Wednesday, April 02, 2014

American Idol Top 8

Live blogging as the "Elite (?) Eight" reprise songs from their auditions. I think this is kind of a dumb theme. While it will be a vastly different venue for them to sing these songs than the room they sang it in to get their Golden Tickets, this feels like it might seem anti-climactic. I would rather them do different songs that we have not heard them sing on television yet. Some of them, are going to work out better for live tv with an audience than others.

Basically, the kids had no options this week and a song they might have never wanted to sing live before an audience is what they are stuck with. There will also be duets this evening that I will have to rank as I usually do, but the main thing to take away this evening is that the very song that gave a contestant a Golden Ticket to Hollywood may very well wind up being their ticket out of town.

1. Jessica Meuse- "Blue Eyed Lie"

An original song to start the evening. Is this song about blue contact lenses? Yeah, probably not.

Once I got past being distracted by the way she was deliberately using her shoulders to play guitar, I thought this was pretty good. It's very hard for me to like any song the first time I hear it but it was clear that Jessica seemed a lot more "into it" singing a song she wrote herself than covering someone else's material. I think a lot of people who want to like Jessica will think this was her best performance.

2. C.J. Harris- "Soul Shine"

Did he say his parents spent a lot of time in prison when he was growing up?

This was the very same Allman Brothers song sung on the Idol stage by the now departed Ben Briley a few weeks ago. I imagine the producers would not have done this theme if more than one remaining contestant actually auditioned with the same song.

I thought this was a pretty solid performance and showed why so many people liked what C.J had to offer when they saw his audition. His voice is certainly far from "silky smooth" or technically proficient but he is able to grab attention by the emotion and grit he puts into his performances.

3. Jena Irene and Alex Preston- "Just Give Me a Reason"

The first duet occurs before most of the other Finalists have gotten their chance to sing. I wish they would just do all the duets together either first or last. Of course, I have been opposed to Idol duets on Performance Night since the first season they did it.

I think this song is one of the best ones of the past couple of years and I really do not know if it was a great idea to do it on Idol like this. They had to cut down a lot of the verses in order to make it fit all in. As for Jena and Alex, I thought it started off pretty bad, but then got better, and was decent on the last chorus. I just do not think that this song was in Alex's wheelhouse, while it was somewhat more of a fit for Jena. They looked extremely uncomfortable singing to each other, but that's no great surprise.

No judges' comments. Not enough time for that of course.

4. Sam Woolf- "Lego House"

I think they had enough lamps on stage around him for his performance. Were they trying to recreate a furniture store?

This is an odd song. I am not quite sure I get it or the whole Ed Sheerhan thing, but he is a big name in the industry and clearly who Sam wants to emulate. With that in mind, I think he sang it quite well. His vocal skill on these kinds of songs is apparent, but it's hard to get into since it's just not my kind of music. He also looks nervous a lot. I can sort of relate in a way. Some people will like that aspect of his persona while it will annoy others.

I am about to watch the judges' comments and I will be interested to see if Sam gets panned or high praise for it. To my surprise, he is perhaps in jeopardy at this stage of the competition, despite my belief (along with many others) that the entire season was his for the taking early on.

Ok, what's up with the judges' comments not happening until after a commercial break? I cannot recall that ever happening on Idol before. Is there some sort of microphone issue with them? Did the timing of the entire show get thrown off somewhere? Are they waiting for the producers to deliver a script?

5. Jessica Meuse and Caleb Johnson- "Stop Dragging My Heart Around"

Idol did this a duet a couple seasons ago. Anyways, I thought this was quite good.  This song really suited Jessica's voice. She had a strong night. Caleb always sounds on point vocally and this was no exception. Besides his voice, I think he clearly has more experience and perhaps more of a passion for the art of performing than anybody else in the competition this season.

6.  Malaya Watson- "Ain't No Way"

When I watched the auditions, and for the other early parts of this season, I found Malaya to be pretty annoying. I have to say though, that her personality has grown on me.

As for this song, I thought it was pretty boring at first and while Malaya was singing it well, I thought it would not allow her to really show off. Quickly though, I took that thought back, as it picked up and she delivered some crazy diva vocal riffs. This was impressive. It is hard to believe that she is the same girl who was so terrible on the first Bruno Mars song she attempted weeks ago.

7. Dexter Roberts- "One Mississippi"

In the pre-performance video, his mother compares him to a politician seeking votes in the way that people are reacting to him on the show. With this song title, maybe his neighboring state will weigh in for him as well. It's late and I have nothing...

Last week, the judges urged Dexter to show another side of himself and sing something different than the sort of rockin' country anthems he has been doing. Since this is what he auditioned with, he really did not have much of a choice. I do not know this song at all of course, but I thought he sang it pretty well and he came across as more authentic than he has in recent weeks.

