Perhaps it’s exactly what Harry said during the results show this week. Maybe mentor Randy Jackson just isn’t spending enough time to these kids to make sure they give the best possible performances they can. On Wednesday night the judges honesty, if inconsistent, seemed to drag the show down. I appreciate them giving feedback to these contestants but, at some point, we need a few stars to emerge and, at this point, they all seem to be running at the same pace. Even in the most mediocre seasons, we’d have a few standout performances every night. Last season, we could pretty much count on Candice, Kree and/or Angie to give us a jawdropper but so far this season I haven’t been left in awe since the finals started. That said, let’s talk about the performances from Wednesday night and what each contestant can do going into the Top 11 to ensure they’re the one who steps up and hits it out of the park:
1. Jena Irene – “Suddenly I See” (KT Tunstall) – While I appreciate Jena’s efforts to go uptempo and shake off her stiffness, I felt like the lushness of her tone wasn’t precisely suited to this song. Back in Season 5 when Kat McPhee took on KT Tunstall, it felt fun and lively and that’s why it worked. But with Jena, it felt a little stiffer and didn’t get her voice or her personality room to stretch. I guess I’m feeling what the judges are feeling in that Jena and a lot of the others have these cool, unique voices but they’ve resigned themselves to picking songs that don’t exactly compliment them.
2. Alex Preston – “I Don’t Wanna Be” (Gavin DeGraw) – This performance gave me flashbacks about what I didn’t like about Alex when I first saw him. The delivery of this song (which has been done to death on Idol) just felt hokey and, once again, seemed to counteract all the cool, imaginative aspects of Alex’s voice and delivery that we saw on his last two performances of “Volcano” and “A Beautiful Mess”. I think Alex, for a while, had the dark horse thing going for him to, but I think this performance was a step back rather than a step forward.
3. Jessica Meuse – “White Flag” (Dido) – I think it was obvious from the second Jessica started singing that this performance would be the most polarizing of the night. Was Jessica consistently sharp throughout as the judges said? Absolutely. But the judges also keep reminding us that emotion can sometimes overpower vocal perfection and, for me, Jessica had that emotion this week. Her voice is an acquired taste of old, raspy female soulful rock and I thought her song choice was just unexpected enough to keep me interested in it. Was it stellar and the absolute best she’s capable of? No. But was it better than some of the mush being served at the Idol buffet tonight? Yeah.
4. Dexter Roberts – “Lucky Man” (Montgomery Gentry) – I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of a country singing contestant who gets by on sleepy, predictable song choices but Dexter’s choice this week felt right for him. Sure, he doesn’t have a wife and kids, but he delivered the song like a man who did. He understood the lyrics and just sat back and let them tell the story. He’s still a fraction of an inch away from enunciating all his words the way I’d like him to, but I think this was a step in the right direction for him.
5. Emily Piriz – “Let’s Get Loud” (Jennifer Lopez) – Emily’s decision to pick this song was about as nonsensical as it gets. She’s Latino, JLo’s Latino… what could possibly go wrong? Well, I think Harry said it all with his train analogy: this song requires the singer to take command of it and it felt more like Emily was a passenger – or worse – tied to the back and being dragged along the tracks at times (especially in those last notes). So yes, I know Emily is young and her “Paris Oh La La” performance demonstrated that she might not know exactly how to tame the Idol beast, but this performance was just a mistake on her part. I think she could have played it safe and done something like “Glitter in The Air” again and bought herself more time in this competition, for sure.
6. Caleb Johnson – “Working Man” (Rush) – As always, Caleb brought the high powered vocals and left it all out on the stage (literally), but I think in comparison to his show-closer from last week, this performance just felt like a muted down version. I get that he’s talented, but I think the judges got it right when they said that now we need more. Caleb can’t keep rehashing the same performance every week. He needs to give the people who don’t like his rock shtick something to latch on to and appreciate his talent with. Everyone here is talented, but what is going to make you stand out?
