There are only six contestants left going into Sunday (May 4) night’s episode of American Idol, which means next week is the semi-final. And this being the more compressed version of the series, that means we have Woodstock night with a shoehorned-in second round of Showstoppers.
Two unrelated themes, but hey -- that’s what happens when the January-to-May Idol of Fox’s yesteryear gets sliced down into ABC’s leaner March-to-May version.
Seated between fellow judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, Katy Perry is looking the finest she has all season with her chin-length blonde hair and sparkly, rainbow-striped top. Here’s what all three have to deal with tonight:
Madison VanDenburg, “Piece Of My Heart”
Madison in a jumpsuit, playing electric guitar and singing Janis Joplin I can hang with. She does a fine job with Big Brother & The Holding Company’s 1968 rendition of “Piece Of My Heart,” thus reminding the universe why she’s standing there in the Top 6. Katy tells the 17 year old that she’s not just “a stereotypical pop star,” and adds, “I don’t want you to be second. I want you to win this thing.” Well, dang.
Laine Hardy, “I Don’t Need No Doctor”
Whoever is styling this kid deserves an A+. That blue-and-gold suit jacket is pure class, more so than any of Laine’s other ensembles from this season. Laine takes on Joe Cocker’s rendition of much-covered blues classic “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” but honestly it’s his wardrobe choice that steals the show. “Your jacket game is strong,” Luke declares, with Lionel adding that Laine now has an identity. Katy tells him that he’s “figured this chess game out,” but challenges him to try something that scares himself, to really push him into the stardom category. Fingers crossed Laine does Ace of Base next week.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
Jeremiah takes Idol to church by tickling the ivories while crooning Joan Baez’s Woodstock version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in his high tenor. Does it hurt that he’s also draped in a long red coat with what looks like winged black horses sewn on it? Not in the least. Also, Jeremiah’s boyfriend has returned from wherever he’s been and cheers his guy on from the audience. Lionel rightly states, “You bring the bling and the swing, my friend!”
Laci Kaye Booth, “To Love Somebody”
Ah, I love this Bee Gees song. Laci goes with Janis Joplin’s take “To Love Somebody” for Woodstock night, and it’s okay enough. At this stage, I’m just not a huge cheerleader for her. That said, the wardrobe department is on fire this week. Nice red fringe, girl.
Alejandro Aranda, “White Rabbit”
During Alejandro’s electro-rock reworking of Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic ’60s staple “White Rabbit,” my mom legit texts me, “He is totally cool!! Watching at Grandma’s.” It’s kind of trippy, because she probably sat in that same living room with my grandmother fiftysomething years ago watching Jefferson Airplane perform the song on TV. Anyway, Alejandro rocks it. Lionel’s encourages him to hold on and make love to his mic stand. Cover your ears, Gran!
Wade Cota, “With A Little Help From My Friends”
It’s the Wonder Years theme song! (By way of Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper hit, of course.) Kids, this is the first week where Wade Cota’s growl seems perfectly suited for his song selection. It only took two months! Lionel not-so-subtly boasts that he was was in the front row at Woodstock, and goes as far as saying Wade has “more movement than Joe Cocker.” Luke adds that Wade “spiritually moved the whole room.”
Madison VanDenburg, “I Surrender”
And that’s the end of the Woodstock jams. On with the Showstoppers, like this ballad from Celine Dion’s album A New Day Has Come, released in 2002, the year Idol’s first season aired. Sigh. Grammy and Billboard Music Award winner Lauren Daigle is on hand to guide the gang through the second half of the night. Someone should have steered Madison away from Celine Dion, because that’s quite a mountain to tackle, especially for a 17 year old. She gives it her best shot, though, and the judges go easy on her, with Luke pointing out that she finally gave them a “cry” in her vocals.
Alejandro Aranda, “Poison”
Choosing your own composition for the Showstoppers round is ballsy, but with only two episodes left, Alejandro’s earned the right. He’s back to wowing all within earshot with his acoustic guitar skills while singing original tune “Poison.” Lauren calls Alejandro’s songwriting “stunning,” and the multi-talented dishwasher gets a standing O from all three judges. Katy says, “First of all, that was the best you have ever sang on this show. Second of all, how wonderfully interesting will it be when you change American Idol by winning American Idol?” Between this and the previous comments about Madison winning, we’re getting mixed messages, Katy!
Laci Kaye Booth, “Open Arms”
Confession time: With the exception of “Don’t Stop Believin,” I can’t stand Journey. I know, children. I know. But additionally, can we also get rid of Laci? The answer comes when she goes with “Open Arms” as her Showstoppers choice: Yes, toss her out. Oh, just kidding. She’s a sweet kid. But, seriously -- NEXT!
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, “Somewhere”
Lauren gives Jeremiah the advice to sing this West Side Story showtune a cappella during rehearsals and focus on filling every single note with his emotions. Truthfully, it’s a bit of a snoozy song choice, but Jeremiah saves it in the end by hitting one of his trademark high notes. Lionel says he killed it tonight, but I can’t help feeling all of these kiddos really should already be stepping up their game to compete with the dynamo that is Alejandro.
Wade Cota, “Through The Valley”
Wade admits to Lauren that he’s chill during rehearsals but always gets nervous when he hits the stage. She tells him to give himself “the freedom to fail.” Wise words, considering award collector Lauren herself once auditioned for American Idol three seasons in a row, beginning in 2010, and never made it past the Top 24. AND LOOK AT HER NOW, FOLKS. Wade does his raspy Wade schtick with Shawn James’ “Through the Valley,” and Katy tells him he finally started believing in himself.
Laine Hardy, “Johnny B. Goode”
Laine doing Chuck Berry was inevitable. I’m totally with the judges; at this stage, it just feels like Laine is dropping by each week to gift everyone with a special performance, rather than operating as an actual contestant. I’m picturing him with a manager, agent, publicist, stylist, trainer, chef and personal assistant all orbiting around him behind the scenes. Sorry, you other five. Laine gives a few Elvis hip-thrusts during his time on stage tonight, which causes an exasperated Katy to ask, “Who knew you had that in your lower body?”
ELIMINATED: Alas, viewers’ votes ensure that Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon and Laci Kaye Booth are left in the Bottom 2. But, wait -- Ryan Seacrest reminds the judges that this is the final week they can use their save. And that they do. Lionel, Katy and Luke ultimately push Laci through, but even she seems astonished that she got the stay of execution over Jeremiah. Oh, well. At least we got to hear “Almost Heaven” twice this season.
There are only two episodes left, and there can only be one winner. Roll on to next Sunday’s semi-final!