Within a minute of seeing Ryan Seacrest emerge from a dust cloud and say "This [long pause] is 'American Idol,'" I remember why I haven't been able to stomach this show for quite sometime. Seacrest doesn't hesitate to bring up the Jermaine Jones drama, though I have a sneaking suspicion we won't actually find out what went down until the last two minutes of these next two hours.
However, in an attempt to see the glass half full, I'm harping on the fact that tonight is "Year You Were Born Night," which means two things. 1) Adorable baby pictures and 2) Songs from my youth since these contestants are all fetuses. Double thrill for me.
The contestants will be singing songs from 1983 to 1995 and Will.i.am will be joining Jimmy Iovene to guide them. So without further ado, I present you with the premature Top 11 and how Jermaine's departure went down.
Song: "Hard to Handle" by The Black Crowes (1989)
In a retrospective of the contestant with the most repetitive name ever to hit the "Idol" stage, we learn that Phillip was a premature baby who almost didn't make it. And now, he's dealing with some more medical issues: He has to have surgery for kidney stones, but nevertheless, he's ready for practice. Will.i.am is impressed he sounds so good under the conditions and turns out, so are the judges. "You sound amazing," says Randy, who commends song choice. So does Jennifer, who makes some comment about "cells" that she thinks is genius because it ties in to the medical theme of Phillip's segment. Then she adds, "It was perfect ... it's all over you. It's just perfect. I love it." While I don't know what "all over you" means in this sense, surprisingly, Mr. Tyler is there to bring us back to earth. "Watch your melody," he warns from beneath his floppy hat.
Song: "Turn the Beat Around" by Gloria Estefan (1995)
One of the youngest contestants in the competition apparently used to cry so much, she'd faint, her mom tells viewers. But her parents think "that's where those lungs got started." They're glass half full folk, too. During practice, Will.i.am tells Jessica to cue the music sassily in the middle of the song, which he thinks is genius. He also calls her "a swaggernaut ... that's like outerspace swag." Fittingly, when 16-year-old Jessica hits the stage, it's clear her sequined, high-wasted pants are other-wordly. She's working the stage and the band members, but she sounds a little grunty for my taste. (Note: I warned you about my musical knowledge.) "I love your voice, but you can't stray too far from what I think you sing the best," Steven says of the typically ballad performer. He adds that the "rhythm was a little shady," but "he loves the pants." (Of course, he does.) So does J. Lo. (Of course, she does.) She says, "It wasn't my favorite thing I've ever seen you do, but good job." Randy explains she needs "constructive criticism" because she's "one of the greatest in the competition." His problem is the song choice, which everyone had a problem with. Jessica says there weren't many choices. Ummm, Des'ree? TLC? REAL MCCOY? That is just an outright lie!
Song: "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx (1989)
His parents are adorably dancing in their living room and there is a photo of him in a laundry basket. My heart is melting a little. His mom remembers him always waking up with a smile on his face and she starts to cry. His family waves and holds up a Heejun poster and thus, I am continuing to melt Will.i.am and Jimmy Iovene help him with his accent, but that's not the only problem once Heejun performs live. "I didn't really enjoy this it all. It was pitchy all over the place ... You're usually better than that," says Randy, noting that he misses Heejun's R&B swag. I am struggling to think of this kid with swag, let alone of the R&B variety, but OK. Jennifer really found a way to say this was good somehow, noting that Heejun's "tone is so special and gorgeous." She could tell he was fighting and "felt [his] heart in the song." By the end, "I just really loved it," she says. Steven is also pro-Heejun: "I love your voice no matter what anyway." Heejun says he was singing for his girlfriend who's in the audience ... and 20 percent for J. Lo ... and 10 percent for Fergie, whose phone number he asked for from Will.i.am during practice. I will not lie, I thought that was somewhat adorable.
