Folks, tonight (May 12) is Elton John night on American Idol. It’s also Bobby Bones night. And Songs Dedicated to the Contestant’s Personal Heroes night.
But more importantly, it’s the semi-final! Of the five remaining Idols, only three will move on to next week’s finale. Is it truly this time of spring already? Where did the past two compressed months go? Can you feel the love tonight?
Judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan are joined on stage by Katy Perry, whose hairpiece signals she’s in a “Madonna’s understudy from the Blonde Ambition Tour” moment. They (and we) have 15 performances from the Top 5 to get through, so let’s just dive into this thing.
BOBBY BONES’ PICKS
Wade Cota, “You Are the Best Thing” (Ray LaMontagne)
For the first round, Idol goes with songs selected by season-long mentor Bobby Bones. Good ol’ Bobby Bones, who you kinda forget is a thing on this show until he just sort of pops up to spout out his vague wisdom each week. Anyway, he tasks Wade with a Ray LaMontagne song, which the contestant brazenly balks at. Turns out Bobby Bones knows what he’s talking about, because this winds up being a Wade Cota performance even I can get behind. Katy tells him he met the challenge.
Laci Kaye Booth, “The House That Built Me” (Miranda Lambert)
Bobby Bones did a smart thing by moving Wade’s out of his comfort zone, but goes a bit basic, if you ask me, by choosing one of Miranda Lambert’s best-known country hits for Laci. That said, this is the best Laci has sounded, like, ever. The judges all agree. Good one, Bobby Bones. Forget what I said. Well played.
Alejandro Aranda, “No Woman, No Cry” (Bob Marley & The Wailers)
Bobby gives the brilliant Alejandro the timeless gem “No Woman, No Cry” to work with, because he’s curious about how the guy will rework the song. Turns out Alejandro goes straight-up acoustic. It’s good -- really good, in fact -- if not a little John Mayer-y. Lionel says, “There are words to describe you. I like to use the word diamond. You understand what it is to be an artist in terms of taking whatever you do and making it you, personally.” Sigh. I want Lionel to tuck me in to bed every night and tell me tomorrow is going to be stardust.
Laine Hardy, “Can’t You See” (Marshall Tucker Band)
This is okay. It’s a bit in Laine’s wheelhouse, which is a safe move for him on Bobby’s part. Laine does switch things up, wardrobe-wise, however, in that he ditches the suit jacket for the first time since his non-audition earlier this season.
Madison VanDenburg, “What About Us” (P!nk)
Bobby feels Madison sometimes holds back a little, so he gives her one of P!nk’s more recent hits to work with, thinking this will draw some raw emotion out of the 17 year old. It’s not a great performance, and Madison struggles to stick the landing on a lot of the big notes. I’m guessing the judges agree, because they opt to go the vague route by saying things like “way to show up every week and keep digging in” and “it’s all happening right now!”
ELTON JOHN SONGS
Wade Cota, “Rocket Man”
In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood is in the full swing of cranking out rock and roll biopics. And so, to tie in with the upcoming release of Elton John extravaganza Rocketman in a few weeks, the contestants do a round of Sir Elt’s tunes and meet the movie’s star, Taron Egerton. For his performance, Wade dons a pair of sparkly Elton-esque sunglasses and whisper-rasps his way through “Rocket Man.” Luke loves the vocal. I do not, and my hunch is it’ll be curtains for Wade by show’s end.
Laci Kaye Booth, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”
This is flat-out terrible. Laci was saved by the judges last week over Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, and that’s a shame. Jeremiah would have chosen a way more appropriate Elton song, sat at a piano and slayed the thing. Laci gives us a bad night of karaoke and deserves the boot. NEXT.
Alejandro Aranda, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”
Along with “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” this is one of my favorite Elton ballads. Alejandro nails it on the piano, and pours gallons of emotion into his vocal performance. Luke tells him to wrap his head around his future career as “a ginormous star.” In a perfect world, he’s not wrong.
Madison VanDenburg, “Your Song”
This is an obvious choice, but it’s one that America will eat up. By the way, Madison, I’ve been belting “Your Song” out in front of a mic on $2 draft nights since 2004, so take a number, sweetie. She does okay, but Madison just isn’t holding her own next to Laine and Alejandro. I’m ready for her to be gone.
Laine Hardy, “Something About The Way You Look Tonight”
Laine going with this 1997 ballad is not something I would have called, given that he usually leans heavy on classic rock tunes and Elton certainly has his share of those. (In fact, did Laine and Laci switch brains for this round?) Still, this gives us two things: 1) Laine without a guitar for once, giving us a focused, emotional vocal performance; 2) Laine in a shiny silver jacket.
SONGS DEDICATED TO CONTESTANTS’ HEROES
Wade Cota, “Hard Luck Woman” (KISS)
Wade writes a sweet letter to his mother and stepdad, which he (and the producers) makes mom read aloud for full waterworks effect. He then tributes his folks by singing KISS chestnut “Hard Luck Woman.” The judges are all thumbs-up, with Katy telling Wade, “I am so proud of you.”
Laci Kaye Booth, “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac)
Katy dedicates “Dreams” to her grandmother, and this -- THIS! -- is the performance we’ve been waiting for. She’s decked out in full Stevie Nicks gear, from the dress to the ring of flowers around her head. It’s a perfect song choice. But is it too little, too late?
Madison VanDenburg, “To Make You Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan)
Madison’s hero is her mom, and let me tell you here and now that Madison’ mom has an iconic, teased mane of hair to be reckoned with. Mom is also well-spoken and says some sweet things about her kiddo, but I can’t get past her award-worthy hair. Anyway, Madison does Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” (by way of Adele’s rendition), and it’s all tears and awwwwwwww.
Laine Hardy, “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
Laine dedicates “Hey Jude” to his big brother Kyle, who he’s always looked up to. The video montage of them together is cute, with the okay-sure-why-not performance itself being inconsequential at this point.
Alejandro Aranda, “Blesser” (original song)
Alejandro slides yet another original tune to viewers, but he also managed to bury a lede almost this entire season: His musical mentor is Twin Shadow! It turns out the two met “a couple years ago on social media,” as you do, and Twin Shadow has been championing Alejandro ever since. “Blesser” gives us another showing of the multi-talented Californian on piano, and it’s pretty stunning. Luke, flabbergasted, states, “I am not worthy to be a judge judging you, by the way. From here on out I will just be a champion.”
ELIMINATED: No one can be shocked when Laci and Wade are given their walking papers. This leaves us with Alejandro, Laine and Madison marching into Sunday’s (May 19) finale to battle for the American Idol crown. These fingers will be text-voting for Alejandro.