Conjuring the spirits of Donnie and Marie Osmond on Wednesday night, the top six American Idol contestants did their best to assert that they were both “a little bit country” as well as “a little bit rock and roll.” With the band on stage front and center, the kids are truly challenged to give it their all. Collectively, they stepped up their game, with the competition as fierce as ever.
The judges emerge and Jennifer Lopez is sparkly and the center of attention as always. This, of course, means that all is right with the world. Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban are all smiles as they all take their seats on the panel.
Jena Irene is the first to sing tonight. She roars out the gate with a fantastic choice from 70s rocker goddesses, Heart. The high schooler tears into “Barracuda,” and I have to say, her playful romantic interaction with Caleb is doing her good because it’s definitely one of her better performances. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say those two spent some quality time eating pizza and making out for hours in a Ford Focus.
Keith can barely wait for the audience to die down before launching into a barrage of compliments. JLo is also complimentary, but echoes Keith’s note that she should continue to let loose even more. Harry loved it, but also thinks she can push herself even further.
Following that stellar performance is Sam Woolf, singing Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time.” It’s serviceable and definitely good for Sam, but in terms of “rock and roll,” it kind of left me wanting. Especially after that firecracker, Jena. Jennifer, however is overly effusive. She tells him that she got “goosies” from his performance. Harry liked the song choice and is very complimentary. Keith points out two moments that really struck him, but thinks Sam could emote even more.
C.J. Harris takes to the stage for his rock and roll song, “American Woman” by The Guess Who. He starts off strong, slinging his guitar, and JLo can barely contain herself with the funky groove with which he’s infected her. Harry asks him how he felt about his performance. C.J. says he felt it was even better than in rehearsal and Harry concurs. Despite that, he reminds C.J. to keep focusing on singing in tune. His summary is “pretty good.” Keith would have liked to see C.J. be more of a badass. Jennifer starts by complimenting his look and reiterating what Keith said.
Resident hipster Alex Preston will be singing Neon Trees’ “Animal.” The challenge tonight will be making sure that he truly puts his unique stamp on the song. Keith tells him to “release a bit more.” After Keith gets booed, Jennifer is hesitant to tell him that she needed him to bit feistier. Harry, a staunch Alex supporter, feels like he gets a pass for being such a consistent performer. He was happy to hear him do an upbeat song.
Caleb Johnson, this season’s red-blooded rock and roller, easily gives a rousing performance of “Sting Me” from the Black Crowes. Unsurprisingly, he destroys the song. The only contestant who shouldn’t be utterly terrified at this point is Jena, and even then, only narrowly. He literally lost the mic, caught it and never missed a beat. That’s some Beyonce shit right there, people. Take note.
Jennifer stands to applaud him, while Keith nearly fell out of his seat during the performance. Even Harry is all smiles. Jennifer says, “That was some real rock and roll stuff right there.” Harry basically tells him that he “is virtually impossible to beat.” Keith gushes that Caleb’s recovery from losing his mic is truly what made it a great delivery.
Now, it’s Jessica Meuse’s turn. Taking a cue fom Harry’s comparison to Grace Slick, Jessica belts Jefferson Airplane‘s “Somebody to Love.” It’s a great choice for her and her voice sounds great, but I fear she’s going to get the same note to let loose from all the judges. Harry says it was “really strong.” He felt that she did a great job of taking last week’s critique. Keith thought she played to her vocal strengths, but still wants more emotion. Jennifer agrees with Keith.
Round Two, the country part of the evening, kicks off with Sam. His country song is Shania Twain‘s “You’re Still The One.” It’s a good choice for his pretty voice and low-key style. Smart Sam makes sure to give his fans a little love on stage, reaching down to the ladies in the pit. Keith applauds the song choice and encourages him to continue to relax. Jennifer is literally bowled over by how cute he is. Harry doesn’t want him to sing so perfectly.
We return from commercial break with a cameo from Grumpy Cat, whom Caleb promptly gives a kisss. Ready for his country performance, Caleb delivers his version of Carrie Underwood‘s “Undo It.” He gives it his trademark Caleb over-the-top energy. He’s just so fun to watch. I hope he wins.
During commercial break, I decide that I want to recap I Wanna Marry Harry because it looks so utterly evil.
JLo calls it “a great performance.” Harry felt the second song was “a little more forced,” only because he was so fabulous the first time. Keith makes a very subtle joke that indicates he felt it was very rock and roll and not quite country.
Alex has chosen the classic “Always on My Mind” by country troubadour Willie Nelson. It’s a fantastic selection and Alex truly does it justice, with his understated musicianship, voice and unique interpretation. This is definitely the strongest of his two songs for the night. The judges all agree that Alex did a fantastic job and that his artistry truly shone through in the performance. The only note is from Keith to exhibit more heartbreak.
Next, we have Jena taking her turn on the country train. She sings “So Small” by Carrie Underwood. But before she can, Harry creates a super weird moment between himself and Keith. Then Jena gets her chance and early on, Jennifer indicates that her “goosies” have returned. Keith starts by marvelling, “You are such a good singer.” JLo loved it, but Harry felt it was disjointed emotionally. He, of course, gets a round of boos. Jena graciously accepts all the critiques.
Alabama boy C.J. chooses “Whatever It Is” by Zac Brown Band for his country selection, In a paisley blazer, he’s all smiles and dimples during his performance. JLo appeared underwhelmed. Harry seconds that emotion. Keith agrees and so the judges are pretty much unanimous that it wasn’t the best performance. On his way out, C.J. gives a shout out to a departed friend.
Last up for the night is Jessica. Her choice is again a perfectly-suited one with “Jolene” from Dolly Parton. Wow. Harry is the first to say how much he loved it. “Nice work,” he tells her. Keith was not a fan of the arrangement, but thought she sounded great. Jennifer jumps in to say that she truly felt the emotion this time around.
My prediction is that C.J., while clearly a very sweet guy, will be heading home Thursday evening. What do you think?
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