It's our first performance night for the Top 13 Finalists on Season 13 of “American Idol.”
Follow along for all of the fun with the seven remaining girls and six remaining boys as they sing for Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.
8:05 p.m. Jennifer Lopez is pretty.
8:06 p.m. Our theme tonight is This Is Me. “I love this week is about them,” Keith says. J-Lo is hoping we get to know this Top 13, finally.
8:06 p.m. New ways to vote! New ways to vote! GOOGLE!
8:08 p.m. Ben Briley and Sam Woolf are going to need help on commercials this season.
8:04 p.m. Our first performer appears to be Dexter Roberts, who is afraid of spiders and once played football. Just like Ryan Seacrest.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
My Take: Dexter goes electric and he seems to handle the electric guitar a bit better than Ben Briley did last week. It's a bit mumbly, but it's also totally confident and musical. We've reached the Top 13, so it's time to start looking for a bit more, though, and Dexter definitely could get better when it comes to comfort. It's one thing to play and perform with certainty, but it's another to play with looseness. Dexter is very bunched up and condensed. He might be enjoying himself, but he's not opening himself up yet so that others can enjoy what he's doing on the same level. I think it's the difference between playing in a small bar, where everybody's right on top of you and they can draw energy from you based on proximity and being in a bigger venue where you need to radiate. Dexter's good. I think he can get better.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That was an excellent, excellent cover version of that song,” Keith says, but he tells Dexter he needs to find a way to make songs Dexter songs in the future. J-Lo wants a bit more wow and she wants to see Dexter take it to the next level. Harry doesn't use ear monitors. He thinks Dexter has a pitch issue that may be related to the ear monitor, but he also suggests it could be the band. Harry wants to see Dexter have a bit more fun.
8:18 p.m. ET. Malaya plays lots of instruments and is afraid of dogs.
Singer: MALAYA WATSON
Song: “Runaway Baby”
My Take: I like Malaya. Malaya makes me smile. This, however, is not Malaya at her best. Malaya starts off way flat. It's possible that she decided to go up-tempo too soon. This is a bit bizarre because Malaya's a marching band girl. She knows how to do rhythm and how to move and sing. But you'd never know it from this frantic, frequently wildly out-of-tune performance. She also doesn't have the lung-power for all of this movement. She ends shouting. Malaya is going to need a lot of help from people who love her personality, because that's a Bottom Three performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo loves Malaya's energy and gives her an A+ for performance. “It wasn't your best vocal performance,” J-Lo admits, saying that it went a little off the rails at the end. Oh, J-Lo. Harry says Malaya seemed nervous tonight, but it'll go away quickly, noting intonation problems. That was kind, too. “Your energy is so contagious to watch on stage,” Keith says, telling her that the next thing she has to do is put that energy into a performance so she's not all around the song.
8:23 p.m. For a former nurse, Kristen doesn't handle pressure well when it comes to listing things about herself. She's best friends with quadruplets and she isn't good at sports.
Singer: KRISTEN O'CONNOR
Song: “Beautiful Disaster”
My Take: Kristen always looks great. And she has a very big voice. The thing that's a challenge for her is making the performances seem like they're more than just karaoke. She tries connecting with some attitude-y facial expressions, but she has to find a way to get a bit of that into the vocal itself. It's good-but-dull. Side note: Somebody obviously told her about the “unhinging her jaw” thing. She's possibly *too* conscious of what she's doing with her mouth, but she also isn't threatening to swallow the microphone quite as much as she did in other performances. See? We're watching Kristen grow before our eyes. Next step? More layers to the vocals! Maybe!
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I think that you're a really strong pop singer,” Harry says, but he didn't feel the meaning of the song. She explains that she sang the song about herself, rather than about a guy. Harry appreciates that at least she's thought of it. Harry thinks Kristen was singing out of tune as well and he's a bit confused. Keith liked the song choice, which he felt showed a lot of her range in a short period of time. J-Lo wants the contestants to stop thinking. “What you've got to start thinking about is what you know more than what you're afraid might happen,” J-Lo says, adding that it's about sharing a moment.
8:34 p.m. “Whatever happened to Polaroid cameras?” asks Ben Briley, appealing to the “Idol” grandma demo. Ben likes Tennessee football, love kangaroos and knows all of the state capitals.
Singer: BEN BRILEY
Song: “Folsom Prison Blues”
My Take: I love the “mug shot” backdrop that Ben is playing in front of, plus the silhouetted background fiddlers. This is a straight-forward and rather terrific honky-tonk rendition of this Johnny Cash classic. You can tell how well-versed Ben is in the song by the little modifications he's making to the rhythm and the melody. Ben is three or four steps better than Dexter when it comes to playing to the audience. I'm 100 percent certain that if he did that at a bar, it were have the crowd pleased and ready for the rest of the show and it accomplished the same feat tonight. I think Ben could do more “singing” in the future, but this is a performance-performance. Maybe he'll croon next week. Ben's definitely the standout so far. And by a wide margin.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “It was particularly brisk,” Keith says, suggesting Johnny might have needed some stimulant assistance to do the song at that pace. He warns Ben that there's a difference between owning a performance and it coming across as a bit kitsch. “I like that you picked up the tempo, but that's just the dancer in me,” J-Lo says. She enjoyed that Ben made the song his own and showed who he was, adding that all he needs is more experience. “I didn't think it was kitsch at all,” Harry says, calling it “unquestionably the best performance of the night to date.” I agree. Harry also loves that it wasn't a new song.
