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'American Idol 13' recap: Alex Preston leads Top 10 week

"American Idol" season 13 contestant Alex Preston. Credit: Fox / Michael Becker

Harry Connick Jr., is admirably trying to educate viewers of “American Idol” on the basics of music theory.

On “Top 10 Night,” where the Top 10 finalists picked songs that reached the Top 10 from the last four years, Connick even sang sharp to show C.J. Harris what he was doing wrong. (C.J. was doing much more than that wrong, though.)

The problem, though, is that Connick sometimes overreaches as he tries to flaunt his expertise. And this time, Keith Urban called him on it and refused to back down -- twice.

Connick tried to dismiss Zedd’s “Clarity,” co-written by Seaford’s Matthew Koma, saying, “There’s not a whole lot to that tune.”

Urban defends it, saying it has a “massive melody” with “huge intervals,” but Connick wasn’t having it, then throwing in how he’s been to the Ultra music festival, which is built around EDM. Urban was right, though -- the range required to sing “Clarity” is broader than most current pop songs. Both Urban and Jennifer Lopez, who often looks like she’s trying to tune out Connick, declared their love for the song as well as Jena Irene’s performance of it.

Later, Connick makes a mistake discussing what he calls “a feature,” where a singer is given “featuring” billing on the song. (“Clarity” is billed as performed by Zedd featuring Foxes.) In the past, “a feature,” especially in dance music, would be given to a singer brought in to only do a short segment of the song, usually a hook or the chorus. But in the case of both “Clarity” and “Wake Me Up,” the singer of the entire song is billed as “featuring” because the biggest name on the project is the DJ/producer of the track.

There are obviously other strains on the judges, especially considering “Idol”’s ongoing ratings drop, as it fell out of the Top 10 most-viewed shows last week. But this was supposed to be a harmonious group, unlike the Mariah Carey-Nicki Minaj friction from last season. And it’s just not turning out that way.

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Here’s how the Top 10 stacked up last night:

1. Alex Preston, “Story of My Life”: It was hard, at times, to watch Alex hold on for dear life to the One Direction song, which is deceptively hard to sing solo, without four other voices. But by changing it in places and speeding it up slightly, he pulled it off. And the judges backed him completely. “I loved it -- I thought your vocal was beautiful,” Lopez said. “You remind me a little bit of Buddy Holly. You evoke that. You evoke greatness.”

2. Malaya Watson, “When I Was Your Man”: Malaya’s decision to tether herself to the chair and focus on keeping herself in check during the Bruno Mars song only made her delivery more impressive, cutting back a bit on the passion to make sure the notes all came out right. It worked well, causing Lopez to get goosies and landing her flowers from Seacrest. “I’m hearing more control in your voice,” Urban said. “Tonight, you pulled it back and it really pulled me in.”

3. Sam Woolf, “We Are Young”: Young Sam should be back in the good graces of the tweens with this version of the fun. song. He was back to his vulnerable, likable self, while also managing to look a little more comfortable on stage. “It was so much better than you did last week,” Lopez said, before Connick encouraged him. “I still feel like you’re timid,” he said.  “You can do this.”

4. Caleb Johnson, “The Edge of Glory”: Turning the Lady Gaga song into a Bon Jovi hair metal ballad was no small feat. While he hit all the notes well, he lost some of Gaga’s heart and desperation. (She’s on the edge, the edge, the EDGE, the EDGE, THE EDGE!”) It’s part of Caleb’s weird position in the show, where singing great isn’t enough. “I didn’t feel like you were singing about anything,” Lopez said. “I felt you were just showing off vocally.”

5. Jena Irene, “Clarity”: She did a good job with the Zedd song, beefing up the melody in places to suit her powerful voice. But really, all the good will she bought with the performance went away when she yelled, “EVERYONE GET THOSE GLOW STICKS UP!” In any case, it still went over well with the judges, who argued about how strong the melody was. “I felt like I was at Ultra for a minute,” Connick said. Um, OK.

6. Majesty Rose, “Wake Me Up”: Her version of the Avicii song was sweetly understated, though a little bland as a pure folk song. It got a split decision from the judges, with Urban strongly against it. “I loved what you just did,” Connick said. “I think you’re really smart.”

7. Jessica Meuse, “Pumped Up Kicks”: It’s wild hearing the judges debate the lyrics of the Foster the People song from such opposite points of view. It’s not clear that Jessica got the performance cues that Lopez attribute to her, but whatever. She started off a little shaky, but eventually pulled it together vocally, if not performance-wise. “You have kind of a one-dimensional sort of performance,” Connick said. “Why were you smiling?”

8. MK Nobilette, “Perfect”: If there were awards for trying really hard, MK would totally land one of those. Her version of Pink’s song was good, until she got lost toward the end and tried desperately to figure out where to get back in the song. “I did mess up,” she said after the performance. “I thought I brought it back.” Connick offered a pointed argument for having her off the show. “You would make an incredible record,” he said. “The question keeps coming to mind is: What kind of show could you put together?”

9. Dexter Roberts, “Cruise”: His slowed-down version of the Florida Georgia Line hit seemed clunky at first and then became blander when he tucked into the original. Connick got poetic in his critique, saying, “Unless you get bigger than these songs, it’s going to come across as generic, it was bereft of joy. I felt like you were meandering.”

10. C.J. Harris, “Invisible”: Oh no. This started out bad and kept getting worse, as his voice got squawkier and more off key during the Hunter Hayes song. “You’re our little quiet killer,” Lopez said. “There’s no doubt your heart is in it … This wasn’t what it should have been.” Connick talked about how he doesn’t go to rehearsals and then showed how C.J. was singing sharp. But this was way beyond singing sharp.

BOTTOM THREE: C.J., MK, Jessica (Actually MK, Dexter, Majesty)




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