Wednesday, May 07, 2014

American Idol Top 4

I am back to live-blogging this week's performance round of American Idol, and will be pausing my DVR to offer my own comments after each performance, before I hear what the judges had to say.

The topics that probably will not get mentioned on the broadcast tonight include the circumstances surrounding the elimination of a contestant last week, the controversial comments by Caleb Johnson in which he seemed to refer to his own fans as "retards" (and for which he has since apologized), and the razor thin margin that North Carolina Democrat Clay Aiken is hanging on to after yesterday Congressional primary. If Clay does manage to advance to the November elections, he should be fairly easy pickings for the GOP incumbent in that district and will continue his streak of finishing in 2nd place in everything he tries. Of course, I will be returning to analyzing political races on here in due time.

It is still Idol season though, and for the first time ever, the Final Four are doing three songs each. The theme tonight is love, and they will sing about being in love, breaking up,and then making up. At what portion might they sing a song about a restraining order?

Before I start watching though, there is a delay in an NBA Playoff game involving the L.A. Clippers and a blackout in the building. They are playing in the dark. Under this circumstance, defrocked Clippers owner Donald Sterling would complain about not seeing African-Americans.

1. Caleb Johnson- "You Give Love a Bad Name"

The ill-advised "retard" comments that Caleb made were in reference to the Aerosmith song that was selected for him last week after having been done several times before on Idol. He said he was not a fan of the song, but apparently picked this Bon Jovi number himself. While it had been done before on Idol, it was done in a dramatically different way by Blake Lewis several years back.

I happen to like this original version a lot better and Caleb sounded good of course, but something felt off to me watching it. He was so explosive on his final performance last week, and this just felt like it was lacking in energy. Perhaps he has had a stressful week due to the controversy or maybe he is just saving his energy for the next two performances. It felt like an odd song-selection for him though under this circumstance.

2. Jessica Meuse- "Since U Been Gone"

First of all, it seems like Jessica must have just recently broken up with her boyfriend because it sure looked like they blurred out the face of some dude who just a few weeks ago was shown in the audience and listed as her "boyfriend."

Anyways, this is a good song, but it seemed totally wrong for Jessica. This might have been a better song for Caleb to have done and really rocked out with. In contrast, she struggled with it vocally and I think she knew that she was not going to be getting high praise for it. The performance was just very awkward and it just was not the kind of song for someone to stand still at a mic with a guitar and sing. Then, the ending was kind of weird too, with the "we started off friends" line. I will be surprised if the judges liked this. I think everyone expects that Jessica will be leaving tomorrow night anyway, including herself.

This #idolselfie thing might be the biggest waste of television time since Barack Obama's last State of the Union Address.

3. Alex Preston- "Too Close"

I think this may have been Alex's best performance for me. As the saying goes, I am not jumping up and down or anything but this song really seemed to work for him and while it was possible that he sounded a lot like the version I might have heard on the radio or something, despite the way he rearranged things, he sounded good.

As we go to another commercial break during this round of Breakup songs, it is one for Marc Anthony, one of JLo's many exes.

4. Jena Irene- "Heartbreaker"

I guess it was only a matter of time before Jena sang a Pat Benatar song. She showed last Thursday that she is quite ambitious by the way she voted to send someone home and tonight, she showed she is "in it to win it" on the basis of her performance. It was not perfect and there are aspects of her voice that I never really like, but she sang this really well and I think got all the mileage she could have gotten out of it. Caleb is almost always a better singer than Jena, but I think she clearly outperformed him in this round.

Round 1- 

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

5.  Caleb Johnson- "Travelin' Band"

This rounds is "Dedications", and I guess they do not have to be of the love variety, as Caleb sends this out to his band-mates back home in North Carolina. If he gets signed to a record deal, they will never be able to play with him again.

I remember this song being done once before on AI, during the Semifinals, and I ranked it very high, but the person went home after that performance. Caleb should have better luck. I think he was far more comfortable and engaged with this older blues-rock song from Credence Clearwater Revival. This kind of stuff may be more his thing than '80s Hair Metal and I think he had a very strong showing.

