Look, we all know that The Judges' Save is a crapshoot.
Yes, it got us more quirky musicality from Casey Abrams and it allowed Jessica Sanchez to make it to the Finals, but how much gratitude should we show an innovation that also prolonged the “Idol” lives of Matt Giraud and Michael Lynche?
I guess we should feel lucky that Sam Woolf has survived to participate in a theme that I'm sure is near-and-dear to his heart: '80s Night.
Sam isn't the only “Idol” Finalist with a sketchy connection to the '80s. Actually, the total number of remaining contestants who drew breath in the '80s is a resounding “zero.”
So… This is gonna be fun!
8:00 p.m. ET. We begin with a reminder of last week's “drama,” which strongly suggests that if Sam had gone home, this would be '70s Week. This week featured David Cook as a mentor. He was at least born in the '80s so he knows of what he speaks, kinda.
8:02 p.m. Oh, “Idol.” If we can't identify the Top 8 by now, it's too late.
8:04 p.m. Multiple introductions for the Top 8. This may be overkill on the overkill.
8:04 p.m. Time now for the Jennifer Lopez Fashion Show, or the introduction of the judges. Keith Urban has a theme-appropriate mullet. Two minutes is all he can stand and he has to get J-Lo to remove his extensions.
8:06 p.m. Ryan Seacrest describes the '80s as a time when “Instagram, Snapshot and even the Selfie did not exist.” Yup. That sums it up. Not much else to say, really.
8:08 p.m. Our first performer tonight is…
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
Song: “I Love Rock -n- Roll”
My Take: Joan Jett is a good role model for Jena here, but it's amusing how initially confused David Cook is by Jena's approach, which starts on the piano. It's actually a killer intro, even if it has nothing to do with rock-n-roll. But as good an idea as is, it seems to start Jena way, way, too low. The first verse becomes a slow, low mumble. There's no melody and no lyrics because she's just languishing in the key. Then as she approaches the chorus she takes three deep breaths and suddenly the song is back in her comfort zone. I quite like the second half of the performance. I have no idea why they didn't arrange the start of the song so that she could sing it properly.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith thought the beginning was “kinda cool,” but he notes that she started in too low a key. “For me it languished a little in the middle,” J-Lo laments, but she praises Jena for putting her stamp on it. Keith wasn't a fan of the arrangement, but he loves that she's “trying and twisting.” Harry also suggests that it felt too choreographed. “Makes sense,” Jena says, unsure how to handle her harshest criticisms in months.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
Song: “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”
My Take: Three cheers for David Cook telling Dexter to enunciate, especially on the chorus. We're past the point at which Dexter's marble-mouthed slur is helping him. We get that he's country, but come on! Whatever lesson David Cook tried teaching Dexter fell on cotton-filled ears. Dexter does, indeed, say “hands” on the chorus, but he forgets that the verse also has lyrics. And there's this illusion that Dexter is playing the guitar, a illusion he abandons by using a full 10 seconds of his solo performance to high-five the audience and let the actual lead guitarist shine. That was Dexter in full bar-band karaoke model. His failure to grow or evolve on any level has become limiting. Dexter took a step forward last week. This is a step back. It wasn't bad. We've had many mechanical country singers on “Idol” who were a lot worse than Dexter, but he's at his ceiling in the competition if he doesn't change things up.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo felt like Dexter owned the song. Harry preferred what Dexter did last week, calling tonight “fine.” Keith felt that Dexter was a bit too robotic, or too wooden in his performance.
