I'm intrigued by Wednesday (April 16) night's "American Idol" theme, but I'm also expecting to be disappointed.
As FOX put it last week, the theme is Competitor's Pick (we'll see if the word choice or punctuation change any) and the gimmick seems to be that each singer received a list of six potential songs selected by their rivals and they got to do one of those songs.
Unfortunately, the "Idol" Finalists keep pretending they're all lovey-dovey besties, which decreases the chances of straight-up sabotage or subversion.
But we can still dream, eh?
8:01 p.m. ET. Warning: This recap is being filed from New Hampshire, which means state law requires I support Alex Preston.
8:03 p.m. Jennifer Lopez Fashion Show! Tonight, her dress is tight, shiny and mustard-yellow.
8:06 p.m. Sigh. All of the picks were respectful and intended to benefit the competitors. BOO! Where's that competitive fire? I would have picked "Informer" for all six of my rivals. If you can't cover Snow, you don't deserve to be the next Idol.
Singer: CALEB JOHNSON
Song: "Family Tree"
My Take: Do I know this Kings of Leon joint? And does Alex get bonus votes for having selected the song that Caleb chose? Ah. Yes. I do kinda know it. Maybe Alex was trying to mess with Caleb in a little way? The first verse seems more rhythm-based than anything Caleb has done before and, as such, it doesn't fit immediately. Then the arrangement shifts a little higher and becomes a bit bigger and Caleb settles right in. This may not be quite the level of comfort we've seen from Caleb in the past -- his interaction with the band is limited, but not invisible -- but vocally it's totally top-notch. Caleb just doesn't give "bad" performances.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "You're just such a consistent, dynamic performer week after week," Keith says. "You did it again. It's dangerous for us to put you first in the lineup," J-Lo says. "I like the way you changed the melody up," Harry says.
Singer: JESSICA MEUSE
Song: "Gunpowder and Lead"
My Take: Anybody remember Skylar Laine? I barely do. She was the last "Idol" contestant to tackle this Miranda Lambert song. I mostly remember that Skylar liked shooting people. Hey look! Jessica's got a little attitude tonight. She's smiling! She's strutting! She's flirting with the guitarist! She's got a streak of blue hair! I don't get the wind machine and Jessica's blinking suggests that she doesn't get it either. And you can sense Jessica forgetting the attitude as she goes along. What started off a wee bit spunky and fun just because Jessica by the end. Also, and who knows if this matters to anybody at this point, it's an entirely forgettable vocal, but it's still in the upper half of Jessica performance performances this season, for me, even though I could accept an argument saying that this is a song to snarl and growl through, rather than grinning and making lovey-dovey eyes.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: After sitting through commercials and forgetting EVERY second of Jessica's performance, let's get to judging. J-Lo felt that Jessica was "off" in the verses. "It just didn't seem natural to me," J-Lo says. Harry has a suggestion. He says she has "a lack of rhythmic delivery." He suggests that she should go back to the hotel and put on some hip-hop or some funk and watch herself dance. Harry's losing his voice, but he's trying. Keith felt like there was a "dissipation of energy."
8:30 p.m. Look! It's Demi Lovato. Wait. Sorry. It's "X Factor" judge Demi Lovato. [Is she really a "former" "X Factor" judge if "X Factor" didn't go on without her? She's still a reigning "X Factor" judge.] Why is she here? Dunno. Why does Ryan Seacrest feel like plugging her tour? Dunno. Why is she being set over to sit with Randy? Dunno. Why is she not rapping "Baby Got Back"? Why is Demi Lovato not ALWAYS rapping "Baby Got Back"?
Singer: ALEX & SAM
Song: "Let Her Go"
My Take: This is sleepy and appealing. I guess we're supposed to enjoy the amiable guitar-playing and the pleasantly meshed vocals. Instead, I have only one thought: Boy, that couch is ugly, but it looks pretty comfortable. Does anybody else have a different takeaway? Basically this performance was designed for Central Perk. I would drop a dollar in Alex & Sam's tip cup. I would not, however, download this off of iTunes.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "We love you same," squeal people in the audience who don't vote. "What about Alex?" Harry asks. "Hey. I like the couch. That's a fantastic piece of furniture," says Harry Connick Jr. Harry's pretty much my spirit animal. He also calls the performance "sweet" and "fine" and "OK." Remember, Ryan? We don't judge the duets. Keith calls it "chintzy." Demi wanted them to do more and she's probably wishing she just watched "Idol" on TV tonight.
8:42 p.m. "The judges didn't really get it," says Alex, who has said literally the exact same thing every time the judges have said ANYTHING negative about him this season. No, no, Alex. Nothing you just did there was very complicated. The judges GOT it. They just didn't LIKE it. Terry Bradshaw is in the audience. But where is The FOX Football Robot?
Singer: CJ HARRIS
My Take: This is a very logical choice for CJ, because it's the closest we've seen him to his Ray LaMontagne-style wheelhouse for a while. [Will Ray LaMontagne fans take exception to my associating his stay with a John Mayer song? Or vice versa?] This is the version of CJ that I really like and that we've spent almost no time with this season, I don't feel like. I wish they'd got rid of the smoke billowing around CJ, because the rest of the performance was just stripped down and solid. That didn't blow me away, but it absolutely worked.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith thought it was a good performance, but he wanted more of an arc from CJ's emotion. "To me, every week you're getting more and more comfortable there," J-Lo says, but she wants him to make it exciting, to have a performance that brings people to their feet. "Personally, I think that was your best performance to date," he says. I think CJ's performance and his adorable son in the crowd should get him some votes and may be enough to keep him around.
