I, myself, am currently in the process of packing up my life and moving to another city. There’s a constant buzz of anxiety in my head and an awareness that, very soon, everything will be different for me and, in a way, that’s what Idol‘s farewell season is like. We’re constantly being reminded that soon it will all be over but, like moving, at times the stars align and things come together like they were always meant to be. On Thursday night, that magic happened as, one by one, the contestants who made it into the Top 4 delivered solid performances, with several showstoppers and emotional moments mixed in for good measure. So let’s dissect those, talk about the eliminations, and speculate which of these four diverse talents might fall just shy of the finale…
La’Porsha had the honor of performing first and, as if in response to my cries from last week for her to continue to surprise us, she delivered (by horse no less) her take on Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.” For once, I thought mentor Scott Borchetta wasn’t completely off in suggesting that the song was an odd pick for the show’s resident diva. It’s a great song, but it kind of goes nowhere. Still, La’Porsha injected it with her usual attitude, swagger, and gusto and made us believe those words like she wrote them herself and, no surprise here, she sounded pitch perfect. I just worry that the judges’ constant lack of feedback for her will lull the voters into a haze where they feel like they don’t need to vote for her as hard as, perhaps, their other favorites and that would be a shame. Rating: A-
Mackenzie‘s rock pick was Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” and while, on paper, the song seemed like an odd fit for his acoustic sensibilities, his rearrangement of it actually worked for me. It was, perhaps, the most creative reworking of a song all season, but I did miss the element of risk that comes with singing a song outside of your comfort zone without making that kind of change. That being said, I found the judges’ complete dismissal of the arrangement surprising and kind of wondered whether they’ve just found shinier toys to play with, if you catch my drift. Rating: B
After two performances, Season 7 champ David Cook took the stage with the opening track from his album Digital Vein (which our editor reviewed upon its release) entitled “Heartbeat.” The track’s dynamic build worked perfectly with the montage of previous winners behind him to tug at the heartstrings of new and old fans of the show.
Then, as if in response to La’Porsha’s killer double-header of performances last week, Trent started the night with a reworking of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” that can only be described as “swampy.” I really appreciate Trent’s recent venture into his southern rock side and, on Thursday night, it brought out a completely different side of him that owned up to every element of this song. From the cool “oohs” with the backup vocalists to his ability to let loose once the electric guitar kicked in, Trent brought the fire in spades and I was happy to see he’s got plenty of fight and steam in him left. Rating: A+
Then Ryan presented the Bottom 2: Sonika for the third week in a row and Dalton for the first time. I’m skeptical of whether Dalton was truly in the Bottom 2, but based on Ryan’s presentation of it, it seemed to be the case. Either way, Dalton was safe and Sonika was sent packing after a montage of her journey set to the Sia-penned song she would have covered this week: Celine Dion’s “Loved Me Back To Life.”
Dalton then took the stage with the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and for the first time since the finals started, I felt like he’d chosen a song that suited him vocally and that he could deliver emotionally. He had the maturity required to really speak to the lyrics and the sigh of his voice mimicked the sigh in the voices of the Beach Boys themselves perfectly. Will Dalton ever deliver a vocal “triple-axle”? Probably not, but this was as close to an emotional one as we’ve seen from him yet. Rating: B+
After round one and two of the contestants had tackled her songs, Sia performed her single “Cheap Thrills” with enthusiastic (to say the least) dancers accompanying her. This week, she worked one-on-one with the contestants, doling out sage advice to take their performances of songs she’d written to another level.
La’Porsha kicked it off with “Elastic Heart,” a track originally released on one of the Hunger Games’ soundtracks. This time, she brought the drama with booming drums that mimicked her powerful vocals. There were times when I felt the backup singers overwhelmed the performance, but by no fault of La’Porsha’s own. She handled what I would classify one of Sia’s more difficult tracks to sing with her usual ease, settling right into it and making it her home. I also thought that this performance had a slight edge on her first. Rating: A-
MacKenzie followed up the iffy feedback from the first round with Sia’s “Titanium.” In his mentoring session we saw Sia push him to go for the high note by utilizing his delicate falsetto and I felt like MacKenzie handled that note well in his performance. The problem was, as Harry said, the performance became all about that moment and the song could have really resonated better if not for that. Otherwise though, I felt like the performance was good if not terribly out of his comfort zone either. I think, given the lukewarm feedback MacKenzie got on both of his performances this week, he’s the likely target of next week’s cut. Rating: B-
Trent lit another fuse and brought the fireworks twice tonight with his take on “Chandelier.” As the judges said, it was vocal perfection. Harry also pointed out that Trent brought amazing dynamics to the song, showing such restraint in the first chorus then letting loose on the second, before taking it right back down at the end. That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s easy to get excited and go for broke all the way through, but Trent knows his voice and knows how to put on a show, based on both of his performances tonight which stand in such stark but exciting contrast to one another. Rating: A
Dalton closed the night with Sia’s “Bird Set Free.” Compared to his first performance, he compromised his vocals a bit, but as Harry said, there’s something to be said for the emotional breakthrough Dalton had tonight. The words in this song clearly spoke to him and he was able to emote that vulnerability out to the audience in a way that I never expected he would. The punk rock shtick that he came into the competition with seemed to be here to stay a few weeks ago, but he’s since found what works for him and he’s rolling with it. The past three performances have really given him the momentum that might save him from going from the Bottom 2 this week to being eliminated next week. Rating: B-
I feel good about the fact that tonight was the first night I didn’t have to ditch out any grades below a B minus. Hopefully that bodes well for whatever finale we get from this bunch.
Speaking of packed finales, back in Season 4, Idol mega star Carrie Underwood found herself up against two worthy opponents in Bo Bice and Vonzell Solomon. Since then, we all know Carrie has gone on to make numerous records and win plenty of awards. But what ever happened to the others? Well runner-up Bo Bice shaved off his beard and has dished out four albums in his typical southern-rock style, the most recent of which “New Soul Revival” came out back in 2013. Meanwhile, after snagging 3rd, Vonzell released an EP of her own back in 2012 and has pursued acting and can currently be seen in fellow Idol alum Todrick Hall’s show Todrick on MTV. Fourth placer Anthony Federov is currently making kid-friendly music in a duo called “The Auraganix” while sixth-place rocker Constantine Maroulis released a few albums, one with his band Pray for the Soul of Betty, before heading over to broadway and snagging himself a Tony nomination for his role in Rock of Ages.
Since we had a short night, let’s also take a look back at Season 3 when Fantasia Barrino rose to the top. She’s released several fantastic albums with her own brand of soulful R&B and just released a single “No Time For It” from her forthcoming rock-inspired album. She even starred in “The Color Purple” on Broadway and snagged a few Grammy nominations and wins over the years. Season 3, of course, featured another star – the only Idol alum so far with both an Oscar and a Grammy win under her belt: Jennifer Hudson. After her dramatic weight loss as the spokesperson for Weight Watchers, Jennifer conquered her role in the movie Dreamgirls and released several albums with catchy pop R&B tracks as well. Other Season 3 alum like Diana DeGarmo (who married Season 5’s Ace Young), George Huff, and LaToya London have released solo music and Jon Peter Lewis has even gone on to release solo stuff and audition with his musical duo Midas Whale for NBC’s The Voice. It’s great to see the talent of Season 3 has continued to shine so many years later.
Now, before I leave you, I urge you to vote for your favorite performances in the polls and leave a comment letting me know who you think will land in the Top 3 next Thursday night. Until then, I’ll see you next Friday where I’ll dissect another round of performances and the forthcoming end of it all.