Wednesday (March 12) night's “American Idol” is officially called something like Soundtrack To Our Lives, which is what we're calling this year's permutation on the always-confusing Music From The Movies theme, in which singers go through contortions to justify performances from songs which, indeed, may have once popped up in a movie at some point.
Several of the songs teased by “Idol” for tonight actually *do* seem to hail meaningfully from movies. I can't quibble with “Skyfall” or “Falling Slowly” or “Sound of Silence.” The idea that “Sweet Home Alabama” fits the theme is a complete cheat but… That's how this goes!
Click through and follow along!
8:01 p.m. I'm pretty sure that “Ocean's Eleven”-themed opening was produced by somebody who never watched either version of “Ocean.”
8:02 p.m. More close-ups of the audience, please! I want to see all of the people who will be clapping off-the-beat tonight.
8:03 p.m. The screen behind Ryan says “Songs from the Cinema,” so that's what I'm changing my recap title to. It makes more sense than the other nebulous thing. That's a very, very pink outfit Jennifer Lopez is wearing.
8:04 p.m. Tonight's songs must either have been written for a movie, or heavily featured in a movie.
8:05 p.m. Harry Connick Jr. has a new catchphrase: “You have to be in it to win it.” The other judges suggest they may have heard that phrase before. Then Ryan shames Harry for being mean last week. Our first performer is…
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: “Come Together”
My Take: This is Sam's idea of “a song from a movie” and it's apparently his idea of an up-beat song. I like the “test footage” of the other Idol contestants making fun of Sam and his awkwardness. We're saying this is from “Across the Universe,” are we? Sigh. Yeah. Sam Woolf has absolutely no clue what he's singing about here. He's doing a silly, lounge-y, essentially meaningless rendition of “Come Together.” Don't get me wrong: NOBODY knows what they're singing about when they sing “Come Together,” but whatever “Come Together” is, if you're doing it as an easy-listening song, you're doing it wrong. This is bland, wooden karaoke. I guess we give Sam credit for movement this week. He's been frozen-in-place for weeks now, but tonight he stands up and walks a little. He doesn't look comfortable doing it, but at least it looks like he's trying. Please don't pretend that was good, judges.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “It was great to hear that side of you,” Keith says, praising Sam for loosening up. “You've gotta act like you know the girls are gonna like you,” J-Lo says. “It's like Baby Rock Star. We need Big Rock Star,” J-Lo says, correctly telling Sam that there was absolutely no personality in his performance. “I really think you're on the way to where you need to be,” says Harry. He wanted more “vibe,” calling it “average.”
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “Sound of Silence”
My Take: Another amusing successful piece of mockery from the other contestants. I don't believe for a second that the contestants actually like each other. And I love that! Jessica was so brutal last week that it's almost a sweet relief that several early notes are in tune. But in general, she's consistently sharp again. And, like last week, she's singing from a weird place in the back of her throat. This is practically yodeling and there are rhythmic problems, which are almost certainly on the band. This is definitely better than last week, but it's still pretty sleepy and low-personality. For a seasoned performer like Jessica, there's no excuse for being so dead-eyed up there. Two weeks ago, Jessica was good. I have to keep reminding myself of that.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo says it seems like the perfect song for her, but she felt like Jessica never got in the groove. Harry says the band was off, but he credits Jessica for singing through it and tells her to stay in her lane. Keith thinks Jessica needs to learn to use the dynamics of the microphone and the room so that it doesn't seem like she's playing in a smokey bar.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
Song: “Can't You See”
My Take: Total theme cheat. This is a great song, but just because it was, indeed, in “Blow” doesn't make it a song from a movie. CJ has a gift for simultaneously making it seem like he's getting deeply into his songs, but also giving off that “Aw shucks, I'm just happy to be on this stage” vibe. He sounds decent, he's playing well and he doesn't get distracted during the inevitable moment that the band gets lost. Rickey Minor is accustomed to leading an “Idol” band that is supplying all of the music. He's lost when it comes to interacting with this season's musician-contestants. And he isn't better. With that performance, CJ added at least a tiny bit of energy that both Sam and Jessica were lacking and the judges are appreciative. I'm just glad to still be awake at the end of a 90-second performance. Yup. I'm lowering my bar, but at least CJ has set a higher standard for tonight.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thinks CJ picked and sang his way back to the forefront of the competition. Harry calls it “killer.” J-Lo is all emotion. “You're a frontrunner, baby,” she says.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
Song: “Sweet Home Alabama”
My Take: I don't care if it's the name of a darned movie. Unless you're gonna come out and say, “Damn, I just get deeply emotionally invested in Reese Witherspoon choosing between Josh Lucas and P-Demps,” this is a theme cheat. And saying it's from “Forrest Gump” is even lamer. And if Dexter learned anything from the judges telling him to put a bit more of his stamp on songs, there's no evidence of it here. This is, honestly, a big disappointment for me. If you travel the State of Alabama on ANY Saturday night, you could find 100 singers at 100 bars doing that exact same cover of “Sweet Home Alabama,” possibly more. I think that Dexter is too talented to be doing such a cookie-cutter cover.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You're really starting to feel the thing now,” Keith says, but he adds the part about his need to make it more individual, asking for more “Dexter-ism.” J-Lo says nothing of note. Harry says that Dexter is smart, but he tells him that he has to be bigger than a song like that. The judges were absolutely told to soft-peddle criticisms this week. And it's not like Dexter's performance was BAD, but if you keep leveling the same criticism every week and there isn't any adjustment, don't coddle the singer.
