Tonight's them is (I'm With The) Band. I have no clue what that means.
FOX not-so-helpfully explains that the singers “will act as the lead singer for Rickey Minor and his band, performing their favorite songs.” How is that different from what happens every week? Or does it just mean that Minor won't actively attempt to sabotage the performers like he's been doing all season long?
Sigh. Click through and follow along with the fun.
8:00 p.m. ET. Everybody loves the judges, doncha know? Mostly J-Lo. Her fashion performances this season have been more interesting than anything done by most of the contestants.
8:03 p.m. Ah. The band is going to be on-stage. J-Lo has regrets about losing M.K. last week. Harry Connick Jr. says that the decision to use the Save is a spontaneous thing.
8:04 p.m. To kill time, we're experiencing the quality time the contestants got to spend with Fallout Boy.
8:07 p.m. We actually start with tonight's Group Lip-Synch-or-Something. “Idol” is Team Chris Martin, apparently, with the kids singing “Clocks” to start, transitioning to “Satisfaction.” The first two parts of the medley aren't bad. The closer, Fallout Boy's “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” is brutal.
8:10 p.m. I don't get making the contestants waste energy on a weak group number on a night that they're supposed to concentrate on their solos. But what do I know?
8:15 p.m. No performances yet. But up first…
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “Don't Speak”
My Take: Naturally, Alex starts Band Night alone and a cappella. The song has been remixed to capitalize on Alex's particular energy, which is rather different from Gwen Stefani's. I appreciate that this is completely Alex's “Don't Speak” and you only occasionally hear hints of No Doubt, but the jazz bar arrangement probably misses that last build to something bigger that would make it truly memorable. It's groovy and easy and… only OK. Alex is so talented and I keep wanting to be blown away by something he does, rather than just genially appreciative.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith wanted a little bit more edge. J-Lo thinks the song kicks but, but Alex sucked the energy out of the song. Yup! Harry thinks this is an exciting time for Alex. Harry thinks Alex can afford to move things around, literally. “I don't know how many of those center-stage performances you can give in a concert,” Harry worries. Keith says that just a little unpredictability would keep the audience engaged.
8:30 p.m. Alex says the judges just didn't get what he was doing. Sigh.
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
Song: “Shake It Out”
My Take: This is a tough theme and a tough song choice for Majesty, who just doesn't have the voice to cover Florence Welch. You know who does? Almost nobody. I'm not sure what I would have recommended, but when you get to them anthemic chorus, she just can't do what she needs to do. Standing at center stage, Majesty doesn't seem to know what to do with herself. And I love her personality so much, but it just didn't come through there, at least not enough. There are a couple welcome smiles and a little dance-jump, but too much of it is uncomfortable and wooden. I think Majesty is heading for another Bottom 3 appearance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That's the Majesty I love,” J-Lo says, calling it a “10” performance-wise. No. I didn't get that at all. “I think you're so close to breaking through in this competition,” Harry says, telling her that she may be too diverse and it's hard for people to latch on. Keith loved the song choice, but he cautions Majesty about energy dispersement in the spotlight.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
My Take: Hey look. It's the night's first contestant who isn't confused by how to play surrounded by a band. I've been really down on Dexter for a couple weeks and I'm not sure if this performance eliminates his biggest problem, which is that he's a very good bar cover singer, but maybe not an original interpreter of songs. This is Little Big Town's “Boondocks” being covered by Dexter in a respectful, but unimaginative way. It's not Dexter Roberts' “Boondocks.” However, Dexter is utterly comfortable with the other musicians and with his place on the stage here. Comfort is important. But for me, it's a third straight fair-to-middling performance in this fair-to-middling season.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry repeats that Dexter has to find his own stamp, or else his performances will sound generic. Keith presents Harry with a giant gummy-bear and he takes a big bite. That's awesome. More awesome? J-Lo then goes to town on the bear, cooing that she likes sugar. She admits, however, “It's like plastic.” Keith still wants to see another side of Dexter. J-Lo liked it, but admits she'd like to hear something else. And I'd like to see a gif of J-Lo tearing into that sugary blob of ursine goo.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “Long and Winding Road”
My Take: Weird, weird, weird song choice. Yes, the Beatles are a band, I get that. But in this arrangement, Rickey Minor and his cohorts aren't contributing anything other than sleepy backup. Malaya has her big voice and there are moments in this performance that nobody ahead of her tonight can touch. She's powerful. She's rangy. And she's finding the feeling to the song. But that was a theme cheat if ever there was one.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “Gosh that was beautiful, baby. My word,” Keith says. Keith saw Malaya's spirit. “Your voice really stands out above everybody else's to me,” J-Lo says, comparing Malaya to a young Michael Jackson. Harry gives Malaya an imaginary award for “most consistently improving.” But Harry's got a bone to pick with Malaya for saying that she's on the road to stardom. He wants her to work on her craft. Malaya goes off on an endearing and meandering explanation of the song's meaning to her. I like the reminder of Goofy Malaya, who she has seemingly decided we don't get to see in performances anymore.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: “Hey There Delilah”
My Take: Sam Woolf is definitely a Plain White T's kinda guy. I can't tell if he's surrounded by lightbulbs or flames. Lightbulbs? Good. I don't want Sam Woolf starting any fires. Sam's got a stripped down version of the band behind him, but he's utterly sturdy, respectable and Sam-y. That's a solidly above-average performance without any extra flair or variation or emotion. But it seems to make the squealing girls happy, so why would I look for excitement or vision from Sam?
