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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 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 5 Choose Not To Stay Alive, Top 4 Are No More

The Top 5 show featured the contestants picking from a list of songs chosen by the twitter verse. Needless to say, I had high hopes because I figured the Idol audience could pick some really great songs that would push the contestants out of their boundaries. Let’s see if I was right…

Top 5 Show: #IdolRequest

1. Alex Preston – “Sweater Weather” (The Neighbourhood) – This performance, if anything, proved that Alex has a bit of a weakness when it comes to up-tempo songs and while this was better than his take on “Animal” last week, I still felt like it was lacking that distinct Alex flavour. Alex is at his best in softer songs, where the bright spots of his voice shine and he can really convey the emotions that he possesses as a singer-songwriter.

  • Rating: C+

Caleb opens his arms during “I Don’t Wanna To Miss A Thing”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

2. Caleb Johnson – “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” (Aerosmith) – Yikes, our resident rocker had his first major stumble with a song that’s been done to death on Idol and, given the history of the song on the show and that no one, not even the masterful David Cook could turn it into a moment, I think Caleb would have been better to stay away from this song. His voice definitely sounded ragged in parts and while he swooped in and saved it near the end from being a total trainwreck, I still think he was lucky to have two more songs tonight.

  • Rating: C-

Trio: Jena, Alex and Sam – “Best Day of My Life” (American Authors) – I understand the idea of this trio: pair the three youngest and most contemporary voices together, all of whom belong to contestants who are clearly friends, on a very current song and you’re sure to end up with a fun, current performance. This was rocky at best. Jena looked like she was having fun at times, but none of their voices meshed particularly well together and, as usual, Sam was swallowed up by Jena’s stronger, more powerful voice. I don’t know, I think my aversion to trios and duets stands and even moreso in a season like this where the contestants all have such unique voices.

  • Rating: C

3. Jessica Meuse – “Human” (Christina Perri) – Well, I really thought if anyone sang this song this season, it’d be Jena, but perhaps the lyrics are more appropriate for underdog Jessica. She certainly breathed life into the words and while her pitch wasn’t flawless throughout, it almost didn’t matter. It lent even more desperation to her plea for the judges and the voters to accept her for who she is. I think it was definitely a stronger start than Alex or Caleb’s off the gate.

  • Rating: B+

Sam sings “How To Save A Life”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

4. Sam Woolf – “Sing” (Ed Sheeran) – No more Ed Sheeran for Alex and Sam! Capiche? Especially this song, which takes Sheeran’s sound in a new direction that isn’t quite as comfortable for Sam and I think that might explain why it felt like he got lost a bit in the melody of this song. It’s a tough one to tackle and while I think Sam has a better handle on his pitch than most, I just think this was the wrong song for him, given his performance limitations. He had to really sell this and he just couldn’t.

  • Rating: C-

5. Jena Irene – “My Body” (Young the Giant) – Jena proved with this performance that it’s possible to take a lesser known song and make a fun, watchable performance out of it. She was dancing throughout this and really sang it as well as she could. The dancing may have been what pulled the mic away from her mouth a couple times, but otherwise I think she proved she has music taste beyond the typical with this number. She, like Jessica, did a decent job for round 1.

  • Rating: B+

Duet: Jessica and Caleb – “Beast of Burden” (The Rolling Stones) – Compared to the first group, this was an improvement. Both Jessica and Caleb strike me as the type who can appreciate the Stones and they had fun playing off each other in this performance. I think despite Caleb’s bombastic voice and Jessica’s flatter, soulful one, they sounded good together in this. Caleb really should only ever duet with Jena and Jessica.

  • Rating: B

Alex sings “Say Something”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

6. Alex Preston – “Say Something” (Great Big World) – Alex redeemed himself big time with this performance. Just when I thought I was sick of this track, Alex brought something new to it. I know he’s friends with Alex & Sierra who won the 3rd season of the American version of X Factor and this song was a big part of their journey, but I really felt like Alex brought another level of angsty to it and the way he breathed the words was almost like a dare to whoever he was speaking to. Definitely a step up for him, but again, I wonder if there’s anything else he can do?

