Only 10 of the Top 15 girls of “American Idol,” Season 13, got a chance to sing for audience votes during the first ever Rush Week. That set-up led to plenty of anticipation and drama.
This week, the contestants also worked with mentor Randy Jackson, in his new position since leaving the judging panel, as well as returning alumni Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, and vocal and movement coaches and stylists.
- First up was Majesty Rose, 19, singing “Happy” by Pharrell. Adam was pleased with her song choice, and she took her guitar up but still moved around. She definitely embodied the happy feel of the song and showed off her stellar vocals, besides. Judge Jennifer Lopez called her “ready for showtime.” Fellow judge Harry Connick Jr. praised her for setting a good tone. The final member of the judging panel, Keith Urban, said he loved her breezy style.
- Next, the judges called up nurse Kristen O’Connor, who chose “Turning Tables” by Adele. Randy advised her to emote to the audience, while Chris helped her refine her phrasing and staging. She was a technically good singer but lacked an emotional connection. Keith gushed over her “killer” range but noted she’d had problems with nerves. Jennifer liked her tone and said she was good enough to be recording records tomorrow.
- Introducing her as a girl with “fire and passion,” Keith announced the next singer: Briana Oakley, who performed “Warrior” by Demi Lovato. Randy advised her to “lighten up” while the vocal coach told her she needed to show emotion in her eyes. She had a beautiful tone but does need to work on emoting. Keith compared her to Irene Cara, pointing out the clarity of her voice. Jennifer, who thought she looked scared, compared her to a young Whitney Houston. Harry advised her to tone down the showboating, telling her that “high notes are not triple axels,” a nod to the Winter Olympics, currently in progress in Sochi.
- Now calling herself Jena Irene (instead of Jena Ascuitto, as she’d auditioned), the next competitor told Randy that she wanted to learn to “work a mic.” She did have to correct his pronunciation of her name several times, from “Jenna” to “Gina.” On her performance of “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones, she gave it a real rocker delivery which was hard to ignore. Jennifer called her one of her favorites. Harry pressed her to find out what she thought the song was about, and she said, “Darkness.” Keith liked her poise.
- Bria Anai told her advisors she wants to be remembered as “the girl with the lips,” since she’s known for choosing colorful lipsticks. For her performance of “Wrong Side of Love” by Melanie Fiona, she wore bright red lip color. She had a great attitude onstage but sometimes got carried away, to the point of veering into what Harry called “shouty.” Jennifer noted her “jitters” but thought she had star power.
- Next was Marialle Sellars, doing “Roar” by Katy Perry. Adam advised her to take her time with the song, and Randy urged her to make sure her humbleness and sweetness came through. She performed without her guitar, and unfortunately, had a lot of pitch problems. In addition, her high heels gave her trouble with her stage movement. Keith noted it wasn’t the best song choice for her. Jennifer thought she should have played guitar. Harry chided her for not singing in tune.
- Jennifer described the next performer, Jessica Meuse, as the one who “fought her way into the Top 15.” Viewers might remember she got into disagreements with her group members during Hollywood Week, then complained that “drama follows me.” Chris Daughtry pointed out that her voice is better than her guitar playing and hoped she’d step away from it and not rely on it as a crutch. But when she sang the country tune “Drink a Beer” by Luke Bryan, she stuck to playing her guitar. She was all in black, like a female Johnny Cash. Frankly, it was a little boring compared to her previous performances of her original songs. Jennifer said she could tell she was nervous and that “underneath all the edge… there’s a softness and a heart.” Harry called her fresh and exciting. Keith loved her song choice but warned her to be careful of smiling when it doesn’t match up with sad lyrics. Agreed. That is one of my pet peeves.
- Next, Harry announced Emily Piriz would be singing. She was singing “Paris Ooh La La” by Grace Potter. She got advice from Adam Lambert, who advised her to sing it more aggressively at the beginning and milder at the chorus. He thought she needed to “sing it like a rock star.” She was wearing a black halter top with white fringe on the bottom hem and black leather leggings. She took some of his advice but didn’t have quite the subtlety that he was probably hoping for. Harry, who had critiqued the song choice by another young contestant during the auditions, asked her why she selected it. She said it was because it was about “a woman getting what she wanted,” because this is what she wants. Still, Harry played the role of a concerned father and, pointing out the risque lyrics, asked her if, at 18, that’s really how she wants to present herself. Keith thought her technique of “standing in front of the mirror” to get her performance down wasn’t the way to go, that instead she needs to get real. Jennifer said that she did very well and had “one of the most relaxed performances.”
- M.K. Nobilette was next. She had grown up in San Francisco and wanted to work on connecting with a song. She chose the John Legend song, “All of Me,” wearing a dove gray blazer over a black T-shirt, her short hair tucked into a knit cap, as she sat on a stool and gave it her all. It wavered a bit at times, probably from nerves, but was very emotional and tender. The audience went crazy for her. Keith called it the perfect song choice and said he loved her vibrato and vulnerability. Jennifer said, “This is what I’ve loved about you from the beginning.” Harry called her “an elegant, articulate singer.”
- Then Ben Briley and Neco Starr were called out to learn who had been selected by viewers to remain in the competition. The guy selected to remain? Ben Briley. This is no surprise to anyone who had paid attention to previous seasons of Idol, when white country boys tend to do well. To be fair, however, Ben’s final solo was also stronger musically.
- The last person to get a chance to sing, as Jennifer said, had both a huge personality and huge voice, high-school band tuba player Malaya Watson. She chose “Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)” by Ray Charles. Chris Daughtry called her voice “stupid” as in “stupid good.” The movement coach told her to find opportunities to look at the audience. Malaya wore a black leather biker jacket with distressed jeans and really took the song to church, inflecting it with bluesy passion. Then she did a cute little celebratory dance as she waited for the judges to speak. Jennifer called her “one of the powerhouse singers of the competition.” She pointed out that this was the first time “Idol” has done a Rush Week, and she praised all the singers who’d pushed down their nerves to sing. Harry praised her energy and said he could understand why Malaya had been a little less focused than usual, because of the situation. Keith said, “You make glasses and braces look so cool.” Why is that? Her confidence. She was a little over-the-top, he said, because he felt it was a bit rushed. But he said he couldn’t wait to hear what she does next.
- The girls who did not get a chance to sing — Austin Wolfe, Andrina Brogden, Kenzie Hall, Brandy Neelly, Jillian Jensen — could still get lucky. After the boys sing tonight, the final line-up, including some Wild Card picks from the judges, will be announced on Thursday.
“American Idol” airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on FOX.