For the first official performance show (if you don’t count Rush Week), the Top 13 of “American Idol,” Season 13, competed for votes. The theme was “This is Me,” with the Top 13 trying to choose a song that illustrates who they are.
- Dexter Roberts told Ryan he wanted America to know he was fun. He chose a rollicking country song, “Aw Naw” by Chris Young, which unfortunately didn’t really go anywhere. It won’t matter, though, because neither will he. The stylists had touched up his hair, playing up his natural curl, and he wore a simple button-down black shirt and jeans. Resident country musician on the judging panel, Keith Urban called it an “excellent cover version” of that song, but told him he’s going to have to figure out how to make it “a Dexter Roberts performance.” Jennifer Lopez agreed. Harry Connick Jr. thought that perhaps his ear monitors were contributing to him singing out of tune, since he hadn’t had that problem before. He urged him to use his personality more. Jennifer chimed in, saying the song was a little low for him. “That’s not the sweet spot in your voice.”
- Malaya Watson wanted to convey that “nothing is the same.” She chose “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars, which she thought showed her “Slyonce” performance character, meaning Sly and the Family Stone plus Beyonce. Wearing bright orange sparkly pants and a shiny black top, she slapped her thigh as she sang. The song felt rushed and wasn’t a great showcase for her voice, even though she did show her personality. Jennifer praised her energy, giving her an “A plus” for performance. Harry thought she’d had the jitters. Keith commented that her energy is contagious, and now she needs to put that into her singing.
- Kristen O’Connor chose a Kelly Clarkson song, “Beautiful Disaster,” telling Ryan she wanted to prove she deserves to be here (since she was a Wild Card pick). Wearing a tight floral minidress with a beaded necklace that made her look about 10 years older, she had a lot of trouble with the melody. Harry said he liked that she’d thought about her song choice, and he wondered if the ear piece was giving her trouble staying in tune. Keith liked that she showed her range and showed dynamics particularly well. (Really? What was he listening to?) Jennifer urged her and the other contestants to “stop thinking.”
- Ben Briley chose “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, which he uses to open every show he does. He definitely knew this song extremely well, and it showed in a skilled performance. He wore a black baseball cap with a black shirt, dark pants, and a tie, a minor step up from his usual wardrobe of a beat-up baseball cap. Behind him ran a video of a police line-up wall, with several musicians silhouetted against it, playing fiddles. Keith is a Johnny Cash fan and thought the tempo was a little brisk. He asked him not to sacrifice his artistry for entertainment. Jennifer liked the tempo and liked that he made the song his own. HaHHarry thought it was unquestionably the best performance of the night and liked that he picked a song that hearkened back to American music history.
- C.J. Harris sang a song that reminded himself of being a child, “Radio” by Darius Rucker. He wore a dark denim button-down shirt with khaki pants and a black baseball hat. Playing the guitar only in the beginning of the song, he then loosened up and grabbed the mike. It was a fun song, and he seemed much more relaxed than last week, even though the song wasn’t terribly memorable. Jennifer called it “a lot of fun.” Harry said he wished he’d heard him sing something that was more serious, that showed off the “cry” in his voice. Keith disagreed, saying it was a good song choice and he was glad C.J. showed America another side.
- M.K. Nobilette selected “Satisfaction” by Allen Stone but didn’t really explain why she chose it. She wore a tuxedo jacket in dusty pink, with a backwards black baseball cap, peach pants, and black high tops. (This will apparently be the season of the black baseball cap). Although the song started out a little off, she started finding her comfort level in the middle of the song. The way she sustains notes sometimes reminds me a little of Annie Lennox. Harry said he’s not used to seeing her with makeup on, and “you’re so beautiful both ways.” He told her that, in the middle of phrases, when she’s not singing, she could fill that time with more performance. Keith said he loved her look. He was happy to see her finding her confidence onstage. Jennifer didn’t know the song but liked her delivery of it. She urged her to “start playing up there,” because her voice never fails her.
