Saturday, May 03, 2014

American Idol Top 5 Recap and Results

Here is a quick look back at what happened earlier this week on American Idol. Wednesday night was a pretty feel good event, with some strong performances, while the Thursday night Results Show brought about  a fascinating but somewhat cruel twist, that is likely to have had loyal fans feeling quite bad about the awkwardness of the entire situation.

On Wednesday though, the remaining contestants were mentored by Jason Mraz (at least for one performance) and were given the task of performing two songs that were viewer suggestions. That basically means the producers were able to dictate the songs to be sung. If taken on face value, I believe this means that this was one of the first times that contestants had no choice on what solo song to do. There was also a trio and a duet this week that were pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things. I wish they would not have occurred on performance night, but since they were, I had to rank them.

1. Alex Preston- "Sweater Weather"

I do not know this song and I found it pretty weird. However, that seems to suit Alex kind of well. I guess his quirkiness was well represented in this assignment, but it might have been a bit too fast tempo for him, including with a rap-like breakdown. It was hard to understand anything he was saying.

2. Caleb Johnson- "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"

Really America? Really Idol Producers? It is not that I dislike this Aerosmith song, but this has been done absolutely so many times on the show over the years, performing it is just corny and blase at this point. I think Caleb recognized that. and was less than enthusiastic about the choice.

To his credit, he tried to do something different with it and made it less of a soaring rock anthem and more of a low-key ballad than it might have already been considered. I really do not think there was much of anything in regards to guitars and drums in his arrangement. However, it actually started off sounding off-pitch which is pretty rare for Caleb. By the end, he had gotten it together, and sounded pretty good, but I agree with the judges, who gave him some criticism for not putting more emotion into the performance, which is also something Jason Mraz had wanted him to do.

I did make note of the irony that one of the many former Idols who sang this on the show; Allison Iraheta, was now singing backup for another contestant on the same song.

3. Jena Irene, Sam Woolf, and Alex Preston- "Best Day Of My Life"

This is a new popular song, that I am still undecided as to whether or not I hate it. This trio performance was ok for the most part, but definitely nothing to stand up and cheer about. Jena sounded off vocally in her solo parts, Alex sounded decent enough, and Sam seemed to be in good voice for this.

4. Jessica Meuse- "Human"

I thought Jessica started off a bit sketchy on this but as she got going, she managed to pull off a vocally and emotionally strong performance. I really do not have any other thoughts about it other than it was pretty good.

 Round 1 Rankings:

5. Jena Irene- trio
4. Alex Preston- solo
3. Sam Woolf- trio
2. Caleb Johnson- solo
1. Jessica Meuse- solo

5.  Sam Woolf- "Sing"

First of all, it was sort of unfair to Sam to make him sing right after they first showed a photo of his much missed little Shih Tzu Buddy and then bringing out Ariana Grande, his professed celebrity crush to present him with a microphone. I do not blame him for being a bit flustered by all of that. (I felt the need to look up Ariana on Wikipedia to see how old she was and I was somewhat relieved to see she was almost 21 at least, but she seems a bit weird. Weren't there previous rumors about her being coked up?)

Anyways, this is a brand new Ed Sheeran song, and he is an artist to whom Sam is often compared. I thought it came across a bit like Jason Mraz though. The song itself was kind of weird, at least at first listen, and almost sounded like a bad '80s tune.

Nonetheless, I thought Sam still had a good enough voice to mostly pull it off, even if the kind of "funk" that the song involves was not in his wheelhouse. He tried to do something different and with some weird facial expressions, it is not like he was singing it robotically. The last word of the song was weird and Sam definitely did not look happy with himself.  The judges were fairly critical of it though and then he tripped walking to the lounge where Ariana Grande was sitting. How mortifying.

6. Jena Irene- "My Body"

I had no idea that this song existed, but I guess the lyrical content was ok for a 17 year old girl to sing. Jena sure has gotten comfortable with performing though in recent weeks. Her stage presence is much improved and I thought she sounded fairly good on this. I do find her "let's go" trademark interjections to be a bit annoying, probably because I totally hated the whole "get those glowsticks up" performance.

7. Jessica Meuse and Caleb Johnson- "Beast of Burden"

I give props to the two of them for not cracking up laughing while singing this song to each other. Jessica seemed on the verge of laughter though throughout as the two of them had to sing about making sweet love to each other as Caleb (who seemed totally into performance mode and sounded like he usually does) was doing his whole in your face Meat Loaf/Jack Black thing. I bet Jessica hated that this was the duet they had to do. I was almost laughing about the whole thing too.

