Let’s focus first on the good news tonight.
All nine singers did well tonight. Nobody bombed out. That’s first this season.
The downside: Nobody really gave us that “oh wow!” moment. The closest was Caleb Johnson and even then, it was not as bracing as Adam Lambert or Chris Daughtry at their best.
Then again, this year’s crew in general hasn’t given us any real “Summertime” feeling. That’s a problem. We’ve heard plenty of good, some very good, not a lot of amazing.
Here are some factors helping them: the weakest links are gone and the band theme was wide open enough to give each singer songs they can feel comfortable with. Thirdly, many are finally getting the hang of working the cameras, the stage and the crowd. And having band close by (as opposed to tucked in the back) can’t do anything but help the singers feel support.
Best of the night? Not surprisingly in a band challenge, Caleb rose to the occasion. His front-runner status remains. I also enjoyed C.J.’s performance. He felt at ease and I felt at ease.
It gets a little fuzzier after them because everyone else did decent to good.
So who goes home? Majesty Rose has been riding the bottom a lot so she’s in trouble again since her performance, while good, wasn’t exceptional. Malaya Watson is vulnerable, too. She has trended toward the bottom as well. Dexter Roberts was solid, too, which may make his fans complacent, without getting anyone excited. So my guess: Majesty. I think Malaya’s song choice might inspire more votes than Majesty’s.
My rankings of the nine singers. 1. Caleb. 2. C.J. 3. Alex 4. Sam 5. Malaya 6. Majesty 7. Jena 8. Jessica 9. Dexter
The singers received advice from Fall Out Boy, a band that has had a string of hits over the past decade. Caleb was especially into asking them questions.
Before the competition performances, the nine singers did a group medley of rock songs. (With a 30-minute results show tomorrow for the first time in eight years and only nine performances stretched out over two hours, it made sense to shoehorn it in tonight.)
Alex sounded off key and kind of weak in his opening of Coldplay‘s “Clocks.” Sam was better. Majesty’s voice didn’t resonate above the band. On the Rolling Stones‘ “Satisfaction,” Dexter was dull. Jessica and CJ played off each other better and sounded better, too. In Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,” Jena didn’t light’em up, Caleb rocked it (of course) and Malaya looked like a hyperactive kid in need of Ritalin.
Another observation: the judges are providing good advice, so good you wish they could actually coach these kids. J. Lo even offered good advice and is acting far more measured than she did seasons 10 and 11. I was impressed that she pointed out (rightly) that Sam needed to connect more emotionally with his song. And the joking between Keith and HCJ is not mean-spirited -just funny. When HCJ was trying to get folks to replicate a “smattering” of applause, Keith cracked, “now that sounds like your concert.” HCJ’s response: “What’s 40 feet long and has eight teeth? The front row of a Keith Urban concert.”
First up: Alex Preston (“Don’t Speak” No Doubt) – He totally Alex-ized this No Doubt hit. It has almost a lounge feel despite a faster pace than the original. For some reason, I liked it more than the judges. I bought what he was peddling. Keith would like him to give more edge in the vocal delivery. J. Lo said it lacked energy. HCJ suggests he needs to move around more on stage. Grade: A-minus/B-plus’
Second up: Majesty Rose (“Shake It Out” Florence and the Machine) – She had some pitch problems during the chorus but otherwise, she pulled this song off with confidence. It’s a very difficult song to pull off because the verses are kind of amorphous and not terribly melodic. But she did a solid job. HCJ said she’s so diverse, it makes it hard for fans to grasp on to her, contributing to her falling to the bottom three twice. He said she’s close to being a performer but isn’t quite there. Grade: B-plus
Dexter Roberts (“Boondocks” Little Big Town) – This song fits into his vocal stylings and he certainly knows the lyrics. And he is always more comfortable with a guitar. This was his best live performance to date. HCJ said it sounded too generic and his song picks are too anthemic. That has been his problem since day one. Keith said if Little Big Town hadn’t recorded it and he did, it could have been a hit anyway. Still, he wants to see another side of Dexter. Grade: B/B-plus
Malaya Watson (“The Long and Winding Road” The Beatles) – She is making the most distracting arm movements that seem oddly unnatural. Otherwise, a very good vocal performance with a touch of soul. Keith said that song showed her spirit. HCJ said she’s consistently improving. Grade: B-plus/B
Sam Woolf (“Hey There Delilah” Plain White T’s) – Sam is lite rock all the way. And Plain White T’s are light rock in that Goo Goo Dolls vein. This is an insanely pretty song sung by a pretty boy. It highlights his pretty voice very well, too. He is improving his stage presence, looking a wee bit more at ease each week. I do wish he would do just something a little extra vocally to make it stand out a bit more. J Lo said he needs to connect a little more, that he was singing to his Delilah. Keith said to stop thinking of each note and make them more communicative. “Be looser with you voice. It’s there for you. Glide around those words.” Grade: B-plus
Jessica Meuse (“Rhiannon” Fleetwood Mac) – I think the problem I’ve had with her besides pitch issues in the past is her lack of warmth. Despite millions of hours working bars, that hasn’t translated well to the “Idol” stage. She is hardly there yet tonight but that was a very passable version of “Rhiannon.” Almost pleasant. HCJ said he saw a different side of her and felt focused. Keith said she has to learn to be comfortable without an instrument. J Lo said she has to bring more performance beyond the voice. Grade: B/B-plus
C.J. Harris (“If It Hadn’t Been For Love” Steeldrivers) – He got to pick a song in his wheelhouse. Bluesy, mid-tempo without a lot of range but plenty of emotion. I like the hat. It worked for him. “A clever choice,” Keith said. “It allowed you to tap into the soulful side of you.. Be careful you don’t confuse the sound of expressing with the feeling of expressing. It’s easy to make our voices sound like we’re expressing something. Passion, this or that. It has to come inside and out with the voice. If you do that, the response will be very different.” HCJ: “Work on your pitch.” Grade: B-plus
Caleb Johnson (“Dazed and Confused” Led Zeppelin) – He is perfect to front a rock band and dominated the stage. He felt comfortable, brought it home and as J. Lo said, he brought some sultriness to it a la Robert Plant. And vocally, he was in the pocket. Grade: A-minus/A
Jena Irene (“Bring Me to Life” Evanescence”) – Caleb was a tough act to follow. She did a respectable cover version of that song. I do agree with J. Lo: it should have been messier. She needed to show even more intensity, more grit. Grade: B-plus