There’s something to be said about consistency on a reality show like American Idol. It’s so rare and this Wednesday, we might have discovered why. After watching the second group of twelve performance their minute-and-a-half solo songs, we were left with little more to go by than before the show had started. Sure, no one crashed and burned like last week’s Emily Brooke, but did anyone rise above the rest to make a move for the crown? Well, let’s break down each of their solo performances and there Thursday night duets with the Idol alum to determine that…
Shelbie Z – The Voice veteran kicked off the showed in her usual fashion with Gretchen Wilson’s “Work Hard, Play Harder,” and while she easily sounded better and worked the stage more professionally than half of her competition from last week, I couldn’t help but agreeing with the judges that another song (or even another key) might have highlighted the powerful sweet spot of her voice. By comparison, her duet with Season 4’s Constantine Maroulis to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” gave her the chance to let loose and show of her rock side. It’s a shame that the judges had written off this country-rock hybrid contestant before we’d ever started. Solo Rating: B | Duet Rating: B+ | Result: Eliminated
Manny Torres – The new Coldplay track “Adventure of a Lifetime” was a weird choice for him and while he’s done a good job to carve out his place as one of the more current contestant’s on the roster, the song choice gave him limited opportunities to show off that groove and funk that he’s known for. Manny’s duet to Jordin Sparks’ catchy single “No Air” benefited from her advice to connect more more to her and the song, but I still feel like next week’s effort needs to scale it back a little and focus on his vocals. Solo Rating: B- | Duet Rating: B- | Result: In the Top 14
Kory Wheeler – Maybe it was nerves or maybe it was the shortened version of James Bay’s “Let It Go” that robbed it of it’s usual depth and emotion, but something about Kory’s delivery felt a little dead in the eyes and while, vocally, it wasn’t unpleasant minus a handful sharp notes, the colors of Kory’s version just felt too dull to be memorable. In contrast, Season 10’s Haley Reinhart brought a cooler swagger out of Kory in their duet to her performance of “Bennie & the Jets” that made me see why Kory made the cut in the first place. That said, I sort of can’t fault the judges for feeling like Kory might have been a little fish in a big pond after Wednesday night’s effort. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B | Result: Eliminated
Amelia Eisenhauer – Amelia’s rendition of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” suffered from the same teenage awkwardness as some of her young competition, but the beginning and end had moments that let her husky voice sink into the track. The awkward transition in the middle, though, robbed her performance of the song’s usual inspirational lift. Amelia improved alongside Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, who seemed to make her feel more comfortable on stage when they tackled Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket” together. I think Amelia could have benefited from the helping hand of a female mentor prior to Wednesday show. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B | Result: Eliminated
Jenn Bloisil – Harry’s “watch your pitch” critique of Jenn’s performance of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” wasn’t unwarranted, but when Jenn finally found a comfortable position in the song, she brought back that magic that carried her through the earlier rounds. Hopefully we can write off her little slip to the pressure of this week’s tight schedule. Jenn’s duet with Constantine to “My Funny Valentine” brought out that softer side of her, but in some ways, it still left me wanting more. I think the potential we’ve seen from her prior to this week was what put her into the Top 14 and I’m okay with that. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B- | Result: In the Top 14
CJ Johnson – After CJ brought quite the rocking performance to end his run in Hollywood, this week’s down-tempo offering of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” felt a little sleepy and while his pitch was better than most on Wednesday night, I found myself missing the excitement that I was hoping CJ would bring. CJ’s duet with Season 7 winner David Cook to Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” didn’t ignite that fire in him either. It was one of the few duets that I felt like was a memorable performance for the alum that just didn’t translate into one for the newer contestant, and that was a shame. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: C+ | | Result: Eliminated
