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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 28 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

American Idol XIII: Top 7 and Top 6 Performances – “Choose Wisely America”

After losing Malaya the week after the save was used, I didn’t know what to expect going into these next two weeks of performance. Would another frontrunner botch a performance and end up having their journey cut short or would the Idol audience finally banished the underperforming pair of CJ and Dexter? I like to think of myself as quite attuned to what the Idol voters will do but sometimes I lose faith in their ability to afford second chances to more deserving contestants like Majesty and Malaya rather than let their southern, country biased play a role in the voting. With that said, let’s see what happened when the competitor’s chose songs for each other and then, when they were forced to delve into the country and rock genres one week later…

Top 7 – “Competitor’s Choice”

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

1. Caleb Johnson – Family Tree (Kings of Leon) – I thought Alex chose a great song for Caleb. I thought the explanation that the pair had heard it at a Kings of Leon concert and loved the vibe of it really made me feel like it wasn’t some preconceived producer’s pick. While it wasn’t the best of Caleb’s performances, it really picked up midway through when he got into the groove and I think, if you go listen to the Kings of Leon version, he gave it a fair shot and it’s no surprise why Alex thought he could do so. That said, I did like it, but my response may be tempered by what I thought of Caleb’s second performance of the night.

  • Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

2. Jessica Meuse – Gunpowder & Lead (Miranda Lambert) – I will start by saying the judges and producers have been irrationally hard on Jessica these past two weeks. They prefaced her performances with a reminder of that awful group number in Hollywood and gave her hell for Sam’s song choice when I really don’t think it was her fault. Anyway, I thought this was a great song choice for her by Sam, but I do agree with the judges (partially) that this song requires a bit more grit and wildness. Take Skylar Laine’s version from back in Season 11. Skylar can’t be more than 5 feet tall and she’s pretty adorable, but when she sang this, I was a little bit afraid of her and that’s what I think Jessica’s performance was lacking. Vocally, she sounded pretty good, but she needed to sell that women-scorned-with-a-shotgun vibe a little bit harder.

  • Rating: B

Duet #1: Alex & Sam – Let Her Go (Passenger) – After this performance, Alex described it as “two buddies jamming in their hotel room” and, unfortunately, that’s exactly what it felt like for me. It was an obvious song choice for the two of them, but I think these two (and a lot of these performances) forget that they are trying to convince us to vote for them and, essentially, make them a Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Phillip Phillips-type Mega Star. This performance was just to casual and sleepy to ever convince me of that and while I feel that with a lot of the duets, I was sort of hoping Alex would bring out the best in Sam and not that Sam’s blank slate way of performing would rub off on Alex. I guess I just wanted more of Alex’s creativity to shine through here, but it was just a straightforward cover.

  • Rating: C

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

3. CJ Harris – Gravity (John Mayer) – I actually thought that this was one of CJ’s better performances. I still don’t feel like he will ever have quite the grasp on pitch that the other six competitors have, but I think he tapped into the emotion that Mayer himself conveys on this song really well. It was one of the first nights where I felt like CJ actually competed with the other contestants, rather than being clearly at the bottom. I think what this performance proved though is that CJ could, if giving this type of music mixed with the soulful-country-blues type of stuff, have a viable music career though.

  • Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

4. Dexter Roberts – Muckalee Creek Water (Luke Bryan) – I’m sort of having the same dilemma with Dexter as I am with CJ, Sam and even Jessica at times. I’m frustrated by his lack of creativity in comparison to some of the most creative contestants we’ve ever had on the show (Alex, Jena and Caleb) and I had hoped that competitor’s choice week would push him out of his comfort zone but instead we got another tired country song from him. I get that it’s his thing and I will say that he didn’t sound bad on this song. Like CJ, he was at least in the running with the other competitors, but I think that if Dexter hopes to win new fans from week to week, he’ll have to pick songs that will do that for him. He just doesn’t have the charisma or charm of other country singers on the show that coasted to the top on middling performances like Scotty McCreery and Carrie Underwood.

