Saturday, May 17, 2014

American Idol Top 3 Recap and Results

Season 13 of American Idol is winding down and is usually the case this time of year, I am ready for it to be over. It would be completely out of the realm of possibility, but I wonder if this show could regain more fans if it aired on an every other week basis. There just seems to be too much saturation in the singing show market, ever since the Idol competitors such as the now departed X-Factor and The Voice hit U.S. airwaves. We have learned this week that Idol will do what some other low-rated reality competition shows have resorted to doing and will only air once a week during Season 14. There will be eliminations on the same night as performances and I will be interested to see how that all is arranged.

This past Wednesday, I watched the performance show live, while also distracted by sporting events on tv. I am pretty sure that next Tuesday, which will be the night of the Finale performances, I will be even more focused on watching a certain hockey team play a big game, so I am going to somehow need to find time to watch the episode, but I may not even be able to post rankings and predictions that night. If the contest goes into Overtime, I may really have an issue.

Anyways, here is what went down on Wednesday evening. The first found featured songs selected by Randy Jackson, who like Ryan Seacrest, has been a part of all 500 episodes of American Idol. I am pretty certain that I have seen at least 497 of them, maybe only having missed an audition round episode or two last decade.

1. Caleb Johnson- "Never Tear Us Apart"

"High drama" to start off the evening as the same doctor who has done this bit before a couple years ago emerges to say that Caleb is really sick and his voice is in bad shape. The skeptic in me wonders what the real situation is. We are told that Caleb will soldier on and perform anyway. Based on the way he sang and his speaking voice, if not alerted of this supposed development, I would never have assumed anything was wrong. Whatever the motivation, the producers definitely wanted to give people something to talk and think about.

This was an interesting song choice. Randy said that he gave it to Caleb because it was going to show how "current" he could be. I suppose that is despite the fact that the song is over 25 years old. I used to watch Rock Star: INXS on CBS several years ago and this sort of reminded me of it. I am not a huge fan of this particular song, but Caleb did put his twist on it by making it more of a soulful rock song and illness or not, I thought he sounded really good.

2. Alex Preston- "Pompeii"

If you like Alex's style, you probably really liked this. Since I am not one of those people, I did not really get much out of it. I think it was a weird song, and Alex, while talented, sounded weird while singing it. He seemed to be really tentative at the beginning, as if he did not know all the lyrics. I even thought he might have been looking down at the sheet music somewhere. Starting off playing the guitar, Alex, then moved it behind him and awkwardly transitioned to a bang a bit on a drum, while singing. I am pretty sure that makes him the first ever Idol contestant to play percussion while singing in a competition round. Then, he did something he usually does not do, and sang some lines without any instrument at all. As he bounced into the front of the stage to offer some hand slaps, I thought he might accidentally hit a poor girl in the head with his guitar.

3. Jena Irene- "Titanium"

I feel like this song gets done a lot recently on tv singing shows. It also continues to feel like the producers really want Jena to win. That makes sense since she is the most marketable out of the three remaining. She got somewhat mixed remarks from the judges, but I thought she sang this well-known recent song pretty well. I think that by picking this song for her, the Powers That Be, did what they could to try to help her advance.

Rankings (and while I tried to be fair on these, it's pretty much just a matter of personal taste at this point.)

3. Alex Preston
2. Jena Irene
1. Caleb Johnson

Next, the contestants sang song that were picked from them (we are told) collectively by the three judges.

4. Caleb Johnson- "Demons"

This is another current song and I think Caleb started off a bit uncertain, as if he was thinking too much about his vocals. It was also a bit different to see him out there without a mic stand. He stood in place though and I thought basically delivered vocally. It was certainly a different kind of song than some of the others that he has done this season, but his range and power continue to shine through.

5. Alex Preston- "Stay"

The judges tasked Alex with putting his own spin on a recent Rihanna hit. I thought he sounded nice, but as usual, I just found it a bit boring. I know that young kinds are into his whole hipster vibe, but I wonder if people are really ever going to come out to see him perform in large venues. This definitely felt like another coffee shop performance.

6. Jena Irene- "Heart Attack"

All three songs from this round are current ones, and while I was not familiar with this one, the whole time I kept thinking about how the plan to market Jena after the show will be as the younger version of Demi Lovato. I wonder if she expected that going in to this competition. It was a competent performance, while not amazing in my view, but there is no denying that she has grown a lot during this season.

Once again:

3. Alex Preston
2. Jena Irene
1. Caleb Johnson

Finally, we saw short clips from the hometown visits, where apparently local crowds voted between two options among songs that the contestants had already sang. I am disappointed that they had to give us reprisals in the Final Three. I knew (and still expect) that they will be more of them next week, but I wanted to hear something new this week.

