AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Viewers' Choices Make Tough Night for IDOL Top-5, Ariana Grande Surprises Finalist (Updated w/ pictures)
Well, now it's time to get serious. American Idol has navigated through a tumultuous Season XIII to get down to a fairly acceptable Top-5 (if you're not ready to get serious yet, check out my fun IDOL pieces on the battle between THE VOICE and IDOL and casting the Top-5 in real and imagined musicals, then come back and get serious.)
Perhaps last week's goodbye to the tonally deficient C.J. Harris has erased my disappointment in the early eliminations of Majesty and Malaya, but for the most part, the five finalists have all shown something that warrants their inclusion.
This week's theme is another first for the show; all of the songs were suggestions made a few weeks back by viewers. How it worked was the producers compiled the suggestions, picked a handful, and presented them to the contestants, who made the final decisions. Coming into the night, I was excited that nearly each contestant picked one song in their wheelhouse and one that required a bit of an artistic stretch. Unfortunately what happened was the songs suggested were mostly upbeat radio hits, and didn't necessarily lend themselves to live performance. So, as with most things IDOL, some of the suggestions resulted in magical moments, while others resulted in me wanting contestants to disappear.
Like we have seen from Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry, and David Cook, this week's guest mentor, Jason Mraz, far exceeded the low mentoring expectations that "full-time" mentor Randy Jackson has given us. Mr. A-Z's specific, actionable suggestions seemed to result in significantly improved performances. If you are unfamiliar with just how musically intelligent Jason is, check out the episode of Daryl Hall's web-series where they play together.
Do you think that FOX and the IDOL Powers That Be will ever get the hint that anybody, literally ANYBODY, would be a better mentor than the Dawgfather?
Ok, now that I am done with my weekly Randy rant, onto the performance reviews (I will be back with pictures as soon as FOX makes them available):
Random Appearance #1: After Alex declared that Zoey Deschannel was his celebrity crush, he seemed very underwhelmed to turn around and see her on stage. Don't forget to check out Fox's New Girl on Fox, Tuesdays on FOX at 9/8 Central on Fox.
"Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood
Three-Word Review: Middling At Best
Like most non-showtunes released post-2004, I was unfamiliar with that song, and as much as I love Alex, I don't feel the need to rush to iTunes to buy it. The sections where he sounded like he was driving over the dividers in the middle of the road and the rapping were cool, but the song itself was uninteresting. Alex was solid as always, but there was nothing remarkable, nor memorable about that performance for me.
"I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith
Three-Word Review: Thought C.J. Left
The always outstanding Caleb seemed to channel the recently departed C.J. at the start of the song and confused "emotional" with "out-of-tune". He seemed extremely uncomfortable with this slowed-down arrangement, and while he killed the money notes, this was the first time that I thought one of Caleb's performances disappointed.
Random Observation #1: I can't be the only one out there that gets super excited for 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY every time IDOL goes to its cheesy split-screen, can I?
Group Performance #3: Jena Irene, Alex Preston, Sam Woolf
"Best Day of My Life" by American Authors
Nine-Word Review: Harmonies Are Cool, but Jena Put Boys to Shame
"Human" by Christina Perri
Three-Word Review: Domo Arigato Jessica
This is a perfect song for Jessica, because in the original video, we aren't sure if Christina Perri is supposed to be human or a robot. That's appropriate, since I cast Jess as a few other-humanly characters in my casting article. From a technical standpoint, I was glad that Jessica controlled her normally fast vibrato and sang the song's extended notes almost exclusively straight-tone. That being said, her voice sounded uncharacteristically thin on this one, so I'm not sure what I felt about it. So far all of the songs have been mixed bags of interesting, but ultimately disappointing elements.
Random Appearance #3: Sam's admitted crush, Broadway baby Ariana Grande, brought out his mic and proved that Sam is just as awkward and uncomfortable as he appears to be.
"Sing" by Ed Sheeran
Three-Word Review: That was Funky?
While Sam promised that he would "get funky for America," this song exemplified why it is tough to sing modern, dance-driven songs on competition shows. Sam did provide a level of his own "relative funk," and he did seem as comfortable as he has been all season, but that just wasn't good enough for the Top-5. Based on the first four performances, I'm ready to scrap the whole "Viewer's Choice" theme from here on out. In fact, everyone else can sing whatever they want the rest of the show!
"My Body" by Young the Giants
Three-Word Review: No Thanks, Randy
Jena used this song to prove that she is a fantastic singer and performer, my favorite of the season. However, I don't think this was the best song choice for her, which was a theme for almost everyone all night. All that aside, my favorite moment of the night was that Randy told Jena that he would sing the first verse standing center stage, and instead she started behind the judges and walked to the stage while singing. Thanks for nothing Dawg.
Random Observation #2: I was already a fan of Ariana Grande, as she was on Broadway in Jason Robert Brown's 13, and she is an incredible live performer, but her reaction to her failed fistbump with Randy made me like her even more.
I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but I do believe that Alex managed to make this song even more depressing than it already was. By slowing down an already slow song, we finally got to see a bit more of his personality, and it made for a really moving, if not unsettling, performance.
"Valerie" by Amy Winehouse
Three-Word Review: Snaps All Around
Jena has continually proven that she is able to shine in just about any musical style the producers throw at her (insert casting article cross-promotion here). In a more low-key, jazzy arrangement of the song, Jena showed that she is definitely this season's most well-rounded finalist. Also, Ricky Minor on the bass brought so much more funk than Sam did earlier.
"How to Save a Life" by The Fray
Three-Word Review: Signs of Potential
This song exactly showed why I think Sam has a recording career, despite his lack of charisma. When he goes up to the top of his chest voice, there is an exceptionally warm, bright quality. I've said before those notes show why he should be a contender this season; I'm just not sure that it's enough this late in the game.
"Summertime Sadness" by Lana del Rey
Three-Word Review: Really Nice Effort
The song began with an uncharacteristically dramatic pose from Jessica in a striking red dress, showing a whole lot of leg. However, the song never rose to that intense level, but it did come surprisingly close. I regularly knock Jessica for being unable to translate her vocal emotion to the other aspects of her performance. However, this song was the best I have seen from her in that regard. She wasn't giving us Kelly Clarkson levels of connection, but it was heartening to see her obvious attempts during an already strong vocal performance.
"Still of the Night" by Whitesnake
Three-Word Review: Best of Night
Despite his awesome Adele, Aretha Franklin, and Lady Gaga covers, THIS is exactly what Caleb needs to be doing. He is so perfect in the 70s-80s head-banging genre, I almost expected Tawny Kitaen to jump up on stage and writhe around on the judge's table. I don't think I have ever seen judges up and dancing mid-performance like that either. JLo looked like she was ready to get down and nasty on a dance floor somewhere during that song.
Should Be In Danger
Alex Preston (ouch, that was hard to type)
Should Be Eliminated
Best of the Night
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of the evening's performances? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt.