Since very few of the final seven on American Idol are going all out and “cuttin’ loose”, the shrinking pool of competitors was a little stagnant last night. In the first ever category of “Competitor’s Choice”, only two contestants rose to the top, garnering waves of applause — Alex Preston with “A-Team” by Ed Steeran, picked for him by Dexter Roberts, and Jena Irene singing “Creep” by Radiohead, Caleb Johnson’s choice for her. Harry Connick, Jr. — struggling with a hoarse voice — called Alex’s performance the ‘best of the evening” until Jena Irene came along. “She did some major damage tonight,” he said. And that she did. But I think it’s more for the fact that she put so much energy into it. It sounded great after so many songs that just sat there.
However, Jena hasn’t been America’s favorite contestant this year, and, though I don’t think that will change, this performance will probably get her through to the next round. Her voice, though I’m sure of good quality, has a sound to it that can get on my nerves fast. And unless something drastic changes, it’s not a voice I will actively seek to hear.
The odds-on favorite, which has to be rocker Caleb Johnson, showed off his great voice singing “Family Tree” by Kings of Leon. My problem with the performance was that the band was so loud it became a competitor in itself, especially the guitar player onstage. There was no denying he was good, but the instrument should have been an accompaniment, not a major player. It distracted and detracted from Caleb’s performance at a time when each contestant needs every advantage, however small.
The same thing happened with Jessica’s performance of “Gunpowder and Lead” by Miranda Lambert, Sam Woolf’s choice. The instruments were too loud and somewhat overpowering. Jessica’s unique voice always sounds great, but, as Keith has said several times, she needs to understand the song and what it’s about and bring the emotions and attitude. The song is about revenge and the anger should come through. Jessica also lacks rhythm. She can’t move in time to the music which gives her a tendency to appear stiff and uncomfortable onstage.
C. J. Harris had his best performance in several weeks with “Gravity” by John Mayer, chosen for him by Caleb. His greatest asset, says Harry, is his ability to connect with his audience. Now, says J-Lo, it’s time to start looking for “moments” when he can lift the crowd. He can sing with that cry in his voice and on his face, but lacks pulling the rendition to new emotional heights.
Dexter Roberts did a great job with “Muckalee Creek Water” by Luke Bryan, chosen by C.J. Harris. And, again, the band was too loud. Jennifer enjoyed the fact that Dexter showed a different side, but warned him he needed something spectacular to keep him in the running for the top five position. She advised that he “push vocally” with the band. Keith told him not to let the adrenaline take him off key, and Harry wanted him to make the song his own, which was too much like the original.
Sam Woolf with the beautiful voice, loosens up like molasses. It takes awhile. He sang “Sail Away” by David Gray. Though Harry liked the song, he said it wasn’t as familiar to the audience as “Hey There, Delilah”. Keith cut the boy some slack saying we expected him to learn from entire life experiences in just a few weeks. Jennifer said she could see he was trying to tap into the feeling. However, there’s really nothing ever new with Sam to get excited over. And that’s the problem with most of the remaining seven, however much we may be attached to them.
The Alabama Trio of C. J., Dexter, and Jessica, rather bombed out on their version of “Compass” by Lady Antebellum. Harry just bluntly said it wasn’t good. Keith called it a little bit of everything, like shish kabob, and Jennifer said their individual moments were better than the whole and she wanted them to let loose. It sounded okay, but there was absolutely nothing special about it, which makes it boring. And I’m their A-#1 fan. Come on, guys. As the lady said — CUT LOOSE.
Saccharine. That’s Harry’s description of Alex and Sams duet “Let Her Go”. Chintzy. Cute. Were Keith’s words. Though Jennifer thought the girls loved it. Though the singing duo was under the impression the song would be funny and cute, it didn’t have enough energy in it to zap anybody.
Energy was no problem for Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson in their duet of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. They were great together.
If American Idol doesn’t want to end with a lame season, the contestants need to step up their game, go for it, cut loose, and show some spark. The main form of entertainment this year has been the great judges. I love their interaction, along with the host Ryan Seacrest. They just need to be a little more firm, though not cruel. It was great to hear Harry just come out and say that a performance was not good. Jennifer has had her moments as a ‘boo” target, but she doesn’t just sit there and hand out compliments all the time. That’s a good thing. Hopefully, by next year, they’ll get better at it. And I truly hope all three judges will return. Ya gotta love ’em.