Friday, April 11, 2014

American Idol 13: Top 8 - April 2, 2014

Top 8 - April 2, 2014 - Audition Songs

1. Jessica Meuse - "Blue Eyed Lie" A+

Jess becomes the FIRST EVER American Idol to sing an original song during a live voting round. And what an awesome song. Her audition instantly captured my attention and I loved this longer performance of it. I loved the grit and the passion of it. The studio recording, which I purchased off iTunes, is worth a listen and is an awesome addition to my music collection. One complaint: the big bridge is just a repeat of the same lyric. Kind of kills the "build" of the song, but a minor complaint over all. Can someone explain why Keith Urban said she should move around the stage more when she was literally performing on a pedestal?

2. CJ Harris - "Soul Shine" C/C-

I've never been a big fan of this song in any way and CJ has consistently proven himself forgettable week after week. Not the sort of performance I would remember without re-reviewing it for this blog. CJ's gritty tone can be appealing in a small dose, but he overuses it each week. CJ seems like a nice guy but I'm not sure how he made it into the Top 8 over more talented contestants who were cut in the early rounds.

Duet #1: Alex and Jena - "Just Give Me A Reason" A-

The two most interesting, unique voices in the competition came together beautifully on this duet. There was the right amount of passion and their voices sounded awesome together.

3. Sam Woolf - "Lego House" C

The part of the show where I can fall asleep and not miss anything... Sam sings in such an affected, flat tone, with absolutely no emotion or feeling. I feel like there is something blank in his eyes and something missing in every performance. It's funny to me that Alex gets labeled "shy" or "awkward" when to me he is light years more comfortable in his skin and his performances than Sam. I've seen better performers in high school musicals. (And in the movie High School Musical.)

Duet #2: Caleb and Jessica - "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" A

I LOVED THIS. One of my favorite songs and I see where the producers were going by choosing the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet for these two. They had an easy chemistry in this song and sang rings around the next two duets (Dexter & CJ, Malaya & Sam).

4. Malaya Watson - "Ain't No Way" B

A powerful and beautiful performance by Malaya. I admit I counted her out completely as a joke contestant in the early rounds of voting after her hideous performance of "Runaway Baby" and over the top personality. Her latest performances have changed my mind on the front. I still contend she may have been even better if she had come back at age 18, but there's no going back at this point. Her big notes at the end veered into her usual, unpleasant lane, but she did rein it in pretty quickly.

5. Dexter Roberts - "One Mississippi"A-/B+

Dexter's best performance in a long time. Season 8 Top 4 finisher Allison Iraheta sounded beautiful singing the harmonies in the chorus, and it really added a lovely quality to the entire performance. A quiet moment from him that he desperately needed to showcase some of his much-lacking versatility. Here is a performance that I wouldn't mind listening to multiple times.

Duet #3: Malaya & Sam - "Lucky" F

What an insipid, twee song and what a flat performance. According to the Official YouTube page for this performance, "It's a duet you simply HAVE to see!" (emphasis not mine, trust me). The vocals were embarrassingly off, the "oooooohs" sounded god awful, and the both of them looked obviously, glaringly uncomfortable. Listening to this back in order to write this review is almost painful. Idol, please never make 16 and 17 year olds sing awkward love duets to each other ever again.

6. Jena Irene - "Rolling In The Deep" A

WOW. This was a stunning, haunting performance in which Jena completely reinvented the song that we've all heard a thousand times, in a thousand cover versions, to the point it sounded like an entirely new song. This girl is unbelievably talented for any age, let alone 17 years old. Her voice is instantly recognizable from the first note and she signs with just the right amount of passion and emotion to entirely convey the meaning of the song. This was near perfection.

Duet #4: CJ & Dexter - "Alright" C-

Their voices did not blend well together and there were plenty of bum notes that stood out like sore thumbs. Absolutely forgettable, but at least it wasn't a train wreck like Sam and Malaya's duet.

