It’s time for Rush Week on “American Idol.”
No. I don’t know what “Rush Week” means either.
Apparently it will involve live performances and it will involve Randy Jackson and it will also feature the judges eliminating people even before they perform?
I’m confident that whoever the judges send home early from the Top 15 Women, Briana Oakley is going to perform. So she’s my picture here.
Beyond that, click through and we’ll experience this together.
7:59 p.m. ET. Let’s party!
8:00 p.m. There are 13 Stools of Destiny on the “Idol” stage. I hope they’re left there for the performances. And that somebody trips. “This is your show and this is ‘American Idol,'” Ryan Seacrest helpfully reminds us.
8:02 p.m. “Like the college Greek system, we’ll give you a tour of our talent,” Seacrest explains. Ick.
8:03 p.m. There is only one judge tonight and it is Jennifer Lopez. My goodness. “Let’s take a moment and just reflect on Jennifer’s dress for a second,” Ryan says. Sigh. It’s charming when I do it, but it’s creepy when you do it, Seacrest. No? Creepy both ways? You may be correct.
8:05 p.m. Ha. I missed that Kenzie Hall has become “Kenz.” Cute. Were there other name modifications that I missed?
8:05 p.m. Only 10 girls will perform tonight. That’s a pretty steep cut. Harry is looking for the next superstar, calling it the “most competitive group since the first year.” Randy Jackson gets a standing ovation. He explains his capacity as mentor. They went to a resort that took promotional consideration that I won’t be giving them. Randy introduces Team Idol, including Rickey Minor, the vocal coaches and the stylists. They’re learning about “micography”? Is that a thing? Also, they have “nondenominational spiritual advisors.” I may just vomit. Randy is joined by Adam Lambert and The Very Short Chris Daughtry, who are there to answer all of their non-spiritual questions. I assume we’re gonna see more from this?
8:10 p.m. Randy says the judges did an amazing job. He calls the talent “interesting and unique” and “modern.” Our first performer tonight is…
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
My Take: Majesty is hoping to play the guitar and move around. The arrangement is such that you’d never know whether or not she was actually playing. Still, having the instrument adds to Majesty’s air of smooth confidence. At the half-way point, Majesty pushes her guitar aside and leads the audience in clapping. That’s also when Majesty starts singing. When she opens up vocally, she’s great. When she’s just going through the motions on the verses, she’s entirely likable and confident on the stage, but maybe not memorable as a singer. I think her voice is better than what she showed here, but this shows an entertaining side. We’ll have to see how the other singers do tonight to see if Majesty accentuated the right thing in this spotlight.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That’s how you’re supposed to come out here,” J-Lo says. Harry is glad that Majesty set this tone. Keith calls it “easy and breezy,” saying it was the right song choice.
Singer: KRISTEN O’CONNOR
Song: “Turning Tables”
My Take: I’m not saying Kristen needs to wear a nurse’s uniform at all time, because that would be creepy. But I’m not sure I love the Boot Camp hat. This is a big song that Kristen chose. It’s the opposite of Majesty’s song choice. I don’t think Kristen cares if anybody thinks she’s “accessible.” She just wants to show she can sing. And she can, though she has some breathing problems early that mute some of the low notes and muffle the words. Her voice really soars when it needs to and she sounds better and better as she progresses. As we go along, we’ll work on that thing where she unhinges her jaw and threatens to devour the microphone on big notes. I think that was the opposite of Majesty’s performance, though both were just fine. We’ll see how people vote.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry calls this “another really powerful performance.” Yay! Keith calls her on the nerves and the breathing problems. “You’ve got a lot of special stuff in there,” Keith says. J-Lo loves her “special tone of voice,” but she says that in the beginning her timing was off with the band.
Singer: BRIANA OAKLEY
My Take: Whew. I figured Briana would get to perform. And I didn’t need to sweat it out. Briana, however, needs to sweat it out. Everybody is worried that she may come across as too professional and too robotic. The start is a little rough. It’s like Briana doesn’t quite know what the opening melody is and she fumbles along for a bit. She gets better and better as she progresses, but there’s a problem: We keep cutting to her mother in the crowd and her mother has genuine emotion just bursting out and Briana really doesn’t. And this is a song that requires emotion. Emotion is what Demi Lovato does best. It’s not what Briana does best. I’m not sure anybody in the competition can compete with Briana when it comes to range and sheer radio-ready vocals, but you can definitely see that there’s not a full connection to the material. This concerns me.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith is understanding that it takes a moment to settle into songs. Keith compares her voice to Irene Cara, which of course means almost nothing to Briana. Keith says she found the song at the end. J-Lo wanted to give Briana a hug when she came out because of her uncertainty. J-Lo compares Briana to “a young Whitney Houston,” but says that the connection and performance quality need to improve. “Everybody’s watching ‘Idol’ tonight and nobody’s watching the Olympics,” Harry says, before telling Briana that high notes aren’t triple axels and shouldn’t be over-used. He says she did “a fine job,” but that she shouldn’t fall into the trap of gunning for applause.