Round 2 rankings:

5. Alex Preston- trio
4. Jessica Meuse- duet
3. Jena Irene- solo
2. Sam Woolf- solo
1. Caleb Johnson- duet

Now, all that was left were for the Top 5 to sing another solo-

1. Alex Preston- "Say Something"

This is a highly popular recent song but I find it quite boring. If it comes on the radio, I change it. All that being said, I thought Alex sang it very well. I thought it was one of his better performances this season, but I am not even remembering if he was playing a guitar or not during it. Let me see if I can research this...yes, he was. Of course.

So, while Alex sounded very pleasant on this very tender, slow song, I cannot help but think that it was probably not a very hard song for him or for any decent singer to pull off in such a way.

2. Jena Irene- "Valerie"

So, I guess they changed the performance order up at this point. I think I liked this more than the judges did. J Lo thought it was too "Adult Contemporary" for Jena, but I like the fact that at least she was not screaming on it. She is definitely a contender to win it all and I think has been showing a lot of improvement on her solo performances at least.

3. Sam Woolf- "How To Save a Life"

This is a really good song and I thought could have been quite a moment for Sam. The judges panned it though and said that he started off pretty rough. I do not know if I detected that, although I remember being less than totally pleased at the way he rearranged it a bit from the original. I thought he sounded fairly good throughout but that the ending was extremely good. It may not have been a perfect vocal but he seemed really into it and it sounded like something that you would hear on the radio. For weeks, they told him that he was singing technically perfect but having a hard time connecting. It seemed like he was connecting on this to me. I think this was just a hard song to cut down in time as it builds in intensity with each chorus.

4. Jessica Meuse- "Summertime Sadness"

I certainly do not understand the Lana del Ray fandom thing, but that might be just me. The judges seemed to think this was a perfect song choice for Jessica. I thought she sounded ok, but I was less than overwhelmed by it all. I thought her vocals sounded a bit shaky and I could not help but roll my eyes at the sort of cheap way they had her starting off posed so that everyone could see a tattoo on her leg.

5. Caleb Johnson- "Still Of The Night"

Wow, Whitesnake on Idol? I'm all in for that. This was probably the best performance of the entire season. Caleb took things down a couple notches on Aerosmith earlier in the night, but he sure rocked out for this and it is hard to see how he could have done it any better. His overall vocal skills and performance ability are easily above anybody else this season and unless something really dramatic happens, it is hard to see how I could reach a future conclusion that he does not deserve to win. This was quite an impressive vocal, I just wish Idol would have given us less of having to watch J Lo and Keith Urban standing up and rocking out to it instead of just focusing on the actual performance.

Round 3 Rankings:

5. Jessica Meuse
4. Alex Preston
3. Jena Irene
2. Sam Woolf
1. Caleb Johnson

Here, I thought that Caleb was easily the strongest, but thought that 2-4 were pretty close.

Combined Rankings:

5. Alex Preston
4. Jena Irene
3. Jessica Meuse
2. Sam Woolf
1. Caleb Johnson

Who should have been eliminated: Alex Preston
Who I predicted would be eliminated: Jessica Meuse
Who was eliminated: Sam Woolf

I knew that it was a certainty that either Jessica or Sam would receive the lowest number of votes tonight, so while I think Sam is a promising enough singer to have deserved to stick around a bit longer, I was really not all that surprised he found himself at the bottom.

However, the Results Show itself really made some news by going outside of all Idol tradition. We were told early on by Seacrest that there would be a dramatic twist and the contestants (who may or may not have known what it was) looked really scared to death the whole half-hour. There seemed to be sort of a bad vibe all around the whole show.

I was running through scenarios in my head as to what the "twist" might have been and one of the first things I thought of was indeed what it turned out to be.

The kids were offered a deal. They were to vote, anonymously, as to if they wanted to send the person with the lowest number of votes home, or if everyone should stay, and then next week, the two lowest vote-getters would be leaving. They were told that the vote had to be unanimous though.

As an Idol viewer from Season 1 and a bit of a conservative purist when it comes to these things, I guess I oppose such a twist on principle. We already have the "save" and I think that America should live with the way it votes, just like in real elections. Nothing was said about the votes from this week carrying over, so I assume that it would have meant that all the votes this past week (including my perfunctory 50 via Google for Caleb) would have been for naught. I also assume that this "twist" was something that was long in the planning and it was not an attempt simply to save Sam for another week. If they really wanted to keep him, the judges might have been more praising for his performances on Wednesday.

