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Phillip Phillips dominates 'American Idol' Top 9

Phillip Phillips performs Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" in

Phillip Phillips performs Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" in front of the Judges on "American Idol" airing Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (Credit: Fox)

Oh boy. What's going on with the “American Idol” judges?

Randy Jackson kept talking about “something in the water” that was making all the contestants deliver ovation-worthy performances, but he really should wonder what's in the Coca-Cola cups that he and the other judges are drinking from. They sounded crazy last night in their over-praise and not in a good way.

Even worse, there seems to be a bit of gamesmanship going on with the producers, who gave the sought-after final spot to Elise Testone's passable, but screechy “Whole Lotta Love” that any number of Led Zeppelin tribute bands could have topped. (Could it be that they're trying to help out the least popular of the female singers and push one of the guys home? Heavens! Manipulation? WHAT?)

There's a lot of speculation that the “Idol” powers are worried that “The Voice,” which has so far held off “Dancing With the Stars” among the all-important 18-49 demographic, is stealing their thunder. That speculation will only grow after seeing the weird medleys that the trios of contestants performed last night.

But back to the judges.

Despite offering standing ovations to five of the nine contestants, they stayed off their feet for perceived frontrunner Jessica Sanchez, who arguably delivered the best performance of the night. Sanchez is apparently smarter than the rest, slowing down Beyonce's “Sweet Dreams” so that she could make the song more emotional and offer something different from the original.

They also stayed off their feet for Colton Dixon's emotional “Everything,” which was really the only song of the whole night that could be released today and become a hit. “It wasn't about vocal acrobatics,” Lopez said. “It was about hearing your song.” Jackson called him a finale contender, but his placement in the lead-off position is meant to suggest otherwise.

The other two that didn't get standing ovations from the judges were Hollie Cavanagh, who had a pitchy, kind of bland reading of Carrie Underwood's “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and Skylar Laine, who despite praise from the judges, seemed overwhelmed by Miranda Lambert's “Gunpowder and Lead.” (Not sure how the judges missed Skylar sounding out of breath, but I'm guessing the voters at home didn't miss it. Since she's one of my favorites here, I selfishly hope no one notices so she can Young Reba her way through songs for weeks to come. However, unless she figures out her strengths, she could be gone soon.)

Now let's get to the ovations in order of craziness.

The judges know that DeAndre Brackensick is in trouble after last week's ridiculous misreading of Billy Joel's “Only the Good Die Young.” So they leapt to their feet as soon as he finished Eric Benet's lovely “Sometimes I Cry.” Never mind that he oversang it at the end or that it was overwrought in places. He may want to be Maxwell or Prince, but those guys know how to control the falsetto way more than that. “People pick up your phones and vote for DeAndre!” said Lopez, giving her sole vote plea of the evening to him.

Joshua Ledet's version of “Without You” – attributed to Mariah Carey, though it really came from Badfinger through Harry Nilsson – wins this week's Brackensick Award for Misunderstanding a Song. “Without You” is about desperation. (Hint: “I can't live if living is without you.”) Joshua sang/shouted it like a threat, looking to pummel the listener at every turn by inserting as many gospelly runs as possible and turning “give” and “live” into 10-syllable words. Dude, Mariah has plenty of songs that fit that domination mold, both lyrically and musically. This one doesn't. Nevertheless, the judges loved it and Randy went on about emotional transference.

Elise's “Whole Lotta Love” wasn't ovation-worthy either, especially considering how Steven Tyler could knock out a better version than that even if he was sedated and wearing Jason DeRulo's weird, blinged-out neck brace.

At least Heejun Han's smooth take on Donny Hathaway's “A Song for You” was unexpectedly emotional and given the way he got trashed last week, a little recognition for listening to the judges' suggestions was in order.

Only Phillip Phillips, who had already received a huge compliment from mentor Stevie Nicks earlier when she said he would have been part of Fleetwood Mac if he was around in the '70s, really deserved the reception the judges gave him. His take on Jonny Lang's “Still Rainin'” tapped into the song's pain and anger and made Phil look like a real artist, instead of someone waiting to be one.


Phillip Phillips, “Still Rainin'”
Jessica Sanchez, “Sweet Dreams”
Colton Dixon, “Everything”
Heejun Han, “A Song for You”
Elise Testone, “Whole Lotta Love”
Joshua Ledet, “Without You”
Hollie Cavanagh, “Jesus Take the Wheel”
Skylar Laine, “Gunpowder and Lead”
DeAndre Brackensick, “Sometimes I Cry”

BOTTOM THREE: DeAndre, Hollie, Skylar

ACTUAL BOTTOM THREE: Heejun, Hollie, Skylar

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