8:43 p.m. If you’re watching “Idol” on a small screen, this “Live” thing with the picture-in-picture in the upper right corner is absolutely, totally, 100 percent useless.
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
Song: “Paint It Black”
My Take: Another name change! Jena has decided she’s OK with people mispronouncing her first name, but she doesn’t want her last name — “Ascuitto” — to cause problems. Anybody else getting a Mikalah Gordon vibe from Jena? I think she wants us to get a Grace Slick vibe from her shout-y Rolling Stones cover. Instead, the vibe I’m getting is one of a fine singer trying way, way too hard and not getting the meaning and arc of a song which, ideally, is all about the build from subtle beginning to powerhouse chorus. There are very good, big moments, particularly at the end, but whatever subtlety the song seems — to me at least — to require is missing. It starts loud and builds to REALLY LOUD. I don’t think that’s not a performance that America is going to respond to.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You pulled that out at the end there, Jena,” J-Lo says, calling it “nice,” but also “sultry.” J-Lo calls Jena “a badass.” Harry asks her what the song is about. “Darkness,” she replies. Harry is correct. He says the intensity was there, but he had no clue what she was singing about, but calls it a good job. Keith says the way Jena holds a mic stand is cool and the vocals backed that up.
Singer: BRIA ANAI
Song: “Wrong Side of a Love Song”
My Take: Bria wants to be remembered as the girl with the lips. There’s definitely an adrenaline thing that’s hitting all of the singers when they hit the stage. It’s the downside of the “surprise” part of this format. Bria has bits and pieces of a spectacular voice. She’s also 16 and her voice is a bit of an unbroken stallion at this point. Her performance is really all over the place. In moments, I’m impressed as heck. But as a whole? That was all-over-the-place and not at all in a pleasant way. Next year at this time, she’d be so much better than she is now. It’s a challenge for the judges and I get why they put Bria through. Her upside is tremendous, but I don’t think she’s going to get anywhere near that upside without much more training.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “There’s a different between being incredibly passionate about what you’re about to sing and shouting it,” Harry says, as the audience begins to boo. Harry calls it “a broad spectrum.” Yup! Keith thinks Bria overshot the runway. “But you still have the lips,” Keith adds. “To me, you have star written all over you,” J-Lo says. J-Lo says that Bria had more control in the beginning, but as excitement took over, it got away from her.
Singer: MARRIALLE SELLARS
My Take:Marrialle needs to bounce back. She was a favorite after auditions and vanished in Hollywood. Her stage presence is just fantastic. She’s got a much better sense of the stage, of camera placement, of selling herself than anybody else tonight. She also starts flat and really never finds the melody for a single second. She’s singing under the music almost from the start. It’s hugely unfortunately, really. Why did she play with the guitar in the training sessions and then come out without it? That’s the kind of thing that, ideally, helps an artist stay with the notes and stay with the rhythm. Marrialle needs that. We know she can sing. We heard it in that first audition. But after her Hollywood solo, this is the second straight rough vocal. She’s such a showman — the shoe accident at the end is handled with utterly appealing aplomb — and I’d love to see more of her. I just don’t know if I want to hear more of her.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith didn’t like the song and he didn’t like the tempo. “It all came off too karaoke, baby,” Keith says. J-Lo isn’t sure why she didn’t sing it with the guitar and didn’t think it was the best showcase of who she is. Harry says she needs to sing in the pocket and he didn’t like the “giant production number.” He thinks she’s still a superstar, but she didn’t see it tonight.
9:14 p.m. This isn’t good. The show started with such potential and we’ve now had three straight messy performances.
9:16 p.m. I need something a bit more chill. Every arrangement has been overproduced tonight. Relax, Rickey Minor!
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “Drink a Beer”
My Take: I didn’t really want to hear Jessica perform tonight and it’s funny watching Chris Daughtry steer her away from using her guitar. Daughtry’s wisdom was not heeded and this is yet another arrangement that’s so big that you can’t hear Jessica’s guitar playing at all. I think she would have been much more comfortable with much less music behind her. She looks and sounds uncomfortable and stage comfort has always been the one thing I thought Jessica was pretty good at all. I’m not sure she has the pacing or the melody or the meaning of the song straight at all. That performance was largely disconnected. This show is spiraling.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo loves Jessica’s voice and can feel her nervousness. She says nothing at all about tonight’s performance and just says she hopes we get more of Jessica’s softness. Harry thinks Jessica has a tendency to go sharp and he wanted to feel more of what she was singing. Why are the judges being so gentle to Jessica? Are they afraid she’s gonna cut them? Keith doesn’t know why she was smiling through a song about lost love. OK. Guys. That was a bad performance. Why not just tell her?
