Things started fairly well on Tuesday's "American Idol," with decent performances from Majesty Rose and Kristen O'Connor. Then, the decline began. By the end, the judges were overpraising the emotional-but-unremarkable MK Nobilette and celebrating Malaya Watson's admirably personality-heavy performance just to make it seem like the night hadn't become a disaster.
Has the pendulum swung back in favor of the "Idol" men? We'll find out on Wednesday night when 10 members of the Top 15 perform.
I'm assuming that Ben Briley *has* to perform, otherwise the judges are telling America, "Yo. Thanks for voting. We don't really care."
The question becomes how many White Guys With Guitars the judges will select to perform. If Ben is already going, for example, there's really no chance that Casey Thrasher, Alex Preston and Dexter Roberts are ALL gonna go. Is there? And when it comes to providing kibble for the show's young female core, could Spencer Lloyd, Briston Miller and Sam Woolf all get chances? Really?
Let's find out!
8:00 p.m. ET. According to Ryan Seacrest, it was an "incredible" evening of performances. This doesn't line up with the reality that I experienced, but I'm glad Ryan thought so.
8:02 p.m. Nope. Not convincing me. Sorry, clip package.
8:04 p.m. Sorry, Casey fan. Your sign? It's upside down.
8:05 p.m. Our judges! Is that a pant-suit J-Lo is wearing? She really didn't want Ryan to leer at her tonight. I mean, she still looks great. But nobody's going to say anything inappropriate.
8:06 p.m. Keith Urban says that it was "extremely" difficult to choose the 10 guys to perform tonight. The decision was made in J-Lo's dressing room. J-Lo says that they have a "new breed" of singer and musician. Harry Connick Jr. says that it's hard to be properly prepared for the "Idol" spotlight, but hopefully the guys learned how to stay in their lane.
8:09 p.m. Randy Jackson is sitting with the Girls in the crowd. Our first guy singing tonight is...
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: "Stay With Me"
My Take: Caleb is this season's weird wildcard, because he's a frontman, not a White Guy With Guitar, but he's still gotta get lumped in with Dexter, Caleb, Ben and Alex in that the young girls aren't going to vote for him unless he's really good. I mean, he's basically Josh "Burrito Josh" Krajcik from "X Factor" Season 1, which I mean as an absolute compliment. He's all ready to front any '70s/'80s/'90s cover band you want him for. He's not in any way suited to win "American Idol," but I figure I'm gonna utterly enjoy every vocal he does. He does a small stadium performance on the "Idol" stage. The vocals are great. He prowls with authority. And it's a total hoot to watch. I would never want to produce a new album for Caleb, but I hope he sticks around for a while. Caleb is the rabbit. Caleb is the hype man. He could start every single show and raise the energy, before we figure out who this season's actual winner is.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "That was killer, dude," Keith says. "That was some real rock star ish right there," J-Lo says, telling Caleb this was his time. "It's gonna be tough for the guys following you," Harry says.
Singer: CJ HARRIS
My Take: CJ Harris is my favorite wrinkle, because he's not a White Guy With Guitar, but he's a country-soul singer and he's prone to playing the guitar. Chris Daughtry wanted him to ditch the guitar, but no dice. That is a goofy, goofy hat that CJ is wearing, especially when combined with the earpiece. However, I love the rasp and emotion in CJ's voice and I like the sense that he's actually playing the guitar. Unlike Caleb, I know what a CJ Harris album would sound like. Based on his last two song choices? It would sound like a Ray Lamontagne album! Really that's a second straight very good performance to start the show. I'm not sure any of the girls last night really topped either of these show-openers.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "When you're singing you make me feel so many things," J-Lo coos. Harry cautions CJ on his intonation and his tendency to sing sharp, though he suggests that maybe he's doing it on purpose. "You've got this great mix of Dobie Gray and Jonny Lang," Keith raves. CJ's on medication after having a root canal. Well that's fun.