7. Caleb Johnson - "Chain Of Fools" A-/B+

I didn't at all remember Caleb's audition so it was awesome to hear him sing one of my favorite 60's songs. Much like Jena, his voice is instantly recognizable. A fun performance without angst or deep meaning. His voice reminds me so much of David Coverdale of Whitesnake.

8. Alex Preston - "Fairytales" A-

Alex is such a unique talent and I have a feeling his original songs are awesome. He is the kind of contestant that fits well into the modern radio landscape of singer/songwriters and bands like Ed Sheeran, A Great Big World, American Authors, and Passenger. Of all the current contestants, he might just be the most likely to have current radio success. "Fairytales" improves each time I listen to it, as I hear more of the lyrics and the flourishes that Alex puts in the song.

Best of the night: Jessica
Worst of the night: CJ
Best duet: Jessica & Caleb
Worst duet: Sam & Malaya

Friday, April 4, 2014

American Idol 13: Top 9 - March 26, 2014

Top 9 - "I'm With The Band" - March 26, 2014

1. Alex Preston - "Don't Speak" A-

This was a pretty polarizing performance by Alex, but I loved it. Alex is showing actual potential to be an American Idol winner - he consistently reinvents songs and has a definitive, recognizable style. I loved the jazzy, sort of reggae twists he put on this No Doubt song. I loved that the song choice was unexpected and light years away from his performance of One Direction's "Story Of My Life" last week.

2. Majesty Rose - "Shake It Out" B-

I loved the physicality Majesty put into her performance. So often Idol, the contestants forget that it's not just a singing competition. The entertainment industry is, by nature, a visual one and a true performer incorporates visual, emotional, and technical aspects. Unfortunately, Majesty doesn't have the big voice needed for some of the songs she's been tackling lately and it showed on the big, belting notes. She was really fun to watch, but just listening to it on its own, the vocal performance doesn't hold up.

3. Dexter Roberts - "Boondocks" B-

Dexter has not had a performance on the Idol stage that I truly liked since "Simple Man" - maybe his lane is anthemic, bro-country songs but it's a lane I don't necessarily want to go down. It's consistently forgettable. And the way he ended the song felt lazy and uninteresting to me. I can't really fault his vocal delivery, I guess, it's not like he sang badly or out of key, but I would hate to have an Idol winner be so generic.

4. Malaya Watson - "The Long & Winding Road" A-/B+

Malaya has really come a long way from her first disastrous performance of "Runaway Baby" - she is learning to demonstrate control with her voice. I must say watching the show live, I liked this performance a lot better than when I've listened to it back after the fact, but maybe it was just the fact that it was a breath of fresh, different air after the previous 2 performances. She has such an interesting way of delivering her songs that I've sat here listening to her song about 3 or 4 times as I write this.

5. Sam Woolf - "Hey There Delilah" C

OF COURSE. Of course Sam would play "Hey There Delilah". It's a bland, inoffensive song that even your grandmother would like. Hey, kind of like Sam himself. The equivalent of eating crackers or white bread or chicken broth. Love or hate Malaya, you can't say she is ever boring or bland. Sam has no emotion in his voice, no sign of life behind his voice - it's so wooden I can't stand it. Moving on...

6. Jessica Meuse - "Rihannon" A-

I hear a hint of subversiveness in this performance and I absolutely love it. Her performances have been a little bit generic, a little bit Stevie Nicks-lite and I am glad to hear her gain some of her intensity back. Interesting that she does so on such a whispy song.

7. C.J. Harris - "If It Hadn't Been For Love" C+

A lot of grit in C.J.'s voice - and just a bit too much to be appealing. I like hearing songs on Idol that I haven't heard before, but the affect in his voice is distracting and prevents me from enjoying this performance like I wanted to. On repeat listens, much like Majesty's performance, it doesn't quite hold up.

