Caleb Johnson blew the competition doors wide open last night with “Stay With Me” He rocked the new American Idol stage, setting the cheering audience on fire. I don’t think he’s going anywhere tonight. I was on my feet. “That was killer, Dude,” remarked Keith Urban and said it was the perfect song for him. Jennifer Lopez told him, “It’s your time.” Harry said, “It’s going to be tough for the guys following you. Congratulations!” Caleb wants to work on his stage presence, and “drop a couple of pounds”. Hey, don’t we all.
When Jennifer introduced C.J. Harris of Jasper, Alabama, she described him as gritty and soulful. He strolled on stage with a cool new hat and great new look, and sang “Shelter”. Randy Jackson called him a natural. Chris Daughtry advised him to ditch the guitar and sell the song. Jennifer said he makes her smile and “takes me straight to my heart. It’s a beautiful thing.” Harry Connick thought he sang “really sharp” but, “I felt like you were singing to me.” Which is a real compliment coming from this judge. “You’ve got this great mix of Dobie Gray and Jonny Lang,” Keith said, and added he was “just a great Alabama boy, man!” Ryan Seacrest informed judges and audience that C.J. had just had a root canal yesterday. “Maybe that’s why he sang sharp,” said the irrepressible Connick.
Emmanuel Zidor hit the stage with more enthusiasm than good vocals for his song pick, “Best of My Love”. Harry said Emmanuel was “infectious”, but his good start wandered all off-kilter. “I agree with you, Harry,” Keith said, which prompted a droll love fest from Harry. “The adrenaline kicks in and he was singing above the notes.” Then Keith tells Emmanuel he needs to rein it in. “You belong onstage,” said Jennifer, “but I don’t know if that was the best for you. Sing a little bit of “I’m Going Down”. I hope America remembers what you did in Hollywood Week.” A little bit of singing turned into a whole chorus, which did not sit well with me or any of my viewing friends. I liked him in Hollywood, too, but nobody else got a chance to “remind” voters how good they WERE. Emmanuel was also one of the contestants that prompted a debate among the judges. Jennifer needs to be called on her favoritism and trying to stack he deck. I guarantee we’re not the only ones who noticed.
There was no debate over Sam Woolf, who sang “Babylon”. Though Sam was having problems with stage presence and opening up to his audience, he couldn’t hide that beautifully unusual voice. Randy told him he needed to loosen up and open up. Keith said, “People like you, Sam. Your voice is money. Your performance will center and get better and better.” Jennifer said he had a pure quality and perfect pitch. Harry thought it was a great song choice and hoped he would gain a small degree of confidence.
George Lovett “flew under the radar” during much of the competition, said Jennifer Lopez. But Randy Jackson said Lovett’s singing had never been the problem. After he sang, “Grenade”, Jennifer said he needed to control his runs because it was hard to follow the emotion of the song. Harry agreed that a singer can become too emotionally invested in his performance and lose his edge. Keith said he needed to find the right song, to play to his strengths. At this point Harry jumped in with, “Hey, I got boo’s. Now boo for Keith.” Which the audience promptly did. In spite of George’s over-the-top performance last night, I’m still a fan.
Another Bama boy, Dexter Roberts of Fayette, came in on the ten picks of the night singing “This Ole Boy”. Though he sang well, he has sung better. Harry called it a solid performance, but “what is the voice that will distinguish you” from the “1000 other guys fronting country bands? What makes you different?” Keith reiterated that Dexter was the “Real deal country boy from Alabama.” Then he got ribbed about trying to pronounce Alabama the way Alabamians do. He was accused of having an Aussie accent with an Alabama twist. Jennifer said Dexter sounded great and noted that this was Dexter’s first appearance without the hat.
Alex Preston of New Hampshire (are you listening, Jo Ann?), was given rare praise as a good guitarist and musician. Preston has mastered numerous musical instruments, though is very shy. Keith called Preston’s rendition of “Volcano” the best song choice of the night, and that he “stayed in the groove”. Jennifer said it was so different than anything else. In obvious admiration of the young artist, Harry Connick said, “Music is like a religion to you, isn’t it? You ended on the ninth note, which is not a common note to end on.” At Ryan’s request, Connick went on to explain the musical reference and asked for a demonstration from Alex. I actually enjoyed that little tidbit of information.
“When you’re singing about that much pain, you really need to bring the heart and soul.. Those words hit me,” Jennifer told Malcolm Allen, who sang “Her Heart”. Harry told Malcolm he was a good run singer, but sings too sharp, and needs to focus on singing in tune. This triggered a nice round boo from the audience. Keith said it was about being an artist. “Let the lyrics shine through,” he said. “You could even strip down the band” and make it simpler. “You can make the choice.”
Tennessee country boy Ben Briley had just come off a long weekend of sweating out the vote between him and Nico Starr. Ben not only made it into the top 30, he slipped right on into the top ten boys singing “Soulshine”. Harry commented on Ben’s large orange tie, which was big enough, he said, to hide Windsor Castle and the whole royal family, plus the baby. Keith said he had a great voice, and Jennifer told him he came alive on stage. But, if he goes further, I really want Ben to lose that turned-around, bill-backwards cap. I know he’s got to be more intelligent that than that piece of wrong-way headgear makes him look.
Last, with a weak performance of “Love Don’t Die”, sans guitar, comes Pretty Boy Lloyd (Spencer Lloyd). “I don’t know if that was your best vocal,” said a booo-ed Keith. I say, “Way to fudge, Judge.” Jennifer noted that Spencer moved the crowd, but said nothing about his vocals. “This was not good,” said Harry. “It’s not your strong suit.”
I’m looking forward to the wild cards tonight. The two I want to be chosen are Casey Thrasher and Maurice Townsend. I really, really wanted them chosen. Both seem to be very popular with viewers. Oh, well, we’ll see, won’t we?