8:44 p.m. CJ doesn't like ice. And he doesn't love deer hunting. He's also religious.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
My Take: The Southern Guitar Guys should be consciously separated in the lineup. It doesn't do any of them any good to put them so close to each other. Randy Jackson was wrong about raising the song to a higher place. CJ sounds like he's stressed and straining, which is too bad because the rest of CJ's performance is more comfortable. It's not that CJ can't sing high. It's that he can't sing high and fast as well as he sings high and slow.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo felt his energy, but mentions problems with pitch and the band. Harry felt like that should have been among 20 songs in his concern, but it was only an OK song choice for tonight. Harry wants to hear more of the “cry” in his voice. Since Harry disagreed with Keith on Ben, Keith disagrees with CJ here and praises CJ for showing his swagger tonight. I agree with both of them, actually!
8:49 p.m. MK is a mediocre snowboarder, an awesome goaltender and she loves “Single Ladies” and dogs.
Singer: MK NOBILETTE
Song: “Satisfaction” (no, not that “Satisfaction”)
My Take: This isn't quite up-tempo from MK, but it isn't a tear-bringing ballad. We'll see how the judges respond. It simultaneously shows MK's range and also her limitations. The girl's definitely got some attitude, or more attitude than one might previously have guessed. But in this context, her fairly limited vocal range becomes more apparently than I would have guessed. After the novelty wears off, there's some sameness in the second verse. Still, this was definitely about MK showing a different side of MK, while also some of the same sides. So she's got a pink tux/leisure suit, but she's also got the backwards baseball cap, but then she's also wearing makeup. This was a smart performance for MK, I think. After last week's raves, she had a bit of wiggle room to show she can do other things. And she somewhat did. It was worth the effort even if I didn't love it.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith likes MK with makeup and says he enjoys watching her grow. Harry urges her to think less and be more spontaneous, I think. “I love the way you look,” Keith agrees. Keith thought her voice never fails, she just needs to connect a little bit better. J-Lo didn't know the song and loved how MK delivered it. J-Lo agrees that MK's voice never fails her. Hmmm. I'm not so sure. Listen to some of that upper register stuff on the choruses. I'm not sure how well it worked.
8:59 p.m. Randy Jackson in the house. He says that this is the first time for a lot of them to use in-ear monitors. They're making adjustments. “Practice makes perfect,” Randy insists.
9:00 p.m. Majesty was born on a Leap Year. She's a lefty and she surfs and does ballet.
Singer: MAJESTY ROSE
My Take: It's really, really hard to do what Janel Monae does. There's a lot of rhythm and complicated phrasing. And then Janel Monae does it all with that utterly infectious energy. It's no surprise that on the opening verse, Majesty's concentration is entirely on getting out the words, which she mostly does. As the song goes into its chorus, there are fewer darned words and Majesty gets to get just a bit funky. That was a very good performance, but I'm willing to bet that if she did the same song in two months, she would be truly fantastic. I don't think an “Idol” first-timer could have done anything better with that song at this point in the competition. Majesty's got a lot of upside. Ben may have been better tonight, but I think we know what Ben's upside is. I don't have a clue how good Majesty could be by May and I'm intrigued.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That was a killer song choice,” Keith says. “There's nobody like you,” J-Lo tells Majesty, praising the way the rhythm hits her body. Majesty doesn't know what to make of it, but when J-Lo praises how you move your body, you say, “Thank you!” Harry likes the mystery of Majesty, calling it “terrific.”
9:10 p.m. Jena's loves “The Wizard of Oz.” She's short and she has brown hair.
Singer: JENA “GINA” IRENE
Song: “The Scientist”
My Take: Ugh. If this is the first song Jena learned on the piano, she should be playing the piano tonight. She's so much better when she's on the piano. She was so great in that original solo that earned her that Wild Card and she was so bad in her performance last Tuesday. This is far, far better than that Top 30 solo on Tuesday. Jena's got rather insane pipes, but she's always right on the verge of going over-the-top at almost every moment. I'd say that around 85 percent of this performance was on the right side, but then there were also a couple moments that she lost hold of. I wonder if the piano would have grounded her just that extra bit. I put Gena in the Majesty category when it comes to upside. Her challenge every week will be control and connection as she goes between the two extremes she delivered last week. This is closer to the Thursday performance than the Tuesday, so that's a plus.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo is angry that Jena is a powerhouse singer. “It's a tough song that you chose there, but you really pulled it out,” J-Lo says. Harry felt that Jena felt this song and they discuss its meaning for a bit. “You make interesting choices on a pre-existing melody,” Harry says. “It was a little bit pitchy at the beginning,” Keith says, but then Jena leaned into it. “I'm gonna lean into you,” Harry says, coming over and giving Keith a hug. Ryan comes out and reads the Wikipedia explanation for the song's meaning.