  • Rating: C+

Duet #2: Jena & Caleb  – Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones) – Remember a few weeks back when I said that it is rare that a duet actually does something for me? This was one of those rare bright spots. Jena and Caleb had all the swagger in the world as they took the stage together. It was clear that they get along quite well in the intro package and their vocals came together in such a great clash of the titans in this competition that, for the first time, I could clearly picture them as the Top Two. I think JLo pushed the “moment” label a little too hard, but it will definitely be a bright spot that I remember at the end of the season, especially if they do end up being the Top 2. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking and Alex will sneak in there and oust one of them, but I’m secretly hoping that we do have a hard rocking male versus a hard rocking female for the first time in the finale. It would certainly mark a turning point for the Idol franchise if these two can oust the infamous white guys with guitars.

  • Rating: A

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

5. Alex Preston – The A Team (Ed Sheeran) – Now that Sam has taken on Ed Sheeran, it was time for Alex to do it and I thought Alex did exactly what I had been saying Sam should have done during ‘Audition Songs’ week with his reprise of “Lego House”. Alex connected to the song emotional and took a few liberties with Sheeran’s well–known melody without polarizing those who knew and loved the song. I think the one downside was that I didn’t feel like Alex stood out from the crowd this week, like he has in week’s past. The song choice was kind of predictable and even with the changes he made, it’s a hard song to really turn into an explosive performance. To put it another way: I think, at the end of the season, it won’t make the short list for songs Alex will want to reprise if he makes the finale.

  • Rating: B

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

6. Sam Woolf – Sail Away (David Gray) – The judges gave Jessica some major flack for this song choice and while I didn’t think it was the best choice for Sam given that he’d already done a David Gray song and, like Alex’s choice, it didn’t really give him the opportunity to go anywhere with it, we have to remember that ultimately the choice was Sam’s. He could have chosen the pick made for him by any of his other five competitors and he chose this one so he should have done all he could to make it great and it was just okay. The thing that frustrates me so much about Sam is that I love the tone of his voice and I have sing he’s auditioned but every performance feels like the same monotone cover of the same acoustic song. I think Harry finally told him that he needs to tap into the dynamics of the song, give us the kind of loud and soft contrast that Alex and Jena do to really make those goosies sprout on JLo’s forearms, but I think part of that is going to be finding the right song to make that happen.

  • Rating: C

Duet #3: CJ, Jessica & Dexter – Compass (Lady Antebellum) – While yes, I think the judges were right to call this group performance out as a hot mess, I think here was the pinnacle of the bussing of Jessica Meuse. For those who don’t know “bussing” is a term used when a contestant gets terrible feedback in an attempt to send them home over contestants that the producers would rather keep around. I’m not sure exactly why Jessica is being bussed, but it seems to happen every season to the rocker female (see: Reinhart, Haley and Smithson, Carly for examples). Thank god for ex-X-Factor judge Demi Lovato for correcting the judges and saying that Jessica sounded far better than either of the boys in this trio but, that being said, it was still a bad mix of voices and the new judging of the duets & trios just felt like another opportunity for the judges to paint Jessica in a bad light, despite a far better journey than at least three of the remaining competitors.

  • Rating: D

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

7. Jena Irene – Creep (Radiohead) – Kudos to Caleb for picking an obvious, but tremendous song choice for Jena. I find it funny that this performance was the one that made the judges stand up and take notice of Jena. However, I will say that it was the kind of performance that made Jena stake her claim on the competition. The delicacy with which she handled some of the lyrics and the fervour she instilled in the latter part of the performance had even me believing that Jena could take up Clay Aiken’s torch as the Little Wildcard That Could. I don’t think she’s a lock for the finale by any means with Alex and Caleb still in the mix, but if she can keep delivering consistent performances, she’ll find herself getting close. I worry a bit about the judges pushing her too hard and making the voters get complacent but we’ll see how that plays out in the coming weeks.

