American Idol took another different twist this week, asking the eight still striving for the top to revisit the songs that they chose for their first auditions. This season’s process has been an especially rushed race to the top, putting the young singers on the big stage much sooner than in past seasons. The quality bar rose astronomically in every performance, and the competitors more than proved that they’ve been listening to the judges’ advice. On a lighthearted note, fun duets were a splash of fun for the night.
Pink-streaked gal with the guitar, Jessica Meuse, called herself an “evil baby,” with her mom’s agreement, but she was a star angel on a pedestal performing her own “Blue-Eyed Lie.” She was perfectly in her element, and the total applause from the audience accentuated the point. In her Atlanta audition, she proclaimed she would either be a successful musician “or a broke one,” and there’s little worry now about making a living, and more focus on becoming an artist who will make a mark. Keith Urban compared Jessica to Grace Slick, saying only that he wished she had moved more on her perch, adding energy. Harry Connick, Jr. disagreed, saying that no movement was necessary, because Jessica’s singing drew everyone to her. Jennifer Lopez called the performance “perfect,” adding that she already hear the kind of album that Jessica will create. CJ Harris came on next, reprising his Allman Brothers classic, “SoulShine,” better than he’s ever done, his own soul shining through, and closing with a kiss and a fist to the air in thanks to God. Jennifer Lopez said there was no need for lighting, because CJ’s light came from within, reminding him “you touch people.” Harry Connick, Jr. gave another reassuring reminder, “you’re special enough to be here, and you have something to reach people,” still adding that he needed to learn his pitch , so that some producer would not “Auto-tune the soul out of your voice.” Keith Urban simply added the performance was “great tonight.” CJ may have earned welcome redemption. The first duet of the night matched Jena Irene and Alex Preston on Pink’s “Give Me a Reason,” and the two very different stylists blended seamlessly.
Sam Woolf sang for all the neighborhood as a kid, and his grandparents supported him all the way to the Idol stage. Going back to his “Lego House” selection, but this time, slowing it down, he showed his progression as a performer. Harry Connick, Jr. urged Sam to make a connection with one of those screaming female fans, to smile, and make the feeling real. Keith Urban said that Sam was getting better and better week to week, and Jennifer Lopez commented that the same things the panel loved in the beginning about the singer are still loved now. Jessica and Caleb joined for the second duet, doing Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” These two were a perfect match. They could do an album together! Malaya Watson came on bigger than ever, packing way more than the punch she had in her audition with Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” bringing Keith Urban to a standing ovation, and making everyone speechless! She not only took on the big notes, she made the whole song her own style. Jennifer praised her poise and control, while Harry advised her to make the most of her gift and musicians around her by learning every note.
Dexter Roberts’ mom passes a billboard of her son every day, and Dexter took her back to his roots with “One Mississippi,” performed with a homespun elegance as never before, beyond what any smoke machine could create. Jennifer Lopez noted that there were so many nuances in the performance that no one had seen before. Harry said “you sang the crap out of that song,” and Keith counseled that now was the time to focus on feeling in the lyrics than on the way the voice sounds. Malaya and Sam teamed up for a fluffy turn on Colbie Cailet and Jason Mraz’ “Lucky” that was almost too light for these two. Jena Irene is bold enough to take on Adele, and she made “Rolling in the Deep” seem like it was her own from the beginning. She took it to a sexier, sort of quiet sultry tone, and Keith Urban couldn’t resist, giving her another standing ovation. Harry Connick, Jr. remarked that he “loved it” and loved her voice too, coming to love the idiosyncrasies. Jennifer Lopez prompted that she should “have the mind to win” every week. CJ and Dexter game the most playful duet of the night, making Darius Rucker’s “Alright” still romantic even when sung by two guy roommates! Aretha Franklin got another nod from Caleb Johnson, who offered his “Chain of Fools” better than ever, stained-glass and all! Initially, it was hard to gauge the panel’s response, but their comments told the tale. Keith called Caleb “a rock ‘n roll Viking,” and Jennifer said it was clear that Caleb had been “waiting your whole life for this.” Harry Connick, Jr. wants to see a softer, quieter side to Caleb, and the singer says that will come. Alex Preston gave a much bolder rendition of his own composition, “Fairytales,” than he did during his Salt Lake City audition, even explaining its roots as part of a bad breakup. Ms. Lopez had her hands up in approval for Alex, and all the judges loved how he let his vibrato go this time. Keith noted that everyone in the audience was singing with Alex, not on a Top 40 hit, but on his own tune. None too bad.
It will be down to seven after the tally of votes this Thursday. Will seven be a lucky American Idol number?
American Idol broadcast, April 2, 2014 FOX Networks.