Singer: ALEX & SAM
Song:“The Girl Is Mine”
My Take: Sign. I see the name of this duo and I think, “Cool! Alex & Sierra.” But no. It's Alex & Sam. We got an indication of this last week and we're hearing it again here: Sam can't do harmony. He's just fine on the melody, but when he and Alex trade off and he has to take a secondary role, he doesn't know what to do. And Alex can do harmony, so it's not the best of pairings for Sam. Last week, Sam and Malaya got to be uncertain together. This week, it's a pro and a little kid. Oh well.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Sam thanks the judges for giving him the Save last week. He also thanks America, confusingly. Keith liked how their voices sound together. It's like somebody forgot that these performances weren't judged last week. Ryan comes scurrying out on-stage to end the awkward conversation.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “Through the Fire”
My Take: This is such a boring song choice given the theme. I get that Malaya has this diva voice, but she needs to find more songs that combine her personality with her vocal range. This shows very little of her personality and devolves into close-eyed shouting by the end. Actually, she's even shouting in the beginning when a little more nuance would be better. The build-up of the song has been lost entirely and as impressive as some of the big notes at the end are, it doesn't feel like an organic and composed choice. That's a Bottom 3 performance for sure.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “There's never any doubting your vocal ability,” Keith says, but he tells her to “lay back into it a little.” J-Lo calls Malaya the baby of the group and tells her to relax. Harry felt like her entirely performance was gearing up for the big note at the end.
Singers: CALEB & JENA
Song: “It's Only Love”
My Take: It's a frontrunner duet, but we're barely paying any attention, because Harry chose this moment to watch a performance down in the audience. He's got a girl from the audience on his shoulders clapping, as Ryan looks over in utter bafflement. I really hope that's his daughter. Nope. It's Nicole. Caleb and Jena are good together and I… Seriously. Harry returns to the judging panel with the girl on his shoulder. Why is this happening? Nobody else seems to understand. I should be concentrating on the duet between my two favorite contestants of the season. I am not and the director certainly isn't.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “Call Me”
My Take: This is the third straight week that somebody has done a song that I associate with Haley Reinhart on “Idol” and the second time in three weeks that it has been Jessica. And once again I'm forced to say that Jessica is no Haley Reinhart and this wasn't even one of Haley's better performance. Jessica was lifeless covering Stevie Nicks two weeks ago and she's lifeless covering Debbie Harry tonight. She was so much more engaged last week covering herself and dueling with Caleb. On a big note near the end, Jessica smiles for the first time and there's a hint at the attitude that should have fueled every second of this performance. And Jessica's shirt is blending into the font on her name on the screen. Either the costuming or font decision was a mistake. I'll let you choose which. [Like I said, jt's not one of Haley's best vocals, but if you want to see an “Idol” contestant get the naughty swagger behind this song, check her out.]
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You have a great voice and it sounded great on that song,” Harry says, but he tells her that she needs to feel the groove and sing in that pocket. Jessica nods politely. Keith wanted “the rest of the release.” Ew. J-Lo explains the attitude of the song and in one line, she has more attitude and sexiness than Jessica has been able to produce all season combined.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: “Time After Time”
My Take: I wonder if David Cook looks at Sam Woolf and thinks, “Third-rate David Archuleta wannabe”? David is down in the audience and it's hilarious how hard he's thinking of making eye-contact with somebody, anybody. He's practically squinting. Several gals in the audience are very pleased with their proximity to Sam, but there's very little sign that Sam is aware of the squealing adulation. He's mostly aware of the camera and the cameraman is trying to make it easy for Sam by getting up in his face, allowing women at home to believe that he's singing to them. He's not. He's singing to his grandma. Sorry. He's made a few changes to the song that are designed to shake him out of his much-too-smooth comfort zone and I want to give him credit for those changes. There's a tiny bit more emotion than usual in Sam's performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Sam feels good. Keith liked the musicality and the way that people in the pit looked at Sam, but he still wants him looser. J-Lo felt Sam trying to feel it and she accuses him of making himself blush. Harry isn't sure why Sam was looking into the camera the whole time. He tells Sam to go onto YouTube and look up Rickey Nelson.
