As American Idol moved into its Final 5 round, the voting pattern over the past weeks showed that it could still be anyone’s game. Hollie Cavanagh has come into her own over the past two weeks and really hit the sweet spot last Wednesday with her cover of Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” and Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love.” Jessica Sanchez remained her usual super-talented self, covering another Tina Turner hit, “Proud Mary,” and Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”—minus the grimaces and contortions. Joshua Ledet found his groove bringing back the old Motown R&B sound with his cover of The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and nailed the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” with only about 15 minutes’ work—after never having heard the song before. (Celebrity mentor Little Steven Van Zandt was blown away.)
And, per expectations, Phillip Phillips turned in two wretched performances. Three, actually, if you count his half of a duet with Joshua on The Righeous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” in which he was unable to hit a single note in the song, despite much flexing and grimacing. (At least when Joe Cocker grimaces, he hits the notes.) Phillip took The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and rendered it basically unrecognizable, leaving the usually voluble Steven Tyler searching for words: “Bad news: I miss the melody. Good news: You get away with it.”
And that leaves poor Skylar, who was talked into covering Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” even though she completely misunderstood the song. She sang it as a good ol’ boot-slappin’ country tune when in fact it’s a bitter antiwar song. Skylar smiled and pranced around the stage as she sang it; John Fogerty growled and spat out the words on the original, befitting its theme and lyrics. (High schools really need to do a better job of teaching modern American history, particularly the ‘60s, without the leftist hippie haze.)
And then Skylar struck out a second time with Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” singing it as a sappy ballad, abetted by some clueless stage dresser who placed a lovey-dovey couple on a park bench as Skylar twang-crooned. Look at the lyrics and you’ll see that, far from a love song, it’s a paean to passive-aggressive stalking. (“Don’t you see/That now you’ve gone/And I’m left here on my own/That I have to follow you/And beg you to come home?/You don’t have to say you love me/Just be close at hand.”)
And when the votes were counted, Skylar had gone on her last roundup. Which brings us back to Steven Tyler’s words about Phillip: “You get away with it.” When he and Hollie faced the dreaded dimmed lights together, I was thinking that perhaps once and for all, Phillip would face a reckoning from the voters. One of the two had to go to the Stools of Doom, but Hollie had turned in such a sterling performance and Phillip so execrable that the only possible outcome was Phillip headed out the door. But in AI’s upside down, inside out universe, it was Hollie sent down and Phillip made safe.
Phillip is, not to put too fine a point on it, a horrible musician, a one-trick pony who is out of his depth on any song requiring a modicum of musical range. His half-octave voice and mumbled delivery works on very few songs that weren’t written by Dave Matthews. (And that’s no knock on Matthews, who has far more range and talent than Phillip.) But the judges keep letting him get away with it, giving him some sort of praise when they should be savaging him from one side of the stage to the other. And there was Randy Jackson, on Friday night talking to Jay Leno about what a “mad talent” Phillip was. Sorry, Dog, but that … um, dog won’t hunt.
Reading between the lines, also, I see Phillip as big prima donna whose act is wearing thin on his fellow contestants. Again, no appearance in the Ford music video—apparently too much of an artiste for that. And then, as host Ryan Seacrest chatted with the duo, there was Joshua’s complaining that Phillip didn’t attempt to learn the Righteous Brothers song. Joshua said it jokingly, but I sensed real frustration, which manifested itself with him giving Phillip a subtle Heisman when the latter tried to put a buddy-buddy arm around his shoulder after the song.
Is it just me, or does anyone else see it that way?