Singer: EMMANUEL ZIDOR
Song: "The Best of My Love"
My Take: Emmanuel was always going to be a polarizing contestant and this song is practically begging for disaster. Sign. You didn't want to get the Luther Vandross standout performance out of the way early? At least that would have accentuated your vocals. This accentuates? Playfulness? Theatricality? Sharpness? There are some rough, rough notes here, but I guess we're just supposed to be satisfied that Emmanuel is strutting like a peacock and entertaining CJ and Caleb. Emmanuel has a better voice than that.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry praises his "happy, infectious energy," but he says that it started to get a little bit out of control. No. It was WAY more than "a little bit" out of control. "You're a great singer, so don't forget to sing," Harry says. "I agree with you," Keith says, earning a hug from Harry. Keith says that because of adrenaline, Emmanuel was singing above the notes the entire time. I absolutely love the real and substantive critiques. "Emmanuel, I Zidor you," J-Lo says. Heh. J-Lo hated the song choice and asks Emmanuel to sing "I'm Going Down." That was a total cheat. I'm calling shenanigans on that, Jennifer. If Emmanuel wanted people to vote for him, maybe he should have chosen a better song. Emmanuel gives our first shoutout to Vonzell Solomon in at least seven or eight years.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
My Take: Nice. A little vintage David Gray. And Sam is bound and determined to stick with his guitar. He's got a limited arrangement, but you sense he's probably prefer now backing at all. I'm blaming Rickey Minor for a lot of this. The band and Sam just aren't on the same page at all and it takes to the first chorus before Sam is able to get locked in. Maybe J-Lo will give Sam a mulligan performance as well? Because when Sam gets on, he sounds very good. I just can't shake the stumbling opening. We're assuming teenage girls will like Sam. He only showed some of his potential there, though.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "The people like you, Sam," Keith says, calling his voice "money." "You such a sweet quality to you," J-Lo says. She refers to his "perfect pitch." Hmmm. that's not what I heard. Harry says that he wants Sam to gain more confidence, acknowledging the problems at the beginning.
Singer: GEORGE LOVETT
My Take: Like George Lovett, I'm a big Joshua Ledet fan. But those are big shoes to fill. Bruno Mars also has big shoes to fill, particularly when it comes to performance. I have no clue what George was coached to do in terms of stagecraft, but it's mostly rocking back and forth and, at one point, gesturing in the direction of the sky. George is also weirdly fixated on a single point in the crowd and his connection is only with that point and nothing else. I think he's doing some occasional good things with parts of his vocals, but I'm so distracted by how uncomfortable he looked up there. He's intense to a fault. I feel like George and Emmanuel have both made it too easy for America not to vote for them.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo liked George's energy, but she wants him to control his runs a bit better, saying that the excessive runs took away from the emotions. Substantive criticism! Harry thinks that George was too passionate and the performance spun out of control. Keith thinks song choice will be crucial for George going forward and that that wasn't the right song. Substantive and apt criticisms all around.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
Song: "This Old Boy"
My Take: Dexter is so totally authentic and he's yet another of the slightly ungainly musicians who will cause heart attacks for the "Idol" producers, because he's gonna get the middle-aged women, but not the kids. I liked previous Dexter performances that tended more towards blues or bluegrass than this straight-forward country jam. It's too smooth and sedate and I like when Dexter gets gruff and growly. Yeah, I think this is a mistake of a song choice. He's more dynamic and interesting than this, not that there was anything wrong with the way he handled the song. It was "good." It wasn't "great."
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "You're a solid performer. You're a very likable performer," Harry says. However, Harry wonders what will set Dexter apart outside of "Idol." Keith says that Dexter is legit and everybody gushes about how Keith says "Alabama" with his Aussie accent. "There's a thousand guys just like you," Keith says. Sadly, I think that's right and I think Dexter did a better job of differentiating himself previously. J-Lo loved how easy and cool Dexter was tonight. I think that's true. Dexter wasn't bothered for a second by the stage or the band.
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
My Take: We're getting a ton of the White Guys With Guitars, aren't we? And I continue to believe that Ben Briley is a sure-thing, which means Casey Thrasher. Alex has the awkward Frankenstein's Monster thing that Lee DeWyze used to have, only he's a better guitar player and a better vocalist than the long-since-vanished "Idol" winner. [I don't care where Lee DeWyze is. Please don't send me angry comments complaining. He had an album that came out last fall. I read some decent reviews. It peaked at 116 on the Billboard album chart.] He's been given another good, stripped down arrangement and he's making the most of it. More than any of the other performances tonight, this been has arranged as a singer-songwriter showcase and he makes the most of it. I like how he ends by showing off his guitar playing, rather than his vocals. The stage presence will improve as the season goes along, but Alex is definitely one of my favorites this season..
