On my birthday Harry Connick, Jr., sang in Symphony Hall in Chicago and I was there (July 23, 2013). I told my husband that I wanted to be one of those audience members allowed to meet him backstage, because I was going to suggest to him that he consider becoming a judge for “American Idol.” (At that time, the judging situation was undecided after a horrible season of nearly open warfare between the 2 female judges).
When the concert was over, my husband and I were ushered downstairs (along with a select group of audience members who shelled out extra cash for the privilege) to pose with “Harsh Harry” (see on Pinterest on Connie Corcoran Wilson “Interesting People” board). I did exactly that, telling him that, whenever he “guest hosted” on “American Idol”, he knew so much more about music than the others who have judged the competition and brought such a wealth of experience and musical knowledge to the task (as well as being a faithful fan for all thirteen seasons) that he ought to consider it. I still remember Harry, serving as a mentor, asking one contestant [who was practicing singing “My Funny Valentine” at the time] if she had any idea what those lyrics really meant. (She didn’t).
I’d like to take credit for convincing the supremely talented Mr. Connick to fill the shoes of warring divas (Nicki) Minaj and (Mariah) Carey, but I only met him for about 20 seconds while a photographer snapped our photo.
Connick really knows his stuff, and he strutted it for us on the Thursday, March 13, 2014 “American Idol” show, singing 2 of his original movie compositions. (“One Fine Thing” and “Come By Me”). The absolute BEST part of the show was the unexpected re-appearance of contestant Munfared Zaidi, pre-med student from Pakistan, who was a big Connick fan during auditions. Those who watched that audition will remember that Harry picked the slight Munfared up and cradled him, which he did again on Thursday night while Munfared sang (“Why did you have to sing a ballad!” asked Harry)
This extremely funny replay of this rapt fan of Connick’s helped Keith Urban get off one of the funniest lines of the season When Zaidi said that he read Connick’s Wikipedia entry every day, Keith exclaimed, “So YOU’RE the one!” I chuckled about Urban’s ad lib for hours.
Harry has single-handedly saved “American Idol” with his knowledge, wit, talent and charm. It doesn’t hurt that there is obvious comraderie and respect between Connick and fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, also talented professionals who know the music business from the inside as major stars.
On the preceding show, Harry announced “the competition starts tonight.” He joined his fellow judges in pronouncing Ben Briley’s rendition of an Elton John song to be “a lacksadaisacal walk through the song…It was sort of pointless.” He also described Briley’s attempt as “confused.”
After all that, it was not a big shock when Ben Briley became the contestant trimmed to make the field number an even ten, as follows:
- 1) Caleb Johnson (Asheville, North Carolina)
- 2) Majesty Rose (Goldsboro, North Carolina)
- 3) Malaya Watson (Southfield, Michigan)
- 4) Sam Woolf (Bradenton, Florida)
- 5) C.J. Harris (Jasper, Alabama)
- 6) Dexter Roberts (Fayette, Alabama)
- 7) Alex Preston (Mont Vernon, New Hampshire)
- 8) Jessica Meuse (Slapout, Alabama)
- 9) Jena Irene (Farmington Hills, Michigan)
- 10 M.K. Nobelette (San Francisco, California)
I’ve listed the group in no particular order, but Caleb Johnson is coming on strong, with even “Harsh Harry” [as they like to call him] saying after Johnson’s song, “That competition, as far as I’m concerned, is going to be very hard to beat.” Caleb, who usually goes for a rock and roll full-out heavy-metal rock vibe number with pyrotechnics, sang a much quieter song that displayed his vocal talent and range, impressing the judges mightily.
It is difficult to understand how Majesty Rose, Malaya Watson and Sam Woolf keep ending up in jeopardy in the bottom three after audience voting, but it’s also true that Caleb—[whom my husband has dubbed “Meatloaf” in tribute to that rocker’s younger days]—has set the bar very high.
The first five mentioned in the list above have a real shot, and one shouldn’t totally rule out the quirky Alex Preston, although I think it unlikely he can convince audiences to vote for him. Connick said of Preston’s understated performance of “Falling Softly” from the movie Once: “There’s still an opportunity for a young guy with a guitar to sing a simple song without fireworks” in praising Alex’s turn onstage. Keith Urban added, “I’m really proud of you, man. That was raw, fragile, authentic. I love your artistry.”
We’ll find out who(m) the at-home audience loves as the Top Ten duke it out in one of the best “American Idol” seasons of the past 13 years.