  • Rating: A

After all was said and done, I had no idea what to expect come voting time. I predicted a Sam/CJ Bottom 2 with Sam going home after a fairly lackluster performance but much to my surprise, we ended up with a Dexter/Jessica Bottom 2. I was glad, however, to see that the judges bussing of Jessica failed and, instead, we said goodbye to Dexter. It was a shockingly good result, so I have to give props to America for finally making the decision to do that. I think, perhaps, the negative feedback Jessica got was an attempt to prevent her from making it into next week where she would face a double theme that would be right up her alley: Country & Rock.

Top 6 – “Country & Rock”

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

1. Jena Irene – Barracuda (Heart) ­– Back when Ryan asked the Idol audience to send it song requests for the Idols via twitter, I requested that Jena sing this song and, sure enough, it was just as good a fit for her as I expected. It is a very difficult song to sing with a lot of lyrics and notes flying at her at once, but she handled it with ease and truly lived the “rock” theme. I’m not really sure what the judges were getting at with wanting her to loosen up. I think every week she becomes a better performer, but she still outstrips all of her competitors in that category except Caleb, who seems like a seasoned pro.

  • Rating: A

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

2. Sam Woolf – It’s Time (Imagine Dragons) – While I will say that this song was a surprisingly good pick for Sam and his voice sounded better than it had in weeks, I still think it was a little bit of a flatliner for a rock performance. I think, in retrospect, that the judges might be to blame for Sam’s timid nature. After he performed Come Together in the early stages of the competition, they gave him flack and told him to stick to what he’s good at, but I think what they forgot to do was give him praise for putting his guitar down and walking down stage to sing to the audience and the judges. I think Sam was on the right track with that performance and he just needed to pick a better song for his voice. Perhaps this could have been that song, but he’s still nailed down behind his guitar.

  • Rating: C+

3. CJ Harris – American Woman (The Guess Who) – While this is a great, sing-a-long song that everybody knows, I felt like CJ was filling the void Dexter left by singing a popular song but not doing so particular well. The rough edges of his voice were more obvious than they’d been in weeks and despite positive feedback from the judges I really couldn’t muster any positive feelings about this performance. It just felt like CJ was shouting while his voice was cracking the entire time. It boggles my mind a bit that the honest judges we had just a few weeks ago are now refusing to critique CJ. Maybe they, like me, feel like there’s nothing more than can do about him.

  • Rating: D+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

4. Alex Preston – Animal (Neon Trees) – I was worried about Alex going up-tempo for the first time in the competition and after seeing his performance I think I had every right to be.His voice sounded off for the first time and being trapped behind the microphone with his guitar just made this performance sound stiff in comparison to the tempo. I think this would have been the perfect time for Alex to ditch his guitar and try and come out of his shell the way Jena and Caleb have in the past few weeks to really give them a run for the title, but alas. What we got was a mere shell of what it could have been.

  • Rating: C-

5. Caleb Johnson – Sting Me (The Black Crowes) – I do agree with the judges that Caleb did good to recover after his microphone went sailing off into the back of the stage and he, otherwise, sounded really great on this song. It was one that was in his wheelhouse, for sure. That said, I almost prefer when we get the daring, unexpected song choices from Caleb. That said, it’s nice to go back to his roots sometimes and it was rock week, so I can’t blame Caleb for picking a song that he obviously loves to perform and doing a good job with it (Which is more than I can say for some other people in their genre).