So, everybody has now sang at least once. I was not crazy about the theme thing week, but so far, every solo has been good as has one duet.

Shoutout from J.Lo to Allison Iraheta for her backup singing.


8. Alex Preston- duet
7. Jena Irene- duet
6. Sam Woolf- solo
5. C.J. Harris- solo
4. Dexter Roberts- solo
3. Jessica Meuse- solo
2. Caleb Johnson- duet
1. Malaya Watson- solo

One of the judges, I think Keith Urban, compares Idol junkies, who remember contestants from every season to Rain Man. That might cause some controversy out there.

8.  Malaya Watson and Sam Woolf- "Lucky"

Yikes. This was kind of weird. Sam sounded pretty good on the first verse and the sort of old-time standard vibe to the song seemed to fit his voice. This song did not suit Malaya's voice at all. It was kind of downhill after that. Their voices did not blend well together and it did sort of resemble like a High School talent show performance that might not have gotten a standing ovation in the auditorium. These are two very talented young singers. Putting them together for this kind of duet on a night people are voting really did not do them any favors.

9. Jena Irene- "Rolling In the Deep"

I wonder if Jena knew what she was getting herself into by auditioning with this song. This is quite a dragon to have to try to slay on a big stage, and with that in mind, she seemed to radically alter the arrangement of the popular song. The beginning parts of her performance were much softer and less angsty than the Adele version, and I thought Jena was quite shaky vocally. Then, as it progressed, she managed to hit some big notes and make more of a connection. It really was an example of the second half of a performance saving the whole thing.  I do think a lot of people will have wound up liking this even more than I might have.

The commercial break before the judges comments sort of defeat the whole purpose of them even commenting. The show is throwing in a bit of an instant replay.

10. C.J. Harris and Dexter Roberts- "Alight"

I am sort of at a loss with this one. The song itself seems horrible. Since there is an odd number of boys and girls left, the two Alabama guys sang this one together, complete with their denim shirts and guitars. It's not like they sounded terrible, but it felt like they really needed more time to rehearse it. There was even a botched high-five at the end.

Honestly, whatever C.J. sang seems to have been pretty under the radar on this duet. Nothing really stood out. It felt like Dexter was doing most of the singing and parts of it seemed sort of sketchy. Both of these guys were a lot better on their solos.

They should have done a countrified version of Stevie Wonder's and Paul McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory." That would have created some social media buzz.

11. Caleb Johnson- "Chain Of Fools"

It's so crazy that he auditioned with this Aretha Franklin song. I am tired. Watching this episode and blogging about it seems to be taking forever, and the Chicago Cubs are playing in the 16th inning right now as well. I bet by the time I finish typing about this performance, the Cubs will have lost.

Anyways, Caleb did his thing. It was really interesting to see him turn this soul classic into a rock number. I liked parts of it, but I have to say that Caleb maybe tried to do a bit too much at times. There was some ill-advised riffing and I detected some vocal imperfections.

Cubs lose. What else is new?

12. Alex Preston- "Fairytales"

Closing out the show is Alex with an original song. He clearly has a lot of fans out there this season, much more than I would have initially thought he could gain. He may very well be the current front-runner.

I can appreciate the artistry and intensity he brought to this song. He's certainly talented, but it's just all a bit too quirky to me, even more so than what Sam does. However, viewers seem to think that Alex is doing a lot better job connecting. When I listed to Alex sing a song like this, I alternate between thinking he sounds decent on some notes and thinking he is way too shrill on others.

Second performances:

8. Malaya Watson- duet
7. Dexter Roberts- duet
6. C.J. Harris- duet
5. Sam Woolf- duet
4. Alex Preston- solo
3. Jena Irene- solo
2. Caleb Johnson- solo
1. Jessica Meuse- duet

Composite rankings which are unfortunately weird in some ways because of the duets:

8. Alex Preston 
7. Sam Woolf
6. C.J. Harris
5. Dexter Roberts
4. Jena Irene
3. Malaya Watson
2. Caleb Johnson
1. Jessica Meuse

When I look at the combined scores, it is all very tight between 8 and 3 and was basically a dead heat between 2 and 1. This was the best performance night of the season. Everyone did fairly well, even if most of the duets were kind of questionable.

I do feel a bit funny having Alex at the bottom. I guess I just do not get his style as much as some. There is no way he is going home though. Once again, the save is in effect and time is running out, so it may very well be used.

My sense is that Sam is going to once again find himself in the Bottom Three, and probably even the Bottom Two. He could still turn this thing around and win the competition, but my sense is that his musical future is going to be brighter when the live tv cameras go off. Nonetheless, if I have to predict, I will say that C.J. will get the least amount of votes.