Judges cheerfully argued over song choices, singing styles, and artistry last night, while making references to mirror-mirror and magic carpet rides. I might not have understood it all, but I was definitely entertained. I liked Ryan Seacrest’s interviews with the contestants over the sound board, prompting one hopeful to ask what a “cough button” was. Ryan explained it was to help smooth out those pesky tickles, or dry throat coughs that can come at the worst possible time — like while on the air. I think everyone was impressed with all the bells and whistles. I know I was.
M. K. Nobilette was first up, with a spunky new look, but a weak and anemic singing style. She started out with her voice lost in the low notes of the Pink song —– and at one point was thrown off. Though she recovered quickly, Jennifer Lopez pointed out that she had turned away for that moment. “You’ve got to keep going,” she said. Keith loved her look but mentioned that she didn’t come back into the song at the right place, and Harry simply said it was not one of her better performances. “I didn’t feel it,” he said.
Dexter Roberts, who has been praised for picking just the right songs, sang “Cruise” by The Florida-Georgia Line to a wildly cheering crowd and some mixed reviews. Jennifer thought he should have done more to rally the crowd and take them “on a magic carpet ride”. Harry id not like the performance and told Dexter he needed to get bigger than the song. (Jennifer disagreed). Keith thought Dexter showed his artistry by making it different. He especially liked the beginning, where he toned the song down, and wished he had done the whole song that way. Personally, I loved it. But whatta I know.
Jena Irene sang “Clarity” by Zedd, which everyone kept calling electronic music. Harry said he was getting a clear idea of who she was as an artist. “This might be your wheelhouse,” he said. I don’t know where they’re getting these words, but they’re blowing my mind. Okay. I just looked up wheelhouse, the idiom — in one’s wheelhouse. It’s a baseball term (of a pitch) within the zone that is most advantageous for a batter to hit a home run, or within one’s area of expertise or interest. (Dictionary.com) Harry also commented that there wasn’t much to that tune (Clarity), which opened a can of worms. Harry back pedaled a little, assuring the audience that he did listen to electronic music. Keith took exception (in a nice way, of course), stating rather emphatically that he LOVED that tune. He called it the best performance of the evening, and praised Jena for her strong signature sound. Jennifer said she loved hearing her sing that song, but suggested that she take the middle of the stage and hold there. “Get the whole audience with you,” she said. “That’s your place. In the center.” Jena started out her song working the crowd at the side. I wasn’t crazy about the song, but I still love Jena’s voice when she does something with it.
Judges were in accord over Alex Preston’s version of “The Story of My Life” by One Direction. Keith loved Alex’s journey on stage and could see his artistry coming into play. Jennifer called it a beautiful vocal and, for her, he evoked Buddy Holly without the glasses. She also reminded him it was okay to smile. Harry told Alex he had hit the bull’s eye and that his artistry was on target and leading the pack. One Direction gave his performance a thumbs up. I was hooting for him. What a VOICE! If you didn’t see it and didn’t record it, invite yourself to the neighbors who did. Or, better yet, just watch it here.
Malaya sounded great but her song choice, “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars was awkward. She sang it well and with feeling, but it just didn’t sit right. And yet, Joan Baez sang, “Virgil Cain is my name, and I rode on the Danville train,” in the song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. But for some reason Baez doesn’t sound awkward at all, probably because you know she’s telling a story. And, of course, little Malaya is no Joan Baez. Jennifer Lopez had goosies and was feeling the love, while Harry said Malaya sounded sincere in interpreting the lyrics. He also gave her some advice on matching her runs with the chords, saying she needed a week with the music people. Keith said she knocked it out of the park, and was showing more control. “You pulled back and it pulled me in,” he said. During her interview with Ryan Seacrest, Malaya (age 16) mentioned she had never gotten flowers. So at the end of her performance she received a big, ugly green vase of beautiful flowers from Seacrest and the gang, which he mentioned they put on Harry’s credit card.
Caleb Johnson channeled Lady Gaga, though in a very masculine, rockin’ way, with “The Edge of Glory”. Harry liked the half-time groove and gave him an A+ for originality. Keith called it an interesting song choice paired with Caleb’s “killer tone”. But, he called the arrangement inconsistent and lumbering. “You’ve got a voice like a locomotive,” he said. Jennifer said her take fell somewhere between the “two of thee”. She said Caleb sounded great, but lacked the feeling, merely showing off vocally. “You need to feel every word,” she said. At this point Harry and Keith switched sides, with Harry putting on a thick Aussie accent, and Keith imitating Harry with made-up, high-sounding, and incomprehensible words. It was a hoot.
C. J. Harris fell off his high pedestal from his great performance the week before. He chose “Invisible” by Hunter Hayes, and, though he killed it in rehearsal, he died onstage. It was totally off-key, though he still put his soulful sound and emotions into it. (Love ya, C.J.!). Keith said he was rooting for him, but he had to stay in control of that pitch. “You have everything going for you,” he said. Jennifer was very disappointed and simply said how C.J. had “killed it in rehearsal”. Harry said he didn’t give a rip about rehearsal. What counted was what happened on stage. He wanted to know if C.J. actually knew what they were talking about when they talked about pitch, and being in tune. “You have a tendency to sing sharp,” he said. “You’ve got to discipline yourself and get that pitch in check.”
Jessica Meuse chose a controversial song of violence called “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. “It’s twisted,” she admitted. But it sure did sound good. I love that stand out, smoky voice. Jennifer said she was really happy and that song was “right in your wheelhouse”. (Again with the wheelhouse). Harry, of course, disagreed, calling Jessica’s performance one-dimensional. “Those are extremely evocative lyrics,” he said, “and there was a smile on your face the whole time. You gotta sing the lyrics.” (And look like you mean them, I think he meant). Keith liked it, saying she made it her own, and that it sounded like ’60s country pop. The judges had to squabble some more. For some reason Jessica brings that out in them. One of them took up for her, citing the “happiness of the melody”, and that it was a complicated song.
Majesty Rose, who was in the bottom three last week, said she got a wake up call, and felt humbled by the experience. “I know this is a critical song choice,” she said, and that she wanted to be friends with America again. Bless her heart. I know these young girls get overpowered by the outpouring of votes and the heady praise of strangers throughout the country. I’m sure it’s like losing your best friend when that outpouring dries up enough to land them in the bottom. Her critical choice this week was “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. Harry called it her feature vocal which she took in a different direction. “I loved what you just did,” he said. Keith disagreed. He called it a folk song with a driving beat, and didn’t care for the arrangement. Jennifer saw beyond the stage presence to the fear lurking behind Majesty’s singing and expression. “You’ve got to let it go,” she said. “You can’t let it get you down. You’ve got to come back.”
The last but not least of the line-up was the Woolf in sheep’s clothing. Sam Woolf, who was in the bottom three last week, sang “We Are Young” has a voice like an angel, but doesn’t seem to trust himself in front of cameras and a huge audience. He looks fearful and it detracts from his stage presence, even though he’s a young, good-looking guy that the girls could die for. It was obvious the show was running short of time. Keith just said he would be able to say more next week. Jennifer loved it. And Harry told the kid to be assertive. To own it. To bring it out. But there’s no denying Sam sounded fantastic and the audience loved it.
When Ryan asked the judges what the challenge was for next week, Jennifer said it was owning the stage and being comfortable on it.