  • Rating: A-

Jena sings “Valerie”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

7. Jena Irene – “Valerie” (Amy Winehouse) – I get that the arrangement on this one might be polarizing given that Amy’s version is so iconic now, but I still maintain that Jena sounded to good to fault. Her voice really does do things that no one else’s can in the competition and it has such a unique quality to it that I think any song she sings is going to be radically different from the original so I, without comparing her too hard to Amy, liked this for the most part.

  • Rating: B

8. Sam Woolf – “How To Save A Life” (The Fray) – This song was more in Sam’s wheelhouse but, unlike Alex, he didn’t deliver that same desperation that this song requires. Even the recorded version by The Fray has almost a manic quality to it when it picks up, but a sombre quality in the lower parts. Sam could have played with both emotional and vocal dynamics in this but he didn’t and while his voice sounded good as always, I think his inability to grow is stifling him.

  • Rating: B-

Jessica rocks a red dress and shows off her tattoo during “Summertime Sadness”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

9. Jessica Meuse – “Summertime Sadness” (Lana Del Rey) – Yowza. That red dress and the exposure of that tattoo that I don’t think anyone knew Jess had was quite the start to this performance and the way Jessica’s Southern twang licked at the edges of this song really intrigued me. Lana is so iconic amongst the young voting block and I admit I was skeptical when I saw that Jessica picked this song, but I don’t think I would be remiss in saying it was one of my favourites from her and my favourite of the night. It might just be what saved her in the end.

  • Rating: A

10. Caleb Johnson – “Still of the Night” (Whitesnake) – Like Alex, Caleb is sort of suffering from a lack of creativity at the moment and while his Whitesnake cover was explosive, it was a trick we’ve seen a dozen times from him on the show. Like a magician pulling numerous rabbits out of a hat, eventually you just want him to turn the hat into a bird or something and Caleb has done that in the past with picks like Skyfall and Undo It. I think if he can do that again before the finale, people will be less likely to write him off as a one-trick pony.

  • Rating: A-

After an inconsistent night, it seemed like anyone could be in danger, but Ryan left us sweating a little longer than usual when the producers decided to pull out a rather cruel and unusual twist. The contestants were given the option to either save all five of them and eliminate two people next week to go straight from five to three or, to vote someone out right away and stick to the plan of having a Top 4. The vote had to be unanimous, meaning all 5 of them would have to choose to save everyone for that to stick but, in the end, 2 of the contestants (later revealed to be Jena & Alex, by process of elimination) chose to remain on course.

Jena later made her voice heard and said that she felt voting to save someone would change the rules of the game which, if I’m being honest, only respects me more. I think things like the save and the double elimination mess with the purity of the show and often result in unfair results (such as the robberies of Pia Toscano & Colton Dixon after the save was used in Seasons 10 and 11 respectively). But, I digress, let’s move on to the second of our two shows and find out what the Top 4 (minus Sam) did to be sent back home in style, rather than voted off.

Top 4 Show: Breakups & Makeups

Caleb rocks out on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

1. Caleb Johnson – “You Give Love A Bad Name” (Bon Jovi) – Like Caleb’s Aerosmith performance, I felt like the rocker was taking on a Goliath with the sing after Blake Lewis (who’s new album Portrait of a Chameleon I just review) slayed it in beatboxing fashion in Season 6. Caleb’s cover while not flat-out terrible, just felt a little lackluster and predictable in comparison. As I said previously, I think this theme was pretty open ended and Caleb could have used it to pick a song that would show he can still do other things, but instead he went the karaoke route.