Song: "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green/Tina Turner (1983)
The saved "Idol" contestant was trouble growing up, her mom says, "But cute trouble." Since she's singing a sexy ballad, she says that "when [she] take[s] the stage, people are going to be making babies." I was initially confused by Elise's age because Al Green is definitely a '70s artist, but turns out, Tina Turner covered "Let's Stay Together" in 1983. That's sort of cheating, but 1) She's just the first to take advantage of that loophole, not the last and 2) I forgive it because after an awkward mashup of Elise and President Obama singing this love-making classic, she performs and gives the song an amazing raspy spin. "God, I love your voice ... you got beauty and soul and I just love you so much, man," Steven gushes. Jennifer agrees, adding, "That was right on every single level. Randy feels vindicated: "America, this is why we loved Elise!" Plus, he "loved the run at the end ... It's like buttah."
Song: "Endless Love" by Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross (1994)
Before curley-cued DeAndre stepped on the "Idol" stage, he was marching around in his parents house to "76 Trombones" from "The Music Man" in full band leader garb. His mom recalled him memorizing every line and every move. When he sang at his church school graduation at just four years old, someone told his parents, "We're going to see him on 'American Idol.'" I kind of can't believe this show was on when he was four, but moving on. He picked "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" by Elton John, but before I can complete the image of him as Simba from "The Lion King" in my head, Jimmy suggests he go with a new song, "Endless Love." Will.i.am tells DeAndre, "If you're like a carpenter, you can't go in there with no tennis racket." Apparently, that's enough to get him to switch songs. Then, Will adds: "You killed them with Master Blaster last week. Don't sing Master Blaster. Be the master that blasts through the competition. Then you will last to the next audition." If anyone understood that, please let me know. His performance is eh (not a technical term) with J. Lo blaming "Endless Love." She says it wasn't the right song for him and "that makes [her] sad." Steven says vaguely, "I love your voice. You're gonna find it," while Randy tells it like it is: "Boring and very safe for you at the wrong time."
Song: "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men (1995)
The competition's other Ms. 1995 and her parents reminisced about Shannon's obsession with "Tumbilena," but Jimmy is thinking grittier for this performance. He wants Shannon to do "Don't Speak" by No Doubt, but she stands by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's modern classic, "One Sweet Day." She practices lying down as Will.i.am told her to do, because "a song that beautiful, I shouldn't hear you breathe," he warns her. Shannon outdoes Jessica in sparkly items with both short shorts and a blazer. Vocally, she also impresses the judges. "That was not an easy undertaking, sweetie," Jennifer says condescendingly. "I was honestly terrified for you, but you did a beautiful job with that." Steven adds, "I think you do your best when you don't try so hard." The also terrified Randy takes the opportunity to talk about working with Mariah and then tells Shannon, "You're fearless and that's what I love about you, being your age."
Song: "Broken Heart" by White Lion (1991)
This season's token alternative artist talks about "givin' up the glove" for music and he makes a daring song choice, one most people have never heard. Will.i.am says he needs to make it "more edgier" so they ditch the band and it becomes "Colton's song." After his dramatic performance, Jennifer agrees with Will.i.am's comment. "It is a Colton song to me," she says and after complimenting him on being "a love," she adds, "And also, I think you look pretty when you sing ... Colton's face looks nice." Then, Steven takes the opportunity to disagree: "I think it was the wrong song for your voice and your passion." He gets booed and then says, "Raspberries." Is that a thing? Someone clue me in. "The song actually didn't matter because you performed it dope," Randy says. Plus, he likes the fly jacket.
Erika Van Pelt
Song: "Heaven" by Bryan Adams (1985)
Her town would ask Erica to sing the National Anthem before her own softball games and her mom is just about the sweetest person ever. "I wonder how many parents are as lucky as I am to have the children that they do," she says. Will says she's gonna go home if she doesn't execute, but when the camera cuts to Erika on stage, it looks like she's going to kill it. Ignoring the dizzying stairs running on the video behind her and her Stevie Nicks sleeves, I think Erika kills it. Steven, however, disagrees. "I think you're too busy all over it," he says. Again, not sure what that means. "But I still like your voice." Jennifer wanted more, but adds, "You look amazing tonight; the best you've looked. I feel you coming together as an artist ... You're just coming together in the best way." Randy gives her an 8 out of 10.
