“American Idol” Birth Year Week: When A Man Loves a-Wailin’!

New game: Every week, let’s assign ourselves the task of choosing songs we’d sing if we were on American Idol. This is good practice for 1) when we’re all contestants on American Idol, and 2) nothing.

For last week’s show, the “Stevie Wonder/Whitney Houston” rally where the gents chose Stevie tracks and the girls chose Whitney tracks, I’d have first convinced the producers that I’m transgendered and therefore eligible to choose from the Whitney songlist. Then I’d pick Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” because I’d go crazy during the bridge and caw all sorts of “…If he loves ME ME MOI, If he loves ME ME MOI NOT-a-not-a-notta-OHHHHHHH!!!-How-Baby-Bobbi-KristinaThe-Preacher’s-Wife-HOW-HOW-HOW-WILL-I-KNOWWWWW” and Arista Headquarters would crack in half. Win!

For this week’s fabulous “Year You Were Born” theme, my birth year is 1986. My head says to go with Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” or Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” but I’m going with my heart — that’s right, Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” for a second week in a row. I’d be all, “IF HE LOVES ME. IF HE LOVES ME NOT. OH! OH AFTERELTON! OH VERBAL VOGUEING! HOW! HOW-sweet-bippy-bippy-homo-homo-dance-nation-WILL I KNOWWWWW.” Arista Headquarters crumbles like a powdered sugar donut, and Jennifer Lopez calls me “present, but confusing.”

But the real Idol contestants aren’t as sexual and cool as I. Let’s see how they did with songs from the year of their birthdeees, shall we? And you can forget about Jermaine Jones. They fired his ass because he’s a wanted criminal. Oops. Onward! To this week’s rankings!

11. Shannon Magrane, “One Sweet Day”

Here is the sole reason Shannon Magrane needs to go home this week: Jimmy “Agitated Turtle Grandmother” Iovine presented her with the brilliant option of performing No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” a song that keys right into Shannon’s Varsity Volleyball/junior prom/student council angst, and she balked and chose “One Sweet Day,” the most forgettable (and mysteriously biggest) hit in Mariah Carey’s catalog. Shannon would rather be old-fashioned and dreary than powerful and cool, and that’s an unacceptable mission statement — particularly when her renditions are so uninspired and, God, execrably unimportant. Remember when Simon Cowell eviscerated season 10 underdog Didi Benami for choosing “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” because it was too staid, even though she clearly believed the words and found personal meaning in it? Why does Shannon get a pass for selecting a dated ballad, interpreting 0% of it, and singing politely? Hope Shannon brought her kneepads, because I’m spiking this inconsequential performance to the back court. I win the scholarship, honey.

10. Heejun Han “Right Here Waiting”

Richard Marx: A study in irrelevance! But Heejun is a wisecracking jokester, and we love it when he sings the worst of ’80s melodrama, right? Well, truth be told, it could’ve been worse. Heejun’s voice is a match for Richard Marx’s lonesome bleat, and when you think about how hipster preteens today care about Journey and Phil Collins, you wonder if Heejun’s song choice is actually a bit savvy. Hmm. Problem is, Heejun remains too woozy, too spacy, and too surly onstage — and off, with his constant non-sequiturs. I just don’t believe him as a performer. I find his childlike onstage demeanor more pitiful than touching, and while that kind of appeal can win you a season of The Glee Project, it’s not the stuff of Billboard cred. This means I agree with the Agitated Turtle Grandmother. I’m sorry, for real.

9. Deandre Brackensick, “Endless Love”

My future husband Deandre is killing me. First, he approached the stage in a hokey white suit, a full swath of butterscotch hair trailing behind him. He looked a nervous lion at a murder mystery party. Bert Lahr in the house. Sad rowr. Next, he choose a lame-ass Luther Vandross/Mariah Carey remake of a lame-ass Lionel Richie/Diana Ross track, and that’s a gateway drug to Shannon Magrane-esque ridicule. I seriously considered Magrane-ing my own husband. In front of his friends. I can’t say Deandre added much to this busted ballad other than a couple purrs and a few chirps. All I know is last week, Mickey Rourke’s grandmother Steven Tyler woke up and declared that Deandre was the new Naima Adedapo, and I’m missing that nervy voodoo now.