  • Rating: C

2. Jessica Meuse – “Since U Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson) – In seasons past, now-mentor Randy Jackson used to tell contestants to avoid taking on Kelly, Carrie and other powerhouses from the show because it was difficult to take on a song that was written specifically for them. I just can fathom, then, why Randy didn’t give the same advice to Jessica who’s cover of Kelly’s song felt awkward and uncomfortable on her, almost like a sweater that had shrunk a few sizes in the wash. This song is pure uptempo power pop, something Jessica definitely is not and, like Caleb, I was left questioning her song choice, especially when we’ve seen her deliver songs about angst and heartbreak so well (see Jolene, Summertime Sadness and her own song, Blue-Eyed Lie). I can’t help but wonder if the list they were given of “heartbreak songs” was a little limited and that’s why Jessica ended up with this song.

  • Rating: C

Alex delivers a tender moment on “Yellow”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

3. Alex Preston – “Too Close” (Alex Clare) – Unlike Jessica and Caleb, Alex made a convincing run at a semi-uptempo song with a more modern song. While I think this song requires a bit more rasp and power in it’s deliver, Alex improved upon his previous uptempo attempts and didn’t seem as lost in this song. I was, however, missing a bit of the Alex originality we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few weeks, but I think if Alex is to have a truly standout moment with an uptempo song, he has to figure out how to blend his creativity into it. It’s probably much harder to alter uptempo songs because their melody is so distinct, but I don’t doubt that Alex can do it and may have to if he wants to overcome his fellow competitors.

  • Rating: B

4. Jena Irene – “Heartbreaker” (Pat Benatar) – After covering Heart so well a few weeks back, it was almost inevitable that Jena would look to another female 80’s rocker for inspiration. I think, like everyone else in the first round, she suffered from a cover that was too karaoke. I find it odd that four contestants who have been known for the creativity and originality all season would then take a theme where it’s all about emotion and deliver the vocal equivalent of toast for breakfast. Yeah, it satisfies you temporarily, but I was hoping one of them would give me the eggs benedict that I’d be talking about for weeks after… I’m eating breakfast as I write this, can you tell?

  • Rating: B

5. Caleb Johnson – “Travelin’ Band” (Creedence Clearwater Revival) – I had hoped that moving in to a new round about “Dedications” might give the contestants new life but if Caleb was any indication of that, the answer was no. Like before, Caleb just delivered a straight cover of a classic song but without much more to it. It wasn’t really a song that he could go anywhere with and I found that surprising because, up until this point, Caleb has been good at picking songs which show off his vocal range and performance skills to a tee. Needless to say, this performance had me thinking that maybe Caleb should be listening to all those people on twitter telling him what songs to pick…

  • Rating: C+

6. Jessica Meuse – “So What” (Pink) – As if her Kelly Clarkson cover wasn’t enough of a reminder that Jessica isn’t meant for power-pop, she really nailed it home by cover ANOTHER song with pretty much the exact same requirements on paper. I have to admit, I was disappointed. I really thought that Jessica was aware of the fact that she was the one most in danger going into this week and after her “go big or go broke” soundbyte from the auditions, I really thought she’d be the one capable of bringing it again this week to maybe give the other three a run for their money, but this hasty performance might have proved that the pressure got to her.

  • Rating: C

7. Jena Irene – “Bad Romance” (Lady GaGa) – In what can also only be described as pressure getting to someone, Jena delivered one of her most lackluster performances in weeks. Bad Romance was Colton Dixon’s downfall and while I had hoped it wouldn’t be Jena’s, I just don’t think it’s a song that shows off anything interesting about a performer’s voice or performance skills. It’s just kind of a repetitive gurgle of sounds and while it was a catchy radio hit, it doesn’t really suit the greater purpose of Idol which is to prove that you’re such a talented singer or such a charismatic performer that America ought to award you with a recording contract.

  • Rating: C+

8. Alex Preston – “I’m Yours” (Jason Mraz) – Alex and Mraz, like Sheeran and Sam is a match made in heaven. Alex’s voice is so similar to his that how can he possibly go wrong? And maybe that’s what Alex’s was thinking when he made this last minute song choice but the end result was like finding a hair in what looked like a delicious salad: just off-putting. I mean, you could still eat it, but for most people that’s a deal breaker and I felt like Alex took a performance that could have been a tender moment (possibly with a different Mraz track) and didn’t do himself any favours by just singing a straight-forward version of it when we know him for his abundant creativity.

