Sia may have figured out how to have it both ways better than anyone else. She gets to have huge hit songs and go on popular TV shows and generally live like a rock star while maintaining relative anonymity behind her giant wigs. And we all go along with it. I don't recall any star musician getting to make their own self-serving rules and receive so little criticism for it. Could you imagine what people would say if Kanye West decided to wear a mask all the time? I like Sia's music and respect her reasons for hiding her face (stage fright, a 12-step-influenced desire for anonymity, artistic choice), I just think it's interesting that she's allowed to be as famous as she is without having to make the public sacrifices such fame usually demands. Why her?

It could have something to do with the fact that she's a truly unique, incredible singer. Her performance of her new single "Cheap Thrills" on Thursday's American Idol demonstrated her ability, and the dancers accompanying her were mesmerizing. She was also a really good guest mentor, pushing the contestants to try things they were uncomfortable with and providing emotionally and melodically meaty songs for them to dig in to. We'll get to those contestants, but first watch her performance.

This week's first round was a rock round, guest-mentored by half-man/half-bandana Steven Van Zandt. Sonika got eliminated, which was fair, because though she's a better singer than MacKenzie and Dalton, she has a less compelling personality than either of them. Oh well.

Front-runner La'Porsha underperformed this week, as did MacKenzie Bourg, who will probably be eliminated next week because he has demonstrated over and over again that he's only capable of making bland, mid-tempo singer-songwriter songs. It's like he runs every song he's given through a Jason Mraz-ifier.

Dalton Rapattoni

Trent had technically the best performance both rounds this week, but Dalton had the most heart. He did a stripped-down — visually and musically — take on the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," a consensus choice for one of the best songs of all time, and did a beautiful, vulnerable job with it. He showed even more vulnerability during the Sia round, when they bonded over both being bipolar when discussing her song "Birds Set Free." His performance of that was technically imperfect, but his emotion was so genuine he broke down in tears at the end. God only knows where we'd be without Dalton Rapattoni.

Katharine McPhee

This week also saw the return of past Idols David Cook and Katharine McPhee. Cook was whatever, but McPhee's signature performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was a reminder, as Ryan Seacrest said, that there's no place like home.

Trent Harmon


Trent absolutely crushed it this week. First was his great performance of "Sharp Dressed Man" in the rock round (and it's been gratifying to me to see his sartorial style get less bad as the competition progresses), and then there was his magnificent, unique performance of Sia's biggest hit "Chandelier." He was going to sing it low, but Sia basically said GTFO and so he did the high notes. HOWEVER, he hit the high notes quietly, somehow. It was a ballad-y take on a high-energy song that did veer into histrionics. Trent's level of mastery of his craft is so inspiring to watch.

Next week, the final three get three rounds each, but really and truly, it's all just to set the stage for the grand finale in two weeks, when Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood return and the last Idol is crowned.