Singer: MALAYA & CJ
Song: “I Knew You Were Waiting”
My Take: Malaya and CJ have no chemistry, either performing or meshing their voices. They're barely trying. Just last week's solo performances were better than anything we've gotten tonight, last week's duets were much better than these.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I think you guys were adorable together,” J-Lo says. Harry calls it “cute,” “OK” and “fun” and compares it to “regional theater.” #TeamHarry
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “Every Breath You Take”
My Take: David Cook and Alex Preston are kindred spirits. Will it yield a good performance? I like Alex's guitar work. If fellow New Hampshire-ite Adam Sandler did a movie in which he played a lovably nervous stalker, this is an arrangement his character would perform for his love interest, played by Drew Barrymore. No. Seriously. Adam Sandler. Lovable stalker. Now rewatch the performance. Now you want Alex to do “The Hanukkah Song” next week, don't you? Yes. You do. And “Lunchlady Land” the week after that. Now, all you want is to hear Alex Preston crooning “Sloppy Joe, Sloppy Sloppy Joe.” And with that, I've ruined Alex Preston for myself.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say:Harry thought it sounded like a new tune, but week-to-week Harry feels like Alex is a performer and not an entertainer. He's worried that “the coffee-house treatment” will catch up with Alex. Alex grabs Keith's attention when he starts singing. Keith commends Alex for “the bold undertaking” of changing up the song, but tells him to take more liberty with the tempo. “I disagree with the guys,” J-Lo says. The audience cheers, thinking it's going to be praise. Nope! J-Lo felt that Alex lost the soul of the song by changing it. Alex knows the song is about a stalker, but he thinks there's a sweetness.
Singer: DEXTER & JESSICA
Song: “Islands In The Stream”
My Take: The duets have been so poor tonight that this is the best of the duets. By a lot. But however good the duet is, it's not as good as the image of J-Lo sitting alone by herself on the judging panel after being abandoned by Harry and Keith. With the other two judges up in the rafters, Dexter and Jessica come to keep J-Lo company.
9:40 p.m. The judges singing “Like a Virgin” was the highlight of this episode. By a lot.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
Song: “Free Falling”
My Take: Very tricky, CJ. By slowing down the Tom Petty classic, CJ has made it impossible for me to say, “Dude. Those aren't the notes,” because there's at least a 35 percent chance that CJ is singing the notes he wants to be singing. Yes, those notes are sharp and don't adhere to any real melody, but maybe that's what CJ is going for! This is maybe all a part of making the song his own. I don't know! The confused way-against-the-beat audience-clapping adds to the other-worldly aspect of what I think may have been an awful performance, but may also have been brilliant. Who knows?
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo felt that it started shaky, but he touched her heart by the end. “There's a connection that you have virtually every time you get up there,” Harry says. Harry also thinks that CJ hit the high notes in tune, but says he has “that connection thing.” “That was a great rendition of that song,” Keith says, applauding CJ for his “survivor tone.”
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
My Take: Caleb getting the Pimp Slot on '80s Night was probably a foregone conclusion. And Caleb eventually doing Journey was probably a foregone conclusion. If Arnel Pineda's voice ever gives out, Caleb can step right in. He also apparently can step right into David Cook's shirts. [David Cook is terrific at this, by the way. He could be a permanent “Idol” mentor.] This is definitely Caleb trying to do a finesse performance and he's got J-Lo singing along from the beginning. He's got Keith waving his Lighter ap. I'd probably prefer to see Caleb do several other Journey songs. This is one that has to be experienced in totality, not in a two-minute block. But on a weak night, that was the peak.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry had been waiting for that performance since the first day he met him. “It was killer,” Keith says. “It was all function,” he added. J-Lo felt like Caleb was out of his comfort zone in the beginning, but he murdered the big stuff.
9:58 p.m. Caleb was tonight's best. Nobody else deserves to be mentioned.
9:59 p.m. Malaya, Dexter and CJ would be in my Bottom Three. Are we sending one person home tomorrow or two? “Someone,” Seacrest says. So only one elimination? I'm guessing Malaya. She's not the worst. At all. But I think her song choice and her specific performance could doom her.
What do y'all think?