  • Rating: C+

9. Caleb Johnson – “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Paul McCartney) – So by now, I was really holding my breath and hoping that somewhere, somewhere would give us a gamechanger of a performance because at the stage, any one of them could be in the bottom or go home and Caleb kicked off round three – the “Makeup” round, with a bang. He chose another song that’s been covered handily by Crystal Bowersox back in Season 9 in an epic gender bender performance and Season 10’s self-proclaimed metal rocker James Durbin (who’s new album Parachute is out now on iTunes). But unlike his Bon Jovi cover, I felt like Caleb really felt this song. He sang it really well and really delivered the gusto that the song requires. This felt more like the Caleb we know. The song wasn’t as creative as he can be, but it wasn’t traditional rock and still fell firmly into his wheelhouse.

  • Rating: A-

Jessica creates that smoky bar vibe in “You + I”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

10. Jessica Meuse – “You & I” (Lady GaGa) – After Jena’s lukewarm GaGa cover earlier, I was worried what Jessica would do taking on yet another pop diva, but this song actually fit her to a tee. Her southern twang lent a different vibe to the song and almost breathed new life into the story. I would have preferred if she gave us some of the performance quality that Summertime Sadness had, because the song lends itself to doing that, but I think this was definitely a last-minute redemption for Jess, even if it wouldn’t save her come Thursday.

  • Rating: A

Jena wears her heart on her sleeve in “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

11. Jena Irene – “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (Elvis Presley) – So by now, we knew Round 3 was going to be great but when I saw that Jena was singing this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew of Ingrid Michaelson’s version, which has the same tenderness to it, but what Jena did with the song at her piano’s was about as good as it gets. The performance built to this amazing climax and while sometimes JLo’s antics at the judges table seem a little forced, I couldn’t help but agree with her on this one. I wanted to get off my couch and hug Jena for delivering a performance that said “I’m here to win”. Like Candice Glover’s take on Love Song, this gamechanger even featured a little glitch in the sound and some on-stage love from one of the judges. Maybe an omen for another female victor? It’s just a shame that this moment came so close to the finale because now Jena can’t reprise it so soon after, especially after the great Katharine McPhee-Over The Rainbow debacle of Season 5.

  • Rating: A+

12. Alex Preston – “Yellow” (Coldplay) – Yellow is one of those songs that every good musician wishes they wrote and whether you like Coldplay or not, it’s a song that really has the potential for a moment and I think Alex found that potential. His voice sounded better than it had all night, with those sweet falsetto moments, and this song choice showed how smart he can be with his picks. I think if Alex is going to sneak into the finale, he’s going to have to deliver a showstopper like this (or better) next week and hope that Caleb or Jena (preferrably Caleb) have a bit of a misstep.

  • Rating: A

After all was said and done, Thursday’s outcome seemed inevitable, but it didn’t make it any less painful to watch tough rocker Jessica crumble into tears when Ryan announced she was the one leaving. Still, she has to be proud that she went out on a major high note with an angst-driven cover of her original song, Blue-Eyed Lie. I, personally, am definitely hoping for more original music like that from Jessica in the next year.

The Top 3, Credit: Fox + 19 Entertainment

Which means we’re down to three: soulful acoustic rocker Alex Preston, powerhouse rocker Caleb Johnson and the enigmatic piano player Jena Irene. Each of them is so different and I think whatever combo we get will make for an interesting finale. I know who I want to win, but I’m curious to see which combination of contestants you want in the finale, so sound off in the three polls below.

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One Comment on “American Idol XIII: Top 5 Choose Not To Stay Alive, Top 4 Are No More”

  1. Elizabeth Rosalyn The May 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    My favourite Top 5 performance was Jessica’s “Summertime Sadness” and my favourite Top 4 performance was Jena’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (I so wish there was an iTunes recording for this song!). As for my preferred finale match-up, all I know is that I want Jena there. :)

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