Welcome to another somewhat strange, very open-ended “American Idol” theme night.
Last week, we discovered that “Bennie and the Jets” was a Song From the Movies because it was heard in “27 Dresses.”
Thursday night's theme? Top 10 Songs. Past? Present? Future? Any chart?
Let's find out!
8:00 p.m. ET. Ugh. Stupid selfies. Stupid song about selfies.
8:03 p.m. OK. The songs come from 2011-to-today.
8:04 p.m. We only have 10 performances tonight. That means that we're killing time by talking about what the judges were doing during the earthquake on Monday. And Ryan is talking about how out of shape he is.
8:05 p.m. We're killing SO much time. The Top 10 went to visit Ryan Seacrest at his radio job to get a little media training. Will Sam Woolf be able to speak in complete sentences now? That'd be crazy.
8:07 p.m. In the OnAir studio, Ryan interviewed the singers about their choices this week. Or something. This is painful.
Singer: MK NOBILETTE
Song: “You Are Perfect”
My Take: It's an admirable and well-intentioned song choice for MK, who begins singing into a mirror. I remember when I interviewed MK on the Top 13 red carpet and she told me that she'd always keep the backwards hat as a sign of who she really was. Instead, we've now got a fully styled MK, with her hair teased, bleached and colored. As good as her message is, the vocal is pretty flat and unengaged and the performance is totally lackadaisical and sleepy. There's also a miscommunication with the band that seems to distance MK from the material and the audience even more. Yeah. That's a lock for Bottom 3 placement and it may take a lot of work for anybody to take the bottom spot from MK already.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I love the way you look tonight,” Keith says. MK insists she feels good. Keith praises her recovery from the botch with the band, but tells her she needs to work on owning the stage. True story. J-Lo liked the opening, sung to the mirror, suggesting she should do that more in future practicing. J-Lo argues that after MK got mixed up with the band, MK let it get to her and she didn't bound back. Harry didn't think it was one of her best performances. “I stumbled” is MK's answer for what went wrong.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
My Take: Oh good. The pre-song clip package features Randy and Ryan mocking Dexter for his diction and enunciation and he hits the stages mumbling like Fenster in “The Usual Suspects.” That's pretty much the opposite of taking mentoring. This isn't what Dexter does well. He's better when he's playing the guitar and channeling the music. Here, he's on cruuuuuuuuise-control, ambling around the stage with almost no affect. I feel like Dexter used to be above this season's general mediocrity, but he's let it pull him down. He used to give “different” performances. This wasn't different at all. It was slurred and generic. And already, I'm starting to worry about how this episode is going.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo calls it “good,”but she wanted Dexter to work to get the audience more involved. She wanted more “rallying.” Harry didn't think it was a good performance at all. “You didn't do anything different,” Harry says, warning Dexter that he needed to be bigger than the song. Keith thought it was a good song choice, that it's a song that suits who he is. Apparently the beginning of the song was different from the Florida Georgia Line original. Keith and Harry both wonder why he didn't stay there. “Your talent shows me what you can do, but your artistry tells me who you are,” Keith says, Yoda-like.
8:31 p.m. Dexter is the second consecutive singer who doesn't particularly care about criticisms.
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
My Take: Jena is all sparkling and stuff. I'm not sure that Jena has given a genuinely good performance without her piano. This is a bit closer. She tends to get a bit bellow-y, losing the rhythm in the process, but she's a bit closer her. She's also making effort to connect with the audience, urging them to wave their glowsticks and whatnot. For the most part, she keeps her breath and holds the notes. I can't honestly say that this is “electronic,” per se. But it's possible that the kids today have a different definition of electronic from back in the day. After two weak performances, that's the night's first performance that I'd put in the positive column. I think there's something kinda Cher-esque about Jena, that you can put her in the middle of almost any sea of music and her voice is big enough to carve out its own place. Jena interests me because she's one of this season's few contestants who are outside of the good-not-great karaoke belt. Hopefully that'll allow her to stand out, because she deserves to go a long way.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thinks this might be her wheelhouse. “I felt like I was at Ultra for a moment,” Harry says. Harry also claims that there isn't much to the tune, but Keith strongly disagrees. J-Lo sits in the middle giggling adorably and nervously. “That's the best performance of the night so far, baby, easily,” Keith says. J-Lo tells Jena that she needs to hold the middle, in addition to working the stage and audience.
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “Story of My Life”
My Take: One Direction, eh? Is this an established stripped-down arrangement? It's pretty darned clean and effective. It's pretty much a Phillip Phillips song at this point, which is just fine. Certainly J-Lo is loving it, just dancing away. And when J-Lo loves something and dances along, how can you not dance along with her? That was good and I can't imagine One Direction fans being hostile to that, unlike the way “Frozen” fans didn't respond to Majesty's poor “Let It Go” performance last week. And every bit of what Alex was doing contributed to that performance. It was a good vocal, distinct from the original. And it was a good guitar-driven performance, distinct from the original. We're bouncing back now!
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith likes that he made it his own. “I loved it,” J-Lo coos, also telling Alex that he owned the stage. J-Lo compares Alex to Buddy Holly. That's strange, since J-Lo remembers Buddy Holly as much as I do. Why not compare him to Elvis Costello or something? “You just hit the bull's-eye on the artistry target,” Harry says. Harry also tells a second straight artist that they're showing who they are as an artist.
