“American Idol” paid tribute to the ’80s Wednesday night as the top eight contestants performed for America’s vote. Of course, most of the finalists weren’t born in the ’80s, so No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal were on hand to help mentor them on the era.
Judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were there to offer their critiques. Here’s what happened:
DeAndre Brackensick took on De Barge’s “I Like It,” and Gwen encouraged him to own the song onstage. DeAndre started the performance sitting in the audience. Once he made it to the stage, DeAndre really put some emotion in his vocal performance. Jennifer liked it a lot and felt DeAndre looked really comfortable onstage. Steven said it was so captivating he forgot where he was, and Randy said it was one of DeAndre’s best performances to date.
Elise Testone chose Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” which gave Tony and Gwen goosebumps in rehearsals. It wasn’t on par with her spot-on Led Zeppelin performance last week. Elise’s voice just didn’t sound that great belting the big notes. Steven didn’t think it was the right song for her, but he loves her voice. Jennifer complimented Elise’s look and thought she sounded beautiful. Randy said Elise was underneath the correct pitch throughout the song and said, “It was out of pitch everywhere for me.”
Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine teamed up for the night’s first duet performance — Dolly Parton and Kenny Roger’s ’80s classic “Islands in the Stream.” Even though Colton sang into the camera with a brooding look, the performance was still good, cheesy fun. Randy said he enjoyed the performance, and Jennifer said it was perfect for Skylar. Backstage, Skylar denied any rumors that she and Colton are dating.
Phillip Phillips had some trouble with Genesis’s “That’s All” in rehearsal, but Tony and Gwen gave him some good pointers on how to make it work. His brother-in-law Ben joined him onstage playing guitar this week, and Phillip delivered one of his most nuanced vocal performances so far this season. Steven praised Phillip’s individuality, but Jennifer felt Phillip didn’t hit his stride until the end. Randy loved the song choice and called it another great performance.
Hollie Cavanagh and DeAndre teamed up for a duet on The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited.” Steven loved that Hollie let go a little bit, and Jennifer thought they sounded great together. Randy said it was “very nice.”
Joshua Ledet sang Simply Red’s cover of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” with a 10-member vocal group backing him up. The soul song was a good fit for Joshua, who seemed much more in control of his performance this week. The judges gave him a standing ovation. Jennifer called it a powerhouse performance and loved how comfortable Joshua was onstage. Steven said it was a perfect, beautiful song, and Randy called the performance very mature.
Jessica Sanchez made a big impression singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” a few weeks back, and she dipped back into Whitney’s catalog this week to sing “How Will I Know.” Gwen said Jessica was “shockingly good” in rehearsals. Jessica revealed that she calls her onstage alter ego “B.B. Chez,” and she wanted to show that fun side of herself this week. Jessica dressed liked she was ready for a good time, wearing a denim jacket, high heels and tight black pants. Of course, she hit every note with ease too. Jennifer said she can’t believe Jessica can make those kind of sounds come out of her little body, and Steven said everything she does is beautiful. Randy was floored by Jessica’s maturity onstage since she’s just 16 years old.
Phillip and Elise returned to the stage for a duet on Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” a very appropriate song for these two contestants. Randy said it sounded amazing, and Jennifer wanted more of it. Steven liked the way Phillip approached the rhythm of the song.
Hollie sang Irene Cara’s “Flashdance … What a Feeling” from the 1983 film “Flashdance” for her solo performance. Gwen told her to put some edge into it, and Tony advised her to prepare a lot and then just have fun with it onstage. Hollie worked the stage more than ever for this performance. Steven thought it started out slowly and said her pitch was all over the place. Jennifer didn’t think Hollie really let go for the performance and told her she just had to feel it for future performances. Randy said Hollie needed to stop over thinking her performances.
Jessica and Joshua returned to sing George Michael and Aretha Franklin’s 1987 gem “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” The judges gave them another standing ovation, and Randy called them two of the best singers to ever hit “American Idol”. Jennifer called it a “dream pairing,” and suggested the two could be in the final. Steven said their performance defied judging.
Colton came back for his solo performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and freaked out when Gwen sang harmony with him in rehearsals. Colton added a rock edge to the song, making it sound a little like Green Day. He also unveiled his new blonde hair color Wednesday night. Steven said he nailed it, and Jennifer said Colton was really in synch with the band. Randy said he really made the song his own.
Skylar Laine was torn between Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″ and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and everyone in the mentor session flipped over “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The performance started off classy, and Skylar really took the song to a new level at the end. The judges gave her a standing ovation, and Jennifer had tears in her eyes. Randy said it was her best performance to date, and Jennifer said this proved that Skylar could sing with the best of this season’s contestants. Steven thought it was the best song Skylar could have chosen to close out the night. He said she was at the beginning of a great career.
Former “Idol” contestant Kellie Pickler returns to the show Thursday night to sing “Where’s Tammy Wynette.” The Wanted also performs. “American Idol” airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on Fox.