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'American Idol' recap: Stevie Nicks mentors top 9

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I lost count how many times the judges gave contestants standing ovations on "American Idol" on Wednesday night, on which the Idols sang music from their own idols and Stevie Nicks served as guest mentor. But Ryan Seacrest was apparently carefully ticking those standing O's off on his fingers: The judges had stood five times, he informed us shortly before the credits rolled. Now, I'm no math genius, but even I can quickly calculate that the judges were on their feet for more than half of the top nine contestants.

So, was the unbridled enthusiasm of Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler justified? Not entirely.

In the case of two contestants -– Heejun Han and DeAndre Brackensick, both of whom had had rough performances last week –- the judges' standing O's seemed  more conciliatory than celebratory. Did Lopez and Tyler really fail to hear Han's pitch problems on Donny Hathaway’s "A Song For You."? Do none of them find Brackensick's performance style the least bit cheesy?  To be fair, his take Wednesday on Eric Benet’s "Sometimes I Cry" was not the falsetto-prone singer's cheesiest moment. Could that have been what the judges were scrambling onto their tootsies to applaud?

INTERACTIVE | 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice': Who's the best?

Personally, I'd have much preferred to see the judges rise and clap for Jessica Sanchez or Hollie Cavanagh than for either of those guys. Sanchez gave yet another perfectly calibrated performance with Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams," balancing restraint and power. Everything from her voice to her dress to the red door she walked through seemed polished and tour-ready.

And Cavanagh, for her part, had a breakthrough moment, thanks to Nicks, that only Lopez, of the three judges, managed to grasp. Nicks helped Cavanagh connect with and convey the emotions in the song she'd chosen, Carrie Underwood’s "Jesus, Take the Wheel," by sharing her own personal pain -– the recent death of her mother. Cavanagh, truly moved, gave the most affecting performance she's given to date. But all Jackson seemed to note were "a couple of pitchy moments." Tyler told Cavanagh he wished she'd "sung a different song." Huh.

You could argue that Joshua Ledet earned his standing ovation, if only because he moved himself to tears, which Tyler seemed to be particularly thrilled by. But I thought his take on "Without You" (Mariah Carey/Harry Nilsson), was, while technically impressive, overwrought, redolent of last year's Jacob Lusk. I hope Ledet shrugs off the judges' standing O and pulls it back a little.

The other two standing ovations, however, were justified. Phillip Phillips again brought the passion on Jonny Lang's "Still Rainin.' " His talent had moved Nicks to pay him some seriously high compliments, positing that Mick Fleetwood would have welcomed Phillips into Fleetwood Mac with Nicks & Co. back in the day. "No doubt in my mind, because you’re that good," she said, predicting he'll soon "be very famous" and noting that Phillips is also "gorgeous." Phillips' "magic," as Nicks dubbed it, was fully on display Wednesday night. He stomped it.
 
Phillips' performance may have been my favorite of the night were it not for Elise Testone, who proved with Led Zeppelin’s "Whole Lotta Love" that she has the makings of a true rock star. She strutted, she stuttered, she smiled and she sang. If Testone is sent home this week something's really wrong with the "Idol" voting system.

And the evening's other two performers? Colton Dixon, who started off the evening with his favorite "worship song," Lifehouse's "Everything," and Skylar Laine, who sang the song of a country music star she worships, Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead," turned in performances that were, though heartfelt, not really knockouts.

So bottom three? I'm thinking Han and Brackensick (standing O's notwithstanding) and … hmmm … either Laine or Ledet or even Cavanagh.

Who do you think will go home this week?

"Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Times music and television writers, including Amy Reiter, are ranking the five best performers each week, regardless of venue. Readers are invited to cast their votes too. See who made the top five last week at latimes.com/idol-voice.

Who do you think stood out this week? Use the poll below to make your picks. Check back Thursday afternoon to see if your favorites made the cut. The poll closes Monday at noon.

 

RELATED:

Full coverage: 'American Idol' 

"The Voice": Battle rounds conclude

What's behind "American Idol's" ratings fall-off?

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: "American Idol's" Final 9: Clockwise from top left, Colton Dixon, Elise Testone, Phillip Phillips, Heejun Han, DeAndre Brackensick, Josh Ledet, Hollie Cavanaugh, Skylar Laine and Jessica Sanchez. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.

 
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