American Idol: Eight Was More Than Enough for Music of the Eighties

Caleb Johnson best of the night with Journey

Eight was a little too many when it came to rocking the Music of the Eighties last night on American Idol. Though there was a passable performance or two, the only contestant with his own personal time machine was Caleb Johnson singing “Faithfully” by Journey. Some great runner-ups were Jessica Meuse with Blondie’s “Call Me”, and Dexter Roberts doing “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” by the Georgia Satellites.

Since none of the Idol wannabees were even born in the ’80s (that’s 19-80s to those of you who have put the past century behind them), they had to reach back into musical history (sigh) for their Idol theme repertoire. Speaking of reaching back, Idol reached back and plucked one of the great ones, David Cook, from their musical history as mentor for the final eight. I’ve always been impressed by David (voted for him), and was even more impressed by his attention to detail, and his good advice for the hopefuls. If only they had paid attention.

Jena Irene was first up with Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll”. Jessica Meuse could have done it justice. But, unfortunately, Jena began in such a low key we couldn’t understand a word. Sounded like she was singing through sludge. “You want people to believe what you’re selling,” David Cook told her, echoing our two male judges, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban. But Jena was more intent on setting up for the high notes than selling the song. Which is what too many of these girls do. They sacrifice the heart and soul of the song for a cheap payoff — the audience’s knee-jerk response to the higher octaves. Which do not always sound that great to the TV viewing audience. Keith noted her low-key beginning. Jennifer Lopez, who said she languished in the middle, also mentioned the low key, but threw Jena a bone by commenting that Jena “put her own stamp on it”. That can go either way since Jena is never consistent. She’s like the nursery rhyme about the little girl with the little curl. When she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid. Harry wasn’t a fan of the arrangement. Neither were we (our own home group of Village Judges). He also said it felt very choreographed and said what we were all thinking. That she was locked into getting to the high notes, sacrificing a great classic song along the way. Later, however, Jena sounded great in a duet with Caleb Johnson singing “It’s Only Love”.

Dexter Roberts had us shouting and pounding each other. He’s an Alabama boy. He has problems with enunciation, but he’s working on it. He’s not totally there, yet, but, man, he sounded bad to the bone last night. “You did it,” said Jennifer. Harry said it was fine coupled with last week. (?) Keith said he needed a memorable, and unexpected moment. (The whole thing was memorable and unexpected to us; he pulled out all the stops). My husband Mike said Dexter was good at picking songs that suited him. I agree and he shouldn’t go off-course with that plan.

Malaya Watson tried Chaka Kahn’s “Through the Fire”. Okay. I know she’s the “baby”, but we’re playing in the big leagues now, people. For heaven’s sake, judges, give the audience a break Quit molly-coddling little Malaya. This kid-glove stuff is ruining your influence as viable judges. Simon Cowell swung too far the other way, but he wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it — even if he was sometimes wrong. David Cook tried to steer Malaya in the right direction by talking about her “peaking to intensity” (?) Didn’t quite get the verbiage, but I knew what he was talking about. Harry was the only judge to say that her entire performance was geared to the high note. (Just what we thought). Though Keith said she needed to “chill out and coast”, and Jennifer said the same thing in different words, they both blew enough smoke to obscure even those tiny little taps. Where did anyone mention the sour notes, or the high ones that screeched. My daughter-in-law Tammy said, “Sometimes you just need a little Simon.” Amen. Best quote of the night, Tammy. Kudos.

