updated 03/29/2012 AT 10:35 AM ET
•originally published 03/28/2012 AT 10:35 PM ET
What happens when wannabe idols take on the music of their own idols?
On Wednesday’s episode of American Idol, the top nine contestants tackled tunes by their heroes, bringing out some of the most inspired performances so far this season – as well as a bevy of standing ovations from the judges.
Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler were out of their seats and clapping for Heejun Han, DeAndre Brackensick, Phillip Phillips, Joshua Ledet and Elise Testone. “This is too much,” Jennifer said. “It’s funny, we’re standing up too much tonight. It’s crazy. You guys are doing amazing.”
And it was amazing – a record five standing o’s from the judging panel.
Heejun, who was in the bottom three last week, bounced back with a stirring performance of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You.” While judge Steven has questioned how serious he is about singing, Han certainly impressed the judges with his vocals. “Finally, the Heejun we selected came back to us!” Randy Jackson said.
In the final performance of the episode, Elise destroyed the room with her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Her rendition was so hot it earned some of the loudest cheers of the night. “Nobody can pull that song off – you made Robert Plant proud tonight, girl!” Steven said. Jennifer Lopez, who said she didn’t want to get up for a fifth time but that Elise made her, told Elise, “That was some real rock star … stuff.”
Of course, season 11 favorites Jessica Sanchez, Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet didn’t disappoint this week either. And their terrific performances should easily secure them spots in the next round. Sanchez made a risky move by performing a slowed-down, R&B version of Beyoncé’s funky “Sweet Dreams,” and pulled it off.
Phillips, meanwhile, scored his standing ovation with a soaring version of Jonny Lange’s blues-rock tune “Still Rainin’.” His performance was so on-point, guest coach Stevie Nicks said that he would’ve been asked to join Fleetwood Mac back in the ’70s. (She also admitted to having something of a crush on him: “He’s gorgeous!” she said.)
But it was Ledet who simply blew the judges away. And he did it by tackling one of the most difficult songs in the pop canon, “Without You,” which was written by Harry Nilsson, but made famous by Mariah Carey. Throughout his performance, he shook with emotion and choked back tears, yet he still managed to nail all the song’s impossibly high notes. “You are a phenom!” Lopez said, after taking her seat. “You are an absolute angel from heaven. That voice is a godsend!”
The top nine face elimination (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday’s show.