Tonight, the American Idol XIII Top 8 will revisit their auditions songs. Plus…duets! We’re live blogging the performances right here.
It’s the first time American Idol reprised the contestants’ audition songs as a theme. It served one purpose–helping this year’s wobbly cast finally deliver a solid night of performances. Everyone was at their best, singing songs they were comfortable with. It did seem strange to waltz down memory lane, not even half way through the finals. The move, could be seen as an attempt to finally squeeze a moment out of this crew. There are talented singers, to be sure, amongst the finalists. But nobody has been able to deliver a star-quality performance that would get the internets talking.
And they still haven’t. But on the other hand, while some of the duet performances were problematic, the reprises were all solid to very good. Critics should be kind.
The best performance of the night, for me, was Jess Meuse’s original song, “Blue Eyed Lie.” She’s never as good singing a cover as she is with her own material. I think she’s the best songwriter of the bunch, and has a career ahead of her if she manages to get signed after the show. I think Jena Irene is very good too, which is why I wished she would have been able to perform an original tonight. She gets points from me for trying to change up the ubiquitous “Rolling in the Deep.” I didn’t love the arrangement, but she did have some stellar vocal moments.
Caleb Johnson and Dexter Roberts chose audition songs that didn’t air. A very shrewd move for both singers. Dexter could have sung the perfectly serviceable Casey James song, “Drive.” But instead, he chose a ballad, which he pretty much nailed. After a few weeks of generic bro country, this was exactly the thing he needed to do. I don’t know enough about Caleb’s songwriting abilities. But maybe it was smart to save that bullet for later. His twist on Aretha’s “Chain Of Fools” was like a David Cook move. Caleb has barely misstepped in this competition. He’s in it for the long haul.
Alex Preston keeps chugging along. He consistently delivers artistic and surprising performances. Alex and Jena Irene put a quirky, delightful spin on “Just Give Me a Reason.” These two perform cover songs that never sound karaoke, for better or worse. They were the most original duetters of the night. A perfect match.
Sam Woolf will remain safe this week after his reprise of “Lego House,” the song that endeared him to the multitude. The beautiful tone and lovely intonation were still there, but without the intimacy of the audition room, Sam seemed lost on that big stage. He looked totally uncomfortable duetting with Malaya Watson as her pitch fell apart on “Lucky.” The whimsical song suited the two on paper. But neither have the confidence to pull off a relationship duet. Next time, Sam would fare better paired up with one of the other boys. Ditto Malaya, who managed to perform Aretha Franklin without totally going off the rails. She’s learning.
CJ Harris continues to have pitch problems. In an interview this afternoon with reporters, Keith Urban talked about how some contestants hit a “wall.” Meaning they go as far as they possibly can go in the competition, and need to get out there and grow in the real world. I think that’s where CJ is at right now. He sang especially sharp in his duet with Dexter Roberts. It won’t hurt Dexter, but CJ, I think, is toast.
The judges are being very careful to add a dollop of encouragement even if they criticize a performance. It IS important to encourage these mostly nervous nellies, even when it’s necessary to deliver some constructive criticism. I see Harry and Keith especially, making an effort to really help these kids. I still maintain this is the best judges panel Idol has ever had. I don’t miss the days of dumb cliches, mood altered ramblings and glib putdowns. This panel takes their job seriously. I hope the kids are at least considering what they have to say.
Let’s revisit the auditions, back when American Idol XIII was full of so much promise, and the ratings didn’t make the baby Jesus cry. The show opens with footage from those golden days of yore, because soon, the Top 8 will perform their original audition songs. Except this time, on the big Idol stage. The idea is to compare and contrast. See how they grow! Or not. It’s back to the start!
Before the contestants perform, they hang at the judges table with Ryan to chat first impressions. They judges weigh in on the contestants’ journey, while Seacrest grills them. The idea is to conjure a few warm fuzzies. It’s so weird. We aren’t even half way through the finals, and we’re reminiscing as if it were the finale. The video packages include family members talking about how adorable and or naughty the contestants were as children.
