“American Idol”‘s top six contestants took on the Queen catalog with some help from the legendary British band Wednesday night. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor gave the hopefuls a few pointers on how to approach their over-the-top songs. The two rock legends then joined the top six onstage at the top of the show for a medley of Queen anthems — “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”
Even more rock royalty was spotted in the audience. Steven Van Zant from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band sat beside mentor Jimmy Iovine during the show. Judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson were on hand to offer their critiques.
Here’s what happened:
Jessica Sanchez kicked off the Queen round with a performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was quite a tall order, but Jessica definitely pulled the vocals off. She never reached rock goddess status in the stage presence department though. Steven said Freddie Mercury would have been proud to hear Jessica’s performance even though rock really isn’t her forte. Jennifer wish Jessica had given a more rock performance, but Randy loved it because Jessica really showed vocal versatility on this one. Randy encouraged Jessica to study Tina Turner to work up her rock and roll chops.
Skylar Laine delivered the dramatic Queen hit “The Show Must Go On” from 1991. It was out of her comfort zone, but Skylar managed to show off some big vocals throughout the performance. Steven said it was “over-the-top” with great energy and passion. Jennifer got goose bumps from Skylar’s performance and thought she really told the story of the song well. Randy called it “incredible,” and called it one of Skylar’s best performances to date.
Joshua Ledet gave off a ’50s R&B vibe with his soulful take on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He had the audience on their feet, and the judges gave Joshua a standing ovation at the end. Randy loved everything about the performance and compared Joshua to Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke. Jennifer admitted that Joshua’s part of the show is her favorite each week, and Steven said Joshua had a classic style that sounds like no one else.
Elise Testone went with “I Want It All” and tapped into the rock persona that got her high marks a few weeks back while performing Led Zeppelin. Steven said Elise found her stride with this one, and Jennifer said she was in her element with this song. Randy said it was unbelievable and encouraged Elise to find more songs like this going forward.
Phillip Phillips performed “Fat Bottomed Girls,” even though it’d been included in the group performance earlier. He shed his guitar for this performance, and Phillip’s delivery gave it a southern rock feel. Steven said he loved watching Phillips sing and praised the song choice. Jennifer said Phillip gave different flavors with his performances each week. She also shot down comparisons between Phillip and Dave Matthews saying, “That didn’t sound like Dave Matthews at all.” Randy liked the performance, but he wasn’t jumping up and down over it.
Hollie Cavanagh closed out the Queen round with “Save Me” from 1980. The big group of back-up singers added to the song’s gospel feel, but did she put enough emotion into it this week? Steven thought she did a really good job with the song’s melody. Jennifer felt Hollie emotionally connected with the song in the middle, but she still thought Hollie was over-thinking it. Randy thought it was a good performance, but he wished Hollie had taken more chances with her vocals.
In the second round, the contestants got to choose their own songs.
Jessica chose Luther Vandross’s “Dance with My Father” in honor of her father who is going to be deployed again with the military soon. Booted “Idol” contestant Jermaine Jones actually sang this song earlier in the season, but Jessica made it her own with this elegant performance. Jennifer said it may have been the best version of that song she’s ever heard. Steven said he’s been honored to watch Jessica evolve over the course of the competition. Randy gave Jessica props for putting more emotion into her performances too.
Skylar strapped on a guitar to sing Jason Aldean’s recent #1 country hit “Tattoos on This Town.” It was a solid performance, but the verse was too low for Skylar to show off very much. Randy praised Skylar’s big note at the end and called her “fearless.” Jennifer said Skylar had another big moment, but Steven missed the flair she’s shown in other performances.
Joshua slowed things down with India Arie’s “Ready for Love,” but it was an intense performance nonetheless. The judges gave Joshua his second standing ovation of the night too. Randy called it another unbelievable performance. Jennifer called the performance “transcendent,” and Steven said he hopes Joshua’s record label finds him a bunch of good songs for his debut album.
Elise took on Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love,” building on her earthy, rock persona. The beginning seemed a little shaky, but Elise brought it home at the end. Steven loved the Janis Joplin vibe, but he said she should have chosen a more familiar song. Jennifer said Elise slayed the song, but Randy didn’t think it was the right song for this point at the competition. He thought it sounded like Elise was boxing with the song.
Phillip has been compared to Dave Matthews all season, so he finally performed a Dave Matthews Band song this week. Phillip went with the more obscure Dave track “The Stone” with a saxophone player and a fiddle player backing him up. Steven said it was entertaining and off the wall. He didn’t like the melody, but he loved that Phillip took a chance with it. Jennifer said it was too artsy for this point in the competition, and she was scared this type of song would get Phillip voted off before the finale. Randy applauded Phillip for showing his true colors with this performance. Phillip also made Ryan’s girlfriend, actress Julianne Hough, blush backstage because she thinks he’s cute. Phillip assured Ryan he’s not trying to steal Julianne away.
Hollie closed out the show with a cover of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb,” backed up by a string section onstage. She jumped up and down at the end when the judges gave her a standing ovation. Randy said it was beautiful and a perfect song for her. Jennifer said Hollie really stepped it up this time, and Steven said she sang it like it was going out of style.
Someone is going home when “American Idol” returns Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Fox. Season 10 finalist Stefano Langone and Katy Perry are set to perform.