The talented vocalists comprising the American Idol Top 10 for Season 13 were tasked to sing Billboard Top 10 hits from 2011 to today this week, and the judges had a lot to say about the songs. Jennifer Lopez donned all-white couture for the evening, but no one was waving a white flag over their views on the validity of a “good tune.” Harry hardly noticed the LA quake this week, because the “nae nae” made him earthshaking, in spite of misspelling, and there was no mincing of words when it came to performances or song choices.
MK Nobilette went up first for the night, choosing a perfect song in Pink’s “Perfect,” which she selected because of fans feedback to her. After praise for progress last week, and averting the bottom three, she started off strong, and seemed to be making real connection emotionally, but her vocal was not superb, and her shy nature surfaced again, that sometimes makes it seem like she’s not taking her audience or the moment seriously enough. Keith Urban counseled her to “loosen up” and own the song she sang. Jennifer Lopez remarked that she “felt it at the start” but the connection faded. Harry Connick, Jr. gave hard words to hear when he said she could sing an album from a recording studio beautifully, but that he didn’t “see a show” from her. Dexter Roberts chose “Cruise” from Florida Georgia Line, and whether it was by choice or audio issues, the opening was downright hard to hear. There was audience love in abundance, and Jennifer Lopez called his performance good, but said she was waiting him to be taken on the full ride, that never quite got going. Harry got very honest once more, saying Dexter didn’t do anything different, and called the performance “bereft of joy.” Keith took issue with the negative remarks, deeming it “a good choice” of song, and noting that Dexter’s changes vocally were evidence of “beginning artistry.” Jena Irene spoke with Ryan Seacrest on his radio show about her love for electronic pop, and made a bold choice in “Clarity” by Zedd. The audience ate it up, waving their glow sticks in glamorous fever, as Jena pranced across the stage in her pink boots. Harry Connick, Jr. had good things to say about Jena, that the song was “in your wheelhouse,” and that he could see the kind of artist she was becoming. As for the song, Harry said it “wasn’t much of a tune,” which really got Keith going, and the two started back-and-forth about “intervals” and peaks, and tones, and on and on, Keith retorting, “I quite like that TUNE,” leaving Jennifer Lopez only to cover her ears, and Jena to giggle and wait! Keith called Jena’s effort “best of the night,” and Ms. Lopez also loved the song, but reminded Jena to simply “hold the middle” onstage, and draw the audience to her instead of moving around. Alex Preston dared to do something different, too, with One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” and he looked looser and more at ease than ever, the audience almost instantly clapping along, as his white shoes took to stepping. Jennifer was dancing, too, from her panel seat amidst the screams. Keith Urban loved “the way you merged Alex with 1D,” and Harry said “you hit the bull’s-eye” with the performance. Alex doesn’t need to have anxiety this week. Malaya Watson let her voice and the emotion of the song speaks for itself with Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man.” Gender didn’t matter, as Malaya let the emotion flowed through her, and she restrained her energy to pull the rendition off perfectly. Jennifer said “I was ready to hate on you” for the song choice, but instead, Ms. Lopez got “goosies” from heartfelt Malaya. Keith Urban called it “well done” and praised her control, remarking how she can “knock it out of the park.” Harry felt she was so “sincere” in the performance, but asked her to learn “different chords” with the musicians to better match arrangements and tempos.
Caleb Johnson went all Lady Gaga, doing “Edge of Glory,” to less than raving praise. Harry conceded an “A for originality,” and Keith loved his tone as much as ever, but felt the energy was “lumbering.” Jennifer Lopez said his song was “lacking feeling” when it should be in abundance. Caleb can likely bounce back easily from this bump in the road. CJ Harris made another statement with Hunter Hayes’ “Invisible.” The performance was packed with emotion, applauded by the panel, but this time, everyone agreed CJ was out of tune. Keith and Jennifer both remarked how he had nailed the performance in rehearsal. Harry said he didn’t care about rehearsals, only what happened onstage. Mr. Connick reminded that it was just a matter of “discipline” to master intonation, and that CJ has the voice. CJ still has brighter horizons ahead than he did last year cooking barbecue, and better paychecks, too! Jessica Meuse went bold, again, selecting “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. The upbeat song with the very disturbing lyrics got panel debate going again. Jennifer Lopez said this performance from Jessica made her “really happy” to see her growing as an artist. “Where’s the cry, where’s the laugh?” asked Harry, concerned that Jessica smiled throughout the song, despite the lyrical content. Jennifer took it upon herself to explain the balance in the song of happy tempo against dark lyrics, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. She poked a tongue out. Keith Urban simply chimed in that he “thought it was good.” Jessica did seem relaxed more than in recent weeks. Majesty Rose chose Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” and stripped it down acoustic, wanting to “win America’s heart,” after feeling the cold stool of the bottom three last week. The audience roared for her, and there was undeniable trueness in her offering, But Keith Urban took exception to her taking it “straight folk.” Harry Connick, Jr. admired the way she challenged herself in a feature vocal, while Jennifer heard fear in her voice, and told her to “take that out.” Not an easy instruction for a teenager! Sam Woolf closed the night with FUN’s “We Are Young,” definitely feeling looser, and likely earning him a few more thousand young lady fans. With time running short, Keith offered “great job,” and Jennifer praised it as “so much better” than last week. Harry gave a hyphenated word critique in “self-assertion.”
As ever, American Idol dreams will rise and fall by what the vote tally tells. The results are out on Thursday night. The competition airs Wednesday and Thursday on FOX.