  • Rating: B+

6. Jessica Meuse – Somebody to Love (Jefferson Airplane) – I found it funny that Jessica sang this song considering her backup vocalist, Season 8’s Allison Iraheta, was considering picking this during her season but the song choice wasn’t cleared. I still think Allison would have done well with it, but Jessica did a good job with it too. The chorus was when it really picked up and made the performance worthwhile, but the verses could have been a little cooler and more compelling on Jessica’s part. I think Jessica sometimes has the same problem as Sam (and even MK), that when the song isn’t at it’s more interesting part, she kind of lets her performance skills fall to the wayside, unlike Jena, Caleb and Alex who seem to breath life into every syllable some days. I hate to keep comparing Jess to them, but with the pack narrowing so much, it really comes down to who’s better than whom.

  • Rating: B

7. Sam Woolf – You’re Still The One (Shania Twain) – I’m glad Sam put down his guitar for this performance and walked through the crowd. I don’t think that this performance was any better or worse than the first. Vocally, it wasn’t as pristine, but performance wise it felt a little more natural and comfortable. I think now that Sam has one, possibly two more weeks in the competition, his best bet is to quickly try and find a balance between that naturalism and good vocals and really push himself. I know I’ve been harsh on him these past few weeks and if he went home next week, I wouldn’t be particularly heartbroken, but I still hope for the best for him and would love to see him grow from week to week.

  • Rating: C+

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

8. Caleb Johnson – Undo It (Carrie Underwood) – Maybe this is a controversial opinion, but I preferred Caleb’s hard rock take on Carrie’s song to his actual rock-themed performance this week. Keith’s statement about waiting for Caleb’s country performance said it all: the judges clearly didn’t think this was true enough to the genre, but I disagree. I thought Caleb found a great song that worked for him and infused Carrie’s angsty song about heartbreak with a bit of fury that was almost appropriate for turning it into a rock anthem from a man’s perspective. Not to mention, Caleb’s voice sounded great on it. Moreover, I thought this, more than his first performance, proved that he could do exactly what previous winners have done.

  • Rating: A-

9. Alex Preston – Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson) – After a stumble with his first performance, Alex needed to redeem himself and remind the voters why he seems to be a lock for the Top 3 and this performance did a good job of that. The nuances of his voice were really great and while true country fans might feel like he stripped Willie’s version of its sombre mood, I felt like Alex’s take was more true to who he is. It felt like a teenage boy singing to a girl he loves back home and that’s what I liked about it. I will say, though, that Alex needs to find something else he does well because over the course of the next few weeks, the Idols are going to have to sing two or three songs and if Alex pours his heart into one performance that’s a lot like all his previous performances while neglecting the potential for diversity with his other performances, he may pale in comparison to his competition.

  • Rating: A-

10. Jena Irene – So Small (Carrie Underwood) – Unlike Matt Girard’s take on this song back in Season 8, Jena opted not to pull out the piano and just to sing the song straight and I, personally, felt like that was a mistake on her part. Her voice, in parts, sounded great and while I appreciate the reminder that the girl can sing, I don’t think we needed that after the previous week’s version of ‘Creep’ and ‘Barracuda’ earlier in the night. I think the Harry said it best when he said that Jena’s voice sounded awkward over the melody of the song. I think with the piano in tow, Jena could have stayed on that melody and still delivered a great vocal. The judges may say that she’s great and we know that, but like I said with Alex, when it comes time to vote, every time we see these contestants matters and I don’t know if any of them can afford a slip up with the cut-throat way the audience has been voting this year.

  • Rating: B-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

11. CJ Harris – Whatever It Is (Zac Brown Band) – And just to complete the cycle of CJ filling in for Dexter, he picked a completely sleepy non-descript country song and delivered a very patchy vocal. This performance, far more than CJ’s first, pointed out the flaws in him as a contestant compared to his competition and I think, besides being forgettable, this performance was enough to convince the audience that CJ could no longer compete with the rest of them.

