I don’t need to hear most Queen songs ever again. It’s like Journey. Boring straight people feel cool for liking Queen and Journey, and we have to tolerate their late-onset realization of Freddie Mercury’s immortality or Steve Perry’s splendor like humorless chaperones. I just choose to ignore both catalogs now. Ugh. But rules are rules: If I had to perform this week on Idol, I’d choose “Under Pressure” for my Queen song (and totally key up the “Pushing down on me!” melodrama) and Jody Watley’s “Looking For A New Love” for the Whatever song. I just want an excuse to wear a killer hoop earrings and coo “Hasta la vista, baby” to prudes like Skylar Laine. You understand.
Onto the rankings! The kids took on both a Queen song and a random song, and a few of them were startlingly good. That includes one mini-balladeer with chutzpah galore.
6. Joshua Ledet, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Ready for Love”
For some reason, I rarely hear anyone criticize Joshua’s biggest problem, which is the schmaltz. Oh, how it cancels out his “soulfulness”! And mine! It’s tolerable when he’s chirping through a fabulous dance joint like Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” but his gurgly/weepy/forced emotionality makes a yearning R&B ballad like “Ready for Love” seem meaningless and hilarious. And not in a laugh-along way, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Bible. For all of the times Hollie and Elise are told to pick songs that “suit” them, Joshua seems to pick his songs at random, and my candidate for Worst Queen Song Ever, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” is no exception. Why did he pick that song? Because I hate that song. Didn’t he know that? It’s so nerdy and swing-y and clap-happy. It’s like if Wham! sucked, which is unfathomable. Moral of the story: Don’t poison me with your skippy-dippy “happiness” again, Joshua. It skitters on my tongue like fizz, disables my immune system, and eats my organs. I can’t fairly grade your performance when my appendix is disintegrating. Ultimately, I think Joshua needs to tone down his Percy Sledgehammering of every torch song — and most other songs, actually — and start to connect, pronto. He also needs to stop staring blankly after every performance. No one wants to vote for a loverman balladeer who turns into a stunned 4-year-old when the music stops.
5. Phillip Phillips, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “The Stone”
I’m subscribed to the Phillip Phillips brand: He’s a Lindsey Buckingham scion who digs Dave Matthews. Seems logical to me. But sometimes that bubbling-over grit is a weird match for material, and while there was a libidinous streak to “Fat Bottomed Girls” that made for an unexpectedly “adult” spin on a Queen classic, he didn’t quite commit to the raunchiness. It was a funny choice for a song rather than a subversive one, and that’s not as rock-’n-roll a move as I want it to be. If you’re going to give me sweaty sexuality, hit me with Jerry Lee Lewis cockiness, not Jerry Lewis bawdiness. As for the Dave Matthews jam-band scribbling afterward, I just don’t even remember it. I know Dave is part of this guy’s DNA, but I wanted a “moment” and got a “meh.” I’m sure he’ll collect all of Colton’s residual votes this week so I suspect we won’t see him in the Bottom 3, but would it kill voters to let Philly Phillz slip just a bit? To toughen his shrivel-y exterior? Because there’s a whole lotta shrivelin’ goin’ on here. (God, I love Jerry Lee Lewis.)
4. Skylar Laine, “The Show Must Go On” and “Tattoo on This Town”
I’m tone-deaf, but I’m not deaf: I know Skylar twang-belted the hell out of “The Show Must Go On” and the so-so Jason Aldean track “Tattoo on This Town.” Both ended with her signature wails from the top shelf that get cowboys-a-courtin’ and lassos-a-whirlin’. My boots tingled, naturally. But you know what, outlaw? I can no longer stump for Skylar’s predictable song choices or her fanatical adherence to country tracks. I’m sick of “country” as an acceptable Idol enclave, actually. To me, Skylar’s steadfast commitment to the genre is merely an excuse to be predictable every single week while her colleagues — Elise and Phillip, in particular — are forced to reinvent wheels, alchemize Usher jams into rock ditties like modern-day Rumpelstiltskins, and carve out identities that, say, Reba McEntire didn’t invent in 1987. The expectations for Skylar’s ingenuity are so low that the judges barely notice that, while she does “attack” every song, she attacks every song in the same way. She’s mountin’ the ATV, cruising at the speed limit over the first verse, and then she flies off the ravine and into the gator pit for the final note. Fierce, yes, but a meaningless stunt. She’s Reba Kneivel, and I’d like her to trade jingoistic spectacle for nervy forethought one of these days.
3. Elise Testone, “I Want It All” and “Bold as Love”
In a nice recovery, Elise clocked in with the boldest song choice of the week on Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.” The guitar-shreddy anthem was so whack for the Idol stage. The melody was… what, exactly? Jazzily freakish? I guess. The beat was nutty, Elise’s continuous switches from talking to howling and back were unpredictable, and her message was clear: I do not give a f*ck if you think I’m a guaranteed loser. Face it, if you were stuck busking on American Idol as a likely evictee, you’d want to spend your last moments shouting your favorite tunes to the heavens too. I’d be performing a medley of “Vogue,” “Milkshake,” and “Nessun Dorma,” personally. Elise’s take on “I Want It All” wasn’t as inspired, but I don’t think the Queen portion of the show matters nearly as much as the latter half. I’m more apt to agree with J-Lo than my befuddled aunt Steven Tyler on this one: If Elise could skate by on sheer virtuosity before, surely she can do it again here. Right?
2. Jessica Sanchez, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Dance With My Father”
My world changed when Simon Cowell admitted that the UK X Factor is super Auto-Tuned, but I maintain that Joe McElderry’s audition performance of “Dance With My Father” in ’09 is one of the best reality show renditions ever. So sweet and simple, much like the underrated, out-and-proud Mr. McElderry himself. When fellow youngster Jessica Sanchez tackled the Luther Velveeta cheese classic last night, she added dimensions and colors to the song that I never knew I wanted. She bleated with strength and sadness, fire and ice, this teeny thang. She connected to the song in a way Jermaine Jones didn’t, earlier this season. She clearly knew “Dance With My Father” is a perfect candidate for elevator music, so she elevated it to the wuthering heights of a Whitney ballad. Stunning. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was lovely too, but it’s just impossible to condense that song into a 90-second talent reel. I almost wonder if she should’ve stuck with the song’s final moments and abandoned all the rest. I applaud the sprawling effort, but it was bound to feel rushed and bizarre in execution.
1. Hollie Cavanagh, “Save Me” and “The Climb”
Am I dropping acid like Roger Sterling, or am I stone sober and handing this week’s win to the contestant voted Most Likely To Wear A Periwinkle Burial Gown At This Week’s Idol Memorial? Girl, it’s the latter. Screw your judges, because I thought Hollie’s performance of “Save Me” was the most connected, poignant Queen cover of the evening. She stomped out those feelings of helplessness like a marooned islander transmitting “S.O.S.” in Morse Code to underground spirits. She never for a second abandoned her conviction, and even if a pitch problem or two creeped into frame, the overall effect of the performance read “urgency.” And if “The Climb” — another Joe McElderry sensation! — isn’t the most perfectly Idol-riffic selection on the planet, what is? Hollie took Miley’s homage to Edmund Hillary, hurled a grappling hook into its meatiest moments, and dangled over the Nepalese foothills with her ambition on full display. I find Hollie very real at surprise junctures, and for the second week in a row she’s proven she wants the crown — and the respect — most. I say fork it on over.