Am I surprised that Erika Van Pelt got sent home from Idol this week? Not especially. EVP was a favorite of mine from the minute she slaughtered P!nk’s ‘Glitter in the Air’ back in Hollywood. Since the live shows though, I’ve been immensely frustrated nearly every time she’s taken the stage. I love that enormous, gritty, rock-diva voice of hers, but for some reason she insisted, week after week on performing these entirely competent but rather unimaginative power ballad covers. Her wildcard performance of Edge of Glory was spectacular and made me even more mad that she wasn’t bringing that edge or that passion to all of her performances.

Also, I’m truly the last person to care about much less comment on fashion (my plaid shirt collection will attest) but even I could see that girlfriend was being led astray by the Idol style team. This week, she got a dramatic image makeover, and it was AWESOME. She became an entirely different person, and she finally gave the knock-out performance I’d been waiting for. I’ll be honest, I had to watch it twice, because after the judges gave her such tepid praise I wondered if maybe I’d just been so hyped about the new look I thought she was better than she was. But then I re-watched it and no, she really was that good.

I really wish the judges had saved her, because I feel like she’d just finally gotten into the game and with another week she could’ve really secured a fanbase. Ah well, given the depth of the talent pool this season I have to agree with JLo (gasp!) that everyone who goes home at this point will be a loss.

HOWEVER, as undeniably worthy as everyone is, I’m distressed to see that once again America seems hellbent on picking off the ladies one by one. Yes technically at this point we’ve lost an equal number of boys and girls, but Jeremy was kicked off by the judges and Jermaine was kicked-off by the producers. Last week we saw an all-female bottom 3 and with EVP we’ve now lost 2 girls in a row to America’s vote. It’s beginning to look a lot like this time last year is what I’m saying, and the four remaining ladies need all the help they can get. So, here they are, our four remaining ladies, in order from least to most promising at the moment:

#4: Hollie Cavanagh

Last year when Hollie didn’t make top 24 (36? 30? what was it? who can keep track…) I was flabbergasted, but I have to give it up to the judges for making her take a year to grow in confidence a bit. She’s an unbelievable vocalist, that much is clear. There are moments where if I close my eyes I could swear it was Celine Dion singing, and if she wants a career in music she can have one. My issue with her right now is entirely with the songs she’s singing. She’s this adorable, bubbly teenager – all smiles and sporadic English accent – and then she goes on stage and all the sudden she’s 40 years old. It’s incredible that her voice has the depth to pull it off, and she absolutely does pull it off, but I want to see that teenager. It’s not even necessarily that she needs to stop doing ballads, though an uptempo number would be a nice change of pace. I really enjoyed when she did Carrie Underwood in Vegas, even last season when she did The Climb… I’m just saying some age-appropriate material would be nice. I want Hollie to be higher on this list, and I want her to stick around!

#3: Jessica Sanchez

So for whatever reason, the producers buried the lead a bit with Jessica. When she showed up in Vegas we’d neither seen nor heard her, and when I first heard that gigantic booming voice come out of that tiny little thing, it knocked me off my feet. That Vegas performance had me literally grinning from ear to ear, it was SO GOOD. Since then she’s been like a major league ball player at the batting cages – they lob something at her, she knocks the crap out of it, and again and again ad infinitum. She’s stylistically very similar to Hollie, but unlike Hollie she’s switched it up a bit, singing an uptempo number last week (that she didn’t get enough credit for IMO, I actually enjoyed the whole performance a lot!) and an age-appropriate ballad this week. The only reason she’s 3rd on this list is that for whatever reason I don’t get as excited about her as I do the two ladies above her, and that has nothing to do with her vocal prowess and everything to do with personality and style preference.

#2: Elise Testone

Oh man, where to begin? Elise is has been my girl since day one. I love that old school smokey, jazzy, Janis-y, Haley Reinhart-y tone to her voice. She’s 28 and you can hear it when she sings. There’s pain and triumph, struggle and desperation in her voice; she’s a professional musician and she’s done 10 gigs a week and that maturity and those years of hard work set her apart in this competition. Her rawness and her realness is so refreshing and I can’t help but root for her. She makes really cool choices in her performances and in her arrangements that show that she’s studied her craft and she knows her shit. I hate that she’s just barely getting by and that she’s spent so much time in the bottom 3, but her performance of Vienna this week was so BREATHTAKING, (sidenote: in what universe is Vienna an obscure Billy Joel song? No one’s ever heard of Vienna?? Really Jimmy Iovine??) I have to believe if she keeps doing what she’s doing she’s going to stick around for at least a few more weeks. Whatever happens, I’m ready for her album to be playing on repeat on my iPod.

#1: Skylar Laine

No matter who wins this thing, I am absolutely certain – you mark my words – that Skylar Laine will make it bigger in the music industry than any other season 11 contestant. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the show now simply called “Idol” is actually “American Idol: The Search for a Superstar.” Despite all appearances to the contrary, this is not “the search for the next white guy with a guitar who sings pretty.” We’re trying to find a superstar. There have been a lot of awesome singers that have come through Idol in the past several years, and I enjoy awesome singers, so I don’t mind that the show doesn’t churn out a Kelly Clarkson every season, or most seasons. This year however, with Skylar, I believe we have a good old fashioned star on our hands. She’s got commercial written all over her; she’s an adorable, genuine country girl, she’s got a great voice, and she’s got charisma for days. I’m a hardcore animal lover – been a vegan for nearly half my lifetime – and even I found the backstory footage of her driving around on a ATV hunting deer undeniably charming. She comes off as a good, smart kid with an excellent work ethic and an infectious energy and enthusiasm. Watching her do Stay With Me was maybe the most fun I’ve had watching Idol since the days of Taylor Hicks. There’s been a lot of pimping of Jessica and Hollie by the producers, but I think Skylar is by far the most viable commercial artist of the bunch, not to mention our only hope of finally seeing the first female Idol winner since Jordin Sparks.
Well, thar ya have it friends, til next time when we’ll see if this list needs to be augmented, and hopefully not because we’ve lost another one of our girls!!
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