Last Thursday's “American Idol” results weren't entirely shocking. I'd predicted that Kristen O'Connor would be eliminated and, for several reasons, she was. However, it was a minor surprise to see all of the Bottom Three slots go to women, which suggests either a shift in talent from last season, or a shift in voting patterns. It's too early, though, to know if we should start worrying about all of the girls, or just the weaker ones.
Wednesday's theme is “Home,” which should be roughly interchangeable from last week's theme, which involved songs that made a personal statement. After all, if your personal statement didn't say anything about where you come from, how personal could it have been?
We'll see how things go after the break!
8 p.m. ET. Preparation montage! Can each of the Alabama contestants sing “Sweet Home Alabama”? “Who will bring the house down tonight?” asks Ryan Seacrest. Nobody, I hope. That would be tragic and not funny at all.
8:03 p.m. “That group is tighter than ever,” Ryan teases of both The Top 12 and our judges. I really can't tell if that's a skirt J-Lo is wearing or a half-skirt/half-shorts? Looks like a skirt. A black-and-white cookie of a skirt. “We need to applaud Ryan's suit,” Harry Connick Jr. says. “That's the modern man right there,” Harry says. “You look fly,” Seacrest tells J-Lo.
8:05 p.m. How do you balance performance and emotion? Keith says it's about striking a balance between being in the moment and being lost in the moment. “You've gotta come out here and you've gotta own it,” J-Lo says, warning the contestants that if they don't bring it, they're going home. Ryan calls Harry “Junior.” Junior says New Orleans is who he is. On to our first contestant…
8:06 p.m. Wait. Real-time votes? What does that mean?
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
Song: “Suddenly I See”
My Take: This song reminds Jena of roadtrips involving parts of her family. It's another week without an instrument for Jena. She's got a hilarious small-town backdrop behind her, complete with bouncing clouds and houses with picket fences and whatnot. I don't particularly like this as a song choice. It's all about touch and touch is Jena's weakness. It showcases almost none of her prodigious range. And, in fact, the chorus is almost entirely sung by the backing vocalists. Jena also makes the fundamental mistake of inciting the audience to clap. Why would any contestant do this? The audience has no rhythm. They never do. If you ask the audience to clap, there's a 95 percent chance they're going to do it wrong. And, indeed, Jena comes out gesturing for claps on one beat and the audience is all, “Duh… we're doing the best we can,” clapping against her beat. It's not her fault, but it's still excruciating. Melodically sounds fine — it's really not a hard song — and she looks like she's having fun, but that was way too little a performance. We'll see if other people come through with more emotional work.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith loves seeing this side of her, but he's not mad about the song choice, urging her to loosen up a little more. J-Lo says Jena's at the precipice of blooming on the stage, claiming that she's been “really good” at choosing her songs. I disagree. A lot. “You made different choices in the melody, which is good,” Harry says. However, Harry wants Jena to bust out and to be “climbing all over the ceiling.”
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “I Don't Wanna Be”
My Take: Mt. Vernon represent! Alex is milking his Lee DeWyzer thing by doing a Gavin DeGraw song that Lee sang on his road to victory. [UPDATE: It was actually Casey James who did “I Don't Wanna Be” that season. Weird that I was convinced it was Lee.] That's not a horrible idea, I suppose. He's also going electric. This is a much more open staging and performance from Alex, who is consciously trying to look like he's enjoying himself. There are smiles and eye contact and he's moving his shoulders for the first time all season. There are some changing to the pacing on the song that are either confusing Alex or the band or both. Between the band and the electric guitar and the vocal, there are maybe three things going on and this isn't Alex's best singing or his best vocal. However, I still think this is still a smart performance, because it's Alex doing a decent rendition of a song the audience will actually know, rather than going with something more obscure.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You look official,” J-Lo says of Alex's blue suit. However, J-Lo didn't like the arrangement and says it wasn't his best vocal. She warn him about the line between playing with a song and making changes that distract from the song. Harry thinks Alex is “pretty special” at singing intimidate songs, but he felt like Alex was overpowered by the arrangement. “The word 'instability' kept coming to me within the performance,” Keith says. Keith says the song was around him, rather than being inside the song.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “White Flag”
My Take: The backing imagery is some hilarious “X Factor”-style stuff. “Idol” didn't used to need to rely on such broad theatrics. The Motel with the flashing “vacancy” sign is just distracting. And adds nothing. Jessica is singing this whole performance from some weird place in her head. I'm trying to local the vocals within her skull. Is it all from the back of her throat? Everything is just a bit sharp and many of the words are swallowed for some reason. There's zero connection here at all. It's almost like the vacancy sign is blinking in Jessica's eyes. She's checked out on this performance. I didn't enjoy that at all.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was “understated” and “blase.” “You were sharp the whole time,” he says correctly. Every. Single. Second. He feels like the audience could hear her lack of focus. Keith loves the way Jessica sings and her musicality and he sings to her to prove that if you mean it, nobody will care about the pitch. He says literally nothing about this performance. Jessica is looking better and better to J-Lo, but J-Lo doesn't think Jessica looked comfortable. Jessica is disconnected from the criticisms as well and tells the judges they're probably correct.
