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'American Idol' recap: Jermaine Jones is out as final 11 perform

March 14, 2012 |  9:19 pm

'American Idol' Top 12: Click for full coverage

All day Wednesday, rumors were circulating that low-voiced "American Idol" contestant Jermaine Jones, who had been eliminated by the judges before the final 24 only to be brought back in a "dramatic twist," would be booted off the show for failing to divulge his criminal history. That history reportedly included lying to police about his name and an incident that was said to have involved violence. Perhaps he wasn't such a "gentle giant" after all.

Ryan Seacrest confirmed at least part of the news at the top of the show. "With the cooperation of law enforcement," he said, the producers had decided to eliminate a contestant. Seacrest didn't name names, promised more information later in the show, and then trotted out one of his favorite lines this season, "When you're doing a live show, anything can happen."

But Jones' ouster wasn't the only drama "Idol" had in store for us Wednesday night, during which the now 11 remaining contestants performed songs from the years in which they were born, covering a time span from 1983 to 1995. "Ouch," said Jennifer Lopez, speaking for us all. (Was she wearing a hairdo from the year she was born, or what?)

FULL COVERAGE: 'American Idol'

Phillip Phillips, who was up first, revealed during his pre-taped meeting/rehearsal with Jimmy Iovine and this week's guest mentor, will.i.am, that he was headed to the hospital that very night for surgery to remove kidney stones. His kidney, he said, was basically, "not functioning."

But no matter how serious that sounded, Phillips kicked off the live show with what may have been his best song yet –- one that really showed off his vocals. (He's already proved he's a solid musician.) His "Hard to Handle" (the Black Crowes had a hit with it in 1990) was so easy to listen to, I felt like I'd like to hear another song. Apart from a slightly gray pallor, you'd never know this kid had just gone under the knife. He just looked comfortable and … cool. The judges loved it too. "It just goes to prove that this is so natural for you," Lopez said. "It's like it's in every cell of your body, not to get too medical or anything."

Phillips' performance was one of the evening's highlights, as were those of Joshua Ledet and Hollie Cavanagh, the last two performers. Ledet sang "When a Man Loves a Woman" (covered by Michael Bolton circa 1992) with such soul and power and, to use one of Randy Jackson's favorite words, "swagger" (sometimes just "swag," for short) -– taking off his jacket, leaning on the mic stand and running through some crazy notes –- the judges gave him a standing ovation. Steven Tyler was nearly struck dumb. (Now, now …) "Almost no words for that," Tyler said, though he later found words that were a little peculiar, telling Ledet, "You gave it up so big, God came through your eyes, man." At least I think that's what he said.

Jackson used words like "phenomenal" and "incredible" and said Ledet blew it "out of the box" and had "a moment." Lopez, for her part, said Ledet's performance was "the best thing I've ever seen on 'American Idol.'" But Seacrest may have made Ledet happiest of all, ordering some backstage lackey to rush in a plate of crawfish (from a big vat of them he'd brought out earlier) for the Louisiana gent. Eat your heart out, Jessica Sanchez. (Or at least try a crawfish.)

Hollie Cavanagh also delivered some solid vocals, showing off the power and precision of her voice with Celine Dion's "The Power of Love" (1993). "You and Joshua -- they really saved the best for last," Lopez said, though she and the other judges noted a few niggling pitchy spots.

So those were the standouts. Everyone else did, as Jackson used to like to say, "just O … K." Some were more OK than others. Shannon Magrane surprised me (and apparently the judges) by not stinking up the joint with "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey (1995). Will.i.am had suggested she get control of her breath by singing on her back, and it seemed to work for her. Colton Dixon took a chance with a White Lion song ("Broken Heart," 1991) no one had ever heard, and emerged remarkably unscathed.

Skylar Laine stuck to her guns and did well with a middling Bonnie Raitt song (as far as Bonnie Raitt songs go), "Love Sneaking Up on You" (1994). DeAndre Brackensick, alas, did not stick to his guns and got talked into tackling "Endless Love" (1994), which turned out to be not only cheesy, but also a snoozer. Elise Testone gave President Obama a run for his money with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (remade in 1983). And Erika Van Pelt did what she could with a weirdly arranged version of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" (1985).

Sanchez, last week's biggest voice, was upstaged by her pants (never a good sign) on "Turn the Beat Around" (remade by Gloria Estafan in 1995).
 
Heejun Han was as funny as ever, asking will.i.am for Fergie's phone number, but alas, his rendition of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" (1989) was even worse than Marx's -- and far pitchier. A pretty vocal tone will only take you so far. I think Han may be in trouble this week. But at least, we learned Wednesday, he has an adorable girlfriend waiting for him when he does.

And Jermaine Jones? Well, after we were treated to an on-camera meeting in which producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick confronted him about his (alleged?) crimes, the warrants that are out for his arrest, the fact that he'd lied to them and other uncomfortable matters, Jones was sent packing without even a highlight reel and teary hugs from his co-contestants. The stony-faced producers said they had no choice. They weren't allowed to have anyone with outstanding warrants on the show, and Jones, they said, had four of them. "It's the end of the road," they told him.

Calmer than you might have expected, Jones denied that violence played a role in any of his misdeeds, and explained why he hadn't divulged them: "I was scared, nervous. I didn't want to get judged. I didn't want to get penalized for anything that happened in the past."

Aww. Before shuttling him out the door, the producers did give Jones a few compliments on his singing, though, which was either kind of them or the least they could do, depending on your perspective.

Oh well. I'm sure Jones' mother, while disappointed that his "Idol" run was cut short, will be happy to have him home.

What did you think of the "Idol" performances and Jones' surprising elimination?

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-- Amy Reiter

Photo: The "American Idol" top 12 included, clockwise from top right, Elise Testone, Heejun Han, Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine, DeAndre Brackensick, Erika Van Pelt, Jermaine Jones, Colton Dixon, Shannon Magrane, Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips. Credit: Michael Becker

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