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo thinks it's exactly the type of music Sam should being doing. She puts him on the spot by asking if he was singing to anybody in particular. Sam can't answer. Harry liked the stripped down arrangement. “This is how I see you presented,” Harry says. But Harry also didn't feel like Sam had any connection to the lyrics, calling it “a one-dimensional reading of the words.” Harry and Keith banter. Keith tells Sam not to feel so obligated to hit every not. “Just be looser,” Keith says. With Ryan returning to J-Lo's question, Sam says his Delilah is his grandmother. Sigh. That explains ever-so-much. Sweet kid. Talented kid. Boring kid.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
My Take: Another week and Jessica still hasn't been in the Bottom 3 and I remain confused. Apparently she's also a Doomsday-ready hunter. So now we know her core demo. Nobody tonight has even an iota of energy. I play the producers for starting with that group sing. This is an understated and not-quite-up-to-snuff Stevie Nicks impression which, thankfully, isn't offensive. But the smokey richness of Nicks' voice just isn't something Jessica has. She's thin and nasally, but fine. Without her guitar, she's adrift, performance-wise. This is a song that's been done multiple times on “American Idol” over the years and I don't think Jessica's anywhere near as good as Haley Reinhart or Didi Benami on it.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I thought you did a nice job,” Harry says, suggesting it might be his favorite Jessica performance. Keith says Jessica looks good, but he tells her she has to figure out what to do without her instrument. J-Lo felt there was a relaxed lightness to Jessica's face. I got none of that.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
Song: “If It Hadn”t Been For Love”
My Take: Just as I appreciate Dexter Roberts for his comfort, I appreciate CJ Harris for the raspy harshness of his voice. I think his chronic sharpness is getting worse each week, but his voice cuts through the bland sameness of more pitch-perfect singers like Sam. CJ also can match Dexter's comfort. So even if I don't think this is a beautifully sung vocal, I like that it sounds different and distinctive. Thank heavens for that. And I like the black hat.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith thought it was a clever song choice, but Keith smartly tells CJ not to confuse “the sound of expressing with the feeling of expressing.” It started good for J-Lo, it got “off” in the middle, but then it came back at the end. Harry keeps repeating that CJ has a good ear and that he can improve his pitch. I'm wondering what gives Harry that impression at this point. CJ hasn't given an in-tune performance in weeks.
9:35 p.m. If you'd asked me before tonight's episode who my favorites were this season, I'd probably have stuttered and muttered, but as we've gone through this milquetoast episode, I've found myself looking forward to Jena and Caleb more and more. So… maybe they'll save the show?
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: “Dazed and Confused”
My Take: This is Caleb's week. If it's not, something's wrong. This is a big song, but it's also a song he should be able to do. Fortunately, Caleb has a voice that allows him to almost do this melodically in his sleep. There are a few minor deviations from the original's phrasing, but it's mostly straight-forward. The night's least surprisingly thing is Caleb's ease on the stage and his effortless interaction with the bad. He knows how to do this. And he did that well. Again, not a revolutionary performance, but nobody tonight has come close to Caleb when comes to getting the spirit of the theme. He can do this professionally. He will do this professionally. Even if it's just in a jukebox musical, he'll be able to do it. J-Lo is bouncing up and down for the whole performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You did your thing on that,” J-Lo says. She even calls Caleb sexy. “Holy crap,” Caleb says aptly. “I just don't know how you could have sung that tune any better,” Harry says. “You're such a good frontman,” Keith raves, telling Caleb that the band elevated itself to his level. “They weren't afraid to play,” Harry agrees.
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
Song: “Bring Me To Life”
My Take: Majesty wasn't prepared to do Florence Welch. Jessica wasn't prepared to do Stevie Nicks. Jena is dangerously close to prepared to do Amy Lee. She probably could have or should have done this one on the piano. I think the lack of instrument is why she gets a little lost in the noise early-on. It's not that she's not audible. She's just a bit overwhelmed and loses the meshing of lyrics and melody. But when she's locked in, she's very impressive. I think that Jena is getting better and better with her control each week. Even mores than Malaya, I think, Jena has the best pure instrument in the competition and she's learning on the fly. She isn't intimidated by even the biggest songs and she has no reason to be. She's also getting more and more comfortable on-stage. Again, she's learning. So when she tries to interact with the musicians, it's not quite as fluid as when Caleb does it. But I think Caleb is starting at a very high place due to his age and experience. Jena's catching up in a hurry. And after tonight, they may be the only two people I'm really interested in this season.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry salutes Jena for how well she followed Caleb. Keith tells her that she delivers and that she has her own lane. “You sound phenomenal,” J-Lo says, though she wanted Jena to be more messy. “I was crapping my pants back there,” Jena says of following Caleb.
9:59 p.m. Jena and Caleb and nothing else matters. Alex may be the true musician here, but he's in a rut that he needs to shake somehow. It won't hurt him for a while, but he was my favorite and now I need a weekly reminder of why I used to like him so much.
9:59 p.m. I've got Majesty going home. That's about all I know. Maybe Jessica and CJ in the Bottom Three with her?
What'd you think? Who's in trouble tomorrow?