It was a time of “prove it or are you pretending” for the nine American Idol singers standing this week, and every one of them had to show he or she had what it took with Rickey Minor’s legendary leadership, not exactly an average backing band. Fall Out Boy became advisors, relating what real life is like on the road, and backing the nine in a rousing medley their own hit, “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark,” with some Rolling Stones and Coldplay completing the sonic sandwich. Who would lead the band, and who would be swallowed up by big sound?
Alex Preston led out the performances with No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” and definitely seemed more cool with the mood of the reggae-vibe. Alex is a major talent as a musician, but can he ever be totally at home on a stage? Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. counseled that Alex needed to “move more,” and Jennifer Lopez wished for more of an “energy boost” while doing such a known number. Ryan Seacrest was convinced to show off his ankles, under pleas from the panel, and Harry was a shoe-napper! The host was more worried about revealing his shortness than his bare feet, but it was a fun interlude. Majesty Rose made a perfect choice with “Shake It Out,” and the panel praised accordingly. Majesty’s easy flow and spirit in her crisp white shorts-suit returned her to “the Majesty I love,” praised Jennifer Lopez, who called the performance “a 10.” Harry Connick, Jr. said she was “close to breaking through” and finding her true artistry. Keith Urban remarked that this was “the closest I’ve seen to you becoming a performer,” so it was a good night for Majesty. Dexter Roberts stuck with his wheelhouse style, selecting Little Big Town’s “Boondocks” for his performance. He was the first to say “Give it up for the band,” from his own lips. Harry said Dexter had to learn how to put his own personal stamp on songs more proficiently, but Jennifer “liked it,” noting, “it’s what you do,” and Keith said if the song had been offered to Dexter before Little Big Town, he would’ve made it “a hit on country radio.”
Malaya Watson softened the tone, as she performed the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” with deft tenderness and an obvious personal interpretation, which she didn’t explain until after her panel critiques. Keith Urban called it “beautiful, baby” and added that he felt Malaya’s “beautiful spirit.” Jennifer Lopez said she heard “the sweetness of a young Michael Jackson” in Malaya’s voice– meaning it as the utter compliment. Harry Connick, Jr. deemed the performance “strong,” and urged the teenager to work with the band on harmonies and always “work on your craft,” rather than stardom. Sam Woolf went with the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah,” and looked looser and more content than ever onstage. It was Sam’s best so far moment. Jennifer Lopez loved that the song “perfectly suited” Sam, but wanted him to “sing it to someone.” Harry Connick, Jr. praised Sam for the stripped-down arrangement, while Keith Urban encouraged Sam to soften the notes, to make the song flow like in a “conversation” with his audience. Jessica Meuse came on looking better than ever, too, summoning up the artist that she’s always compared to, Stevie Nicks, in Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” The girl from Slapout, always used to playing a guitar, still looks a little stuck behind her microphone, but the song fit her like a glove. Harry Connick, Jr. said it was his favorite performance ever from Jessica. Keith reminded that she had to find her comfort zone without an instrument, so she can become equally comfortable with or without it. Jennifer Lopez wanted to “feel something” more from within the song.
Harry and Jennifer chomped down on a giant gummy bear offered by Keith, but the taste must not have been to pleasing, because Jennifer couldn’t even keep her bite in her mouth! CJ Harris had total authenticity in his performance of “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” by The Steel Drivers, who served as his backing band. CJ has the voice and the emotion, he only needs time to perfect tone. Keith Urban praised the “clever choice” in song and arrangement, but urged the man from Alabama “not to confuse sound with expression of feeling,” in other words, feel it for real, don’t just sound like it. Harry called that the best advice he’s heard on American Idol, and pushed CJ to “work on pitch” still. Jennifer Lopez loved the beginning, got lost in the middle, but credited CJ for bringing it back at the end. Caleb Johnson couldn’t have picked better than Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” and he confirmed his complete worthiness as rock front man. He took the band and the audience on his own rock Odyssey, and it earned him standing ovations from Keith and Jennifer. Jennifer found Caleb “very sexy” in this performance, surprising Caleb himself. “I don’t know how you could’ve sung it better,” Keith raved, calling it a clear example of “I’m with the singer,” rather than the theme of this week. Harry said Caleb set a very high bar that will be hard for any competitor to pass. It was still a hard rock heyday, with Jena Irene going with the Evanescence song, “Bring Me to Life,” owning it as her own, and working the audience in the palm of her rocking on hands. Harry Connick, Jr. praised how she “used the stage, the audience, and the band” all to her advantage. Keith Urban said Jena always can “deliver,” and Jennifer just wanted Jena to get more rock goddess “messy.” Ryan Seacrest hinted that a Caleb-Jena duet may be a definite in the future, but what’s more definite is that these two may be the two vying for the final title.
The votes come in Thursday, as nine become eight, all going for one!
American Idol broadcast, March 26, 2014 FOX Networks.