American Idol celebrated “Home” as the theme this week, but not everything was warm and fuzzy with the contestants, particularly when it came to the judges’ remarks. The road to stardom is never easy, and rough spots and tough words took a toll on a few of the dozen standing singers. Jennifer Lopez made her entrance in dramatic black and white, and praised Ryan Seacrest’s sharp gray suit, but Keith Urban contrasted that becoming an artist wasn’t so black and white. He noted that the challenge is always “to be in the moment as a performer, and lost in the moment” at the same time. Harry Connick, Jr. gave some love and gratitude to his New Orleans roots, and then the performances rolled. Some were good times, others were anything but fun. The “Idol” spiritual advisors, Bill and Julie Mauldin, will be making bedside calls!
Jena Irene chose a song that she loved to sing while riding in the car with family as a youth, KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See,” which also had a run featured in several TV commercials. Jena is definitely learning better crowd work from the stage, and she brought her cool, semi-punky, jazzy tone to the tune. Keith Urban praised her newfound stage presence, Jennifer Lopez remarked that she was “right there” about to push through to become the artist she needed to be, and Harry Connick, Jr. liked that she “made a mess of the melody” to suit her uniqueness. Alex Preston came next, definitely making a fashion statement in his blue suit, pants rolled up, and high-coiffed hair. He chose Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be,” relating a special memory of meeting the composer. He went to the electric side on this one, and he is learning to look up at his audience more easily. Jennifer Lopez praised that he is making his fashion style “official,” but that this was not his best vocal performance, largely because of arrangement. Harry Connick, Jr. loved that Alex “ended on a 9” again, and told him to keep chipping at creativity. Keith Urban seemed baffled by the performance, and said he was not sure what the exact issue was, but to be careful of being swallowed by a song. Tiny Slapout, Alabama got another shot out from Jessica Meuse, feeling the hometown support. The pink-streaked performer lamented that she even missed cows! Her selection of Dido’s “White Flag” seemed not to send her recent style, and it showed. She never found her sweet spot, and the performance seemed sad, despite the defiant lyric. Harry Connick, Jr. came right out of the gate saying she was sharp the whole time, never finding her “laser focus.” Keith Urban still loved her musicality, but felt her performance very lacking, saying she has to “mean it,” especially if she’s not in tune. Jennifer Lopez even chimed in, saying she was “not coming off comfortable” as a performer this time. Jessica has a history of a hard time with criticism, so time will tell if she can turn it to her advantage. Dexter Roberts brought it on country style with “Lucky Man,” his cap turned backwards, and sliding into the song as comfortably as an old pair of jeans, 100% believable. Keith Urban applauded, saying it was “perfect” and loving the moment of a slip up when he “pulled back” into the performance. Jennifer Lopez was pleased, but still wants more surprise, while Harry Connick, Jr. was sad that Dexter didn’t change the lyrics to mention the Saints, but still called the performance “best of the night” at that point. Emily Piriz was a brave girl, opting to do Ms. Lopez’s “Just Get Loud” with her looking onstage! The sendoff via Skype from her steady boyfriend probably helped, and Jennifer offered a sincere “thank you” for the effort. Harry Connick, Jr. admired her courage, but said she needed to “drive the locomotive” of the song to own it. Keith Urban was kind, saying he just “loved it.” Asheville, North Carolina’s Caleb Johnson closed out the first half, with a typically riveting rock offering, this time, “Working Man” from his favorite band, Rush. The feel that this young man has for songs created before his birth is uncanny, and he leaves it all on the stage. Harry Connick, Jr. reminded him that being “the most consistent” is not always a good thing, and that he has to redesign songs to his own artistry. Keith called his choice “a bold thing,” and Jennifer said he did a great job again.
San Francisco’s MK Nobilette had plenty of family support, and she did her best to put her own identity into Train’s much-played “Drops of Jupiter.” She is clearly still finding her way to confidence, and trusting that she has the voice already. Keith Urban told her to sling her guitar behind her when she’s not playing, so that that will help her In “connecting” with her crowd. Jennifer Lopez said. It was not a breakout performance, but that she, too, was “pushing.” Harry was toughest, saying he had the feel that “you don’t want to be here,” and urging her to practice the things that are hard to bring out her talent. CJ Harris is another Alabama native, and his choice of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” came across with heart and passion, and all except Keith felt it. Mr. Urban urged CJ again to “make songs more your own,” while Harry really felt the lyrics this time. Jennifer admired that he chose a song with a true message. Sam Woolf took on a new look of “new folk” when he performed Blind Pilot’s “Just One.” He was surrounded by his usual throng of adoring girls, and Keith Urban said there was no doubt you would be back, his tone “like butter.” Jennifer still wants Sam to rise to his “super wow” moment, and Harry missed the emotional dynamics in the performance. Malaya Watson really listened to the panel’s remarks last week, making her look and her energy more subtle, but ever so powerful with “Take Me to the King,” singing even more powerfully at times than Tamela Mann. Keith Urban exclaimed the moment was “beautiful,” Jennifer Lopez told Malaya that she was moved to “goosies and tears,” and Harry even offered kudos for the “guts to go with gospel,” and crediting her with not going off the rails this time. Ben Briley chose another more obscure song in David Nail’s “Turning Home.” Ben has a smooth country soul in his voice that is hard to turn away from, but the panel didn’t feel emotion from him, and their plea was for more feeling, across-the-board from all three. Majesty Rose was pure simplicity and emotion in her stripped-down version of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” She added a vocal chorus to closer song, perhaps the music teacher side of the preschool teacher coming out, and the panel much preferred her opening with only her own voice, saying that was enough and sometimes “more is not better” as Jennifer noted.
The choices are up to voters now, and Thursday, the dozen will become the American Idol 11! The show airs Wednesday and Thursday on FOX. Maybe sweet dreams will wash a few bad memories away!
American Idol broadcast, March 5, 2014 FOX Networks.