Singer: EMILY PIRIZ
Song: “Paris Ooh La La”
My Take: I hate this song choice and I’m not sure I like how high she’s starting it. But thanks to the past three or four singers, I feel a bit better about what probably would have looked lackluster if it had come third in the show. I’m not really sure I’m getting a “rock chick” feeling from Emily at all, It’s kinda a Disney princess version of a raunchy song. But she’s singing the song with a simplicity that I don’t hate. Know your limitations. Don’t oversing. That was “Meh,” but graded on the recent curve, I might go as high as a sleepy “Meh-plus.” No higher, though. I’m already worried about some of the singers we’re not gonna get to tonight, because I refuse to believe there weren’t better performances that are going to be left on the bench.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry asks Emily to recite the first two lines of the song and asks her if this was what she wants to be singing about. Big ups to Harry. “It’s a touchy subject Harry,” Keith says. “Literally,” Harry says. Keith says artistry isn’t about standing in front of the mirror and pretending to be something. J-Lo loved what Emily did in Hollywood week with a quieter ballad, but she says this was one of the most “relaxed” performances of the night.
Singer: MK NOBILETTE
Song: “All of Me”
My Take: There was zero chance that MK wasn’t going to perform tonight. And there’s zero chance that she isn’t going to be in the Top 13, whether America votes her through or the judges have to give her a wild card. She means too much to “Idol.” MK has been given the sparse arrangement that I’ve wanted for several other artists. She’s also much more connected to the song than nearly anybody else we’ve seen tonight. That makes up for an awful lot of bumpiness in the vocal itself. She’s relying almost entirely on tone and emotion and not worrying about hitting the notes. It pays off in a much more honest performance than anything we’ve seen since near the top of the show.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: The crowd is very loud. “It was the perfect song choice,” Keith says. I like the cut to Marrialle crying — out of emotion from the performance, I’m assuming — on the bench. J-Lo says that MK gave a true sentiment and a true feeling. “I think you’re an elegant, articulate singer,” Harry says. “You belong here,” Harry tells her. I don’t think MK needs to worry tonight.
9:46 p.m. Thing I don’t get: If Ben and Neco were the last two that the judges couldn’t choose between, why would whoever gets America’s vote get to sing tomorrow? Surely that person is No.15. And if that person ISN’T No.15 and they *do* get to sing tomorrow, surely the other person at the very least deserved a place in the Top 15.
9:47 p.m. Go back and listen to Kenz Hall on that acoustic Macklemore performance from the start of Hollywood. I’m sad we’re not gonna get to hear more from her, because I don’t believe she’s getting that last slot. Malaya Watson seems most likely to get it, if I had to predict.
9:50 p.m. Moment of Truth Time for Neco Starr and Ben Briley. My dad thought Neco should advance. America disagrees. Because… “American Idol” demographics. That’s not surprising. Also, I think Ben is better than Neco.
9:51 p.m. Tonight’s last girl is…
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “Hard Times”
My Take: I’m glad we’re getting Malaya. I just would have dropped Jessica and probably Jena to get Malaya *and* Kenz. But that’s just me. Malaya has the song-opening jitters and she also falls victim to the “X Factor” off-the-beat clappers. But when she gets to the middle of the song? Malaya is superior. I like how absolutely nothing about Malaya lines up. Her fashion choices and her personality and her voice are all unaligned, and yet this is a mess that works entirely. That was the best vocal of the night and her goofball charm is infectious. And if you’re not infected, there’s something wrong with you, not Malaya.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Once again, I love Marrialle’s unguarded support for her fellow contestant. “All of this? I’m feeling it!” Malaya says to J-Lo. Awesome. J-Lo says that Malaya is always epic. She also criticizes the format and the nerves it brought on. “Welcome to the Top 10,” Harry says, adding that the stress has him wanting a donut. “I want some fried chicken!” Malaya says. Yup. I love Malaya. Harry wants to see Malaya settle a bit more, but he still salutes her. “You make glasses and braces look so cool,” Keith says.
9:59 p.m. Malaya, Majesty, Kristen and probably MK gave the night’s best performances. By hook or by crook, I’d assume all four advance. If I’m guessing based on audience demos and pre-performance hype, I think Jessica has a disappointingly good chance of advancing, even though I’d put her in the bottom group with Bria and Marrialle. I’d be bad if Briana doesn’t advance, because she’s too good not to, even if it didn’t necessarily show tonight.
So? Who’d you like tonight? Who’d you hate? Who’s advancing?