  • Rating: D-

Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

12. Jessica Meuse – Jolene (Dolly Parton) – I totally understand why Jessica’s take on the Dolly classic was polarizing, in the same way that I understand why Alex’s version of Willie Nelson’s song might have turned some viewers off, but I truly thought that Jessica breathed new life into this song. We’ve heard “Jolene” countless times on the show, but what Jessica brought to it was a bit of the woman-scorned that I wanted from her performance of Gunpowder & Lead. It was almost pleading with the women, but with a tinge of anger and I loved that. I think this performance, more than anything proved that while Jessica may be from the heart of country music and she undoubtedly has a bit of that in her, she is truly a rocker at heart.

  • Rating: A

After all was said and done, I didn’t know what to expect come Results Night. Alex, Sam, CJ and Jessica all could have been in danger. Once again, I thought Sam was a goner but, once again, I was wrong as Jessica and CJ comprised the Bottom 2. While I don’t think Jessica should have been there, I understood why given that she followed Siobhan Magnus from Season 9’s Top 6 shock elimination model to a tee: A rock girl performing a polarizing version of a well-known country song in the last slot of the Top 6 show. I was worried for her, I’m not going to lie, but in the end CJ Harris finally said goodbye and left us with a pretty solid Top 5, all things considered. I may have swapped either Malaya or Majesty for Sam in an ideal world, but the Boy Who Cried Woolf hasn’t being terrible, just anti-climactic thus far. I think it’s time, however, for me to re-rank this group of contestants on their odds of winning as we barrel towards that epic finale at the end of May:

  1. Sam Woolf – While Sam has been showing some promising signs of change, I’m still not convinced that he can raise his game to the calibre that he needs to win it all. Sure, he’s managed to stay out of danger these past few weeks but I think part of that might be luck that some people have done worse than him and that the judges are giving worse feedback to others (*coughJesshack*)
  1. Jessica Meuse – Unlike Sam, I feel like Jess is capable of delivering the kind of show-stopping performances that could help her sneak into the Top 4 or even Top 3. I think she has a lot of fans and now that she’s the last remaining contestant from Alabama with country roots she’s kind of got that market all to herself. If she can give us a good, solid country performance for one of her two kicks at the can next week, she might just win over some of the people who were voting for CJ and Dexter and keep herself out of the Bottom 2.
  1. Alex Preston – Alex has been inconsistent these past few weeks and he has yet to prove that he can turn in two solid performances, but I still think his creativity has won him a lot of fans and unlike the Top 2 contestants on this list, he’s pretty non-polarizing. Most people at least like him and a good handful of people love him. Moreover, if Sam goes home first, he’ll probably capture some of his votes and that, combined with a few great performances could be enough to earn him a spot in the finale alongside either one of these next competitors.
  1. Jena Irene – Jena clearly has the momentum going into these next few weeks of performances. The judges have been giving her positive feedback and she’s been delivering performances that merit it. I’d advise her and the judges to tread carefully though. Overly positive feedback, especially if it’s unwarranted, can lead to complacent voters and may lead to Jena slipping back into the bottom group. If Jena does make the finale, she’ll be the first wildcard to do so since Clay Aiken back in Season 2. I’m rooting for her though. I’d love to see a slightly edgier version of Kelly Clarkson take the title this year.
  1. Caleb Johnson ­­– Remember when I ranked Caleb dead last for his cheesy rock god antics? Considering me dining on filet of crow now as this guy seems to continuously prove me wrong and win more and more people over every week. He’s shown that he isn’t a one trick pony and that his voice is absolutely up to the challenge of this competition. I’m still a little wary whether a true-blue rocker can win it all after equally mega-talented male rockers like Chris Daughtry and Bo Bice fell just short in seasons with equally talented competition, but maybe Idol has ushered in a new era post-Candice Glover?

That’s all I have to say about these guys for now. Vote in the polls below and tell me your favourite performances from the past two weeks. Next week’s theme is when our #IdolRequests come to life as Jason Mraz mentors the Top Five in hopes of raising all their games just three weeks out from the finale. Will fellow acoustic guitarists Sam and Alex benefit from some Mraz mentoring? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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