Thanks to last week’s surprise save of Sam Woolf, American Idol still had eight singers strutting this week, and most of them probably had to invest some time in watching YouTube videos and listening to classics playlists, because it was songs of the 80s assigned for the week, and more than just the girls wanted to have fun! The festivities began with a lineup of the singers saying “I AM the next American Idol, playfully ending with host, Ryan Seacrest, who has risen to levels of recognition and wealth beyond most season winners. Keith Urban made his own fashion statement, coming to his panel seat with long locks again, thanks to hair extensions, which Jennifer Lopez helped him remove! The white T-shirted “Billy Ray Urban” was next to a black lace and faux leather Lopez, which Harry Connick, Jr. saw as good and evil! Season 7 title-holder, David Cook, took his coaching duties for the talents very seriously, standing out as one of the ones who wanted more than more airtime and another check. He not only boosted confidence, but took time to put each one in their best frame for success, noting that the field was so rich, “I’m glad I’m not here this season!”
Jena Irene got the night off to both a quiet and a booming start, beginning Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” as a near-ballad on piano, then booming it out once she stepped to the microphone! Once again, the crowd was eating from her hands, and her big voice nailed the starter of the night. Like mentor, Cook, Keith Urban called the redo “kinda cool,” loving the originality and her stamp on the end. Jennifer Lopez wanted more attitude throughout the whole song, and Harry Connick, Jr. felt it was a little too staged in the interactions, and encouraged Jena to move on her own as the moment led. Dexter Roberts took on the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” as if he was playing his regular set on Friday night, looking relaxed as ever, cap turned backward, but definitely taking to heart David’s guidance to enunciate clearly and finish words. He only missed a few at the end, but it didn’t matter. J Lo said Dexter was “kinda perfect” with this performance, and “did it.” Harry critiqued that, combined with last week’s subtle performance, this one was “fine,” and that Dexter can’t go wrong with these anthemic numbers. Keith urged Dexter to do something “totally unexpected” in every performance, because now he’s got the voice down. Alex Preston and Sam Woolf teamed up for one of the smoothest duets ever with the Paul McCartney-Michael Jackson hit, “The Girl Is Mine,” giving the panel a lot to love, too. Malaya Watson chose a song she’s loved and sang many times before with Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” and the spirited teen felt she was totally relaxed, but the panel felt tension as she was revving up for the big note finish. They each told her she never need worry about having the voice for those notes, so she should just relax and settle into the song. She has years still to become a sure superstar. Her hoop earrings were worn in homage to Jody Watley, and the guessing sent the panel singing versions of “Don’t You Want Me.”
Some dreamers got their wish with Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson combining their big voices in a duet on ” It’s Only Love,” and Jennifer Lopez loved that the duets were ” loosening everyone up.” The impromptu mood of song and fun continued, as Harry dove into the audience to cheer on the singing, and lifted one young Nicole to his shoulders, even carrying her to his judges’ seat in support of Jessica Meuse doing Blondie’s “Call Me” classic. David Cook talked to Jessica about not looking like she was having much fun, and she was making an effort to smile for sure, but the panel still sensed uneasiness. Harry wanted to hear Jessica “sing the shuffle,” and that just served to confuse her. Keith Urban said he was waiting for the full release, that she’s so close to reaching. Jennifer Lopez provided a dramatic example that when a singer sings a sexy song like this one, there can be no doubt that one must “Call me!” Sam Woolf went for intimacy in his performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and he’s trying to take heed to loosen up and connect, yet not quite there. Keith Urban loved the acoustic last-minute arrangement. Harry Connick, Jr. counseled that Sam should look at those girls all around him, while Jennifer loved that he made himself blush, calling his turn “a great job.” CJ Harris, and Malaya Watson did a charming duo with “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” that was a fan favorite. despite Harry’s calling it “regional dinner theater,” rather than true entertainment. Alex Preston took “Every Breath You Take” down his quiet, artsy, coffeehouse path. Harry Connick, Jr. praised that he had created a “new tune” from a classic, and advised that he make the move from performer to entertainer, noting that there is a difference. Keith Urban told Alex that his voice always grabs attention, and now he needs to practice push and pull with the melody. Jennifer Lopez missed the original melody of the song, and wasn’t so moved by the performance. Dexter and Jessica played lovey-dovey for their duet of “Islands in the Stream.” . The panel took on some Madonna moves between singers, and Keith and Harry both made moves into the crowd to cheer on the contestants. Only Jennifer stayed center seat in her position, letting Dexter and Jessica play judges for fun. CJ Harris took the stage for his version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin,” creating his best ever performance, backed by simple folk strings. David Cook clearly loved CJ’s voice, spending time to showcase it . The payoff came, as Jennifer Lopez praised that CJ has the ability to “touch people’s hearts” that many perfect-note singers never attain. Harry Connick, Jr. noted CJ’s ever-present ability to connect, still asking that he zone in on hearing the notes and getting them, particularly because he already has the voice. Keith Urban said that CJ has a “survivor quality” his voice, always with a tone of optimism.
Caleb Johnson couldn’t have been a more perfect closer for the night, dramatically and delicately taking on the Journey keepsake, “Faithfully.” He never tried to be Steve Perry; he simply stayed Caleb, bringing , up his flaming candle cell phone, and called the performance “all function” (like a fanny pack) as a compliment! Harry Connick, Jr. praised that he finally got the subtlety that he’s in waiting for from Caleb, offering “nice work.” Jennifer Lopez said she knew Caleb would “murder it” at the end, “and he did.”
With no safety net left, every week now means someone goes home and their American Idol journey ends on a bittersweet note, even though careers surely await. Thursday brings the truth of the tally, and turns the total to seven. Tune in!
American Idol broadcast, April 9, 2014 FOX Networks.