7. Caleb Johnson- "Dazed and Confused"

Once again, his "rock star " act is stellar, which (assuming his voice holds up long-term), I think he will have a post show career, even if it is doing musical theater. Caleb did his thing once again, but the entire televised performance seemed to be dominated by JLo really getting into it from the judges' table. Like, she was really getting into it. I wonder if that was intentional. Seeking out a conspiracy, I wondered if the producers had told her to try to distract from Caleb's singing in an attempt to get him voted off.

8. Alex Preston- "Story Of My Life"

I remember not really buying into this too much when Alex sang it the first time. Perhaps, because I was a bit more used to it, I thought this time it was maybe a bit more passable. Still though, I sometimes seem to detect vocal mistakes by Alex (which may just really be parts of his natural vocal quirkiness) and I just cannot grade it as high for degree of difficulty with what Caleb and Jena do.

9. Jena Irene- "Creep"

How did I know this was what the people in Michigan would vote for? Was the vote rigged?  So, in this round, we got Led Zeppelin, One Direction, and Radiohead; three very different, but all very British groups being represented in this late round of American Idol.

I think Jena had her best performance of the season the first time she sang this and this may have been even better a second time. I did rank it behind Caleb but after watching the performances again, this was probably the best of the night. I do not always like Jena's voice but she definitely has skills when it comes to a song like this. I would have been shocked had she not advanced to the Finale.

My Wednesday Night Round Three Rankings:

3. Alex Preston
2. Jena Irene
1. Caleb Johnson

Overall (same for all three rounds)

3. Alex Preston
2. Jena Irene
1. Caleb Johnson

I briefly commented on Wednesday night that the competition that night was close between Caleb and Jena and they definitely deserved to advance over Alex. However, I really did think that there would be a "shocking" elimination featuring Caleb because he is a white guy who does not play a guitar and appeals to older viewers, while Alex's fans are younger and he is a white guy who plays the guitar (and many other instruments.)

In other words-

Who should have been eliminated: Alex Preston

Who I predicted would be eliminated: Caleb Johnson
Who was eliminated: Alex Preston

I am definitely pleased with this result. I guess the older people (and I suppose I have to count myself since I have cast 50 votes for the person I have ranked number one each week on Google) outnumber the younger voters. Nearly every week, I have voted for Caleb, and I am glad he advanced. My parents liked him too and picked him as a winner from the beginning, while I have been telling them from the first week that he probably will not win. Maybe they will be right after all though. I also feel older than I need to having similar favorites with my parents in recent seasons.

Thursday night gave us the famous video packages featuring the hometown performances. They definitely seemed scaled back from past seasons. The crowds and venues were smaller from the Idol heydays of 2005-2009 and this year, the contestants really did not even cry. Jena shed some tears, but Alex and Caleb kept it way chill. I cannot think of a recent Idol winner who did not break down and cry during their hometown visit.

I will say that I think Fox should try to produce either a reality show or a sitcom that features the younger brothers of Caleb and Jena as roommates.

So, to my moderate surprise, but reasonable satisfaction, Alex was voted off. I do not think I ever realized that his real last name is Philbrick. I suppose that both he and Jena are using their middle names professionally.

I probably would have liked Alex more this season if he was truly the socially awkward, shy person who would have never dreamed of this kind of opportunity, that he was portrayed as during the auditions. Instead, he proved to be a very ambitious, seasoned performer who had already made more than a fair share of connections in the music business. He turned out to be far more "hipster" than "nerd", so I really found it hard to root for him.

Still, he is a talented musician, who now has a great opportunity to make it on the Indy music scene. His sound is pretty current, but trends often change, and if they do, Alex may be somewhat out of luck. I wonder if the vote that eliminated him was close or not. As a "white guy with a guitar", Alex was very much a threat to win the season, and if he was more conventionally good-looking, he probably would have. I am also left wondering if the vote he cast a couple weeks ago to have someone leave when given the option came back to haunt him, because while former Sam Woolf voters might have been expected to gravitate towards the somewhat similar Alex, they may have held a grudge. That could potentially have been his biggest misstep. Also, I think any Idol hopeful from New England or the Northeast is at a voting disadvantage. The Live Free or Die State may be an important part in nominating Presidential candidates, but this is a whole different electoral system.

So, for the first time ever in which voters had the option of voting for a White Guy With a Guitar, we will not have one as a winner. (None was in the Finals last season, but they had won every season since instruments were allowed on the show.) Caleb and Jena will represent the most pro-rock and most band driven Finale ever, and while the show may be trying to guide Jena towards more of an EDM/pop sound, I think their style of music is more of an indication that older voters had more sway than ever this year, with the revised voting system.

I am going to go into next week rooting for Caleb I suppose, but this should by all intents be a very intense and interesting final competition between two powerful singers with confident stage personalities. However, I already know that the original songs they are going to have to sing on stage Tuesday night are going to be terrible.