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: “A Beautiful Mess”
My Take: Alex Preston is my favorite. I'm not gonna deny that, because when have I ever denied playing favorites? And you know what makes me love him even more? ALEX & SIERRA IN THE CROWD GROOVING! He's just totally his own artist and he's got the voice and the guitar-playing to cover other artists in his own style. And if Alex & Sierra like him, I like him also. With a single red spotlight and almost no band accompaniment, this is the tightest and most intimate performance of the night and I like what it says about Alex. And did I mention Alex & Sierra are fans?
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry cautions Alex about trying to sing a bit more in-tune. Harry also felt that the performance was too inward and he didn't get what Alex was singing out. “It did the opposite for me. It pulled me into you,” Keith says. “I was very caught up in the mood that you created,” J-Lo says.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: “Crow and the Butterfly”
My Take: Interesting! Taking center stage without her guitar, I'm initially worried about Jessica, but this is absolutely the best that she's sounded vocally this season. I don't think she's quite got enough voice for the chorus and each chorus becomes anti-climactic, but on the verses, there's a power that I don't think Jessica has even hinted at before. So this is another performance I put in the “Not quite there, but really worth the effort” category. Then again, Jessica is the only country girl. Is it smart for her to cede that territory this early? Hmmm. Maybe I'm not so sure.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith calls it a “bold but cool” song choice. He likes the dark quality she showcased tonight. J-Lo got goosies! And it was her favorite vocal of the night. J-Lo wants to see a bit more relaxation in her body. Harry was distracted by the butterflies on the screen behind Jessica. “I thought that was strong, man. I heard a different sound of your voice,” Harry adds.
Singer: EMILY PIRIZ
Song: “Glitter in the Air”
My Take: One day, I'll figure out who Emily Piriz is. She keeps making these weird song choices. This is much, much closer than the sex kitten image she tried to convey last week. Based on last week's performance, I had no real idea if Emily could sing or not. The answer? She mostly can. She's a bit like Kristen O'Connor, only a bit better as a performer and also younger, so with more potential for growth. The biggest problem for me is that when Pink does this, she does it upside down and on ropes and stuff. Pink makes sure that she's not just standing in the middle of the stage doing a ballad, which is basically how Emily does it. That wasn't a great performance, but it was very solid and not at all embarrassing. After last week's awkwardness, which I would have guessed would send Emily home, that was a step forward.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That's a tough song to take on, but you did it so beautifully,” J-Lo says. Harry likes the song and likes that Emily seemed connected to it. “I'm proud of you,” Harry says. Everybody's so impressed Harry didn't have a “but.” Keith agrees with the others, but he urges Emily to have a bit more edge, to have a bit more “yang” to go with all the “yin.”
Singer: SAM WOOLF
My Take: Matchbox 20, yo! I look forward to the first show that Sam does without a guitar, because it's gonna be just the most awkward thing in the history of the universe. This is better than his David Gray performance from last week, but it's pretty somnambulistic. It's a Drew from “Parenthood” performance. It's shy. It's nervous. It's proficient. It'll get the college girls in the dorm rooms excited. But it was never exciting or dynamic or interesting. I think there are artists that you can get away with that on, but there's a synthetic roughness that Rob Thomas has in his voice that Sam has smoothed away entirely.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was a little too smooth. “I almost wish it was a little bit more messed-up,” Harry says. “The tempo was a bit slow,” Keith says correctly, praising Sam for “holding the center.” “You're like a quiet storm kinda,” J-Lo says. She wants Sam to get loose up there and come alive.
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: “Pressure in Time”
My Take: I've been saying that Caleb was a '70s or '80s or '90s rock cover artist, so I guess it's smart that he's doing a new song, even if it's a fairly retro new song. I've never heard this song before, I don't think. It sure sounds like it was written for Caleb's voice. Taylor Hicks in the crowd agrees. Really, this song is good proof that if you put Caleb with the right band and give him the right songs to sing, there's absolutely no reason he can't record an album of songs that sound like this. That was a strong way to close the show. He treated the “Idol” stage like a small arena. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Caleb can't win, but he's the Rabbit. Everybody else can chase him for the next few weeks until we figure out who the actual winner is going to be.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith warns him that he's perhaps too retro and he needs to put his own little twist on it. “You're so ready for the rock star life,” J-Lo says. Harry says Caleb killed it and if Rival Sons ever needs a new singer, he's got the gig.
9:59 p.m. That was a decent show. There were only one or two disasters and there were five or six perfectly respectable “Idol” performances, with a bit more musicality than we sometimes see.
9:59 p.m. I dug Alex, Caleb, Majesty and Ben. I think MK, Jessica and Emily took important steps forward. I thought Sam and Dexter at least got better compared to last week.
10:00 p.m. I'm guessing it's down to Malaya, CJ and Kristen tomorrow. I think Kristen goes home. We'll see!
What'd you think? Who was good? Who's in trouble?