While the theme (“A little bit of country, a little bit rock and roll”) might evoke Donny Osmond, most of the acts tonight felt far more modern, which is a good thing.
There was only one truly disastrous performance and that was CJ Harris’s country song, a theme you’d think he’d excel. But he chose a mid-tempo Zac Brown tune and botched it big time. I think it will cost him votes and kill his shot at making the top 5. Yes, my prediction is simple: CJ goes home tomorrow.
Jena Irene’s “So Small” did nothing for me either but I think as Harry Connick Jr. said, she missed the melody on a song that had virtually no melody in the first place. It was a terrible song choice. She might very well end up in the bottom two but I don’t think she is in any real trouble thanks to a solid “Barracuda” up top.
And while Alex Preston got criticized heavily for his attempt at uptempo with Neon Trees, at least he showed he could do it after relying almost exclusively on slower tunes. And he re-worked Willie Nelson effectively hour two. Plus, Caleb Johnson excelled covering a Carrie Underwood song, go figure, and was in his pocket with the Black Crowes.
Jessica Meuse performed about as well as she has done to date, which is good, though hardly transcendent. Sam Woolf showed major improvement with his Imagine Dragons cover while Shania Twain was a snooze. But I think he did enough to survive.
First hour: rock
Jena Irene (“Barracuda” Heart) – She brings a strong vocal to a fun Heart classic but is a little stiff on stage. Keith said he wanted her to loosen up but she said it was nerves. JLo said to push her vocals just a little bit more. Keith said it played to her “vocal strengths” but still wants her to release more. Grade: B-plus
Sam Woolf (“It’s Time” Imagine Dragons) – He brings great vocal dynamism into a wonderful pop tune. This was one of his stronger performances to date. He’s gaining confidence at just the right time. JLo got goosies and she hasn’t had many this season. HCJ said it was a great song for him and he felt he’s adding layers and blossoming. Keith pointed out two moments: the high note and the last couple of notes. “There’s a thing you tapped into, a gravitas, a weight to it,” he said. Grade: A-minus
CJ Harris (“American Woman” Guess Who) – This is the type of song where being in perfect key doesn’t matter. He brought plenty of verve and personality and it worked just fine. HCJ said he felt it and it was “pretty good.” Keith said he had to think more about the anger in that song. JLo liked his look and said it came together at the end. Grade: B-plus
Alex Preston (“Animal” Neon Trees) – He goes for an uptempo song he normally doesn’t pick. It doesn’t quite work for his voice, especially the bridge, but he does fine during the chorus. I enjoyed it. JLo said it was a good job but expected more. “It was a little bit contained,’ she said. HCJ said he gets a pass in a sense given the type of artist he is. Grade: B-plus
Caleb Johnson (“Sting Me” Black Crowes) – Starts a bit slow but he is totally where he wants to be. He nearly loses his mic at one point midway but gets it back in time. He ends on a big moment, just embracing it and kicking it up a notch. The man just loves the stage! JLo said, “That’s real rock and roll!” Grade: A-minus
Jessica Meuse (“Somebody to Love” Jefferson Airplane) – She does an impressive imitation of Grace Slick. While her body movement doesn’t always match the rhythm, she loosened up enough to make this an engaging performance. HCJ said she presented her voice in the best possible way. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
Second hour: country
Sam Woolf (“You’re Still the One” Shania Twain) – I hate this song. Dull, lame, blah. Sam sings it ably and he even shakes hands with the crowd. He’s trying. But he’s stiff as a board. Eck. “It’s like a lullaby,” said Keith. (Yes, it put me to sleep.) “You’re so cute, it’s crazy,” J. Lo said. HCJ said it sounded too clean. Grade: C-plus/B-minus
Caleb Johnson (“Undo It” Carrie Underwood) – The birthday boy brings the power and the energy, as if this was his own concert. Bravura performance! HCJ said it sounded more forced than his first performance. Grade: A/A-minus
Alex Preston (“Always On My Mind” Willie Nelson) – That was right in his pocket. He hit the melancholy just right while changing the song around to his liking. He adds some interesting complexity to the melody. “You’re an artist and I admire that,” HCJ said. Keith wanted more heartbreak. “I heard it but didn’t feel it,” he said. Grade: A-minus
Jena Irene (“So Small” Carrie Underwood) – She brought a lot of drama to an amorphous song devoid in my mind of any real melody. It wasn’t bad but I don’t particularly like the song. J Lo got goosies. HCJ said the song has so many ornaments and lacks melody. “I didn’t know where you were going,” he said. “The ornaments didn’t necessarily match what was going on underneath you.” Grade: B-minus
CJ Harris (“Whatever It Is’ Zac Brown Band ) I adore this song but man, he just ruined it. He had trouble with the pacing, the key, everything. Terrible. JLo said it missed the mark. HCJ said he needs better song choices. Keith said it works because of the way Zac does it but the melody is too low for him. Grade: D
Jessica Meuse (“Jolene” Dolly Parton) – I thought it was a solid vocal, again, but her lack of facial expression makes it hard for me to really feel the song until the end. HCJ said she delivered it in a strong and convincing way. Keith said it was a good vocal but hated the arrangement. Grade: B/B-plus