How can anyone complain about an American Idol episode that packed in performances from more than 50 singers, a heaping portion of maniacal/delightful bitchery courtesy of “The Vocal Coach from Hell,” and a genuine emotional breakdown from soundbite-spewing cool kid Heejun Han? Actually, if you’ll give me a second, I’m sure I can come up with something — Season 10 Vegas survivor Hollie Cavanagh once again getting the seen-but-never-heard treatment? one of the strongest vocalists in the competition getting burned by a last-minute judges’ switcheroo? the continued existence of Randy Jackson on my TV screen? — but sometimes, you have to accept that (in a twist of a Mick Jagger lyric) you can sometimes get what you want.
In that spirit, I’m going to channel my inner Paula Abdul and keep things positive. In fact, I’ll even refrain from criticizing Randy for the remainder of this recap — especially since the Dawg is sure to give me plenty of material once Season 11′s live telecasts begin on Feb. 28 — and get right to dishing the highs and lows of the 70 survivors of Season 11 Hollywood Week as they put together group performances of music from the 1950s and early ’60, and eventually got whittled down to the Top 42.
Five Best Vocal Performances From Vegas
5) Hallie Day, “Tell Him” | We only saw a quick snippet from the contestant who one astute TVLine reader noted looks an awful lot like Kim Basinger, but that’s all it took to reconfirm Hallie’s rich, muscular tone and languid phrasing. As the Idoloonie nation begins the annual exercise of wondering whether The House That Kelly Clarkson Built will ever see another female ruler, here’s a vocalist worth adding to the shortlist of contenders.
4) Joshua Ledet, “Blue Suede Shoes” | I’m not sure how I’ll feel about Joshua if he proves incapable of ever deviating from his cranked-up-to-10 vocal style — yeah, I remember, I rather enjoyed Jacob Lusk’s “God Bless the Child” around this time last season — but the grit and power the guy brought to “Blue Suede Shoes” gave me shades of Living Color’s Corey Glover.
3) Ariel Sprague, “Rockin Robin’” | I thought Ariel displayed the most power, control, and sass from a really solid group that contained four members of the group formerly known as Hollywood Five — Jeremy Rosado, Gabi Carrubba, and David Leathers Jr., minus Eben Franckewitz. Could she be the rare Jordin Sparks or Allison Iraheta in a sea of Thia Megias, Katie Stevenses and Lisa Tuckers?
2) Phillip Phillips, “I Only Have Eyes for You” | I haven’t been overly impressed by Phillip since his rousing “Thriller” audition, but the FOH (Friend of Heejun) showed great versatility putting his gravelly instrument to tender use on the Flamingos’ gorgeous ballad. Plus, he’s already mastered the fine art of making goo-goo eyes into the camera.
1) Deandre Brackensick, Candice Glover and Jessica Sanchez, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” | I probably should rank this trio individually, but then I’d have to force myself to decide which one of ‘em I loved the most. Jessica couldn’t have been much bigger around than a mic stand, but somehow channeled the angst and pain of 1,000 soul sisters scorned. Deandre conjured up visions of a modern-day Maxwell or D’Angelo — and who wouldn’t like a little of that to knock Chris Brown off of Top 40 playlists right about now? (Uh-huh, I went there.) And Candice wins my ultimate reflexive praise: The atrociously dressed songbird made me flare my nostrils, shake my damn head, and raise a Gospel hand — all three times I watched back the performance on my DVR. By the time the trio came to the climax of this Buddy Holly number, things had devolved into a hot honeyed mess of thrown hair and hollerating — and I loved every second of it. This time next year, look for “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” on my list of the 10 Best Hollywood Week Moments Ever.
Five Singers Who Should’ve Been Cut
1) Eben Franckewitz | Awww…he’s adorable with those carefully placed lipstick prints on his cheek. Unfortunately, I thought he brought a shrillness to “The Night Has 1,000 Eyes” that acted like a bag of rocks around the necks of his fellow groupmates. To put it another way, you know something’s gone hinky when I’m shouting “silence, child!” so I can better hear Reed Grimm’s vocals. (And yes, I kind of liked Reed’s vocals. And his dancing. In other news, the lion hath laid with the lamb.)
2) Richie Law and Jermaine Jones | The judges’ loved the stylistically disparate duo’s take on “Make It Easy on Yourself,” but all I got was intermittent pitch problems from the obnoxious cowboy and a charisma vortex from the bearded soul singer. Jairon Jackson and Johnny Keyser got cut for these dudes?
3) All the “Jailhouse Rock” guys (even, sigh, Scott Dangerfield) | Maybe it was the matchy-matchy leather jackets and the ponytails, or the fact that they were all coated in a gloppy melted-cheese sauce, but I couldn’t distinguish one of these dudes from the next.
2) Courtney Williams | Unlike her ousted groupmates Jessica Phillips and Britnee Kellogg, Courtney seemed to struggle with the quick cadences of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and I thought her vocals were the weakest of the trio, to boot.
