Posted: 7:22 pm Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
By Rodney Ho
Caleb Johnson defeated Jena Irene to be the 13th “American Idol” in what I consider a mild upset.
Caleb looks utterly shocked. “This is crazy,” he said.
I called this one wrong. I predicted Jena.
Caleb, who tried out twice before but didn’t get very far, had a distinctive persona from day one: a rocker with elements from the 1970s and 1980s who could have been Meat Loaf’s love child. He already had confidence on stage from day one, fully formed as a performer even without coaching from “Idol.” He liked it loud and proud and had the voice to carry it forward. (His ability to go subtle? Not so great.)
Whether he has any relevance in 2014 is the big question for the record label. Odds he will have a radio hit? Slim.
Jena Irene was a wild-card entry who didn’t seem terribly singular at first. She appeared to be better at the piano than just standing on stage. Then her confidence grew and she showed her versatility. After an early appearance in the bottom three, she found her voice and built a fan base. She also took the judges’ advice and worked hard to improve her stage presence. Her ability to say words recognizable to human beings was a challenge but it added to the distinctive quality of her singing.
She is young and could be packaged with the right music to garner a pop hit or two.
While I had Caleb as the likely winner for much of the run, near the end I thought Jena had edged him out. But Caleb’s fans came through.
This year, as we all know, will be the quietest “Idol” finale in terms of audience size to date. I expect the “Survivor” finale may beat it. (Heck, last night, a repeat of “The Voice” beat a new edition of “Idol.”)
I was having a late dinner in Nashville (an hour behind) and missed the first hour. So here is my quick takes on hour two. I will update this when I get around to watching hour one though that might not be until later.
Jena Irene/Paramore (“Ain’t It Fun”) – I’m not a huge fan of this song but it shows Jena can work with the big girls. If anything, this does accentuate her weird enunciation issues.
John Legend/Malaya Watson (“All of Me”) – Pretty (overplayed) song. Malaya has clearly blossomed visually, now sans braces. Her vocals were decent but an odd contrast to Legend’s tone.
Alex Preston/ Jason Mraz – Alex loves Jason, who did a great job as a mentor earlier in the season. They meld really well together. Very effective.
Ryan Seacrest/Richard Marx (“Right Here Waiting”) – For the first time in 13 years, Ryan’s family (who all show up on camera) convince him to sing a song from his first concert at the Fabulous Fox Theatre: Richard Marx. Sure, Ryan is not a good singer. He’s pitchy and off key and all that jazz. But he put some effort into it and Marx eventually came out to save him. Marx? Lots of Botox and tanning spray. When told Marx was Ryan’s first concert, Marx cracked, “Glad it wasn’t Bryan Adams.”
The video highlighting the judges’ quirks reminds us how good this panel really was in terms of entertainment. And it’s amazing how J Lo was so much better as a judge between Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. than Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.
Darius Rucker, Dexter Roberts, CJ Harris (“Alright”) – Darius’ voice is so distinctive and cool. CJ and Dexter in comparison? No comparison.
The judges and Randy Jackson (“True Colors”/”You Can Go Your Own Way”) – JLo tried to imitate Cyndi Lauper with mixed results. And she is dressed like she just had done the walk of shame with that frazzled hair. HCJ didn’t sound particularly good but Keith shined.