It’s hard to imagine that Season 13 of American Idol didn’t start that long ago in actual time, and began like all the rest, except this year, there were 75,000 who auditioned, and now, only two remain. This was the charmed third try for Caleb Johnson in making the cut, and he’s made quite the impression, not only on the fans of classic rock style, but on the judges, too. Jennifer Lopez was dressed ready to rock in her black leather skirt, and she always tells Caleb that she feels like she’s at his rock show through every performance. Keith Urban dubbed Caleb a “rock ‘n roll Viking” some weeks back, and the North Carolina native has battled his way to the finals, against illness and vocal challenges, and proving he can do more than throw a microphone stand around. He rocks with the best of them. Ryan Seacrest dressed for the occasion in tux and tails, making it a black and white ball. Jena Irene has become the princess of the ball through the competition. The Michigan high school senior finished her schooling through the grueling weeks of competition, and will walk for her diploma in June. She is the only wildcard contestant to ever make it to the finals, and from day one, she has made every song her own unique statement, even moving Jennifer Lopez to personalize a kiss following her treatment of Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love,” re-creating the 50s classic so completely that it could take the charts today. She is no longer the “sleeper” as called by Harry Connick, Jr. The challenge for the singers this final week was another three rounds of performances– a first selection from executive producer, Simon Fuller, a second choice of a favorite from each singer, and the third featuring their single for release. It wasn’t any cakewalk, but the true tough choice is left up to the voters. Both of these talented performers have won, proving themselves artists.
Fuller’s choice for Jena was “Dog Days Are Over” from Florence and the Machine. Jena had her usual energy and strut, perhaps a bit much at one point, kneeling down at the close, but having the crowd eating from her hand. Keith Urban praised the song choice as “perfect” and Jena’s performance as a great start to the proceedings. Jennifer Lopez said that there was “electricity in this place,” following the number, while Harry loved that she was marching to the beat, and made her miss a moment of remembrance on stage! Fuller chose the Aerosmith gem, “Dream On” for Caleb, and no one would ever guess that this was the same singer who wasn’t speaking last week. Harry Connick, Jr. critiqued that Caleb needed to keep the same power from beginning to end in the song, but his fellow judges felt no loss of surge, Jennifer Lopez already lauding Caleb with “that may have just done it right there,” meaning, winning the title. Keith Urban felt the arc that Caleb was creating, saving his energy until the falsetto ending, because “you had somewhere to go.” Ryan Seacrest wondered if Steven Tyler wasn’t waving from somewhere inside Caleb’s throat!
The favorite choices led off with Jena reprising her stellar “I Can’t Help Falling in Love,” capturing even more tenderness, especially in his phrasing of “take my whole life, too.” Keith gave her another standing ovation, and while Jennifer Lopez didn’t stand or offer kisses, she reported getting those coveted “goosies,” as Harry commended “two beautiful performances” equally outstanding, within weeks. Keith Urban found a few words, “absolutely beautiful, baby,” as his critique. Caleb took on the McCartney ultimate love song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” once again. He had such full-on energy that instead of letting the vocals take on all the dramatics, he couldn’t resist a few head bangs and lyrical exclamations, and perhaps went a tad far this time, missing the perfection of his original performance. Keith warned against letting “vocal gymnastics” takeover the emotion. Jennifer Lopez cautioned the need for “more heart, less power” to make the performance truly unforgettable. Harry went a step further, asking for a verdict on who won the first two rounds, and it came to a tie, Caleb taking Round 1, and Jena Round 2. That call was a little too much pressure for the two already in the pressure cooker, but, oh well!
The song, “We Are One,” fits Jena’s style like a glove, and she worked the crowd with finesse. The judges gave no ovations, but enthusiastic claps, being prompted to go fast. “Nice finish,” spoke J Lo, Harry Connick, Jr. praised that the live version was as “strong as in the studio,” and Keith said “it suited you” to the dark-haired teen. Standing far back on the stage, Caleb jumped into his song, “As Long as You Love Me,” before Ryan Seacrest could get the full introduction out, but his power voice had plenty to push past that tiny faux pas. Jennifer Lopez summed it up, saying “you gave it your all,” and it was going to be a tough night for voters. Keith Urban concurred, saying this would be a tough vote, and Harry Connick, Jr. likened it to Caleb as Joe Frazier and Jena as Muhammad Ali, remarking that they were battling toe to toe!
Who will be the Season 13 American Idol? It’s all up to the magic calculators now, but these singers are certain stars. Everyone will be seeing stars through tomorrow’s results show, with too many dream collaborations to count!
American Idol broadcast, May 20, 2014 FOX Networks.