The top 13 from “American Idol” performed for the nation’s vote Wednesday night. The show also happened to be its 400th episode and there was a twist.
The guys sang the songs of Stevie Wonder while the girls took on songs from the late Whitney Houston. The bottom guy and the bottom girl will be revealed on Thursday’s results show, and the judges will decide which one goes home.
Jimmy Iovine and Mary J. Blige were on hand to give pointers to the contestants. As always, Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were sitting at the judges table.
Here’s what happened:
Joshua Ledet was up first singing “I Wish,” which he said was out of his comfort zone. Mary suggested they put a gospel spin on it, and Joshua was much more comfortable with it. When it came time to perform, Joshua worked the stage showing off his strong voice and confidence. Randy said Joshua wore it out and called the performance “flawless” and “unbelievable.” Jennifer really felt Joshua’s performance, and Steven said he nailed it.
Elise Testone started off singing “The Greatest Love of All,” but Jimmy wasn’t feeling it and steered her towards “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Elise didn’t really know “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” and her performance lacked the energy of Whitney’s original version. It just didn’t seem like she was really into it. Jennifer didn’t think it was Elise’s best performance due to timing issues. Steven said Elise’s distinctive voice means she can’t just sing any song, and Randy said it felt like she was fighting with the song.
Jermaine Jones sang “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” and Mary encouraged him to avoid a lot of unnecessary vocal runs. It was good advice, and Jermaine turned in a really solid performance. Steven said that song fit Jermaine like an Armani suit, and Jennifer encouraged him to connect with the song’s lyrics a little more. Randy didn’t like how Jermaine changed the melody on the chorus, and he encouraged Jermaine to just relax into the song.
Erika Van Pelt sang “I Believe in You and Me” from Whitney’s movie, “The Preacher’s Wife.” Mary and Jimmy encouraged her to stay true to herself on this one, and Erika lowered the key considerably from the original version. It didn’t have the same impact as Whitney’s version, but Erika held her own with it. Randy praised Erika’s vocal tone and loved how she got lost in the song. Jennifer got goosebumps and said Erika brought the song to life. Steven said it was “perfect.”
Colton Dixon chose to sing “Lately,” but Jimmy didn’t think it fit Colton’s rocker style. He had Colton play one of his own songs and then offered a few tweaks. As a result, Colton seemed very comfortable singing “Lately” with a rock edge. Steven said it was “outstanding” and “beautiful.” Jennifer thought Colton really showed his heart on this one. Randy thought it started shaky but ended flawlessly.
Shannon Magrane took on Whitney’s power ballad “I Have Nothing,” and Mary told her to just relax during the verses. Shannon was shaky throughout her performance, but it’s nearly impossible for a teenage girl to really inhabit this song the way Whitney did at her peak 20 years ago. Jennifer encouraged Shannon to relax and concentrate on the story of the song. Steven thought nerves got the best of her, and Randy said, “It wasn’t great tonight.”
Deandre Brackensick chose to sing “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” and Mary thought he was ready to impress with this one. Mary was right. Deandre was right at home with the reggae rhythms of the song. Steven loved Deandre’s different flavor, and Jennifer said he had swagger and soul. Randy loved that Deandre showed a different side of himself with this performance.
Skylar Laine earned high marks from Jimmy and Mary while working on her version of “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” She turned it into a country ballad and managed to really sell it on the big final chorus. Jennifer didn’t love the first part of the song, but she applauded Skylar for keeping it together and delivering the biggest moment of the night. Steven called it a “thing of beauty,” and Randy told Skyler this proved she could sing any song.
Heejun Han had Mary and Jimmy laughing when he gave them autographed photographs of himself. Heejun had the audience applauding with his powerful, dramatic performance of “All in Love Is Fair” though. Jennifer told Heejun she loved him, and Steven said he loved Heejun’s voice. Randy said, “It wasn’t perfect, but it was really good.”
Hollie Cavanagh chose “All the Man That I Need” because of the emotion in the song. Mary gave her pointers on how to properly execute the song, and Hollie followed them beautifully. She is definitely one of the strongest female singers in the competition this season. Randy said she nailed it, and Jennifer hinted Hollie might make it to the finals. Steven said, “That was really nice.”
Jeremy Rosado sang “Ribbon in the Sky” in an effort to get America’s vote since he got in the top 13 as one of the judges’ wild card picks. His vocal performance was nice, but there are better male singers in this competition. Steven said it was “velvety smooth,” and Jennifer loved his interpretation of the song. Randy said Jeremy’s performance lacked swagger and soul.
Jessica Sanchez took on Whitney’s biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You.”Her performance actually made Mary J. Blige squeal with delight in rehearsal. Jessica started the song out acapella like Whitney and proceeded to sing it masterfully. She is in no danger of going home anytime soon. All three judges gave Jessica a standing ovation. Randy said it was the best vocal of the night and called Jessica one of the best talents in the whole country. Jennifer was in tears and told Jessica, “God bless you.” Steven told Jessica, “You may be the one. You just made 40 million people cry.”
Phillip Phillips impressed Mary in rehearsals because he gets lost in the song. His performance of “Superstition” packed a lot of energy, but it’s hard to not feel like Philip is always angry with the way he yells the lyrics. He definitely has his own style though. Steven told Phillip, “There are no words for it. You just are.” Jennifer said he made it his own and killed it. Randy loved Phillip’s alt-indie spirit.
American Idol returns Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on Fox with the results and a performance from last season’s runner-up Lauren Alaina.