When the dust cleared after knock-out performances by Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene, they found themselves on the American Idol home stretch and several lengths ahead of the competition. Last night was “All Things Love (Luh?) Night, broken up into segments of three songs each, beginning with break-up songs, moving on to dedications, and finally to make-up songs. Host Ryan Seacrest was doing his ruffian imitation with the scruffy look. I like it. Makes him look more masculinely mature, don’t you think?
In the make-up song segment, Caleb slayed Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, bringing Keith Urban to his feet before the song even ended. The cameras zeroed in on Urban as Caleb’s voice captured and rode the emotional vibes, playing on Keith’s own musical emotions. It was a performance and voice that revealed Caleb’s softer side, but still had “Caleb” written all over it. At the end, both Jennifer Lopez and Urban were on their feet. The blue-eyed, laser intensity of the “no-standing-o” Harry Connick, Jr., beamed his total awareness of the the killer performance which he called absolutely phenomenal. High praise, indeed, from this thoughtful judge.
In a conversation with my sister just before Jena Irene’s performance of Elvis’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”, my wish for Jena was that she would go back to the piano and sing mid-range vocals. Her much-lauded high notes get on my nerves and her lower register just doesn’t register. Hey. I got my wish. Jena’s subtle, powerful, and hauntingly beautiful take on the King’s iconic song, was, as Connick said, “incredible”. Once more judges Keith and Jennifer were on their feet, with Jennifer going a little over the top in her “throes of emotion”, saying she just had to give Jena a kiss. They met mid-way for the huggy/kissy and, even after getting back into her seat at the judges table, Jennifer had to rein in her continued enthusiasms. I was not impressed, but, whatever. She’s a diva. What can I say. Keith was “spellbound”, calling Jena a species unto herself — a “musical platypus”. That’s okay, Keith. I catch your drift, dude. It was, as Harry would say, absolutely phenomenal. The girl was awesome. I would buy this record.
Alex Preston’s best out of three was “Yellow” by Coldplay. Harry called it one of the great songs of the night, one that Alex really needed. This was also in the third round of songs – the make-up segment. His first round in the break-up segment was his unique and entirely forgettable version of “Too Close” by Alex Clare. The judges words of praise seemed a little forced and weak, like they wanted to say something nice. It wasn’t a bad performance, it was simply Preston predictable. Same for the dedication round “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Alex has an awesome voice and “coulda been a conthenda” if he’d gotten out of his shell and his rut. Again, judges did the best the could.
Jessica Meuse, with the most unique of all the voices, could have made it to the top IF (1) she had lost her poker face, and (2) she moved, wiggled, jiggled, whatever. She did a little better in that department with “So What” by Pink, but not enough, I think, to keep her from going home tonight. Jessica’s best song of the evening was Lady Gaga’s “You and I”.
Caleb Johnson kicked off the evening with a great performance of “You Give Love A Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, and later dedicating “Traveling Band” to his band back in Asheville, North Carolina. The audience was hot and so were the judges and the band on this one.
Jena’s first song out of the chute was Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker”. Keith loved her musical ability but did not feel a full, energetic release, like it wasn’t the music itself that was moving her. I agreed. But Jennifer disagreed. She called Jena’s performance controlled, commanding, and confident. Vocally, Harry called it a 10 out of 10, but noted that she still was not connecting. I thought she sang it okay, but I really couldn’t get into it. Sometimes I close my eyes and just listen. Didn’t help. For her second performance, Jena did “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. Keith liked that she had changed the melody in the chorus, but Jennifer did not. though J-Lo called the girl “a force to be reckoned with” and that she was now rising up toe to toe with Caleb. Harry just gave a laconic “Good choice. Nice job.” My sentiments exactly.
So that covers the Final Four, I think. Now we’ll see who gets the heartbreaker final cut before the triumphal hometown entry and the wearing of the laurel.