7. MK Nobilette – “Drops of Jupiter” (Train) – Once again “Harsh Harry” took the words right out of my mouth. MK has a problem with connecting her facial expression with what she’s singing. She always looks a little stunned and a little dead in the eyes and that’s not good. We know she’s been through some tough stuff, so she just needs to dig deep and bring that out and pick a song that isn’t so blasé. Her rendition of John Legend’s tune a few weeks ago was kind of the direction I was hoping she would go in. If she can pick a song with more meat on it’s bones, maybe she can start chewing at it. You know?
8. CJ Harris – “Waiting On The World To Change” (John Mayer) – As I said last week, CJ has this great soulful tone and I thought, for a moment, his song choice might give him the chance to wield that weapon again, but alas. I think had CJ chosen another Mayer ballad, like “Gravity” or “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room”, we might have ended up with a standout performance but, as it was, he chose a more uptempo, fratboy covering it in a bar on a Friday night type song. CJ is more than that, to me, and I came into this liking him, so I hope he doesn’t leave before reminding me why it was that I felt that way in the first place.
9. Sam Woolf – “Just One” (Blind Pilot) – Sam, like MK, just looks stunned every time he’s on stage and, like every other contestant, his song choices sometimes seem like copouts. Contestants don’t win this show playing it safe every single week, especially when they’re as talented as Sam. I think that’s what is frustrating the judges so much. They chose a really talented Top 31 and America did a good job whittling it down to 13 talented contestants and Sam was at the top of the pack but now he’s kind of taking that position for granted. Show some fight, Sam!
10. Malaya Watson – “Take Me To The King” (Tamela Mann) – Malaya had her pitch problems again this week, but compared to “Runaway Baby”, this was miles better. It let her show off her gospel chops, play the piano and give us some of the mature emotion that has kind of been lacking from her performances and interviews thus far. I think now she needs to find a song that let’s her sit in the range that she’s comfortable in and just give us the soul and grit of gospel. That could take her performance to another level without the vocal acrobatics that she sometimes struggles with.
11. Ben Briley – “Turning Home” (David Nail) – Ben is actually one of the more interesting contestants for me in this competition. He’s this big southern guy, but his Tennessee accent gives his voice this twang that, when he sings, comes off as soulful and with plenty of swagger. It reminds me a lot of Rascal Flatts (hmmm… potential future song choice?). I also liked that he put down his guitar this week and just grabbed that mic stand and gave this song his all, but I think he could draw back and focus on dynamics to keep his pitch in check. I think he too needs to just find the right song and break out of his shell to prove that he’s the country guy to watch and not Dexter or CJ.
2. Majesty York – “Fix You” (Coldplay) – Knowing that Majesty was going to sing this song and that she was going last, I expected greatness but instead what I got was an uncomfortably squished version of a song that needs to be spread out and delivered in a couple of minutes to get the dynamics just right. In contrast, Majesty’s jump to the climax of the song felt awkward and while she sounded good on the first half and most of us know the song well enough to know where the second half came from, the two pieces just didn’t blend for a perfect performance, so I can understand the judges’ frustration.
As for the results, I tweeted my predictions on Thursday over at @TheHudsucker’s Twitter and was 3 for 3 on the Bottom Group, but I got the eliminee wrong. I called it as MK instead of Emily because I had little faith that America would let an interesting, Lesbian contestant stay over a lackluster tween girl. I was wrong! Forgive me America! Now keep up the good eliminations.
We also got to see one of my favourite winners, Phillip Phillips, perform his new single Raging Fire which is now available on iTunes, so if you haven’t grabbed it. Go do that. It’s awesome and super catchy. I just saw him live a few days ago and he was stellar, as always. He just really digs music and that really resonates with me. We also saw one of the “Idol finds” Kodaline perform a pretty basic emotional tune. I could see it as a backtrack on a TV show, and while they were significantly better that Keith’s pick of Jake Bugg last week, they still didn’t make me want to rush out and buy any of their music.
This week, the Top 11 goes to the movies with their song choices. I won’t pick songs again this week since I was so off last week, but let’s just hope they all pick something a little more interesting and daring in a pledge to become the frontrunner of this talented pack of kids. For now, let me know who you favourites of the night were in the poll below!