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith calls it the best song choice of the night. J-Lo liked the groove and says Alex is in his own lane and thinks he could go far if he stays there. Harry praises Alex for "ending on a nine." Alex is so pleased and Ryan Seacrest is so confused. Harry explains and Alex demonstrates. Music School with Harry Connick Jr.
Singer: MALCOLM ALLEN
Song: "Comin' From Where I'm From"
My Take: Why isn't Malcolm rocking the bowtie or glasses tonight? Boo. The geek-chic is part of what sets Malcolm apart. The song starts way low and I can't tell if Malcolm was expecting it to be so low. He's mumbly and weak, but then as it rises, he just gets better. Then he gets a bit rougher when the backing singers seem to shake him a bit. There's an R&B-friendly tone that nobody else in the Top 15 can compete. He doesn't really have the "performance" thing down. He's got a sneer that never leaves his face that seems relevant in certain points, but misguided in others. In some cases, I feel like he's connecting totally to the lyrics and the pain of the song, but in other places it's cold.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo says the vocals and the words hit her, but the performance didn't hit her. She wants more heart and soul. Harry feels like Malcolm sang the same five runs over and over and that he was sharp. "That was not on purpose. You just have to focus on singing in tune," he tells Malcolm. The crowd boos. Malcolm smiles and tells them to respect his opinion. Keith makes a joke and the music interrupts him. "I was played off like the Grammys!" Keith laments. Given time, he tells Malcolm that he should have done a more stripped down arrangement.
Singer: BEN BRILEY
My Take: Ben was, as I said, a sure thing to get to perform tonight. And he deserved to be. That probably means the end of Casey Thrasher's "Idol" run. Awesome. Ben is going electric. David Cook used to do that, of course, but I feel like "Idol" has steered from that kind of thing. Ben is so fine at what he does, but I remain unsure if what he does is best suited for a whiskey bar rather than the "Idol" stage. I mean, he actually stops to do a semi-extended guitar solo mid-performance. Who does that? And that wasn't the best part of the performance. The rootsy vocals are the best part. I just can't believe that "Idol" needs Ben, Dexter, CJ, Alex and Caleb. Alex and Caleb probably do different things, but Dexter, Ben and CJ are, to use the parlance of the night, in roughly the same lane. That'll hurt them. And it probably won't help the show.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "You thought you nailed that," Harry tells Ben, who agrees. Harry liked the performance, but not nearly as much as the knot on his Volunteers-orange tie. Keith says that his vocals were better than the guitar, but he still liked that. J-Lo felt like Ben came alive on the stage.
9:49 p.m. Only one performance left! My guess? Spencer Lloyd. But we'll see. This should certainly shut up the people who felt that "Idol" was being prejudiced against the pretty white girls last night. Those people were wrong. But tonight feels like it's swaying the other way.
9:50 p.m. The last singer is...
Singer: SPENCER LLOYD
Song: "Love Don't Die"
My Take: I know my "Idol," yo. Even thought Spencer came across like a bit of a tool on Group Night, but I also saw signs of both talent and young female appeal. I adore that Randy told Spencer to keep the guitar and then Adam Lambert and the "movement coach" told him to ditch it. Suck it, Randy. Unlike with Malaya last night, this is not a Pimp Slot-worthy performance. I'm guessing we're about to hear a story about illness, because Spencer's voice is weak and thin and cracks at several points. I wish we'd closed with Ben, even if his performing was an a no-brainer. Spencer just don't have the voice to sing the higher notes in the chorus. I don't know if it's a throat problem or a breathing problem. I did not like that. At all.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith thinks song choice will be important and he doesn't know if it was his best vocal, but the audience likes him. "When you're up there, you're a star," J-Lo says. "Stick to what you know. This was not good," Harry says. Guess what? The kids are gonna vote Spencer through no matter what he did or does. But that was bad.
9:57 p.m. Spencer was, for me, easily the night's worst, but Emmanuel and George weren't great either. Alex, Caleb and Ben were my favorites, followed by CJ. I think Sam and Dexter are better than their performances tonight showed and I expected Sam to still get votes.
What are your thoughts going into tomorrow?
Everything: American Idol
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