Singer: DEXTER ROBERTS
Song: "Muckalee Creek Water"
My Take: Yeah. Never heard this one before. But I like the fun interments they've brought out behind Dexter. Really, I'm a sucker for anything that can get a fiddle player involved. It's another of those starts-too-low but eventually becomes comfortable. There's a lot of energy coming from the light show and the band and I guess Dexter is trying, so I have to pat him on the head. He's gesturing. He's making faces. He's trying his hardest to punctuate phrases with meaning. It's still a heavy performance when it could have stood to be a lot lighter and livelier, while keeping some of the intensity. Maybe "light and lively" aren't what I want. What I want is for the performance to be more expansive, more projecting, bringing in the audience and bringing in the viewers at home. Dexter is always tightly coiled and he's never welcoming to me as a listener or a viewer, even if I think he's good.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: I think Keith saw some of what I was seeing, but I didn't quite understand what he was saying. "We're getting down to the wire. The performances need to be spectacular," J-Lo says. Harry liked the parts that changed things up from the original, it was mostly with the rhythm rather than the melody. "I just want to hear you sing other sings rather than you singing along to the radio," Harry says.
9:11 p.m. "That was one of the special vocal performances of the season... other century," Harry says in response to Ryan and Caleb dueling on "Heaven."
Singer: CALEB & JENA
Song: "Gimme Shelter"
My Take: I like that Jena and Caleb keep getting paired for duets. It's a good way of just saying, "Screw all these other people and concentrate on this season's only two potential stars." We probably shouldn't be shipping "Jeleb," but the show wants us to, so... Awww. They're going to prom together! They're my favorite "Idol" odd couple since Haley & Casey. For three minutes, this "Idol" season doesn't suck.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "That was a moment," J-Lo says. And she loves Jena's bangs. "Everybody feels just a little stiff tonight," Keith says, asking somebody to do a Fergie. Pee themselves? So confused... "When you have the camera, take it and use it," Harry says, telling the contestants that they're characters on "American Idol." "You killed it," says Demi, who I suspect would love to take Jena and just shape her in her own image.
Singer: ALEX PRESTON
Song: "A Team"
My Take: Woo! Team New Hampshire! Alex has the funniest backing imagery in recent "Idol" memory. It's like '70s wallpaper attacking him from behind! Watch out for the Doric columns, Alex! The crowd loves Alex's falsetto and the song is yet another coffee shop classic for Alex. I may say that Caleb and Jena are our Top 2 by a wide margin, but as far as they are ahead of Alex, Alex is just as far ahead of No. 4 this season. That was very good. New Hampshire is pleased. I can hear the whole state cheering from my window. Oh. Wait. Those are just peeper frogs.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: The crowd is loud and happy. J-Lo agrees. This was Harry's favorite performance of the night. Keith likes Alex's artistic signatures and how natural they are.
9:32 p.m. "What the judges said really meant a lot to me. And I appreciate it," Alex says. Because this time they GOT it.
Singer: SAM WOOLF
Song: "Sail Away"
My Take: There's Waldo! [I guess once one of your songs was chosen, nobody else could choose one of your songs? This theme and format makes no sense.] We get that Sam Woolf likes David Gray and he doesn't do badly by him either. Sam doesn't have that little serving of gravel that protects David Gray from accusations of blandness. Sam needs to find some similar insulation against those blandness charges, but I'll say that was quite decent and *less* bland that Sam has been at times this season. There's some engagement in his eyes, even if it's mostly Sam squinting at the camera.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Yeah, these breaks before judges' comments are killer. I remember not hating Sam's performance, but I don't remember why not. "You're progressing. You're making progress," Harry says, but he didn't like the song choice. "Familiarity is your friend," Harry cautions. He's probably correct. Sam's wee fans won't have known that song. "Just keep doing what you're doing, man," Keith says, constructively. J-Lo says that she wasn't feeling his performance live, but she felt it when she watched on the monitor. That's because he's learned the importance of SQUINTING AT THE CAMERA. It saves Sam the trouble of ever connecting with a human other than his grandma.
Singer: DEXTER & CJ & JESSICA
My Take: No, Jessica. "Alabama Power" isn't a good nickname to chose. I'd call this trio "The Next Three Eliminations." They may have geography in common, but that doesn't mean they sound good together. They joked before the performance about Jessica's Group Night struggles, but that felt like an awkward Group Night Performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: "Guys, it just wasn't good," Harry says aptly. Keith hems and haws, but says they were good singularly if not together. "It was a bit of everything, like a shish kebob," Keith says, meaning it as a compliment. Demi thought they did great on their own, but that it was uncomfortable as a group. Poor Demi. She didn't ask for this. Did she?
Singer: JENA IRENE
My Take: So either Caleb or Jena gets the Pimp Slot every week from here on out, right? Because... Why not? Awww. Of course Jena chose the song that Caleb picked! [Jeleb4EVER!] So who didn't have one of their songs picked? Getting Jena back on the piano is always a good idea. She's been getting better with her stagecraft in recent weeks, but this is where she's the most locked in. She sings well. She connects. She projects. She opens up. She means it. Listen to this performance and go back to some of Jena's early season performances and you'll see evidence of the nuance that she's started bringing to what would have been bellowing in Week 1. She wins tonight. Because she's better than the other kids, at least she is when Caleb only has a so-so showcase.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith is happy. "You Jenafy every song that you do. It was so beautiful," J-Lo says. "Unquestionably the best performance of the night," Harry says, explaining to Jena why he didn't join J-Lo and Keith in their standing ovation. It's not the way he judges. But he feels like she did some damage.
9:59 p.m. Jena then Alex then Caleb. Followed at a distance by everybody else.
10:00 p.m. If it isn't a member of Alabama Power going home tomorrow, it's because of Sam's slightly obscure song choice. I think it's Dexter's turn to go, though.
What do you think?