8. Caleb Johnson - "Dazed & Confused" A+

Caleb is an absolute tour-de-force. There is no other way to describe him. In a season where a lot of the contestants seem to be sleepwalking through their performances (C.J., Sam, Dexter, even Jessica), Caleb "brings it" every time. I love the way he interacted with the band, I love his stage presence, his persona, that rock star, Grade A Caliber quality he brings to the show.

9. Jena Irene - "Bring Me To Life" A

Jena is the only one who could have followed Caleb after his amazing performance. I love the physicality of her performance, how she commits herself 100%. I love how mature she is beyond her years, her amazing songwriter ability, and her extremely unique and identifiable voice. She played off the band as well, embracing the theme of the week. There was such a beautiful, unexpected, brief moment in the middle of the song where she slowed the song down with only a piano for accompaniment. She is truly one to watch.

Best of the night: Caleb
Worst of the night:  CJ

Monday, March 24, 2014

American Idol 13: March 19, 2014 - Top 10

Top 10 - "Top 10 Songs from 2011-2014" - March 19, 2014

FINALLY! Some current songs.

1. MK Nobilette - "Perfect" C-

I had such hope for MK this week after her beautiful performance of "To Make You Feel My Love" last week. Her message in the pre-performance package also got me ready to be blown away. However, she took a misstep with this one. It started off strong when she was looking at the mirror but as soon as she stepped away, I felt the energy deflate. It seems like MK might have skipped a lyric or a beat which threw her off a bit. Keith is right that she needs to "own the stage" more and seem more confident; whatever her intent may be, it reads as unsure on the stage and distracts me from her vocal.

2. Dexter Roberts - "Cruise" C+

Fun and competent, but nothing I will remember by tomorrow. He did a few stylized notes on the song that made it slightly different from the original. Dexter hasn't stood out for me to week-to-week at all and I wonder how long his strong country fan base will keep him in this race. I can't even come up with anything else to say about this performance.

3. Jena Irena - "Clarity" A

Idol consistently encourages its young contestants to be "current", yet at the same time the current landscape of music isn't always exactly G-rated. This puts most of the contestants (particularly female ones) in a bit of a dilemma as they try to navigate the balance between "current" and "appropriate" (whatever that means, as its largely in the eye of the beholder). That said, Jena did a masterful job tonight of balancing edgy with age-appropriate, fun with emotion, and energy with vocal talent. This is probably the most energetic I've ever seen the audience react to an idol contestant as well!

4. Alex Preston - "Story Of My Life" A

I like how he sped it up a bit and gave it a different arrangement and overall feel. I could really believe that this was his song; it didn't sound like a cover at all. I just absolutely loved it. His performances are small and intimate,  but unlike MK, he knows how to draw you in instantly.  He has a phenomenal voice and is such an individual; I feel that you could instantly recognize his voice if  you heard it on the radio. I would love to see him in a small concert venue or buy his CD.

5. Malaya Watson - "When I Was Your Man" A-

I actually absolutely LOVED this. I will preface this review by saying Candice Glover's performance of this song last season made me cry because you could feel each note of that song from her. While not quite comparable to Candice, Malaya's version was beautiful and unexpectedly so. I still think Malaya needs to work on the control of her voice as she often goes off the rails. In this performance, that was pretty minimal however. There was a ton of emotion in her voice and I was glad she prefaced the performance by explaining it was about two members of her family that inspired her to choose this song.

6. Caleb Johnson - "The Edge Of Glory" B+

At first listen, I was only focusing on Caleb's glorious voice, which would warrant at least an A- for this performance. But the more I listen to it, the more the arrangement bothers me. I agree with the judges that the arrangement lacked the upbeat urgency of Clarence Clemons's saxaphone in Lady Gaga's original. It is plodding and never really quite goes anywhere. I would love to see Caleb stay out of the midtempo lane next week and either pick something very rock-driven or something very quiet and intimate.

7. CJ Harris - "Invisible" C+

His emotion was clear in this song, but he started off pretty shaky. CJ has not done one thing to distinguish himself in this competition. In this kind of show, it's more dangerous to be completely middle of the road than it is to be terrible (see: Lazaro). The chorus sounded a bit sharp and like he was straining his voice in many places.

