During Wednesday night’s show, we were reminded several times that American Idol‘s final season was rapidly coming to a close. With only five contestants left by the night’s end, it underscored the fact that one off night could spell the end for anyone at this point. Adam Lambert and Empire lightened the mood with strong performances, but it was up to the contestants to make sure the show goes out with a bang and that they’re one of last stars remaining in Idol‘s constellation. So without further adieu, let’s get to talking about those performances.
Trent kicked off “Idol Fan Requests” night with OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” If these truly were fan requests and not producer’s picks, I can see why someone chose a song from Ryan Tedder’s catalogue for Trent. They have very similar voices, with big ranges and strong falsettos, but the driving tempo of this song just seemed to be missing somehow. Maybe it was the way the band and backup singers were tucked away, but I wanted the way the song sounded to match Trent’s enthusiasm for it. I’m not even sure if I can fully blame him for this misstep. Rating: C
Dalton was the second contestant announced safe and acquired the title of being the first person to cover a Linkin Park song on Idol with “Numb.” I found the judges’ feedback, especially Keith’s complaint that Dalton’s take was trapped between a very quiet moment and Dalton’s usual style, to be accurate. I too wanted less from Dalton in this performance, to just strip it down and let us think about the melody and the words. I think his creativity was still just a little off the mark. Rating: C-
La’Porsha was next to join the Top 5 and got a leg-up on her competition with a solid fan pick: India Arie’s “Ready For Love.” As Harry said, La’Porsha completely captured the desperation and vulnerability of the song and all while delivering another spectacular vocal. Like Keith, I am beginning to run out of things to say about her and yet, she still excites me and thrills me every time. Her emotional range and performance abilities are just as dynamic as her voice and that puts her in another league in a season where most of her competition can only fire on one of those cylinders on any given performance. Bonus points to the stylists for finally dressing her properly. Rating: A
MacKenzie was the last of the Top 5 to avoid the dreaded Bottom 2 and he kicked off his night with Cat Steven’s “Wild World.” When I heard his voice in this song, it was one of those pairings that I’m surprised took so long to happen. It just felt right and like J.Lo said, MacKenzie brought an infectious likability to it that wasn’t unlike Kris Allen’s vibe back in Season 8. As I said earlier in the season, if Idol is still buying that shtick, MacKenzie might just get to that finale, but it must be noted that MacKenzie’s vocal limitations are ten times what Kris’s were and, although he did a good job accommodating them in this song, that isn’t always the case. Rating: B-
Then the Bottom 2: Tristan, for the first time, and Sonika, for the second time in two weeks, took to the stage to sing for the final judges’ save of the season.
Tristan took on her second Martina McBride song in as many weeks: “Independence Day,” and like Dalton she struggled with finding the right place for the song. Back in Season 4, Carrie Underwood went the bombastic route and turned the volume up to eleven, but I think with her piano in tow, Tristan should have done a really restrained version that showed she was capable of dissecting the lyrics and tapping into the emotion of the song because, otherwise, she sung it better than she has all season. Rating: C
Sonika‘s pick was Demi Lovato’s “Let It Go” from Frozen. It was an odd song choice for her in that moment and I felt like she never truly looked comfortable in the song, but it wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting. I just think that as much raw talent as Sonika has, she has a tendency to pick songs she likes over songs that actually suit her. I think she would also do well from having a stripped down performance where she could sing and would be forced to focus on the emotion of the song. Rating: C-
Although Sonika didn’t bring her A game, the judges chose to save her and I can’t blame them. Her run on the show has been significantly better than Tristan’s. I’m just surprised that Tristan, who seemed to be mentor Scott Borchetta’s pet, didn’t receive the season’s last save in Idol‘s dramatic fashion.
With five left, the show forged ahead and each of them got another crack at it after a string of lackluster performances (save La’Porsha)
Dalton‘s second song was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” After discussing his struggles with bi-polar disorders, Dalton’s delivery on the song seemed some how more focused and compelling and, like Harry said afterwards, the song had more emotional meat on it for him to chew on. I, like the judges, hope Dalton can continue picking songs like this and find a way to connect with them while also avoiding sounding flat, as he tends to do. Rating: B-
MacKenzie tread into dangerous territory by giving Michael Jackson’s hit “Billie Jean” an acoustic spin with his second performance. Ryan firmly reminded him, the judges, and the Idol audience that David Cook delivered a take on the song that was nothing short of life-changing back in Season 7. I was unable to avoid drawing comparisons to that performance and while MacKenzie’s version did take it somewhere else, I just felt like it was a bit too light in a song that required a bit of grit. Still, one of his personal best so far. Rating: B
Trent was dealt a surprising hand with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” for his second performance, but there was no doubt by the end of his performance that it was the right song. In fact, Jennifer’s tears, which brought tears to Trent’s eyes as well, said it all. It was the right song for the right person at the right time. It tapped into Trent’s southern roots and gave his voice a chance to spread its wings without comprising a mite of emotion. Something about this song after the story of Trent’s late friend just really hit home and reminded me what I love and what I’m going to miss about Idol. Rating: A
Sonika‘s second song was another uptempo pop track: Zedd’s “Clarity” and, in a lot of ways, I felt like it was a missed opportunity for Sonika to scale it back and show off her vocals. Yes, I know she was trying to find that spark from her performance of “Bring Me To Life,” but her attempt came off as frantic and, for the first time, Sonika’s voice betrayed her and left me cold. I think, given her presence in the Bottom 2 the last two weeks, this performance may have just sealed the deal for her next week. Rating: C
La’Porsha closed the night with Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” and after the introductory video which told the story of La’Porsha’s abusive relationship, Season 15’s diva rose from the ashes like a phoenix and conquered the track with all the might and gusto of some of the show’s very best. It was a killer way to end the night and the judge’s speechlessness afterwards said it all. La’Porsha is humble, she has the backstory, she has the personality, the vocals, the showmanship, and the emotion. There’s nothing she hasn’t been able to do so far and while her win may seem like a foregone conclusion at this point, I truly hope the Idol audience continues to vote for her because I can’t wait to see where she goes from here. Rating: A+
With that, let’s get nostalgic. Back in Season 5, Idol was coming off a big win with Carrie Underwood and put together a stellar cast. In the end, the soulful Taylor Hicks triumphed and went on to make a few albums and conquer broadway. His most recent effort, “In Your Time,” pushes genres and has him blending a little country into his bluesy ways. But Hicks’ had some stiff competition in runner-up Katharine McPhee, who has since produced two albums (her most recent, Hysteria, features loads of catchy tracks) and starred in two hit shows: NBC’s Smash and CBS’s Scorpion. Third-placer Elliott Yamin has produced his own string of albums and is currently working on a fourth while touring with his roommate and Season 6 runner-up Blake Lewis.
Back in Season 5, Chris Daughtry was the big shock elimination in fourth, but he has since gone on to produce a slew of albums with his band Daughtry and just released a greatest hits album last month. Additionally, you can catch him starring in Fox’s “The Passion” on March 20th as Judas. Kellie Pickler has also gone on to find success in country music, on the dance floor after triumphing with Derek Hough on Season 16 of Dancing with the Stars, and on her new TV show “I Love Kellie Pickler” which premiered on CMT in November of last year. 9th placer, Mandisa, has also made a name for herself in the Christian gospel scene, becoming one of the shows best-selling artists. It seems Season 5 did a fine job following up on Carrie’s success with its graduating class.
And so ends another week on Idol. Vote in the polls below and leave a comment to let me know what you thought of the night’s performances and elimination. Otherwise, I will see you next Friday after the Top 4 is revealed.