Wednesday, April 09, 2014

American Idol Top 8 Part II

Live blogging fairly late at night once again. Let's get this over with. I am happy that we are getting an '80s week. I should like a lot of the songs. As I have said in this spot before though, if only we could go back to having President Reagan.

The night begins with a recap of the save of Sam Woolf as the 80's Duran Duran hit "Hungry Like The Woolf" appropriately plays in the background.

This week, the Idols will be mentored by Season 7 Winner David Cook (who will be doing the job that people are unhappy with Randy Jackson about?). He should do a good job with this. Apparently, his schedule is pretty open. I am fairly certain he is the first ever American Idol winner to ever mentor contestants on the show who are trying to follow in his television competition footsteps.

All of these contestants were born after the 1980s ended:

1. Jena Irene- "I Love Rock 'N Roll"

I think this is a bit of a disappointing start to the evening. The beginning of the performance was weird, as she delivered a slowed-down version of a rocking song while at the piano. Then, she got up and tried to inject some more into it, but it just too soft at parts. The last note was pretty good, but otherwise, she did not seem to bring the needed passion to the verses and she seemed a bit off-key when shouting the chorus.

2. Dexter Roberts- "Keep Your Hands To Yourself"

Out of every song from the 1980s, this was the most predictable one he could have chosen. That's not to say that it was not the right song for him and what has worked for him so far this season. He gave a credible performance, complete with an electric guitar solo and walking over the studio to multiple microphones, but while he sings well, I still am not seeing much star quality.

They have a Lite-Brite backstage? Wow, they are really going all out for this '80s theme.

3. Alex Preston and Sam Woolf- "The Girl Is Mine"

Time for a duet. This is probably the only really lousy song off of the "Thriller" album. I am not sure which one took Michael Jackson's part and who took Paul McCartney's part in this number, but it was pleasant enough albeit a bit boring. It is really hard to say who was better than the other on this. Alex probably seemed a bit more comfortable with the performance aspect of the duet, while Sam's voice did not annoy me the way that Alex's sort of did at the beginning.

I really need to find time to watch the two hour Season Premiere of "Kitchen Nightmares" featuring the return of Amy's Baking Company...

4. Malaya Watson- "Though the Fire"

Malaya has played the role of  Chaka Khan in some sort of production, so she likely already knew this song. Happy birthday to Chaka Khan who had one on Sunday (as did I). Anyways, I think this was better than the time someone else did it on the Idol stage. In the beginning, it seemed like Malaya was deliberately trying to reign in her voice in order to avoid going off the rails as she has done before this season. She has been much stronger on ballads, but it seems like that could be limiting her natural inclinations to let loose.

She did go for it again at the end of this song and I am sort of glad that she did. I like when it looks like someone is trying to actually pull out the heavy artillery (so to speak) this season. I have a hunch though that the judges and some others may say that she was off vocally on those big notes.

5. Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson- "It's Only Love"

Tina Turner and Bryan Adams? I know nothing about this song. How is that possible?

With that in mind, I thought this was a good performance, for what it was. Caleb always sounds good and I thought Jena sounded much better than in her solo. These two seem to be the most natural performers out of anyone this season and probably have the most experience fronting bands.

Harry Connick Jr. watched this performance from the Swaybot section of the crowd, with a young girl on his shoulders that I really hope was his daughter.

Oh no, it's not. This is very wrong. This had to have at least been all pre-planned.

6. Jessica Meuse- "Call Me"

I think there were probably a ton of '80s songs that would have been better for her to sing than this Blondie number. She continues to have an appealing voice and I liked some of what she did with this song, but it did not seem like a very comfortable fit for her overall. At points, it seemed like she was trying too hard to inject grit into the lyrics.

7. Sam Woolf- "Time After Time"

So much on the line for Sam with this performance in order to stay in the competition. David Cook is either really good at this mentoring thing or is getting a great edit.

I thought this was a good song choice for Sam to pick, since a lot of people know the song but it was a bit odd that he choose to perform it with no other instruments except his own acoustic guitar playing. He also decided to sing it while in the crowd, surrounded by the girls the judges have trying to get him to connect with. That might have been a bad decision, as I thought this was sort of rough at the beginning. The arrangement seemed a bit clumsy and you could sense the nervousness in his face. However, I thought the end of this performance was really good and the best that Sam has sounded all season. If not for that ending, I would be certain that it was probably going to be his time to go.