8. Phillip Phillips “Hard to Handle”

I should cut Phil some slack because he had kidney stones removed this week, but this is American Idol, the ferry cloud to immortality. Phil will be judged for his odious flaws just like the others, thank you very much. And those flaws are… what, exactly? There aren’t many. I just didn’t care one way or another about this performance. Didn’t like the song choice (a Black Crowes cover of an Otis Redding jam), didn’t particularly connect with him at the mic, and I found the whole thing damningly forgettable. Cute kid, though. Still has the Dave Matthews-meets-Eddie-Vedder-and-has-more-sex-than-his-lame-brother-Lee-DeWyze thing going on. Though he totally loses points for the weird microphone dry-humping.

7. Erika Van Pelt, “Heaven”

More like, “I’m finding it hard to believe… that Erika Van Pelt wanted to sing this song.” She’s too cool and real for a homecoming slow dance like this. Seriously, you know the producers offer no more than 3-5 songs each week, and “Heaven” was better than “All She Wants to Do is Dance” or “We Built This City.” I sympathize, and I even like the first half of this performance, but no one’s best week is with a Bryan Adams song.


6. Colton Haynes, “Broken Heart”

Breaking: Colton Haynes is never going to be that interesting. He’s going to coo sometimes and holler other times, but he’s going to stay the same mall-brand rocker from Nondescript Oaks, USA. He can sing, but he doesn’t seem to have the calculating mind of a true champion. He needs more gusto, more guts, and more of an edge. He’s mostly just wearing a Panic! at the Disco costume (by H&M) and feeling thin. Also: Is “Broken Heart” a song? Because I hate whatever it is. He needed to pick the obivious 1991 choices like Madonna’s “Justify My Love” or Cathy Dennis’s “Too Many Walls.” Lame mall buffoon!

5. Skylar Laine, “Love Sneakin’ Up On You”

Iovine tortured me when he read the list of 1994 jams Skylar could’ve chosen: Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” would’ve been particularly novel. But Skylar pretended that clinging to country hits was a sign of strength, not inflexibility, and she stuck with a rip-roarin’ Reba ranthem. Credit where it’s due, she sang the thang fine. It’s just that she sings so… Reba. I don’t want it. I sold Reba at a garage sale in 1997. But now that Randy Jackson and J-Lo validated Skylar’s country adherence, we’ll be stuck with her boring genre for the next two months. You know she’s a Top 5 shoo-in.

4. Hollie Cavanagh, “Power of Love”

The overdyed Brit with the otherworldly wail finally trilled into MEANING this week, killing Celine Dion’s massive ballad. I won’t say it was a particularly inventive performance, but as far as straight readings of Celine scrolls go, this one is elite. But God, can you do something to make this polite caterwauler just a little bit nervy?

3. Elise Testone, “Let’s Stay Together”

According to Elise, “Tina Turner covered ’Let’s Stay Together'” in 1983, and that’s what gives her license to perform it. Cop-out, cop-out. I know. But I have to admit, I like Elise more than any other performer in the competition. She commits to her truly original sound and perspective, and I feel like I’m listening to a conscientious adult artist whe she steps to the plate. In fact, she sounds like a much older artist — like, a Nicotine-choked Joni Mitchell (AKA Joni Mitchell now). “Let’s Stay Together” fits her uppity R&B sass, and I bopped like Rockin’ Robin from beginning to end. I’m worried that Idol voters look at Elise and think, “Yikes! She’s not 11!” and will discard her. Let’s hope she’s afforded more chances to cough up hits.

2. Jessica Sanchez, “Turn the Beat Around”

Louis Virtel fun fact: Did you know I could strangle Gloria Estefan for covering this song? “Turn the Beat Around” belongs to the fiery, late Vicki Sue Robinson, and nothing about Gloria’s bland-ass production and bus accident excuses changes that. Jessica Sanchez boldly chose to ditch ballads for a nanosecond and whirl about the Idol stage like a 50-year-old waitress at a chain cantina in Palm Springs, but I effing loved her energy. I love her vigor, her fun, her smiley all. And the glittery pants? A hilarious mockery of Jennifer Lopez’s life. Near-perfection for me.

1. Joshua Ledet, “When a Man Loves a Woman”

Now, I am a thinking organism, so I hate this song. Haaaaaaate it. Percy Sledge had to have hated it too, in all its self-lacerating grandiosity. Michael Bolton might’ve dug it. Anyway. The point is, Joshua Ledet brings command to the Idol stage, and although he sometimes looks like a nervous kindergartener jumping around and waiting for permission to use the bathroom, he’s proven that he can handle both danceable pop and stark balladry with equal fervor. I’m not sure I need him to win the competition, but he undoubtedly wins this week.