8. Jessica Meuse - "Pumped Up Kicks" B+

Jessica finally looked like she was having a little fun with this song, choosing to interpret it with a wink in a tongue-in-cheek way. She did choose stay in the lane a bit with the song and deliver it the way it was written - still, I think it worked for her. I was glad when the band came in, it didn't overpower her voice. I would love for her to try something even more unexpected next week since this was a little sleepy for me.

9. Majesty Rose - "Wake Me Up" B

A better song choice for Majesty by a million miles this week! This is the kind of song she should be covering and I really liked the Americana folk style of the song. Lyrically, it was the perfect song for her, but I couldn't really settle into it.

10. Sam Woolf - "We Are Young" C

Sam has failed to captivate me, at all, on the Idol stage. He is so one-dimensional I can't be drawn in by any lyric he sings; he fails to sing in a way that interprets the lyrics or gives me any amount of feeling. You don't have to be a great singer to be captivating; singers like Rihanna and Katy Perry have proved charming and charismatic without possessing Mariah Carey levels of vocal talent. Sam has been a very capable, competent singer who has a beautiful tone, but it's ultimately a flat one without meaning or nuance.

Best of the night: Alex
Worst of the night: MK

And just because it's so amazing, Jena Irene's original song "Unbreakable Me":

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

American Idol 13: Top 11 - March 11, 2014


Top 11 Week - Songs Of The Movies - March 11, 2014

1. Sam Woolf - "Come Together" D

What a wasted opportunity. An absolutely flat performance that was beyond safe. Sam performed with almost no energy and sat for about half the song. It sort of reminded me of a GAP ad or a high school talent show. This song has completely nonsensical lyrics, obviously, so you need to have fun with it and bring the audience along with you.

Reference any of the following for a far superior Idol performance of this song (in order): Carly Smithson (Season 7), Kris Allen (Season 8), Crystal Bowersox (Season 9), Candice Glover (Season 12).

2. Jessica Meuse - "The Sound of Silence" B

Unfortunately, the band and Jessica were not on the same page in an obvious mistake that messed up her performance a bit. I am waiting for a bit more dynamics for Jessica but I still love her voice and this song choice. I wish she had spent the entire song playing her acoustic guitar and really drawing in the listener. She needs to keep her vibrato in check and use it sparingly. A solid performance  but not a particularly memorable one.

3. CJ Harris - "Can't You See" A-

CJ's best performance yet on the Idol stage! I absolutely love this song and the emotion he put into it. The grit in his voice really brought the song lyrics to life in a way the first two performances could not. "Rode that southbound baby, all the way to Georgia baby, till the train run out of tracks" was absolutely gorgeous and gave me hope yet for CJ!

4. Dexter Roberts - "Sweet Home Alabama" B

Dexter doesn't veer from his lane, it's true. And he hasn't done anything that will make him stand out in today's crowded country landscape. And I have no clue what team "Roll Tide Roll" refers to. (Sorry. I assume it's Alabama.) But also let's be real - this was a fun, upbeat, karaoke style performance that definitely engaged the crowd.

5. Ben Briley - "Bennie and the Jets" D

This veered quickly into a very unpleasant sound. Pretty much from the first note. It came off very lounge lizard, which I will admit fits the song, but it clearly didn't work. It was awkward and a poor fit for Ben from the start. Not sure who was worse this week, Ben or Sam.

6. Majesty Rose - "Let It Go" D+

The parts of the song that were delivered in a breathy, whispery tone fell obviously flat. The high notes were way out of Majesty's range. This would have worked beautifully if she had tried to strip it down and play it in a quiet manner on her guitar. Taking such a popular song that has become so iconic with Idina Menzel and performing it in such a terrible manner clearly hurt her in the votes.