David Cook had no problem doling out tough love with a velvet glove. He knows too well what’s at stake and you could tell he wanted each and every one to succeed. He took Jessica Meuse to task for her rigid performances even though her voice is the best female rocker sound to come out of American Idol. “You show no enjoyment,” he said. “Enjoy it. Smile. Acknowledge the camera and the crowd.” Jessica did try to open up a little more with her awesome rendition of “Call Me” by Blondie. Now she just needs to work on looking more natural. I’ve never seen such uptight, stage-frightened contestants on American Idol, ever. Is there a Medusa somewhere in the house? My Tammy said Jessica’s body movements didn’t go with her voice. No rhythm. Harry did his cryptic musical song and dance again by telling her to sing “the shuffle”, to sing “in the pocket”. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” he asked. (Neither did we, but we may crack the code at some point)..Jessica, somewhat tongue-in cheek, I thought, said she would check out the shuffle and the pocket. Keith said, as usual, that he was waiting for her to release, and that she was almost there. It may be a one-note song for Keith but doesn’t make it any less true. I call it a gentle push. Jennifer won the ribbon for best comment on Jessica by taking her back to the meaning of the song. “It’s a sexy song,” Jennifer said adamantly. “Don’t call any other girl. Call ME. Tap into the sexy.” Jessica’s got the looks to do just that, she just has to believe it.

And the song plays on about being uptight. David Cook told edgy Sam Woolf to get out of his own way. Be confident. Go on the stage and own the song. Sam did better this week, probably because he was saved from elimination last week by the judges, but not as much as I thought given the incentive. As he sang “Time after Time” by Cyndi Lauper., at least his eyes didn’t signal that his brain was telling his body to run. And he looked at a camera. But then failed to make any eye contact with the lovely young ladies around him who would die for one soulful look of love. For the entire season he has looked more than shy. He’s looked terrified. Even though I love his voice, I, as a viewer, cannot relax when I look at him. I sometimes close my eyes and just listen to his beautiful voice. Keith enjoyed the song with only the acoustic guitar. “It’s still about just loosening up,” he said, which was essentially what Jennifer said. Harry said he was getting better every week. (Yeah, he should be good to go by American Idol Season 16). Harry also told him to look at the girls as well as the camera. Then mentioned he should check out Ricky Nelson. (Gee. Where have I heard that before?) Last week’s post

Another -BINGO!- from the judges came from Harry Connick, Jr., when he told Alex Preston there was a big difference between being a performer and an entertainer. Alex sang his own version of “Every Breath You Take”, “It sounded like a new tune, but you have to make it stage worthy,” said Harry. “At some point the coffeehouse treatment will catch up to you.” Though, as always, Alex’s voice and musicality are second to none, the change was too much for the iconic song by Police. Jennifer said she loved his voice, but that he had lost the soul of the song, which had ominous overtones. In the song, Sting sings about obsessing over a girl he has lost, to the point of stalking. Alex sung it like a soft love song. “I miss the melody of that song,” Jennifer said. Keith said the first bars grabbed his attention and called it a bold undertaking. Just a note here: loved Alex’s look last night, especially that totally fine jacket.

For all the ambition of C.J. Harris’s “Freefalling” by Tom Petty, the beginning was not just bad, it was excruciating. And, man, how I love C. J. and, man, how I would love for him to get it together. David Cook helped set up the arrangement and C.J., as always, was sounding pretty good in the flash of rehearsal we saw. But somehow he gets off on the wrong tune. This time C.J. pulled it out at the end, but on the whole it was not a good performance. Jennifer agreed with that. Harry told the truth when he mentioned C.J.’s connection with his audience. He skimmed over the pitch problems and commended his high notes. Keith called it a great rendition of the song. “You’ve got a survivor tone,” he said. And that’s the truth, too. But I’m betting he won’t survive to the #1 American Idol spot.

Last but best of all is Caleb Johnson’s version of “Faithfully” by Journey. Harry praised his subtlety. Keith held up his app lighter throughout the performance, and said, “Killer.” Jennifer commended him for the courage to take on “one of the gods” Steve Perry. “You murdered it!” she said. (Which, I believe nowadays is a good thing. Right?) But, of course, I’m just one of the old ladies Caleb wanted to bring a tear to. Yeah. How many votes did that cost him. Watch yer mouth, boy.

I was going to do the duets, but I’ve run out of time. Gotta go to Wal-Mart for stuff. Great weekend planned. Yay. Hope you have a good one, too.



