The American Idol Season 11 Top 6 hit the stage tonight with two numbers — one from the Queen songbook, another filed under “contestant’s choice — and I’d argue it’s the most evenly matched half-dozen vocalists in Idol history.
Yet while that means each week’s performances count more than ever in determining who stays and who goes home — the vocalist I ranked at No. 1 last week just got eliminated, for Pete’s sake! — it’s still fun to look in at who’s got momentum heading into the live show, and who’s already shopping for a lifejacket to wear for a special editing of Thursday Night Plank-Walking with Ryan Seacrest.
Check out my contestant rankings below, then take our poll and vote for your own favorite!
6. Hollie Cavanagh (Last Week No. 7) | Landed in the Bottom 2 last week despite the fact that “Rolling in the Deep” marked her best-ever performance. One of the judges’ favorite punching bags is definitely stepping up her game, but is it a case of too little, too late? Definitely needs more careful song selection if she wants a Top 5 finish.
5. Elise Testone (Last Week No. 6) | Awesome one-two punch of “Vienna” and “Whole Lotta Love” seems like a distant memory in the wake of a strained “I Want to Know What Love Is” and awkward “Let’s Get It On.” Not entirely unjustified complaints about judges’ tough critiques might have played better had her vocals been spot on in both performances last week, but “No One” was nevertheless a pretty fabulous vocal. That said, Elise seems to have fared better — artistically and with voters — when she’s leaned toward rock/soul moreso than pop/R&B. (A good harbinger for Queen week?)
4. Jessica Sanchez (Last Week No. 3) | The Judges’ Save certainly gave her some added exposure and momentum, and put her fan base on high alert. Plus she’s hit so few bum notes this season that even Randy Jackson would be able to keep count. Yet while “Fallin'” was perhaps her personal best since Top 13 night, J.Lo has a point that Jessica needs to become a more dynamic stage performer — and avoid any missteps in song selection (i.e. “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Turn the Beat Around”) — if she wants to pull a Jordin Sparks and have her “This Is My Now” moment.
3. Joshua Ledet (Last Week No. 4) | “Runaway Baby” may have landed him in the Bottom 3 two weeks back, but it proved he can handle contemporary uptempo material with style and sex appeal to spare. Hopefully, that brush with elimination didn’t scare him into spending the rest of the season solely on soulful ballads backed by Gospel choirs, as “I Believe” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” were a little samey-samey. Perhaps a stripped down, intimate performance — think Fantasia’s “Summertime,” or Bo Bice’s “In a Dream” — would solidify his position as the season heads toward hometown visits?
2. Phillip Phillips (Last Week No. 5) | Only contestant this season to never land in the Bottom 3 — not that it did Colton Dixon much good — and he’s been very consistent at delivering growly, guitar-driven twists on a variety of artists’ tunes. Would be nice to see Phillip stretch his range a little — maybe something sparse and deeply romantic, or upbeat and bursting with good vibrations — but then the question becomes: Is it smarter strategy to remain rigidly in one’s wheelhouse and play to one’s base, or does an Idol winner need to spread his wings and make certain his fan base doesn’t get bored or apathetic?
1. Skylar Laine (Last Week No. 2) | Country has become a key component of the Idol landscape, and not even prior winners Carrie Underwood or Scotty McCreery could’ve matched this Mississippi firecracker’s stage presence and/or party-startin’ skills during their respective Season 4 and Season 10 runs. Skylar needs to be extra careful about maintaining vocal control — “Heard It Through the Grapevine” was right on the edge of disaster — but she’s wisely mixed up tempo and lyrical content over the last nine weeks without ever losing her sense of authenticity.
Who is your Season 11 favorite? Vote in the poll below, then explain your picks in the comments!