quietdrive version of the song.

"I completely ripped them off," Colton told host Ryan Seacrest. "Sorry, guys."

Mississippi girl Skylar Laine held down the money spot for the week and she put it to good use, performing Bette Midler's classic "Wind Beneath My Wings." She proved that although she might be missing her guns and ATV back home, she was there to win, displaying her own big voice to match Sanchez and Cavanagh. The judges responded with a standing ovation.

And yet...

Overall the music selected was pop-neutral and somewhat boring. If not for the Ledet and Laine, the show might have passed for a sleep system soundtrack. Even the duets, although well-performed, were just so-so.

It is beyond doubt that every show cannot be as diverse and well done as the Top 9 round was, but somehow the finalists seemed to miss the excitement of the 1980s. In the decade that saw the rise of bone-crunching heavy metal and the power ballad, the power -- save for a couple moments -- was missing from the songs of the 1980s the finalists performed.

That, or the 80s were actually rather bland and those that lived it and recall it just see the decade a bit differently. (Disclaimer: Writer was 17 in 1980.)

So who isn't safe among the Top 8 finalists? DeAndre Brackensick has been singled out by the power list makers and "Vote For The Worst," so there's a good chance he will make the Bottom Three. Hollie Cavanagh got no love from the judges and she was in the Bottom Three last week, so... And either Elise Testone will return to the Bottom Three (after a two week absence) or Bibi Chez will make an appearance there.

Only seven more to eliminate. The Top 8 results show airs on Thursday, April 5, at 8:00 p.m.

(photo credit: Truu, Creative Commons)

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