It was Caleb Johnson’s last song for the vote on last night’s American Idol. And he was determined to go in style. He had been battling bronchitis and strained vocal chords, but he didn’t let that stop him from “leaving every last ounce of energy on that stage”. He gave a performance of a lifetime. A performance that brought judges to their feet way before the song ended, moving and dancing. By the end, Randy Jackson was on his feet, his eyes shining and a big smile on his face. Jennifer was even trying to push old stick-on-the-seat Harry up, but he didn’t budge.
Camera’s tried to catch it all, from Caleb’s pounding of the mic stand on the floor, to the audience screaming and chanting his name. Jennifer Lopez couldn’t stand still and Keith Urban just wanted to throw something. These guys were hyped and so was the entire theater. Not to mention our Alabama part of the viewing audience. With the screaming going on at our house it’s a wonder someone hadn’t called the cops. But, maaan, was it ever fun. Keith declared that if ever there was a complete moment of miraculous healing, this was it. Jennifer called it a true Idol moment, and Harry Connick, Jr. thought it was awesome and absolutely fantastic. But he still wouldn’t stand up.
I think this Asheville, North Carolina, persistent contestant, who has tried out for Idol twice before, deserves his accolades. And, personally, I think he’s Season 13’s American Idol, barring another setback like last night.
This was a night with three rounds of singing from three choices of songs. (1) was Randy Jackson’s picks, (2) judges’ picks, (3) hometown picks. Caleb did well on his first two, though the first was not particularly outstanding. Randy’s choice for Caleb was “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. Keith admired Randy’s great call on the song and loved hearing Caleb’s touch of blues/soul. Harry commended Randy’s choice because it forced Caleb’s voice to “walk within confines”. Randy himself enjoyed hearing Caleb’s falsetto, and Jennifer made the statement that “on your worst night you are better than most on their best”. So, I suppose that was a polite way of saying it wasn’t his best, but still great.
The judges picked “Demons” by Imagine Dragon for Caleb, which landed him a little higher in the judges’ ratings, and probably the voters, too. Keith was definitely hearing things last night, suggesting shades of Steve Perry in Caleb’s voice. But I can see it. Jennifer said he quit trying for range and went with emotion about midway of the performance. Harry just began hitting contestants with how they saw themselves as singers and performers in the future, which kind of caught some of them off-balance.
Keith Urban had half his mind on his wife, Nicole Kidman, who was enjoying the Cannes Film Festival without him. He propped her very current red-carpet picture up on the panel table When Seacrest asked who she was wearing (meaning the designer), he unwittingly replied, “Unfortunately, not me,” which naturally brought down the house and even caught the chuckling Seacrest flatfooted. The slightly blushing Keith tried to hide behind the desk by pulling out junk from underneath. But it still didn’t work, as the cameras mercilessly followed him with his hand over his face and still laughing at his own slip of the tongue.
Alex Preston was number two in the three-round line-up, and I was just re-thinking my call that the competition would come down to Jena and Caleb. After Alex’s first two songs, I really thought it could be him rather than Jena. His first song, chosen by Randy, was “Pompeii” by Bastille, where he switched from guitar to one big drum. It sounded great, though he lost his connection with the mic for a second or two. Harry said Randy gave him a young, hip song, and with a couple more rehearsals would have been even better. Jennifer thought he “created a moment” and was somewhat of a different Alex. Keith noted some shaky bits, but thought the instrument change was the coolest moment. Randy called it a dope performance and said the drum was Alex’s idea.
But Alex brought the judges to their feet on his second performance of “Stay” by Rihanna, a song chosen for him by the judges. Jennifer said it was beautiful and “all yours”. Harry called it really strong, then went into probing about his future performances. — Harry, (I’m thinking), we’re just trying to get these kids through their present performances. Okay? — Keith thought Alex made artistic choices and his arrangement was killah. “The audience responded,” Keith said, “and Jennifer got bumps, or . . . what does she call them?” — GOOSIES, he was told. — After all this time they couldn’t believe he didn’t know that. But, hey, the guy was missing his wife. Cut him some slack on the goosies, huh? A husband can do worse than miss his wife.
But his last song, “Story of My Life” by One Direction, chosen by his hometown of Mt. Vernon, New Hampshire, put Alex back into third place for me. It was just kind of so-so, and the big, rolling background didn’t help. It was too overpowering for a guy who has a problem coming out of his shell. The judges were less than enthused, Keith commenting that Alex had come down a little from his great performance of “Stay”. I was hoping for better from Alex.
Jena’s greatest performance was her last. North Farmington, Michigan, High School chose “Creep” by Radiohead for their Idol and brought her a standing O from the judges. These are repeat performances and Harry thought it was even better than her first one. I thought so, too. It was beautiful. Keith, for the umpteenth time, mentioned how much she had grown in her musical talent and stage presence. Jennifer called her brilliant and hard to beat. Being the last song of the night, and Jena looking beautiful and singing beautifully, I think it shoved some deciding votes her way.
Her first song, Randy’s choice, was “Titanium” by David Guetta, and started off too low for her. It was a struggle to get out of that pit, though she hit some stride later. Harry called it high risk, high reward. Keith thought she had great balance between performing, singing, fun, and conviction. Jennifer called it best, saying it was a difficult song to sing, and a little shaky and stiff. Of course, they had Jena held between earth and sky at the beginning, with a little decorative rope to keep her from taking a header off the towering platform. I can see shaky and stiff. Randy said the beginning was a little slow and a little low. — So. Not a stellar performance.
The judges were a little tepid on her second performance of “Heart Attack” by Demi Lovato, garnering a less than energetic “nice job” from Harry. Keith did his usual comment of “great range, and crazy”, and Jennifer thought it was a great song for her. — I did not. I thought it was worse than the first one, starting with notes too low in order to build up to the high notes, which were a little screechy. I have only enjoyed Jena’s mid-range songs, which have been few and far between.
Throughout the evening, American Idol was celebrating its 500th episode, with past Idol winners and hit performers poking their heads in to say congrats. Kris Allen even held up a cupcake with a lighted candle. At the end, however, all the top 13 contestants helped roll out a huge cake to celebrate the big 500th anniversary. Congratulations American Idol. You’re not what you were, but I look forward to each year, anyway, hoping for better.
Also, I was right. Slapout, Alabama, did not forget their Idol, Jessica Meuse, who was eliminated last week. They had a big parade and celebration for her, AND it aired on Idol last night. Jessica is super busy flying from one TV show to another for interviews, and being present with her 12 other buds and contestants for last onstage appearances on Idol. and gearing up for the grand tour. They all will sing next week with celebrities.
Oh, and by the way — the big finale will air Tuesday and Wednesday instead of Wednesday and Thursday next week. Let’s mark our calendars and not miss it. Okay?