Ryan looks oddly rueful, alone on an empty stage as he reports that with the help of law enforcement, they've "discovered information that left us with no choice but to eliminate one of our finalists from the competition." He reminds us that anything can happen on a live show -- but not Ryan skipping his bouncy intro phrase, "This is American Idol!" That's the one thing that'll never happen. Ever.
After the credits and the traditional noisy entrance of the judges and the host to the cheering audience, Ryan reminds us that yes, someone got eliminated, but what's much more interesting is that tonight's theme is songs from the year the contestants were born, which means they'll date "from 1983 all the way to 1995." I'm obviously not the only one who feels old as a result of that comment. Ryan also promises some baby photos, and starts off with a picture of toddler Randy Jackson in a bow tie that he'd look better in tonight than yet another Richie Cunningham sweater; Jennifer, looking nondescript in the Bronx some time in the early '70s; and a Matthew Brady daguerreotype of a toothy young Steven Tyler. Randy cues an embarrassing photo from Ryan's toddlerhood as well. Is this really the first time we've seen that picture?
So let's start getting into some origin stories. We learn that Phil Phillips was born September 20, 1990, weeks before his due date. He nearly died of a dead bowel section (?) as a baby, so he's lucky to be here. He also seems as though he feels lucky to meet this week's mentor with Jimmy Iovine, will.i.am. But now he's facing kidney stone surgery the night of the rehearsal. Let's hope he wins this whole competition so he can one day afford an entire abdomen transplant. But he does well at practice, and Mr. am seems impressed after the fact, even though he's pretty impassive to Phil's face.
Phil hits the stage with "Hard to Handle," which, I have to remind myself, is the 1990 Black Crowes remake. I am so old. He's without his guitar tonight, but most of the band is out there with him, including the whole horn section out on the apron. He sounds good, considering. Randy is impressed with how good he sounds after having surgery just last Thursday, Jennifer loved it and Steven compliments him on picking songs that match his voice. "Watch the melody but keep it up, man." But which one of those pieces of advice should Phil follow?
There are tons of photos of Jessica, who, according to her mom, used to cry until she fainted. Hence the lungs she has today, probably. She rehearses "Turn the Beat Around," by Gloria Estefan of course. Are they all going to do remakes tonight just to rub it in? Will.i.am is much more effusive about her than he was about Phil, chair-dancing madly and going so far as to call her a "swaggernaut." Jessica's also sharing the stage with the band, including a whole string section. You know, the last time I heard this song on American Idol is was being sung by Carmen Rasmussen. I'd have to say this version is better. At one point the band stops so she can say, "Y'all ready?" as per will.i.am's suggestion, and she pulls it off like she did then.