4 thoughts on “American Idol: Eight Was More Than Enough for Music of the Eighties

  1. I love the music of the ’80s as much as any lover of Golden Oldies, but IMO, no one except Jessica and Caleb did the decade justice. David Cook turned out to be an excellent mentor, much to my surprise. I have always thought of him as too reserved to take any of these contestants to task. Who knew?!

    First off, without going into detail, I thought the duets rocked, especially Caleb and Jessica.

    I agree with everything you, David and the judges said about Jena’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” The arrangement was NOT a good one.

    For some reason, I just can’t get enthused about Dexter. He has a nice enough voice, but it drives me batty that he’s muddies the lyrics so badly. I think the coaches should make him “talk” all his lyrics over and over until he can properly enuciate each and every word. THEN he can try singing them.

    “My daughter-in-law Tammy said, “Sometimes you just need a little Simon.” Amen. Best quote of the night, Tammy. Kudos.”

    I agree with Tammy. Malaya has a wonderful, big voice and great potential, I think, but the judges need to stop treating her with kid gloves. She needs to learn about finesse to go with that big voice. Hopefully, in time, she will. I wasn’t familiar with her song and didn’t care for it at all.

    I’ve not been a fan of Jessica, but I thought she was great last night. “Call Me” was a perfect song for her. David’s advice to smile, acknowledge the camera and people was spot on. I think her problem is that she’s always done gigs in coffee houses and other small venues where she just sat on a stool with her guitar. She doesn’t know how to work a stage. She certainly acknowledged the camera though. At the end, she practically stared a hole in the lens.

    Harry’s reference to “the shuffle” was telling Jessica to move with the music more…FEEL the music with her whole body and don’t be so rigid. I think that will also help her connect better with the audience and viewers.

    Poor Sam. He is sooo out of his element. Try as he might, I just don’t think he’s going to be able to give the judges what they want. I was yelling at my TV, “Look at the girls, Sam…LOOK AT THE GIRLS! He was surrounded by girls yet he NEVER looked at them. He did manage to look into the camera more so maybe where there’s life, there’s hope. I thought of you and last week’s post immediately when Harry told Sam to look at some Ricky Nelson videos. Great minds thinking alike.

    Alex was a big disappointment to me this week. Putting your mark on a song is one thing, but taking it apart and reassembling it in a totally different (and inferior) way is something else. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is DRIVEN by that distinctive, unrelenting string bass riff. It’s what makes the song so unique and it fell flat without it. I agree completely with Jennifer that Alex removed the soul from the song. This song is in my Top 10 All-Time Favorites and I hated what Alex did to it.

    C.J. may be a wonderful person who connects with the audience, but I don’t think he has the voice to last much longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes home tonight.

    My favorite of the night was Caleb. This is another of my favorite 80s songs…actually, ANYTHING by Journey is a favorite. He reined it in, like Harry (and I) had hoped he would eventually, but still showed his powerful rocker side. Yes, “You murdered it” is a good thing, as is “That was sick” — a favorite line of Keith’s.

    “I’m just one of the old ladies Caleb wanted to bring a tear to. Yeah. How many votes did that cost him. Watch yer mouth, boy.”

    I missed hearing him say that so it won’t cost him my vote. 🙂

    • You made some super great points. Spot on about Jessica:

      –I think her problem is that she’s always done gigs in coffee houses and other small venues where she just sat on a stool with her guitar. She doesn’t know how to work a stage.–

      Also — The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is DRIVEN by that distinctive, unrelenting string bass riff. It’s what makes the song so unique — great commentary.

      –I missed hearing him say that so it won’t cost him my vote. 🙂 — You’re such a good sport.

  2. I’ve been watching a slew of Rick Nelson videos. I knew he had a daughter, Tracy, who is an actress, but I didn’t know he also had identical twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar. They are musicians and go by the band name Nelson.

    • I remember the Nelson twins very well, back when they were sporting long blonde hair. I didn’t know about Tracy. What has she been in? Did you know that the last place Rick Nelson played was Guntersville, AL, about 45 miles from here, before he took off on that ill-fated flight.


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