Song: "Somewhere Out There" by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram (1986)
Surprisingly, the producers didn't even wait until the last half hour for the big Jermaine moment that's been the hot topic of the day and instead, they squeeze it in between two other performances. And cue package: After rehearsal, Jermaine sits down with "Idol" executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. The two Brits recount Jermaine's criminal charges, which he didn't disclose to them from the get-go. "We're not judgmental at all ... but you were incumbent to tell us the truth about all of this and it appears that you just haven't on any level," Warwick explains. Jermaine says he was "scared, nervous. I didn't want to get judged. I was hoping I could just pay it and get it taken care of, but it just didn't work out that way." Warwick digs the knife deeper into the Gentle Giant and says his rehearsal of "Somewhere Out There" was the best song he's ever done. Cue the montage of the song with Jermaine leaving and poor Skylar has to follow that up.
Song: "Love Sneakin' Up On You" by Bonnie Raitt
Baby headbanger Skylar "was a mess," her mom says. "She'd get mad, she'd bang her head," her father adds. Skylar surmises that's why she enjoys the gesture on stage. Anyway, Jimmy and Will.i.am aren't thrilled with Skylar's song choice so they make many other suggestions. Will is pretty set on Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage" for what he imagines to be a great ghountry performance (i.e. that stands for "ghetto"/"country" combo). Then, someone had the genius idea to photoshop Skylar's face into Coolio's hair. Luckily that image is gone as Skylar takes the stage and the judges eat it up. "I haven't heard you sing a song bad yet," Steven says. "You really killed that," Jennifer adds. But Randy apparently doesn't understand Bonnie Raitt because he tells Skylar, "You could have picked a country song, but good on you for picking whatever song." Um, Randy. Bonnie is more than a little bit country.
Song: "When A Man Loves A Woman" by Michael Bolton
Little Joshua Ledet brought Will.i.am back home ... or to the house of God. "You took me to church," he tells Joshua, who then explains that his dad's a pastor. "You sound like your dad's a pastor." The way he's talking to him, it sounds a little bit like that guy at the bar who makes everything a girl says sound sexy? Will is doing the same thing to Joshua except they're in a music studio and he's making everything sound religious. Hot? When a very spiffy-looking Joshua finally takes the stage, he starts to make that "I'm singing so hard, I look like I'm crying" face ... And I kinda love it. The judges do too. He gets a standing ovation from the judging panel trifecta. Randy calls it "phenomenal, incredible on every level," while Jennifer cannot contain herself ... or stop saying, "Wow." She says it's "the best thing I've ever seen on 'American Idol.'" Apparently, she didn't watch the show before she signed on to judge. "You gave it up so big, God came through your eyes, man," Steven says, baffling me for the 34983769th time. Then there seems to be an inside joke about crawfish. I'm okay being on the outside. But really, in all seriousness, Joshua was phenomenal.
Song: "The Power of Love" by Celine Dion
The Liverpool-born, Texas-raised teen contestant has "a great personality, but she's really untidy," says her doting mom, sounding like she's talking about someone she met on Match.com after the first day. Hollie's dad gets choked up talking about seeing her on stage. Hollie really impresses Will.i.am who asks, "You got amplifiers in your pockets or something?" When she hits the stage in an absolutely stunning dress, I have to say, I am impressed ... though slightly disappointed she missed the Celine, chest-pounding nuance in her performance. They really saved the best two for last. Jennifer is wowed once again. Though she admits there were some "little things," she says, "to even criticize them would be silly." Steven says that Hollie's voice is "heaven above," with Randy adding that Hollie "blew it out the box."
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.