8:54 p.m. MK Nobilette's reaction to the praise for Alex is chilling. I don't think she hates Alex or anything, but she's definitely not happy with the way the evening is playing out so far.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “When I Was Your Man”
My Take: Malaya's locked into the meaning of this song. She also wants somebody to send her flowers. She's ceded piano-playing responsibilities. After two weeks of straightened hair, she's going with curls this week. If this had come after the first two dud performances, I'd have praised Malaya for turning the corner. Coming after Jena and the build to Alex, I'll just credit Malaya for maintaining the positive momentum. It's not a dynamic performance, but it's a very good vocal and it's probably her most controlled, restrained vocal to date. She's clear on the lyrics and she articulates them well. That was good.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo didn't love the beginning, but when Malaya it the middle, J-Lo got goosies. Harry liked Malaya's sincerity in interpreting the lyrics. Harry wants Malaya to work with the music people to get different chords so that her runs match the chords better? Or something? Ryan ends the performance by bringing Malaya flowers. Awww.
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: “Edge of Glory”
My Take: This is probably the most Caleb-y Lady Gaga song that Caleb could have chosen. The pace is a little strange, but this is definitely an '80s ballad version of “Edge of Glory.” This is definitely Journey's “Edge of Glory.” It's a smidge sedate before Caleb brings it home with a flourish. I'd like to see Caleb go with something harder rocking next week after two straight ballads. But that was good.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was admirable. He gives Caleb an “A” for originality, but also says he's seen better performances from Caleb. Sounds right. Keith raves about his “killer tone,” but he didn't like the slowed-down arrangement, calling it “lumbering.” J-Lo wanted more feeling, saying he was just showing off vocally and not connecting. Meanwhile, Keith and Harry change seats and mock each other.
9:19 p.m. Caleb takes his criticisms in stride. That's why I like Caleb. MK Nobilette? Still miserable.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
My Take: That's a nifty string quartet behind CJ. I kinda want to listen to them a bit. But CJ is good, too. This is a vintage sharp-but-good performance from CJ. He's definitely a tiny bit off on most of the song, but it mostly reads as emotion here. If I'm being honest, as enthusiastic as I am about the idea of the string quartet, I don't think they're meshing especially well with CJ because of that sharp-but-good thing. As a solo, that would have played, but set against the quartet, it sounded more out-of-tune than usual. Yeah, that started well, but didn't fully gel in the end. This is the plight of doing these live-blogs with my reactions live. I liked that performance in the start and liked it progressively less throughout. But that's why I don't go back and change my early impressions. Sometimes songs are journeys. This just wasn't a good journey. I think CJ is probably in a bit of trouble.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith tells us that CJ nailed the performance at rehearsal, but tonight he had trouble staying in tune. J-Lo loves that CJ's heart was in it, but she echoes that CJ nailed the performance in rehearsal. Harry doesn't go to rehearsals because, um, they don't count. Harry does a full demonstration of singing above the notes. It's a good demonstration. It's an audibly comprehensible demonstration. Will CJ be able to do anything with it? I would like to hear more about CJ's BBQ.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “Pumped Up Kicks”
My Take: I keep forgetting that Jessica is still around. She probably shouldn't be. This is her third straight week with the back-of-the-throat yodel that wasn't there at the start of the season. I don't like it. And I don't like the verse. The gulp-singing relaxes a bit on the chorus and she sounds better there. I'll salute Jessica for making this one her own. It's much less playful and darker in her version. Of course, the counterpoint between melody and lyrics is kinda essential to the original and she's made the subtext text. But it was better than her performances the past two weeks. I'd put it at the top of the bottom half of tonight's performances.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo says “it felt really good” and adds that the song was in Jessica's wheelhouse. Harry refers to Jessica's “complacent smile.” Ouch. Harry says that her performances tend to be one-dimensional and he didn't understand her smile. Jessica says she doesn't endorse homicidal behavior. Keith says there was a '60s country-pop thing. Another Harry and Keith fight breaks out over how important the lyrics are. Harry says the lyrics are important. J-Lo and Keith disagree. Harry's getting that “I want to go home” look on his face.
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
Song: “Wake Me Up”
My Take: Majesty made one of last week's biggest blunders, with a good song choice and a bad performance. Tonight's much safer, but also smarter. She's on an oversized guitar and she's just singing and playing and projecting personality through her eyes, rather than overselling her youthful energy by bouncing around the stage manically. That's her best pure vocal for weeks and a really good, solid bounceback performance. Majesty was at the bottom of the pack last week and tonight she's back in the middle. There's a big middle this season on “Idol.”
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry says that Majesty is complex. He suggests that audiences like to be challenged. Harry's wrong about that, but he's right to emphasize the intelligence of that performance. Keith, however, disagrees. He missed the fusion of folk-and-beat from the original track, criticizing the arrangement. J-Lo thought she saw fear from Majesty this week, but she felt that Real Majesty came through in the second half of the performance.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: “We Are Young”
My Take: Sam stumbled outside of his comfort zone last week and confused his core demo. He really couldn't go wrong with this theme, because no matter what he did, he wouldn't sound as out-of-touch as he did last week. Still, this is a strange song choice, taking a bouncy up-tempo song and stripping the bounce. This is the sort of thing that Alex Preston could get away with. Sam has good moments here and wobbly, weak moments. I'd say that Sam will be safe tomorrow, but that's more a factor of stumbles from other singers, as well as getting back into a more youthful lane, rather than what he did up there. Oh and the hat. Teenage girls love that hat. [Do they? I really have no clue.]
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith is sure he'll get to speak to Sam next week. J-Lo loved it. Harry thinks Sam is timid still. He wants Sam to be more assertive.
10:00 p.m. Alex, Malaya and Jena were tonight's best. Caleb and Majesty were OK. Jessica and Sam were good enough not to go home.
10:00 p.m. That puts MK, CJ and Dexter in my Bottom Three. And I think this is MK's week to go. It was a bad performance and her attitude afterwards was pretty weak.
What's your guess?