Jessica Meuse – Blue Eyed Lie by Jessica Meuse – Jessica is the first Idol to sing an original song during the finals, for America’s votes. That’s one for the record books. She starts off accompanying herself on guitar, before the band kicks in. I love this song, for it’s dark, grungy vibe. In her element, Jessica is fierce, intense and oh-so-cool. Easily her best performance in the finals. She needs to sing her own songs. Keith calls it a great start to the show. She reminds Keith of Grace Slick. He also loves her ferocity. He hopes she works on moving her body during her performances. Jlo said there’s something that happened when she sang the song. It was really perfect. She can hear her album. It reminded Harry of Cher or Nancy Sinatra, which is an odd comparison. He doesn’t think she needs to move if her delivery is intense. He quibbles over the arrangement a bit, but he loved it. – Call 1 855 4 IDOL 10(1 855 443 651o) or Text 10 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
CJ Harris – Soul Shine by the Allman Brothers – CJ promises that tonight will be better than his audition. Will he be able to stay on pitch? This version, with the full band, is more upbeat, less intense. Eh. The pitch problems are still there. They aren’t going to be fixed in a minute. But it’s obvious he’s trying, and as always, CJ delivers an emotional and energetic performance. I hear a little more rasp there than usual. I hope he’s taking care of his voice. Having said that, I think I prefered his passionate acoustic version. Jlo feels it was better than the first performance. She feels his soulshine! He touches people, that’s his gift as an artist, she says. Harry says he’s special enough to be here. He can tell he’s been working on his pitch. He’s proud of him. He warns, if CJ doesn’t sing in pitch, the label will auto-tune the crap out of him. CJ’s dad takes the stage to give him a hug. – Call 1 855 4 IDOL 05(1 855 443 6505) or Text 5 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Jena Irene and Alex Preston – Just Give Me a Reason – Pink feat. Nate Ruess - Two of the most unique singers in the competition duet, and it’s pretty great. There are a few pitch things here and there, but they’re blending nicely together and bringing emotion and chemistry to the performance. Jena is doing best with the eye contact and connection, which helps to draw the typically internal Alex out of his shell. Nice job! Too bad there isn’t an iTunes studio recording.
Sam Woolf – Lego House by Ed Sheeran – As the judges discuss what a ladies man Sam has become, he’s standing there looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Poor guy. Oh. Remember how he sped through Lego House in his audition? He’s vows to slow it down this time. He’s accompanying himself on the guitar again. The girls scream! The band kicks in, with the background singers. His pure crystalline tone always sounds so pretty, especially on this song. It’s his best performance in the finals, but he’s still lacking that emotional connection. He looks so scared on stage. Judges comments after the break! That never happens on Idol. Harry thinks “connection” is the word, rather than confidence. He suggests that he pick one of the screaming girls and sing to her. Keith thinks he’s getting better every week. He’s happy with where he’s headed. Harry shushes the screaming girls! Jlo can’t get a word in edgewise. - Call 1 855 4 IDOL 12(1 855 443 6512) or Text 12 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Jessica Meuse and Caleb Johnson – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around – Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – Man, they’re really making Jessica channel Stevie Nicks again? This is OK, if a little karaoke. Unlike Jena and Alex before them, they’re not bringing anything new to the song. But they are both performing the hell out of it. Caleb, especially, is WORKING IT.
Malaya Watson – Ain’t No Way by Aretha Franklin – Malaya’s dad is on stage as Ryan and the judges discuss her. Interestingly, Malaya almost didn’t try out, because she thought she’d be brushed off as too young. Malaya looks VERY pretty tonight. A soulful, bluesy performance, girl is making the song her own. There’s some oversinging on the chorus, but it doesn’t spoil the song. She’s learning her lessons well here. No more wall to wall scream-a-thons from Malaya! Keith loves her growth, and her ability to control her performance. “You’re blossoming into a star,” says Jlo. “You’re going to run away with this competition.” Harry says she’s doing everything right. Again, he suggests that she work on her runs. He’s right, she oversings the runs. If she learns to rein that in, she’ll be golden. Call 1 855 4 IDOL 02(1 855 443 6502) or Text 2 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Real time voting: These stats are meaningless. But whatever. So far: Over 21 1 Jessica Meuse 2 CJ Harris 3 Sam Woolf 4 Malaya Watson Under 21 1 Sam Woolf 2 Malaya
Dexter Roberts – One Mississippi by Brett Eldredge – Dexter was originally montaged. All that was aired was a snip of his other audition song, “Drive” by Casey James. He’s seated on stool, with a mic. This is a heartfelt country ballad, with piano accompaniment. Dexter ain’t going anywhere this week. Honestly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t do more ballads. He connects in an authentic way that he doesn’t on the country pop he favors, and his vocals sound pure. There’s a little cry in his voice that’s totally working for him tonight. “Well I guess you showed us!” says Jlo. She loved the nuances in his voice. And she gives a shout out to Allison Iraheta, who did a lovely job on backup vocals. Harry says he sang the crap out of the song. He did just what he needed. He was touched by it. Keith says he’s grown in leaps and bounds. Keith advises him to think more about the lyric than the sound of his voice. - Call 1 855 4 IDOL 01(1 855 443 6501) or Text 1 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Sam Woolf and Malaya Watson – Lucky – Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat – Well. THIS is all kinds of awkward. Malaya is off pitch pretty much throughout. Sam looks super embarrassed. It’s like a badly rehearsed high school musical performance. FACEPALM. NEXT.