8:31 p.m. And that's three straight not-especially-good performances to start this episode. Can our next singer fix things?
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
Song: “Lucky Man”
My Take: That would be the Montgomery Gentry “Lucky Man,” if you're curious. It's a somber song for Dexter and he begins by dedicating it to somebody who's no longer with us. It's Dexter on a chair with an acoustic guitar, with only limited backing. It's the first totally locked-in performance of the night. It's right in Dexter's vocal sweet spot and he's been given exactly the right arrangement. He's making the words and the notes count and really putting feeling into this. I haven't loved Dexter's last two performances this season, but that one's a winner, especially in the context of this episode. That was sincere and touching.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith calls it the perfect song. J-Lo is worried they've been too tough tonight. J-Lo remembers Scotty McCreery in her first season and she tells Dexter that he chose the right song, like Scotty did. Harry says it's about being honest and calls it the night's best performance. Which it was.
Singer: EMILY PIRIZ
Song: “Let's Get Loud”
My Take: Emily has a boyfriend. That's not usually the kind of confession that helps pretty contestants. However, she's got a boyfriend who's in the Marines. And he's sent a video. And it's very sweet. AWWW. I'll say this again: Emily just keeps picking weird songs. I get that she may feel a connection to the Latin flavor song and she may like the idea of singing J-Lo's song to J-Lo. The problem is that she doesn't have anywhere near the requisite swagger to pull this performance off. And if you're lacking in swagger, there isn't much here, because it's not really a very impressive song in terms of its requirements. So when she's barely moving and shouting “Let's get loud” slightly sharp, it's not effective at all. Nothing registers. I can't tell you anything about Emily's singing there or anything about her dancing. It was just negligible, totally.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo loved it, which is silly. “You have to match the intensity of the locomotive train, otherwise you're just going to be a passenger on the train,” Harry says, telling her that the productive was too big for her. “I loved it,” Keith says. Harry looks like he wants to throttle Keith. J-Lo stands up, does one hair-whip and it has more energy than Emily's entire performance.
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: “Working Man”
My Take: Caleb's drama teacher was a Rush fan, which explains why it reminds Caleb of home. Ha. It's just hilarious to go from Emily's barely-there teenage attitude, which felt tiny on the “Idol” stage, to Caleb's utter mastery of this little stage and his arena-ready vocals. Emily is a little girl without any sense of her own strengths. Caleb is a grown man who knows exactly what he's supposed to do up there. It really isn't fair, but “Idol” put them in the same segment, so what am I supposed to do? Caleb ends with a shout-out to Rickey Minor and a marvelously theatrical on-stage collapse. The dude does was he does and he does it well. Every time.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry calls him the season's most consistent performer, but he warns Caleb that he's becoming predictable. “What can you bring to rock-n-roll to push it forward?” Harry asks. It's a good question and the audience doesn't know how to react. “You're serious one of the best singers I've heard in a long, long time,” Keith says. “You're what I've been waiting for all night,” J-Lo says.
9:04 p.m. So far, the results are favoring Dexter, Jessica and Caleb. I don't get which votes Ryan is telling us about and Jessica was awful.
Singer: MK NOBILLETTE
Song: “Drops of Jupiter”
My Take: MK went over-produced last week and it probably didn't help her. So tonight, it's MK and her acoustic guitar. At least in the early going, there's no additional accompaniment. Eventually the band joins her a bit. I usually like sparse arrangements, because they can make the performance seem intimate. In this case, though, MK just looks and sounds small. Her voice doesn't project. Her playing doesn't project. Her physicality doesn't project. She looks lost and slight. The San Francisco backdrop behind MK is just hilarious. I don't know what anybody was thinking, because the backdrop is big and basically engulfs her. This feels like a Bottom Three performance, not because MK was worse than Jessica or Emily, but because she just faded away.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith thought it was a good song choice and her vocals were “fine,” but he wants to see more connection. J-Lo wanted a breakout performance from MK and this wasn't it, urging her to keep pushing. “I still get the feeling that you don't want to be here,” Harry says.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
Song: “Waiting on the World to Change”
My Take: CJ is funny. He's got this powerful adult-contemporary streak and that's where his heart seems to be. He's kinda masquerading as a country singer, because that's where his roots are, but this performance is much more authentic than anything he's done in the country vein. There's a looseness to his phrasing that causes him to lose words at the end of nearly every sentence, but I like the feeling throughout. He sells the song, even if he doesn't blow the performance away.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo loved the performance. Harry says CJ was consistently sharp, but he sang the lyrics and Harry bought it. Keith wants CJ to make songs more his own, but he thinks CJ can figure that out.
