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