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Rodney Ho

‘American Idol’ top 11 performance recap

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Top 11

AMERICAN IDOL XIII: Top 11: L-R Back Row: Jessica Meuse, Dexter Roberts, Ben Briley, Alex Preston, L-R Middle Row: Malaya Watson, Sam Woolf, Caleb Johnson, MK Nobillette, C.J. Harris, L-R Front Row: Majesty Rose and Jena Irene on AMERICAN IDOL XIII airing Thursday, March 6 (8:00-9:00 PM ET / PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright 2014 / FOX Broadcasting.

Our beloved Deirdre linked to TV Line’s “Reality Check” with Melinda Doolittle (season 6) and the incomparable Michael Slezak where they discuss what we are seeing: great judging, bad mentoring.

Maybe “Idol” should have made Harry Connick Jr. the full-time mentor and just find someone else as the judge. (No Randy Jackson, please!).

However charming he is on the dais, these kids really need help on stage. They seem to be having trouble with song choice, arrangements, keys, you name it. Yet I still feel like there’s enough talent there to salvage the season.  They noted how Connick said he wishes in some ways he COULD mentor the contestants behind the scenes, rather than just have a few seconds to critique them in front of the world. He clearly cares enough that he would and could spend plenty of time with them maximizing their performances and as Slezak said, he was in effect throwing shade at Jackson for his mentoring (or lack thereof.). That seems to be a reasonable conjecture given how little mentoring we’ve actually seen from said Jackson.

Anyway, the top 11 did generally do better tonight picking songs from films, giving us some hope this group isn’t hopeless. And the judges (especially Keith this week for Jessica) provided some good advice.

The three best performances: Caleb Johnson pulled back on his cliche rock thing and did an intense Adele song intensely. Jena Irene took a tough song and brought it home. C.J. Harris has been underwhelming for weeks but finally found his comfort zone with Marshall Tucker. Was someone (gasp!) mentoring him properly?

There was only a single disastrous performance: Ben Briley’s perplexing rendition of a lounge singer. It may even place him in the bottom three.  But will he go home for it? Tough call. He should go home, I fathom.

None of the ladies did anything so awful to deserve missing the tour though several were just so so. Majesty Rose has been a favorite for weeks so a subpar performance shouldn’t drop her to the bottom. MK Nobillette is just waiting for her elimination at some point. Often times, when someone like that does a passable job, that virtually guarantees their trip home because their few fans will get complacent. Jessica Meuse disappointed yet again. When she should have hit a home run on a fat fastball, she merely rapped a single.

I don’t know if Malaya Watson being placed in the pimp spot will prevent her from being in the bottom three. Sam Woolf still hasn’t really found his footing on the live stage but he is getting better and progress is better than regression. Dexter Roberts was merely adequate with a crowd pleaser which Harry Connick Jr. noted is probably good enough for him. Alex Preston did his quirky  singer-songwriter thing again and did it well.

So my bottom three are Malaya, MK and Ben. I predict MK will go home.

My rank of the 11: 1. C.J. 2. Caleb 3. Jena 4. Alex 5. Sam 6. MK 7. Majesty 8. Malaya 9. Dexter 10. Jessica 11. Ben

Random trivia: season 8 winner Kris Allen sang three of tonight’s songs on “Idol”: “Come Together,” “Make You Feel My Love” and “Falling Slowly.”

