American Idol gave Season 13’s Top 13 as much fanfare as the judges for “This Is Me” performances, as each one had a “crowd walk,” touching hands with adoring fans as they came out. Ryan Seacrest announced the arrival of the judges as “friends,” as seems to be the case, Keith Urban ever the first to reach out and touch waiting fans himself. The 13 young artists got to do their own promotion, introducing the new 855 numbers for voting that will stay the same for the rest of the season, and the new future of voting worldwide via Google. As if the pressure of putting on mega-performances wasn’t painful enough, each finalist had to reveal five things about him or herself in 20 seconds, in some very inconvenient settings! There was a lot riding on these songs, chosen to reflect individuality of each one singing.
Country power player, Dexter Roberts, was first on stage, choosing Chris Young’s “Aw Naw.” Dexter shared that he was scared of spiders, but he certainly has no fear of the stage, and already gives the feel of performing at his own show. One of the issues for Keith and Jennifer Lopez was how Dexter will not only put on a wow performance, but how he will give every song the twist to make it his own. Harry immediately picked up on the difficulty the talents were having with their “digital ears,” saying virtually everyone was out of tune, including Dexter. The sound issues seem to ease in the second half of the night, but Harry didn’t get much nicer! Malaya Watson had plenty of spirit, as ever, and spoke her message that “nothing is the same” before performing Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby.” For the first time in the competition, her smile was not as radiant, as she clearly struggled with sound issues from the stage. The 16-year-old who said she “loves everybody” lost a bit of her sparkle, as all in the panel noted her nerves and that this was not her best vocal, but Keith Urban still felt the energy of her performance. Kristen O’Connor went with Kelly Clarkson’s “Beautiful Disaster,” hitting her notes and showing a tad more emotion, but there still seems no “presence” or movement that draws listeners to her. Harry Connick, Jr. repeated his mantra on singing out of tune, saying she was a great “pop singer.” Keith Urban applauded the song choice, and Jennifer admonished to “stop thinking” and do “what you know” as a singer. Ben Briley brought it with his very up-tempo version of “Folsom Prison Blues,” and his audience ate it up. The singer said he loved kangaroos, and he looked sharp in his own interpretation of “man in but Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. loved the turned up beat, so much so that Harry called it “best of the night” so far. Ben’s mix of country soul and his musicianship bring something Idol hasn’t seen all together. CJ Harris did Darius Rucker’s “Radio,” and it was his best and easiest stage moment. He brought perfect feel to the song and the mood. Jennifer Lopez had a “lotta fun,” but Harry didn’t want fun, he wanted to hear the “cry” in CJ’s voice! Can’t a guy have any fun on stage? Keith said It was good to see the lighter side of CJ. MK Nobilette, more than any in the 13, seems to show more different sides to herself in every performance, and her version of “Satisfaction” by Allen Stone, not the Rolling Stones, delivered again. Her cool blues came through, and Harry said it was wonderful “watching you grow” and seeing her with makeup for the first time. Keith Urban loved the look, and reminded her, no matter the nerves, that “your voice never fails.” Jennifer Lopez simply left it her with “You are awesome.” Majesty Rose chose Janelle Monae and “Tight Rope,” wanting to show her desire to balance humility and ambition. She had beautiful, bouncy energy through the whole song, and undeniable presence. Keith called her song a great choice, Jennifer loved her individuality, and Harry said her “mystery” was always the element that made her memorable.
Jena Irene, her blue-green eyes and unmentionable shade of brown hair being her shared features, got put to the test by Harry, too. He praised her selection of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” but then wanted her to elaborate its meaning. Ryan Seacrest took on that task instead. Irene’s voice truly fills the room, and she truly performs. Jennifer Lopez loves the “unique” touches she always adds, and Keith Urban loved when she “leaned in” to the song to find her sweet spot. Young Alex Preston is a coffee lover and a lover of people, and he vulnerably sang about love in Jason Mraz’ “Beautiful Mess.” Alex is definitely getting a style makeover, and his pure tone was perfect in the mood. Harry called the song choice “brave-good tune,” but still mentioned singing out of tune. He thought the song was a touch too personal, but Keith found that aspect “pulled me in.” Jessica Meuse went the opposite direction from vulnerability, singing “Ball Chasing a Butterfly” with a believable rock edge. Keith called the move “bold, but cool” and Jennifer Lopez got “goosies,” saying it was her favorite performance of the evening. Harry remarked that Jessica is strong and different. Emily Piriz took a bite out of a big song with Pink’s “Glitter in the Air,” and pulled it off, making it her most memorable performance. She matched perfect portions of sentimentality and sensational singing, with a dash of sass. Jennifer Lopez said the performance was “beautifully” done, even remarking that she was getting “gushy” from it. Harry Connick, Jr. admired that it was “a leap of faith” in her artistry, giving his first true compliment, too. Jennifer’s amazement, and Keith said it was one of his favorites, even though he wanted to hear more balance of “the ying and the yang.” Sam Woolf went way back to Matchbox 20’s “Unwell,” and it was clear he connected with the song and his audience, singing to screams. Harry wanted to hear the song “more messed up” in emotion. Keith Urban admires Sam’s way of “holding center,” and Jennifer Lopez said Sam had “come alive” in that performance. The young man still has years to grow into his obvious gifts.
Caleb Johnson was a perfect closer for the night, singing “Pressure in Time” by Long Beach band, Rival Sons. Another young artist might have paid the price for not choosing a “hit,” but Caleb made the song his own hit, slamming the stage like a 20-year strong rock star, his hair sticking straight out from static at the end of the song! “Killer! You’ve got serious pipes!” Keith Urban exclaimed, loving that he put full Caleb twist in the song. Jennifer Lopez said “see you on the bus,” reflecting how ready Caleb already is to live his rock ‘n roll life. Harry said Rival Sons should keep Caleb’s number in case they ever need a new lead singer. This boy’s bound for big time!
The votes will tell the American Idol truth on Thursday. The show airs Wednesday and Thursday on FOX.
American Idol broadcast, February 26, 2014 FOX Networks.