Posted: 5:31 pm Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
By Rodney Ho
Did I rev up Sam Woolf too much this past week? Of course I did. There was no way he’d be able to meet the lofty expectations I created.
And worse yet, he picked a Matchbox Twenty tune. Serious snoozer of a song pick.
Otherwise, it was a hit or miss show, as first nights are wont to be.
Who rose to the occasion? Favorites Jessica Meuse, Majesty Rose and Caleb Johnson all met or exceeded my expectations. Alex Preston, another one folks seem to like, did just fine. Jena Irene was all over the place but I liked it.
In the middle were MK Nobilette, C.J. Harris and the two country guys, Dexter Roberts and Ben Briley. Emily Piriz was pleasant but forgettable. Ditto with Sam.
Malaya Watson was a disaster. Kristen O’Connor was only marginally better. I predicted before tonight’s show that Kristen could go home. I hold to that. She will go home. If someone else is in the bottom three, I’d say Dexter might end up in the bottom for not being terribly memorable.
I rank them 1. Majesty 2. Jessica 3. Caleb 4. Alex 5. Jena 6. Emily 7. Sam 8. Ben 9. MK 10. CJ 11. Dexter 12. Kristen 13. Malaya
The “Idol” producers used Randy Jackson to throw in mostly meaningless patter moments before the start of each song. The “tell us in 20 seconds five things about yourself” bit has been done before but it’s not a bad way to give the singers a chance to show personality in a very short period of time. .
The theme tonight is a song that represents them.
First up: Dexter Roberts (Chris Young “Aw Naw”) He’s a good bar band singer, not much more. It’s a pretty decent arrangement. He had okay energy. Nothing special. Keith: “You’re such a likable guy. That was an excellent cover version of that song.” J. Lo didn’t feel it was distinctive enough. HCJ felt it was out of tune and may be the ear monitor. “Use that personality more.” Grade: B
Second: Malaya Watson (“Runaway Baby” Bruno Mars) Wow. This song doesn’t match up to her voice at all. She sounds rushed and her vocals feel amateurish. I could have sworn I saw HCJ wince at one point. J. Lo likes her stage performance but critiqued her vocals. HCJ said she seemed nervous. Keith likes her energy but has to be in the song, not “floating around it.” Grade: C-minus
Third: Kristen O’Connor (“Beautiful Disaster” Kelly Clarkson) – She missed a lot of notes, especially in the middle. It felt very pageant like. She hits some stronger notes near the end but it was not terribly good. HCJ felt she was way out of tune and it may have been an issue with the ear bud and the stage. Keith said she showed her range. Grade: C-plus
Fourth: Ben Briley (“Folsom Prison Blues” Johnny Cash) – He did an aggressive, passable version of that song and showed a wee bit personality. Keith said it was “particularly brisk” and said don’t sacrifice artistry vs. having fun. J. Lo liked the tempo as a dancer. HCJ liked the uptempo and was the best performance of the night. Grade: B/B-plus
Fifth up: C.J. Harris (“Radio” Darius Rucker) – He has a fine personality and showed confidence. The vocals were just so so. As someone on my blog noted, it was a very safe song choice. HCJ said he has a cry in his voice and that song did not showcase that. (I agree.) Grade: B
Sixth up: MK Nobilette (“Satisfaction” Allen Stone) – She ups the energy and vocally, she isn’t half bad. Again, she has zero stage presence and moves around like a second-rate Justin Bieber. (Ditch the backwards ball cap) HCJ suggests she move around a bit more. Keith said there were patches of “deer in the headlight.” Grade: B/B-minus
Seventh up: Majesty Rose (“Tightrope” Janelle Monae) – She sounded solid and moved around well. She had the first really good performance tonight. HCJ likes the mystery and how her mystery will unravel. Grade: A-minus
Eighth up: Jena Irene Ascuitto (“The Scientist” Coldplay) – It sounded nothing like Coldplay but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed her performance. She has a really interesting pop voice. HCJ said she makes “interesting” choices and her “melodic choices drive the performance.” Keith noted the pitchiness but once she leaned into the song, she had it. Grade: B/B-plus
Ninth up: Alex Preston (“Beautiful Mess” Jason Mraz) – I enjoyed this. Very coffee house but very effective. HCJ thought it was too “inward” but I felt it. Grade: A-minus/B-plus
Tenth up :Jessica Meuse (“The Crow and the Buttefly” Shinedown) – The bluesy rock thing works for her. She has a dirty voice, one with lots of texture. And she herself is someone clearly with demons inside her. So this dark tune works. J. Lo gets her first “goosies’ but suggests she relax physically. Grade: A-minus/A
Eleventh up: Emily Piriz (“Glitter in the Air’ Pink) – She did a lovely, pleasant version but I won’t remember it the next day. Fine, but forgettable. HCJ felt she sang the melody well and did exactly what she was supposed to do. Keith said it was one his favorite vocals of the night. Grade: B/B-plus
Twelfth up: Sam Woolf (“Unwell” Matchbox Twenty) – He does a clean version, too clean. It’s a cover and not much more. It’s a basic, boring mid-tempo song to boot. HCJ wants it edgier. J. Lo said he needs more confidence and loosen up. Grade: B
Pimp spot: Caleb Johnson (“Pressure and Time” Rival Sons) – He amps up the energy 50 times after Sam and he has no problem blowing the house out. Keith said he needs to put a twist on it. J. Lo said he is ready for the rock lifestyle. HCJ said it’s great to hear rock and roll on “Idol” and he could replace the Rival Sons lead singer. Grade: A-minus
And we have a big change: folks can vote right after each performance and get credit via Google. MJ has a nice explanation here on how it will work:
Vote on Google Search: If you have a valid Google account, you can vote via Google Search starting on Wednesday, February 26th, when the final contestants (“Finalists”) first perform. Simply go to Google, search “American Idol” or “Idol.” This search will prompt the Google Voting Module to appear with the images of the Finalists. Before being able to vote, you must first log in to the module with a valid Google account. If you do not already have a Google account, you will need to create one before being able to vote using Google Search. Once successfully logged in, you may select the Finalist(s) you wish to vote for and submit no more than 50 votes per Finalist per Google account ID per Voting Show.
Google is trying to get folks to use Google +. Haha. Good luck with that.
A new angle: once a contestant gets a phone number or text number assigned to them, it stays the same throughout the competition. That way, you can save it and use it over and over again down the road. Smart move.
About the Author
I'm the media writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and ajc.com. I've been following radio since 2001, TV since 2005. I cover everything from the local radio and TV news scene to shows shot in Atlanta ("The Walking Dead," "Real Housewives of Atlanta") to networks based here (CNN, TBS, Up, Weather Channel) to celebrities who visit town.