Singer: BEN BRILEY
Song: “Bennie and the Jets”
My Take: Seriously? “27 Dresses”? We're going to pretend that this is a song from “27 Dresses”? “Never seen the movie,” Ben admits. Even Seacrest grumbles that Ben is violating the spirit of the theme. Violation aside, I love this weirdly dapper version of Ben and I appreciate his ballsy attempt to play an Elton John song on the piano, while keeping his natural twang intact. Ben is having fun here and he's trying to showcase some musical diversity, but I keep waiting for it to kick into some next gear. Instead, Ben abandons the piano and sings the last 20 seconds in a strange falsetto that doesn't do him or the song any favors.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo is confused by Ben's transition in his identity. She isn't sure the song suited who he is. Harry calls it “sorta pointless” and says it lacked energy. Harry doesn't think he knows what the real Ben sounds like. I'm not sure why Harry didn't have the same criticism for Jessica, but whatever. Keith is struggling because he loved Ben's easy authenticity before, but now Ben's doing things that don't feel authentic. Because Harry said that Ben needed to pound the piano, Ryan calls him on stage. Harry comes and plays a little, but he doesn't pound.
9:02 p.m. Male voters from a peculiar Facebook sample love CJ, followed by Jessica. Female voters also love CJ. Interestingly, Sam is only in fourth with the ladies. Up next…
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
Song: “Let It Go”
My Take: It's obvious that the other contestants have no clue who Majesty is. I liked this “Auditioning” gimmick for the first couple. I don't anymore. Anyway, this should be a great pick for Majesty, who gets to capitalize on the most “current” of tonight's song. Of course, she's also has to follow in the footsteps of Idina Menzel. Majesty can't vocally compete with Menzel in the slightest and there are some painfully rough notes, especially when she hits the first chorus. As a stage performance and a personality showcase, though, this is much more successful. I believe that this is a song that Majesty loves and connects to. But she needs to stop trying for big vocals. She doesn't have that in her. The Janel Monae thing was much more logical for her and her voice. To me, this performance would have been acceptable in a traveling “Frozen on Ice” stage show, but as a stand-alone? In the shadow of Idina? Not quite there.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry is confused by who Majesty is, but he also says this was a strong performance. Oh. Keith's wife and daughters love the song, but he says it's a big song and he only felt “most of it” was good. “You could actually be a voice in one of these,” J-Lo says. Her kids love Olaf.
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
My Take: Tackling Adele is nutty to begin with, but tackling Adele when you're a male rock vocalist? That's either gonna be awesome or it's gonna be a disaster. Fortunately, Caleb is too good for disaster. He lets the song have a slow build. It's probably too slow a build. Get there sooner, Caleb! Whew. He gets there. And when he gets there? He earns the big notes and nails them. He adds just enough of his rocker rasp on the chorus for it to sound more like a Caleb James Bond theme than like an Adele James Bond theme. But that could be a Bond theme. And that was my favorite vocal of the night.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That was not predictable at all, but it was fully dependable,” Keith raves. “We're seeing great performances tonight,” J-Lo says, incorrectly. “I loved that,” J-Lo says. “That was fantastic. You're gonna be very hard to beat,” Harry says.
Singer: MK NOBILETTE
Song: “To Make You Feel My Love”
My Take: There are two different covers of this Bob Dylan song on the soundtrack from “Hope Float,” so I'll allow it. Also, nobody was going to sing a song from the “Copycat” soundtrack tonight, so this is as close as we're gonna get. This is also the best song choice MK has made for several weeks. She's now become way over-styled and I don't exactly know if I buy it and the stagecraft where she walks down and serenades the judges doesn't feel natural in the slightest. But the vocal is earnest and honest and has some emotion. She could have gotten away with doing that one on a stool and it might have felt a bit more genuine? But this is an improvement over the past two weeks.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo compares MK to K.D. Lang. Harry cautions MK about her runs, about her “melismas,” but he's otherwise positive. Keith loves how MK looks and points out one specific line where she lost herself in emotion.
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “Falling Slowly”
My Take: I'm still bitter that “X Factor” never let Alex & Sierra do this one alone last season, especially since we know that Alex & Sierra are Alex Preston fans. Credit Alex for changing the arrangement of the song so significantly that it doesn't become crippling that it's a duet and he's singing it solo. He manages to tinker with the melody without sacrificing the emotional yearning from the song. I love the original and I'm not sure I buy it as a solo, but that's about as close to doing it right as you could hope to. And that's definitely the night's most adventurous and musical performance. Honestly, Alex and Caleb are miles above the rest for me, just because I can see them trying things and *mostly* succeeding. Ben tried things and I don't want to criticize him too harshly, but he mostly didn't succeed.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry is glad that there's a platform for this sort of simple performance. “I'm really proud of you, man,” Harry says. “I love your artistry,” Keith says. “That was a perfect song for you. You sang it perfectly. It was beautiful,” J-Lo coos.
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
My Take: Yay. Jena's back on the piano. I hate to say that she should never leave the piano for the rest of the season. But she shouldn't. Jena just seems more connected tonight than she has in the past couple non-piano weeks. I think this is also a great song choice for her, because it lets her have a legitimate outlet for her frequently huge voice. I don't like the cut-down of the song at all, but what Jenna does with it puts her easily in tonight's top-tier. This version of Jena could be a contender. She really needs to be smart with her choices. This one was smart.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “There's a ferocity about the way you perform,” Keith says, before accidentally calling her “Jenna.” J-Lo doesn't know what Jena was doing in the Bottom 3 last week. I do! She deserved to be! Tonight? She deserves to be safe with easy. “It was different. It was just a good,” Harry says of Jena's cover. “Something different happens when I'm on the piano,” Jena says correctly.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “I Am Changing”
My Take: The “Idol” and Detroit connections help Malaya sell this performance. She's not quite trained enough as a singer to legitimately pull this song off on a vocal level. But I feel like in five years she probably will be able to. For now, I just applaud the aspiration. That was the biggest, hardest song that anybody sang tonight and she did it some justice. A few moments were shout-y and didn't necessarily match the “Idol” stage and venue, but those were failures of experience, not skill.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo enjoyed all of the performances tonight and she steals Keith's “killer.” “You just showed everybody that there is a big belter,” Harry says. “You've got a really good understanding of the songs that play to your strengths,” Keith says.
9:59 p.m. Caleb's in the lead with male voters and female voters. It's so stupid, this vote-tabulation display. Of COURSE Malaya is in last. She finished two seconds ago. Sigh.
10:00 p.m. That was better than last week, because nobody was awful. But don't let the judges tell you it was actually a great show. I think Alex, Caleb and Jena were the standouts, with Malaya just a bit behind.
10:01 p.m. It's hard to predict results, though! I really think we're going to get a male in the Bottom Three tomorrow, but there are things that are hard for me to predict. Jessica would be in my Bottom 3, but America seems to like voting for her. Majesty sang the current hit, but she didn't do it very well. And I think Ben went too far out of his comfort zone and he could be in a little trouble. So that's my Bottom 3, but I feel no confidence in it. That means, for example, that I'm pretending that MK escapes the Bottom 3 and I don't know that I honestly believe that. What the heck, I guessed the first two weeks correctly, so I can guess stupid-and-wrong this time: I say Majesty's combination of smart song choice, but weak performance blows up in her face and she goes home. But I'm gonna be wrong.
What do you think?