Jena Irene – Rolling in the Deep by Adele – We learn from Jena’s mom, that she has been driven and fiercely independent since she was a wee one. A new arrangement has Jena starting off slow, with piano accompaniment. It’s a slinky, sexy version of the song. I prefer Adele’s propulsive arrangement. This version loses all of the urgency. C’mon song. Kick in! Jena has her moments here, though. She redeems herself at the end, with a big, impressive finish. Well, yes. She did try something different with a super familiar song. But I wish she had sat behind the piano for this. Or had performed an original song at her audition. Another break before the judges comments. Harry no longer thinks she has a speech impediment. Keith loved that she made the song her own. He loved every second of it. Jlo advises her to come out every week, blow everyone away, and try to win the competition. Translation: BE IN IT TO WIN IT. No matter how many words you use, it’s still pretty trite advice. Call 1 855 4 IDOL 08 (1 855 443 65o8) or Text 08 to 83676 Download from iTunes
Dexter Roberts and CJ Harris – Alright by Darius Rucker – MY EARS ARE BLEEDING. CJ is singing sharp again. Dexter, bless his soul, stays on pitch. Too bad he’s so dull. Clunky clunky performance sounds under-rehearsed.
Caleb Johnson – Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin – Jlo remembers Caleb from Season 10. He had the voice, but he needed more time to grow. Caleb’s parents confirm that he was a very loud little boy. Caleb was also montaged during the auditions. We heard a snip of an original song then. He’s sticking to an iconic tune. Not willing to take the risk? Nevertheless, he gives Aretha the classic rock treatment, and it becomes clear what he’s up to. Giving a girl song an entirely new twist avoids comparisons with the original, and wins artistry points. Especially when the arrangement is awesome and the vocals killer like they are here. Watch out for Caleb people, he’s headed for the Top 3. Keith calls Caleb a Blues Warrior and a Rock and Roll Viking. Tee hee! Jlo says he kills the audience every single time. Harry would love that for him to sing something that wasn’t so…loud. Nice job, but try something else next week, he says. Call 1 855 4 IDOL 13(1 855 443 6513) or Text 13 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Alex Preston – Fairytales by Alex Preston – He explains that he wrote the song after a college break up. He’s still friends with the girl, though! Funny, they never mention that Alex’s cousin is country singer, Jo Dee Messina. Beginning and ending the show with an original! Like Jessica, Alex really comes alive singing his own music. The song is a little repetitive, but it fits Alex like a comfortable old shoe. Beautiful tone and phrasing and his guitar work is exquisite. The performance really shows off his impressive artistry. Jlo notes that he’s stayed true to himself since the beginning. Harry enjoyed it. He liked the arrangement. Keith says, “Great job” He’s proud of EVERYONE tonight – Call 1 855 4 IDOL 09(1 855 443 6509) or Text 9 to 83676 - Download from iTunes
Real time voting: 21 and over 1. Dexter Roberts 2. Jena Irene 3. Caleb Johnson 4. Alex Preston Under 21 1. Jena Irene 2. Dexter Roberts 3. Alex Preston 4. Caleb Johnson
Time to kill! Bringing Randy up on stage. Tomorrow: Daughtry performs!