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'American Idol' recap: The top 10 take on Billy Joel (Poll)

March 22, 2012 |  8:49 am

"American Idol": Click for full coverage
Judging from Wednesday night's "American Idol," on which the top 10 performed songs by Billy Joel, the "Idol" tour will feature some solid performers this year. There were a number of standout performances, as well as some clunkers, and a few that were just sort of in between. But first, some questions for Steven Tyler:

Really, Mr. Tyler, you've never heard Billy Joel's "She's Got a Way"? Aren't you the same guy Ryan Seacrest portrayed as some kind of Billy Joel expert at the top of the show? (They've shared the stage; Joel has introduced Tyler as his "old friend.") Aren't you a musician? Weren't you alive in the '80s? Have the intervening years of enthusiastically hard living obliterated a few memory cells?

And while I have your ear, Mr. Tyler, sir, did we really just hear you lecture Heejun Han on the solemnity with which one must approach the music biz? "The music business will kick your ass," you warned sternly. "Sometimes you've got to be a bit more serious." He's not allowed to run around and have fun onstage and tweak the audience? I'm sorry, but didn't you practically write the book on reckless abandon, wild antics and tweaking people, onstage and off?

FULL COVERAGE: 'American Idol'

Perhaps Tyler was just distracted by the alarming number of famous mentors these "Idol" contestants now have. There's Jimmy Iovine acting all nice to them during rehearsals and then shaking his head doubtfully about their prospects when he has the camera alone. And last week the show added fashion guru Tommy Hilfiger to insist that each contestant nail down a trademark look while an "American Idol" stylist sat passively at his elbow. (He just wants each one to look "polished" and like "a star" – is that so wrong?) And this week's guest mentor was Diddy, who lacked warmth, but whose presence did provide Iovine the opportunity to allude to the rapper's long-ago relationship with Jennifer Lopez. (Was she a nice Catholic girl in those days, Diddy? Hmmm?) Lopez got unintentional revenge by nearly calling her ex by one of his old, discarded nicknames, "Puffy."

Certainly the contestants seemed a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of advice. Poor Phillip Phillips got the worst of it. First Hilfiger sniffed, "Not to be rude, but I think you need some help" and dissed Phillips' gray shirt and perfectly appealing scruffy look. Then Diddy deprived Phillips of his guitar, tried to make him Dougie or something, and then forced him to sing to an unidentified gaggle of young women. It was pretty awful.

But then Phillips stepped out onstage and sang what may well have been a better version of "Moving Out" than Billy Joel's -– great phrasing, great expression -- and made all those mentors look ridiculous. Who cares about the color of his shirt? And why on Earth would we want to see him put down his guitar and Dougie? To suggest as much is to miss his whole earnest, honest point.

The judges clearly agreed.

"You have to be who you are," Lopez said.

"You Phillip Phillipsed it … Don't ever stop being you," said Tyler in a moment of clarity.

"You are an unbelievably talented artist … That's one of the best versions of that song ever," Randy Jackson weighed in, adding, "You know who you are … brilliant."

So, OK, Phillips shined. Who else stood out? Elise Testone, who proved she not only deserved to be there but also deserved to stick around awhile with her nimble, sultry take on "Vienna." Jessica Sanchez, who showed restraint and power – and that she could control her vibrato – with "Everybody Has a Dream." Colton Dixon, who sank happily into his sweet spot with "Piano Man," and may have locked up Scotty McCreery's old voting bloc when he said he'd been praying for God to shine through his performance.

Erika Van Pelt was a near miss for the standout crowd, and not only because she got a new (sleek, black, short) hairdo and carried it off with confidence. She also carried off "New York State of Mind" surprisingly well, despite the fact that she's not from New York and is, in fact, a Boston Red Sox fan – and that she over-pronounced "New Yawk" a bit.

The so-so included DeAndre Brackensick, who kicked off the show with an overly bouncy, yet also boring "Only the Good Die Young"; Joshua Ledet, who failed to make "She's Got a Way" memorable (though not quite as forgettable as Tyler would have it); Skylar Laine, who started off low and shaky with "Shameless," but made up for it as the song climbed and crescendoed.

Hollie Cavanagh, despite her clear, crisp tone, crashed and burned on "Honesty," missing notes and losing her way. The judges noted that she was "a little pitchy" and said she seemed to be overthinking the song, and you knew it was really bad because they praised her "styling" and said she looked beautiful –- honestly not a good sign.

And then there's Heejun Han, the one Tyler smacked down for having too much fun after getting slammed last week for having too little (and, OK, for not hitting his notes). Even Han seemed to know he was well past his "Idol" departure date, so, finally, and possibly for the very last time, he brought his self-deprecating, bone-dry offstage humor into his performance, giving a fun and funny performance of "My Life." And while Tyler thought Han was poking fun at the song, Lopez and Jackson were more sympathetic. "I loved that you brought a little fun tonight," Lopez said. Jackson told Han he was "just happy to see you have a good time."

Will the good times soon be over for Han? Will the voters punish Cavanagh? Will Brackensick soon be flipping his hair -– or Van Pelt soon be sporting her new 'do -- back home? Thursday night will tell…

What did you think of the performances on "Idol" Wednesday night?

Poll: Idol v. The Voice

Beginning Friday, three Times critics, including Amy Reiter, will rank their top five performances among "American Idol" and "The Voice" contenders each week. Readers are invited to cast their votes too and those results will appear alongside the critics. Vote for your favorite below. Polling will remain open until the next round of singing begins Monday. Readers' choice will change daily until then.  


RELATED:

Jeremy Rosado heads home

Shannon Magrane heads home, leaving 10

Jermaine Jones is out as final 11 perform

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Colton Dixon performs in front of the Judges on "American Idol" on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.

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