- Majesty Rose selected “Tight Rope” by Janelle Monae because, she said, there’s a balance to everything in life, and she’s trying to find the balance between humility and confidence. She was performing at a microphone for the first time without her guitar, and she had no troubles with the speedy, bouncy song. My only criticism: her outfit was a little shapeless, with an oversized top in a retro geometric pattern over a black and white pleated A-line skirt. She ought to return to the form-fitted floral retro dresses, which were much more flattering. Keith called it a “killer song choice.” Jennifer liked her style and individuality. Harry thought she was terrific.
- Jena Irene did the Coldplay song “The Scientist,” which was the first song she’d ever learned on the piano. But she sang it with just a mike; probably a bad choice, given that her best performances so far have been her at the keyboard. Her delivery was harsh in parts and just all over the place. She wore a studded black vest, faded jeans and enough eye makeup to look straight out of the ’80s. Jennifer remarked she has a unique voice. Harry liked her choices to depart from the original song. Keith thought it was pitchy in the beginning of the song but then liked where she took it.
- Alex Preston chose “A Beautiful Mess” by Jason Mraz, which he found to be a metaphor for life. He wore all dark colors, wearing a plum blazer over a blue paisley shirt, playing his guitar, and his tender performance — against a red screen, with a red spotlight — was mesmerizing. Harry called the song a brave choice but thought it was a little too introspective. Keith disagreed, saying that his singing pulled him in. Jennifer also said she got caught up in the mood and the emotion.
- Jessica Meuse chose “The Crow and the Butterfly” by Shinedown, because “I’m the crow chasing my dream.” In her pre-interview with host Ryan Seacrest, she seemed to be making a conscious effort to seem perky. She wore a “rocker” look: a white studded jacket over an orange top and dark jeans with bleach stains. The song had a hard rock edge to it, which was a different from the country-flavored ballads she’s been doing, and I’m not convinced it was a good choice, since it made her seem like a rocker wannabe. Keith called it a “bold but cool” song choice, because that side of her hasn’t been something she’s shown. He liked the haunting quality of it. Jennifer said she got “goosies” and that it was her favorite vocal performance of the night so far. She urged her to relax a little bit. Harry found the crazy graphics behind her (of birds and butterflies) distracting. He liked hearing the different sound of her voice.
- Emily Piriz sang a Pink song, “Glitter in the Air,” wearing a silver sparkly sleeveless dress (because… glitter!). Her performance was stronger than last week, including some tender moments. Jennifer thought she’d sung a difficult song well. Harry said she’d done exactly what she’s supposed to do, and he was proud of her. Keith thought it was a beautiful vocal, but he wanted to see some edge, similar to what Pink has going for her when she performs the song.
- Sam Woolf chose “Unwell” by Matchbox 20 and said it reflected the “American Idol” experience, with its refrain “I’m not crazy, just a little unwell.” He had his guitar with him, which was barely audible over the band, and he wore a brown leather bomber jacket with a forest green T-shirt. His tone was pleasant, but the performance was overall unremarkable. Harry thought it should have been a little more “messed up” to match the sentiment, but it was “nice.” Keith thought the tempo should have been faster. Jennifer called him a “quiet storm” and told him he has to come alive onstage.
- Caleb Johnson chose “Pressure and Time” by the band Rival Sons, which he said is the type of song he’d want to record. He wore black leather pants, a black shirt, and a black leather jacket and seemed to be channeling Ozzy Osbourne for this retro rocking performance. They even gave him jets of dry ice at the end of the song, which made his hair stand straight up in static. Keith called it “killer,” telling him “you have serious pipes, man.” His only criticism was how to put a twist on it so it wasn’t too retro. Jennifer said, “You’re so ready for the rock star life.” Harry thought it was great to hear rock on “Idol.”
- Kudos to Caleb, Ben, M.K., Majesty and Alex, with a nod to C.J. In danger tonight are probably Jena and Kristen, both of whom were Wild Card picks and did little this week that would change viewer minds. The bottom three will most likely be completed by either Jessica (who’s probably still having trouble winning over fans due to her drama-rama antics during Group Round) or Malaya. Most likely to go home: Kristen, whose pageant style rarely appeals to “Idol” voters for long.
“American Idol” airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays on FOX.