Harry makes the comparison to young Ricky Nelson. My parents have noted the similarity before too. If Sam ever gets to be famous, he just better be careful on airplanes.

8. Malaya Watson and C.J. Harris- "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"

I do not know who assigned this song to them, but it certainly was never going to live up to the duet performance of it a couple of years ago by Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet. It just paled by comparison.

Malaya alternated between sounding good on some parts and sounded off-key in others. C.J. sort of fades into the background on duets and he seemed completely drowned out by Malaya and also the background singers for much of it. It is probably completely foreign for him to have to sing without his guitar and it felt a bit half-hearted on his behalf..

After everyone sang once:

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

9. Alex Preston- "Every Breath You Take"

If people really bought into this, he will probably win this season.

For me, it was a bit too avant-garde, even more than usual for Alex. I can admire his artistry and musicality, but after seeing the performance once, I cannot imagine wanting to hear it again. It was not horrific, but he completely eliminated the melody of the song. That might have been acceptable for the verses and chorus if he somehow was true to the original version of the famous bridge of the song that most people think is the best part. Instead, he also did that in a totally altered and somewhat creepy way and either intentionally or unintentionally dropped a word or two. I really do not know what to think or how to rank this. I guess I might be too old.

10. Jessica Meuse and Dexter Roberts- "Islands In the Stream"

This was another duet that sounded much better on Season 11 Idol. I thought Jessica sounded pretty good on it in parts but Dexter was really weak. His whole performance, along with the ridiculous backwards baseball hat (with a shiny suit jacket) that he cannot even wear properly just brought this whole thing down. I felt kind of bad for Jessica.

For all intents and purposes "Round 2" is less than spectacular tonight. I will be shocked if Caleb does not have the strongest vocal in it. Thankfully, I do not have to rank the quarter performance of Seacrest and the Judges doing "Like a Virgin."

11. C.J. Harris- "Free Fallin'"

She's a good girl who loves Cheezus and America too? That sounds like what he was singing. This is another performance that I am conflicted about. I sort of dug it in a way but was mostly underwhelmed. Perhaps it is because I have heard C.J. sing several times now and I know what he does. It's "different" and impressive for a while but then feels a bit predictable. This had some nice restrained moments, but I wonder if C.J. is having overall vocal stamina problems because something seems off.

Caleb is up next to close out the night. They say he is singing Journey. I have not seen any spoilers but I would bet $100 that he will be singing "Faithfully." I heard that song on the radio this week and it occurred to me that he would probably sing this on Wednesday.

12. Caleb Johnson- "Faithfully"

I would have won that bet. While it may not have been at the level of Steve Perry on the original, it was still extremely good, as I expected. I laughed when he said he wanted to "make some old ladies cry." He knows his target audience. I think he succeeded in singing the kind of ballad that showed a more sensitive side to his voice and to him as a performer.

However, I have to say that I am disappointed that he did not get to sing the verse that has the best line of the entire song, where there is a massive high note on the lyric, "two strangers learn to fall in love again." Had he nailed that, I think it could have been the moment of the season.

Regardless, I think as far as performances are concerned, Caleb is dominating the season in the same consistent way that Candice Glover did last year. With several weeks still left, Caleb has thus far deserved to win the Idol crown, even if it means he will be starring in "Rock Of Ages" on or off Broadway in a few years and will not be a huge recording artist.

Round two rankings:

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

It is clear that the contestants are mostly focusing on their solos over the past couple of weeks and the duets are taking a backseat. They really should not be made to do them on performance night. I would rather just hear everybody sing a solo that lasts longer than just a minute and a half.

Composite rankings:

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

My impression is that only one contestant will be eliminated tomorrow and not two. That being said, I will predict the Bottom Two will be C.J. and Sam. This could go either way, but once again, I will say that C.J. will get the least amount of votes. Malaya could also be in some danger, but other than those three, I think everyone else has enough voters at this point to survive.

That's it for '80s night. It was an interesting show, but the overall talent level this season continues to disappoint a bit. Many other Idol bloggers are probably even more down on the whole thing than I am, and the person who will get the most critical acclaim this week is likely to be David Cook.