9:24 p.m. Seacrest mocking the spiritual advisors. Nice.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: “Just One”
My Take: Sam's singing a song that reminds him of Michigan, even if it isn't the music or lyrics that he's connecting to? That's not a good idea, Sam. The hat? Also not a good idea. Also, I've certainly never heard this song before, but it's a perfect match for Sam's voice and his mixture of blandness and earnestness. It's also a fairly brilliant piece of staging. He's down on the edge of the stage surrounded by teenage girls who look like they're staring at Harry Styles or Jesus. They're loving Sam so much that it's impossible not to feel like you should be loving him, even if you're not.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was a “pleasant” performance. He feels like Sam only has one beat emotionally and he wants to see Sam do more. Keith kinda agrees, but guarantees that Sam will be back next week.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “Take Me To The King”
My Take: Malaya was lost last week. This week, she's trying to go home, but the back-to-my-roots sense, not the getting-the-fewest-votes sense.. She's straightened her hair and toned down the eccentric wardrobe and she's back at the piano. If you put last week's performance next to this one, you wouldn't know they were by the same artist. Last week's performance was by somebody who could just as easily have gone home. This is somebody who could win this competition. There are moments of sharpness throughout, but there's also a huge voice in places, as well as some real soul and depth. That was a standout and a good comeback for Malaya.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith was standing well before the end. J-Lo had goosies from head to toe and tears in her eyes. “This felt very focused to me,” Harry says. He praises her guts in doing the gospel song.
Singer: BEN BRILEY
Song: “Turning Home”
My Take: Like Ben Briley, I loved deviled eggs. I know I related to him for a reason. And poor Ben's the only person without a support system in the audience. He does, however, have a whole stadium on the screen. For the first time, we're seeing Ben without an instrument, but sensing he needs support the audience arbitrarily begins to clap against the beat. Stupid crowd. I hate them so much. Even without his guitar, Ben does a big, emotional, full-voiced country turn. I like him more with the guitar. It contains him and gives him structure. But Ben's still in the upper-tier of tonight's performances.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “By the end of it, you had me,” J-Lo says. “I did not connect with it and it felt shouted to me,” Harry says. He's getting increasingly distressed. I wonder if Harry is regretting the Finalists he helped choose or if he's regretting doing “American Idol” on a weekly basis, but he's certainly regretting something tonight. Keith lost the story and the emotion from Ben. Awww. Ryan brings Ben a plate of deviled eggs. I've rarely seen a man so happy.
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
Song: “Fix You”
My Take: The “Idol” audience just can't stand a sound vacuum and they don't get if they ruin the song. Majesty's starting just with her guitar and she's sounding beautiful and the “Idol” audience is all, “What can we do to screw her up?” When it's just Majesty, her voice and her guitar, this performance is charming and quirky and effective. Then the backing singers come in and the song changes entirely and it becomes Majesty trying to out-sing them. Who made that decision? Why? Why oh why? This was my favorite performance of the night. And then it wasn't anymore. Sigh.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry liked the beginning and wished it stayed quiet. “You don't always have to go for the big thing,” J-Lo says. Keith agrees.
9:59 p.m. “We need the 'wow,'” J-Lo says, urging the singers to kill it next week.
10:00 p.m. Yeah. That wasn't good. I liked Dexter and Malaya. Caleb did his thing. And… I guess CJ and Sam were OK? And the first half of Majesty's performance was good? Jessica was the worst for me tonight, but Emily wasn't good. Really, even a bunch of the people I thought were variably OK in the moment really weren't. Sigh.
10:01 p.m. I think Emily's in a lot of trouble. If she survives it's 100 percent on the back of that military shout-out. If MK isn't in the Bottom Three, it's only because of last week's Bottom Three appearance and a small bounce. And… CJ is my pick for the other Bottom Three position, I guess. Maybe? I'm saying Emily goes home.
10:02 p.m. Actually, the best bet to go home tomorrow is Harry Connick Jr. We'll see if he can be convinced to stay.
What'd y'all think? Who's in trouble?