6. Jessica Meuse- "So What"

I have always thought that this was a dumb song by Pink, who is nonetheless very talented. I am not sure why Jessica picked this song to sing as a Dedication. I do not think the choice will get her any new voters. Sure, she hit most of the notes, and I thought it was stronger vocally than her first performance, but I just do not think it provided anything substantive for her. For these first two rounds at least, she seems to sort of accepted her fate of finishing in 4th place and is just singing without really trying to fight to stay in the competition.

The judges are clearly throwing her under the bus in their critiques.

7. Jena Irene- "Bad Romance"

Ok fine. I guess they are switching up the order again. I did not know it was possible for Rickey Minor to get even more cheesy when playing bass on stage.

Anyways, I think I liked Jena's first performance more than this. The arrangement of the song felt weird and her voice seemed sort of out of synch with the band. Still though, it was a fairly decent vocal.

8. Alex Preston- "I'm Yours"

This dedication went out to his girlfriend, who they showed several times in the audience. It was not mentioned that she is Jillian Jensen (formerly of X-Factor USA) and more recently of this current season of American Idol, where she was put through to the live rounds by the judges, but was one of the people who were not given a chance to sing.

I did not really like this performance. Alex reverted to sounding a bit whiny to me on the song and it seemed like he was off synch at the beginning and had to skip a few words in the verses in order to catch up. I am sure his fans will like it, but it was just a bit too "hipster doofus" for me.

Round 2-

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

9. Caleb Johnson- "Maybe I'm Amazed"

He continued his streak tonight of singing songs that have been done once before in Idol history. At first, I was not sure this was going to be an "amazing" choice for him, but as he got more into the song, his voice soared and it was another powerful performance. In retrospect, I think he really did sort of approach Round One as a warmup and only truly went for it on his second performances. Even if that was playing it sort of safe, he showed a good deal of vocal stylistic diversity tonight.

10. Jessica Meuse- "You And I"

More Lady Gaga tonight, and I think for the third time this season. Jessica said she had someone in mind with this song but would not say who it was. She has apparently moved on quickly from that one guy who was once in the audience to support her a few weeks ago.

This was certainly Jessica's best performance of the night and one of her strongest of the season. I think she did a smart thing by make the song sound a bit country and she sounded good and seemed connected. If this was her swan song on American Idol, she will have gone out on a positive note.

11. Jena Irene- "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You"

Did something happen in the middle of this performance? They showed JLo looking horrified by something and then turning her head, while the audio and video briefly cut out to a set shot of the audience before returning to Jena at the piano singing. I guess I may find out in a minute when I un-pause the recording.

It was a pretty shrewd move for Jena to go for the senior vote by singing Elvis and while it was a little bit boring at first, she really had some strong vocal moments at the end. I was basically too distracted about what seemed to be an interruption though. I just tried to Google to see if I could find anything about something happening in the studio and I guess all I will see is that JLo went up on stage and gave her a kiss. At least it wasn't Harry Connick Jr.

Seems like they are going to pimp this performance to the high heavens. I thought it was good, but not as good as the judges would have us believe. The narrative for a Jena vs. Caleb Finale will be stronger than ever after tonight. 

Also, how are these "make up" songs?

Ok, did they cut away from the performance because JLo was not horrified but loving it and looked at Randy Jackson in the lounge and said "fun" and the producers thought potty mouthed Jenny From the Block said something else? Hilarious! She must have said something else and interrupting the performance like that was really an unfair thing to Jena, but I guess the praise they gave her made up for it.

12. Alex Preston-"Yellow"

Could there be a more boring song on the planet? Sorry, Coldplay fans. All that being said, Alex sang it quite nicely. It just felt a bit underwhelming, like a coffee house performance, especially to close out the evening. His fans will probably love it, I could take it or leave it. Nonetheless, this was a strong round for all four of the Finalists. I still would have liked to have heard what Sam Woolf could have done tonight I suppose. Had he stayed, there is no way that there would have been three songs each though.

Round 3 Rankings:

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


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

As much as I would love to see a surprise elimination of Alex, I think it is highly likely that it will be the end of the road for Jessica, and that the other three will be going home for the famous hometown visits. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining Alex, Jena, and Caleb being good at the overwhelmed crying thing like so many Idols past.