Lee Jean – After shushing the crowd during his final Hollywood Week performance, Lee Jean was more professional this week, but hearing another Ed Sheeran cover (this time “Runaway”) has me worried that the young acoustic guitarist doesn’t have much more up his sleeve. Top it off with the fact that this performance was wholly forgettable and you have a recipe for fodder. Of the night’s duets, Lee’s mashup with Chris Daughtry to his song “Home” felt like the biggest mismatch of the night, leaving the young boy to be dwarfed by Daughtry’s bombastic vocals. Perhaps youthful potential won the day for Lee when it came time for results. Solo Rating: C- | Duet Rating: C | | Result: In the Top 14
Trent Harmon – Chris Stapleton’s “What Are You Listening To?” May have seemed like an odd song choice at first blush for the season’s most soulful male contestant. However, it turned out to yield the night’s most emotionally authentic offering. Sure, Trent needs to watch that his vibrato doesn’t creep into every note, but I appreciated the dialed back version of his usual over-the-top power. Maybe he’ll bring that side of himself back next week. Trent’s duet with Season 6 Winner Jordin Sparks brought out a new, emotional side of him as the pair charmed on the Bee Gees “To Love Somebody,” which wasn’t a particularly memorable moment for Jordin, but was made better with the two of them. Solo Rating: A- | Duet Rating: A- | Result: In the Top 14
Tristan McIntosh – I’ve been harsh on Tristan up until this point, but when the judges heap praises on her at the green age of 15, I feel like I need to play the role of a realist. That said, tonight we saw a little nugget of that potential during the second half of her rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl” where she found her swagger and let her upper register shine. Maybe she needs to start picking songs that linger there instead. Even after Tristan’s duet with Kellie Pickler to her song “Best Days of Your Life,” I’m still not convinced that the 15 year-old is this season’s country prodigy, despite the judges best efforts to convince us of that. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: C+ | Result: In the Top 14
Adam Lasher – I actually kind of dug what mostly-invisible comeback kid Adam did tonight with Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold.” He was one of the few contestants to use an instrument to his advantage and make the song a little more edgy and funky, which is saying something considering how much funk the original has. I think the only critique I would have would be that Adam didn’t pick the right song to stand out from the pack. That, or the judges had already written him off before he even sang. Adam probably won the draw with his duet, tackling Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” with Haley, who made the song her own and released it on iTunes. Singing with Haley brought out the soulful crooner side of Adam that I had hoped to see sooner. Solo Rating: B- | Duet Rating: B | Result: Eliminated
Dalton Rapattoni – I felt a little like Dalton’s penchant for playing with the melody of well-known songs came back to bite him this week. His slowed down version of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell” was like a cup of tea that didn’t fully steep. It lacked the usual punch and if he had maintained the original tempo, we might have seen a bit more of what makes him capable of being a modern pop star. On paper, the Dalton/Daughtry mashup sounded like a great idea, but Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” seemed to point out the difference in their styles rather than compliment them as one of Daughtry’s own songs would have done. Still, one of the better duets of the night. Solo Rating: B- | Duet Rating: B | | Result: In the Top 14
Olivia Rox – Olivia’s performance of Demi Lovato’s “Confident” started with a lot of promise. Just her with her guitar on a stool would have made for a cool take on a song that’s been all over the radio recently, but once Olivia ditched the guitar and started moving, I felt that same youthful awkwardness that I’ve felt with other teens this season. Sure, Olivia’s voice eclipses most of them, but it felt like an uncomfortable fit for a song that Ms. Lovato carries off with such ease. Here, a melody change might have been welcome. Olivia’s pairing with David Cook on his song “Light On” was better than I expected, showing that she’s capable of rock and pop, as well as holding her own next to one of Idol‘s best male vocalists. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B+ | | Result: In the Top 14
With that, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who your favorites were in the polls below. I’ll forego a recap of Season 9 until next week, with the disclaimer that you should definitely check out Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze’s new album “Oil & Water” on iTunes or Spotify.
Next week, the Top 14 will sing solos and the judges will narrow them down to eight with America voting for the final two wildcards. I’ll be back with my recap on Friday at noon.