1) Caleb Johnson and Joshua Sanders | I know it’s not an easy task dragging “Hunk of Burning Love” into 2012, but the least these dudes could’ve done was left those rejected Godspell costumes back in the dressing room. Ah well, I guess every season needs its cannon fodder.
Five Singers Who Should’ve at Least Made It to the Next Solo Round
5) Jessica Phillips | Okay, so she turned out to have kind of a stank attitude in the end, but I thought her “Keep Me Hanging On” was pretty good.
4) Jairon Jackson | I didn’t particularly like the dude’s audition, but he seemed to get better and better with each passing performance, no?
3) Schyler Dixon | Granted, her Vegas performance was only so-so, but I don’t understand how Uncle Nigel passed on the opportunity for a side-by-side “one of you made it, one of you didn’t” horror show during next week’s Green Mile episode.
2) Nick Boddington | The only difference between Nick and the other members of his group was that he didn’t have as much hair. So apparently that’s now a legit excuse for sending a contestant home?
1) CANDICE FREAKIN’ GLOVER | ARE YOU PEOPLE FREAKIN’ SERIOUS? UNCLE NIGEL IS GOING TO PULL A SIMON AND GO TO HER FAMILY’S HOUSE AND TELL HER THEY MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE, RIGHT? RIGHT?
The Three Best Peggi Blue Quotes (Presented Without Context)
3) “Are you on Ritalin?”
2) “Girl, hello! There’s no crying in music!”
1) “You are on American Idol. You came here to be one. Get a grip!”
And finally, we’ve got some Vegas Week trophies and consolation prizes to hand out:
The “Hey, Show Some Respect for Your Idol Alumni!” Prize
So Idol travels all the way to Vegas and the Viva Elvis stage and doesn’t bother to mention Season 7′s Carly Smithson has a role in the show? Blasphemy!
No Bad Attitude Goes Unpunished
Nice work by the Idol editing crew to make it look like maybe cowboy Richie Law punched a girl in the face on the bus ride to Vegas
The “Has This Always Been His Profession, and I Just Never Noticed It?” Award
“Musician/Face Painter” Colton Dixon (Srsly?)
The Rachel Berry Prize for Teenage Girl Ambition Being Twisted Into a Negative
Poor Gabi Carrubba! All she wanted to do was shine and get that standing ovation she so richly deserved!
When an Imitation of Someone’s Diva Antics Is Actually More Obnoxious Than the Original Diva Antics Trophy
David Leathers Jr., mimicking his fellow group member Gabi
You Can Get Away With Sparkly Eyeshadow, Sparkly Lipstick, or a Sparkly Sports Bra — But Probably Not All Three
Most Confusing Standing Ovation
The judges going wild for Reed Grimm, Haley Johnson, Eben Franckewitz, and Elise Testone’s “The Night Has 1,000 Eyes,” when it was really just okay
Closeup That Needs to Stop Happening Immédiatement
Steven Tyler’s horrific talon-esque black-striped fingernails
That Sounded Wobblier Than I’d Expected/Hoped
Baylie Brown’s snippet of “Be My Baby”
Wait, He Actually Cares About This Thing!
Heejun Han, openly weeping with joy after cracking the Top 42 (wahh-shoo-wop)
Is That a Compliment Now?
Steven Tyler telling Chelsea Sorrell her rendition of “Be My Baby” was “over the top” like it was the best thing one could say about a vocal performance. (No wonder Jacob Lusk never learned anything on this show!)
The “You’re Supposed to Lounge Around in a Hot Tub After You’ve Made It, Not Before” Prize
Thou Shalt Not Disrespect Debra Byrd!
Richie Law complaining about Debra’s arrangement of “Make It Easy on Yourself” by huffing, “I didn’t come here to recycle music!” Someone really should’ve paired him with Peggi Blu.
Thou Shalt Not Disrespect Debra Byrd’s Coworkers
You knew Britnee, Jessica, and Courtney were headed for a takedown the minute they mentioned they didn’t bother to rehearse with the band or vocal coaches because they already had so much on-stage experience and didn’t want to waster anyone’s time. (Yes, and I’m sure Beyoncé never bothers with rehearsals or sound checks either.)
The “Stop Playing an Instrument When Your Hands Are Empty” Award
Okay, Reed Grimm, we get it: You’re JAZZY. But that doesn’t mean you havr to bring an imaginary harmonica into our lives.
Wrap Up Her Slice of Humble Pie to Go
Jessica Phillips brushing Britnee’s hand off her shoulder and hissing that Idol clearly “isn’t looking for real artists.”
She’ll Probably End Up Paying for This
Jen Hirsh saying the judges were “wrong” to cut her buddy Nick Boddington. SHHHH! Jen! J.Lo has ears everywhere!
Booked for an Upcoming Crossover Episode of The Finder
In which Geoff Stultz’s character is tasked with tracking down the sound of Hollie Cavanagh’s voice
What did you think of the Vegas rounds? Who were your favorites? Did any decisions fill you with furty? Sound off below, and for all my Idol news, views, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!