The “American Idol” boys got their chance to perform during Season 13’s Rush Week, the first ever for the show. Out of 15 guys, only 10 would be performing. The judges announced each one as they all waited backstage, anxiously.
“Idol” alums Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert gave the guys advice, along with a gaggle of music and movement coaches, and this season’s mentor, former judge Randy Jackson.
- Caleb Johnson, 22, got the chance to go first. Adam liked that he wanted to go for “subtle over-the-topness” in terms of his style. He did the song, “Stay with Me” by The Faces, which was a smart choice, right in the sweet spot of his vocal range. Wearing a black leather collarless jacket and prancing around with his microphone, he looked very much like Meatloaf Jr. Judge Keith Urban called it “killer, dude” and said that he’d sounded very natural. Fellow judge Jennifer Lopez said “that was the real deal.” She thought that he had grown a lot since the other two seasons when he’d tried out. The final judge, Harry Connick Jr., said it would be tough for the guys following him.
- Jennifer said the next guy was “gritty and soulful” — C.J. Harris. Chris Daughtry advised him to drop the guitar, so that he could focus on singing. C.J. went with “Shelter” by Ray Lamontagne, but he did, in fact, play guitar, sitting on a stool. The guitar sounded a bit out of tune to me, and it was a distraction. The performance didn’t start out as strong, but he got better as the song progressed, and he ended with the audience in the palm of his hand. Jennifer said that his singing touches her heart and “I hope that we get to see you for the rest of this competition. Harry told him to watch out for intonation and his tendency to sing sharp. Keith said he was a “great mix of Dobie Gray and Jonny Lang.” Host Ryan Seacrest pointed out that C.J. had just had a root canal yesterday. Wonder how that affected his performance.
- Calling the next guy a “big entertainer,” Harry called up Emmanuel Zidor. He chose “The Best of My Love” by The Emotions for his performance, but he struggled in his sessions with the vocal and movement coaches. He wore a black leather jacket over a white patterned T-shirt and black pants, a very subdued look in contrast to his general over-the-top personality. Despite a lot of hip shaking, his performance wasn’t as campy as the preview package seemed to hint he might have taken it (including warning America that anything could happen). He was certainly comfortable, having apparently worked out all the kinks in his rehearsals. Harry said he reminded him of performers he grew up watching in New Orleans, but that it started to go “out of control.” Keith cautioned him to reign things in a bit, because it made his voice go up, above the band. Jennifer didn’t think it was the best song choice. She asked him to sing just a little bit of “I’m Going Down,” presumably wanting the voters to hear it, to better inform their choices.
- Sam Woolf sang “Babylon” by David Gray, playing his guitar. The coaches had advised him to loosen up and watch how often he closes his eyes and looks down. It was still clearly a battle for him, but he probably looked down less often than he would have before being coached. The song choice might not have been a great one: there wasn’t much vocally to the song, which was just very bouncy, but he added a couple runs at the end. He had a real Neil Young sound to his voice. In response to the audience’s cheering, Keith said, “The people like you, Sam.” He said his voice was just “money.” Jennifer said he has such a sweet quality to him “it’s no surprise everyone has already fallen in love.” She also praised his perfect pitch and liked the song choice. Harry thought it was good but thought he should work on making small strides in improving his confidence onstage.
- The next singer, the judges said, had flown under the radar so far, but his final solo had proved his potential. George Lovett chose to do “Grenade” by Bruno Mars, and in answer to Randy’s question about whether he was worried about doing a song so many have sung, he said he’d bring his own character to it. Adam advised him to work on the dynamics, so that the song builds. He mostly just powered through it, through, and his wardrobe of a white long-sleeved shirt with a sweatshirt wrapped around his waist didn’t help him stand out. Jennifer praised his singing but asked him to use his runs more judiciously. When there’s too many, she pointed out, they lose the impact. Harry thought that maybe he’d been so passionate that “it spun out of control.” He said that it lacked dynamics; “I’ve heard you sing better.” Keith told him that, if he moves on, he’ll have to watch song choice to play to his strengths, because this song hadn’t.