So, after we were told what the "twist" was, I was pretty sure that the kids,whether they were ok with the idea or not, were all going to vote to keep the group together for another week. As they went to commercial, we even caught a glimpse of Caleb seemingly leading the group and expressing that as a preferred option.

On the surface, it makes perfect sense for them to have voted not to send anyone home. For one thing, they would have guaranteed their immunity, at least for that week. However, I am pretty sure that all of them believed that it would be either Sam or Jessica with the lowest number of votes. If everyone had stayed this week, I think it was a good bet that the lowest vote getter this week would also be one of the Bottom Two next week and would thus leave in the order they should, even if 5th place and 4th place were not formally defined.

By voting to send someone home, these kids ran the risk of really pissing off the fans of the person who would be leaving. They would be seen as overly ambitious and willing to sacrifice friendship in order to get rid of someone and furthering their chances of winning. However, as I have tried to explain, I think that casting those votes (which unbeknownst to them) might have been impossible to hide, were only going to have a negative affect on their popularity.

So, as they came back from the final commercial break, there were some glum and guilty looking young people on that stage. That seemed to be a sign of something and sure enough, two out of the five had voted to send someone home, which would have really backfired if it was them leaving.

It was Sam though, and the contestant, who was once saved by the judges was thrown to the wolves (no pun intended) by two of his supposed friends. I have to admit, that if I were 18 and in Sam's position, I might be pretty hurt by them doing that. It definitely made more sense for them in the short-term aspect of the competition (and later on when none of this Idol drama of a low-rated season will ultimately matter one way or another for their careers) to bring everyone back for one more week.

At first, I thought Jessica was the one looking the most guilty and by reading body language, it seemed like Alex also did something he felt funny about as well, but it came out later in the show that Jena was one of the two who voted to send someone home, using some logic that I am not quite sure makes sense (and being quoted sounding a bit entitled about how Sam had already been saved and it was not fair). She's also old enough not to vote in real elections, but she held a lot of power on this one. At least she was honest about it though. The third youngest conestant Alex, refused to directly state that he also voted "no" but it is pretty clear he did, as all of the other contestants said they voted to keep everyone for another week. He was supposedly Sam's best friend on the show but perhaps realized that he stood a chance to pick up some of Sam's votes next week. I guess that will be a moot point if there is some lingering anger against him though.

Anyways, this was a pretty mean move by Idol to have put the kids in this position, although it definitely does give "fans" something to talk about. I think it is going to be bad for the reputation of the show after some of the earlier somewhat cruel elimination tactics used by the new producers this season. This really opened up a window to actual politics, as for years, the contestants all acted (and perhaps believed) like they were good friends on and off stage, but when given an opportunity this week, two of them took the opportunity to get rid of someone.

It was probably sad enough for Sam to leave, but it was probably extra awkward with at least a couple of them looking pretty guilty. We did not really see much in the way of them trying to console him or offer support, as we have seen as other contestants left in previous weeks. Sam likely deserved better, but for his part, he is publicly taking it all in stride by saying that nobody should be angry at Jena or Alex, because while he voted to keep everyone (which he also said was decided as a group during the commercial break), he know thinks they did the right thing. Yeah right.

I said from before the season started that Caleb would be my favorite this season (which turned out to be true) and that Sam would win (which is not.) I guess being the best looking white guy with a guitar on the season was not enough. Sam still has a way to grow as a performer, although I think he has made some strides in that regard. Not enough female Idol voters bought into him and there was not much of anything discussed about what could be a pretty sad backstory for him involving his parents. For weeks, Idol awkwardly tried to define him as "the heartthrob", but it is clear that Sam sees himself as more of a singer-songwriter type artist than the next Justin Bieber, so good for him. We may not have seen every aspect of his personality on the show, and he seems a bit reserved by nature, but I thought he represented himself as a person pretty well throughout.

After the Idol summer tour, it is unclear if Sam will be signed to a record deal or will instead take his place at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. I think he still has a lot to learn about the industry (and perhaps was given a glimpse of the cutthroat nature of it this week by the two people he had sang in a trio with 24 hours earlier) and while his style of music may never be what I really like, I certainly continue to believe he has great potential. I think that within the next five years, Sam is going to have some sort of song on the radio and is likely to make more money one day through singing than anyone else this season.