Here are quick takes on the performances, in order:

Sam Woolf (“Come Together” Beatles from “Across the Universe”) – He has been very stiff so he goes for a more upbeat song and he sounds great. He is still stiff, with some improvement. Both Keith and J. Lo note the improvement. She wishes he had put more bite into it. HCJ said it was an average performance that was “pretty good.” Grade: B/B-plus

Jessica Meuse (“Sounds of Silence” Simon & Garfunkel from “The Graduate”) – She has sung this song a million times so she should be able to rock it. I think she is trying to be solemn but looks oddly disconnected. It’s a passable vocal but not a bracing performance like it could be. Something is missing, unfortunately. J. Lo said it should be the perfect song for her moodwise but felt something wasn’t right. HCJ blamed the band as “off.” Keith says in small joints you have to sing close to the mic but here she has to use the dynamics of the room better. “You’re in a different environment,” he says. Grade: B/B-minus

C.J. Harris (“Can’t You See” Marshall Tucker Band from “Blow”) – He finally found a song that really highlights his voice. It’s bluesy and soulful and he finally looks comfortable on the big stage. He got Keith Urban to give him a proper standing ovation. HCJ said he placed himself back to the “forefront” of this competition. Keith said “it was killer… I know exactly who you are.” Grade: A

Dexter Roberts (“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd) – He sings it with a pleasant demeanor and even threw in “roll Tide roll.” Again, he is an awesome bar band singer. As for “Idol”? Unmemorable.  Yet again, Keith said he needs to make it sound more distinctive. HCJ said his objective is to win the competition and he said it was good but “you have to be bigger than that song.” He was not bigger than that song. Grade: B

Ben Briley (“Bennie and the Jets” Elton John from “27 Dresses”) – I never particularly liked this song. He is singing this like a lounge singer. What is up with that? Bizarro! J. Lo contorted herself not to be too insulting but you could tell she wasn’t buying it. HCJ said you have to pound the piano but it felt like a lackadaisical walk through the song and had no purpose. “Pointless,” he said. Grade: C

Majesty Rose (“Let It Go” Idina Mendez “Frozen”) – I know this is a huge song from “Frozen” but having not seen “Frozen” and not having young kids, I’m not terribly familiar. It seems to have standard Disney tropes. I hated her dress but her performance seemed very respectful.  She seems to be swallowed up by the song for some reason. HCJ said she is spreading herself stylistically thin. But tonight, she did a good job. Keith said it’s a tough song that was written for her but felt she attacked it too much. Grade: B/B-plus

Caleb Johnson (“Skyfall” Adele from “Skyfall”) – He picked a song I thought Majesty would have sung. But it was smart. It took him away from rock but he brought strength and confidence and resonance to the song that was not an imitation of Adele. Keith said it wasn’t predictable but dependable. “An amazing choice and great restrained performance. Great power.” HCJ said he is proof he thinks this is the best top 13 ever. (I don’t but alas…) Grade: A/A-minus

MK Nobillette (“Make You Feel My Love” Bob Dylan/Billy Joel/Garth Brooks) – That was the best we’ve heard in awhile. I tried not to watch her because honestly, seeing her blank face kind of ruins the effect. J. Lo compared her to k.d. Lang. HCJ says she has star quality when she focuses it and owns it. He wishes she had cut the runs by 50-75 percent. Keith says she looks like a star. Grade: B-plus

Alex Preston (“Falling Slowly” Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova from “Once”) – He is like the next lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls. Very emotive but doesn’t over do it. HCJ says he likes that Preston did it simply and elegantly. Keith: It held his attention. “Raw fragility” in the most complimentary way. “Authenticity” and “artistry” bonus points. J. Lo said it was perfect. Grade: B-plus

Jena Irene Asciutto (“Decode” Paramore from “Twilight”) – I am not familiar with this song, proving how out of that teen demo I’m not in anymore since I’ve never seen “Twilight.” But honestly, I liked it. It felt like she was in her element. She brought a lot of “ferocity” to it, as Keith said. HCJ said it was different and just as good as the original. Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Malaya Watson in the pimp spot! (“I Am Changing” Beyonce from “Dreamgirls”) – She has the tone and the volume but lacks the depth in her voice.. I think she simply isn’t ready for primetime. I would love to hear her in five years. This song proves that she is on the right path but she’s not there yet. Keith said she knows songs that play to her strengths. He feels she can rein it in at times and gets caught up. Grade: B/B-plus

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