7. Caleb Johnson - "Skyfall" A

The most dynamic performance so far of the show! This was an unexpected choice for Caleb and was not at all predictable. The backup singers are what prevented me from giving this performance an A+ - they sounded so canned and cheesy and drew my attention away from Caleb's amazing voice. (Every time I listen to it, they irritate me more and more.) He is the one to watch in this competition. He is a unique singer with the charisma and dynamics to go the distance.

8. MK Nobilette - "To Make You Feel My Love" A-

This was so achingly gorgeous. Finally, MK reached through and made me, as the song title goes, actually feel the lyrics she was singing about. Understated and beautiful - and the first performance I truly loved from MK.

9. Alex Preston - "Falling Slowly" A/A-

Alex is a clear dark horse in this competition. As soon as his performance ended, I wanted to watch it again. There is something oddly compelling about him. He has a voice that is perfect in the quirky landscape of radio these days and could break through with an unexpected hit a la A Great Big World. There was a lot of talk online about how Alex should not have touched a song that Kris Allen covered so beautifully on the Idol stage just 5 years ago. However, I argue that while Kris made it a hopeful anthem, Alex brought something a bit more tortured to it. This is exemplified by Alex's stylistic choice not to end on a big glory note, but a soft fade. So gorgeous.

10. Jena Irene - "Decode" A+

This girl is fierce. She is the proverbial force to be reckoned with. This performance fit the song perfectly - ethereal, haunting, moody, and powerful. I am so impressed. Just do yourself a favor and watch her version of the Paramore song.

11. Malaya Watson - "I Am Changing" B-

Malaya will never be my favorite contestant - she shouts her way through pretty much every song, doesn't strike me as more than a high school drama club member, and doesn't make much of an impression on me. She brought a needed level of sass to the song and I have to give her points for not picking any of the more obvious songs from Dreamgirls. Malaya needs to learn that expressing emotion musically doesn't mean shouting the song or hamming it up, but really connecting to the lyrics.

Best of the night: Jena
Worst of the night: Sam or Ben

Thursday, March 6, 2014

American Idol 13: Top 12 - March 6, 2014

Top 13 Week - "Home" - March 6, 2014

The theme this week is "Home". Ben Briley joked that his family misinterpreted the theme to mean they should go home (hilarious), but I'm glad either way to see a new theme week on American Idol that doesn't have to do with the 1940's.

1. Jena Irene - "Suddenly I See" B/B-

This has always been sort of a snoozer of a song, the kind of song played during a television show in a non-crucial scene. The producers clearly decide to punch this up using a giant background screen with bizarre graphics, which only serves as a giant (literally) distraction. Jena makes some interesting choices with the song. Her voice is so unique and dark that it seems ill-suited to a pedestrian sort of song of this kind. The chorus in particular was a bit rough. The arrangement didn't quite work for her but I LOVE her voice. Wish this performance had been a bit more energetic considering the song choice.

2. Alex Preston - "I Don't Wanna Be" B

I love how confident Alex is with his guitar - he is clearly a talented musician and it is apparent to anyone watching. Many of these contestants use their guitars as a crutch, strumming it a few times and never really making an impact. Alex is a true musician; it's in his blood and I love that Keith Urban recognizes that. I would have loved to see a different song choice from Alex here, but I think he came up with a really funky arrangement for it that made it stand out from the original. Not comparable to his phenomenal performance last week of "Volcano".

3. Jessica Meuse - "White Flag" B-

The third pedestrian song choice out of three songs so far. That said, Jessica always draws you in with each performance. She is captivating in a way I can't put my finger on - maybe it's her real-world weary charm, the edge of her voice - both nasally and intense at the same time. I was expecting a bit more from her this week after her knock-you-down performance of "The Crow & The Butterfly" last week. Those qualities were missing from this performance and I couldn't tell whether it was the dreary song choice or her performance of it. But I continue to be interested by her and I think she'll be around again next week. 

4. Dexter Roberts - "Lucky Man" A

By far the best performance of the entire episode! I really felt his passion here and every. single. word. of this song. It was the perfect song choice for Dexter and his rendition of it would fit in well at country radio, without a doubt. "Emotionally perfect" as J. Lo would say. If he plays his cards right, and works with the correct singer-songwriters, he could make a name for himself in Nashville.

5. Emily Piriz - "Let's Get Loud" B

Finally a true uptempo song! It's nice for variety at least, although uptempo songs rarely seem to work on singing competitions such as this. Fascinatingly this is the condundrum that American Idol finds itself in every season: ballads and midtempos seem to be a thing of a past but they play well to the increasingly older audience of the show. This sets up the contestants for almost inevitable failure as they can't bank on the ballads that made them popular on the show to succeed in today's marketplace. (See: Jessica Sanchez, who was a gorgeous singer of ballads in Season 11 and even worked creative, haunting arrangements into midtempos like "Sweet Dreams" by Beyonce. Sadly her uptempo single "Tonight" (featuring Ne-Yo) went nowhere on the charts, despite being extremely catchy and the kind of song that would be perfect on the radio today.) Back to Emily - she delivers the song well although Harry is right that she hides by the musicians (who seem uninterested in interacting with her) instead of engaging the crowd more.

6. Caleb Johnson - "Working Man" A-

Caleb is the real deal here. Even though I don't love the band Rush, I loved that he picked a song by them - really indicating his depth of musical knowledge and indicating to me who he is as a singer and musician.  I was watching the show with my dog and when Caleb came on the stage, she looked up and at the TV. That's the best description I can give - he's the kind of singer that instantly catches your attention with his voice.

7. MK Nobilette - "Drops Of Jupiter" C

Something seemed off about this performance from the start. There was something vaguely unpleasasnt and amateurish about her voice throughout the whole song - it seemed like she was never quite lined up to the music. I wanted to like this so much more than I did, but then again it's another song I never really wanted to hear on American Idol like most of the ones I've heard tonight.

8. CJ Harris - "Waiting On The World To Change" B

Miles better than his version of "Radio" last week, but I'm not sure that CJ will really stand out in this competition. He seemed destined to finish in the middle of the pack, maybe 9th place? I just don't see him as a star. I do think that he infused this song with some passion which was definitely lacking in some other contestants. 

9. Sam Woolf - "Just One" B-/C+

Sam is pretty. And that's sort of all that comes to mind when I think about him. He's the sort of pretty, polished contestant that hasn't made any impact on me so far. He has "perfect pitch", or so I've read. Is he too perfect to be a popstar? I agreed with Harry here that Sam has so far been very "one-note", not demonstrating the ability to stick in viewer's minds after the show. I feel as though Sam is coasting on his way to a "shock boot" as he hasn't really done anything of note yet.

10. Malaya Watson - "Take Me To The King" B+

Malaya totally and completely saved herself from elimination with this performance. She started at the piano and absolutely drew me in to really try to feel all the emotion of it. I have to say that this was one of the most interesting songs of the night where Sam and CJ and MK had just performed at a flat level that wasn't completely off the rails but also not at all memorable. The end of the song was horribly unpleasant and sharp as she pushed beyond her voice's ability but I'll cut her some slack here as she MAJORLY improved from last week. By far the most unique song choice of the night!

11. Ben Briley - "Turning Home" B-

I was really listening hard to each lyric of this song to the point where I didn't want to hear only a truncated version of it. I so want to like Ben, but his voice is just a little too nasal for my taste. That said, he did himself a huge favor with this song choice tonight.

12. Majesty Rose - "Fix You" B

This started out a bit shaky but her voice is completely sublime and I don't know that this performance really showcased her to her entire potential. (Also like the majority of the songs the contestants sang tonight, I've never actually liked this song. It just sounds condescending and trite.) The big notes got away from her here and didn't leave me with the best final impression but I am still a fan of hers and I wouldn't be surprised if she won this whole thing.

Best of the night: Dexter
Worst of the night: MK