- Dexter Roberts said he was looking forward to meeting with the hair stylists “so they can fix my hair.” He had chosen “This Old Boy” by Craig Morgan, “because I am ‘This Old Boy’.” Chris advised him to pretend it’s his song when he sings it, to really believe it. That certainly seemed like what he was doing when he got up there, as comfortable as ever. Harry liked the performance but asked him how he would be distinguishing himself from other country acts. Keith called him “the real deal” and said he’s fun to watch, but “there’s a thousand guys just like you” in honky-tonks all across America. He agreed with Harry that he needs to set himself apart. Jennifer told him, “You might have some time to figure that out.” She thought he’d sounded great.
- Introducing the next guy, Keith said that he can really play guitar and is original and “cool”: Alex Preston. He said he’d been a band geek in school, and he plays 11 or 12 instruments. He was singing “Volcano” by Damien Rice. The movement coach urged him to remember to make eye contact. Chris sympathized with him, saying that he gets nervous every time he’s on TV. His first phrase was so compelling, it made you want to listen to him. His interpretation of the song only got stronger. Wearing a black suit jacket over a white T-shirt, playing guitar, he definitely had a really professional look and sound. Keith thought it was “the best song choice of the night.” He said it sounded like a song he could have written. Jennifer liked that “you’re in your own lane,” as a very interesting artist. Harry said that “music is like a religion to you.” He liked his guitar work.
- Jennifer said the next singer had delivered consistently, Malcolm Allen, and Ryan reminded us he was the “singing deli man.” He was doing Anthony Hamilton’s “Her Heart.” He got pointers from Adam and Randy on how to improve his performance skills. Without his glasses, which had helped make him look distinctive, he looked like all the other guys in a burgundy button-down shirt and khaki pants. He danced a little as he sang, and his vocals sailed, but he often sounded a little sharp, even though the overall impression was a strong one. Jennifer said that the words of the song “they hit me,” but she’d wanted his performance to hit her more. She advised him to put his “heart and soul” into things. Harry pointed out that he’d sung the same run over and over again, and that he was singing sharp. “You have to focus on singing in tune.” Harry was booed for that, and Malcolm told the audience to “respect his opinion.” Keith was played out by the music, and Ryan asked him to speak. He advised that he might pay attention to the arrangement and perhaps lose the big band next time.
- Harry introduced the next guy, who drew influences from all over, Ben Briley. Playing his guitar, he sang “Soulshine” by the Allman Brothers. His take on it was a very blues/country take, wearing a backwards baseball cap with a gray shirt, orange tie and black vest. He took a break to do a guitar solo in the middle, which was just all right. Harry observed, “You thought you nailed that” and called him a powerful performer. He teased him about the size of the knot on his tie. Keith told him he has a great voice, stronger than his guitar playing. Jennifer thought that he’d come alive onstage.
- Keith announced the final name after emphasizing how they’d gone over all the tapes over and over again, as well as the rehearsals. He called up Spencer Lloyd. The coaches advised him to go without the guitar for her version of “Love Don’t Die” by The Fray, and he followed their advice. He wore a white hooded jacket over a maroon shirt and black pants, and while his confidence was strong, he started out very rough. Keith said that wasn’t his best vocal performance, but the crowd liked it. Jennifer said “When you’re up there, you’re a star.” Harry told him that this is not his strong suit. “This is not good.” He advised him to stick to playing ballads at the piano. Ryan presented him with a sign from the audience that had his name in a heart, signed by a bunch of girls. Guess he’s going through.
- Five guys didn’t get a chance to sing: Ethan Harris, Jordan Brisbane, Casey Thrasher, Briston Maroney and Maurice Townsend. If they’re lucky, they may get a chance to join the finals as Wild Card picks (though in most cases, this is unlikely). Of the singers who sang this week, the most likely to go through from the girls are: Majesty Rose York, M.K. Nobilette, Malaya Watson, Jena Irene and either Bria Anai or Emily Piriz. The most likely guys to advance are: Alex Preston, Sam Woolf, Dexter Roberts, C.J. Harris and Caleb Johnson, but Spencer Lloyd could play the spoiler and boot either Sam or C.J. Whichever guys in that group of six who don’t get America’s vote will probably get a Wild Card from the judges. I’m predicting they’ll add two guys and one girl with their Wild Card selections.
- Tonight, the results!