“This Is Me” week on “American Idol” proved to be a little more difficult than expected, as some of the Top 13 struggled to express themselves clearly.
Luckily, judges Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban are getting better at their own self-expression. Their criticisms and suggestions – even when contradictory – make sense for the most part, and seem aimed to help the finalists on their journey.
Here’s how the Top 13 stacked up:
1. Emily Piriz, “Glitter in the Air”: Her version of the P!nk song was wonderfully powerful and controlled. She declared herself a contender with this performance. “That’s a tough song to take on, but you did it beautifully,” Lopez said. “I’m gushing.”
2. Alex Preston, “Beautiful Mess”: His take on the Jason Mraz song was incredibly emotional without losing any of the control and precision of the original. But Connick didn’t like it, calling it “really, really introspective,” as if that was a bad thing. Urban said Alex’s tender delivery had the opposite effect on him. “It pulled me into you,” he said.
3. Caleb Johnson, “Pressure and Time”: His hard-rocking version of the Rival Sons song was kind of a shock for “Idol.” He got a standing ovation from Urban and Lopez, as much for his performance as his powerful vocals. He’s good, but Urban nails the larger issue facing him: Is he a mimic or an artist? As good as this was, the jury is still out. “You’re so ready for the rock star life,” Lopez said.
4. Jessica Meuse, “The Crow and The Butterfly”: She had quite a change of musical direction from Luke Bryan to Shinedown, but the song suited her. It may have been her best performance yet. “There’s an edge in your voice that’s really appealing,” Urban said. Lopez said it was her favorite performance of the night.
5. M.K. Nobillette, “Satisfaction”: She really started coming into her own at the end of the Allen Stone song, picking up the tempo and the swagger. A better edit of the song would have helped her even more. “It’s not all there yet,” Urban said, “but your voice never fails you.” Lopez added, “You are awesome!”
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6. Majesty Rose, “Tightrope”: She struggled at the beginning of the Janelle Monae hit, which Urban called a “killer song choice,” but came on like gangbusters at the end. “There’s nobody like you,” Lopez said. “Singing that song was so perfect for you. ... That was a great performance.”
7. Sam Woolf, “Unwell”: His nerves still seemed to work for him, but the tempo of the song, as Urban noted, was too slow. Instead of coming across as angst-ridden, as Rob Thomas does in the Matchbox Twenty original, Sam's version feels more apathetic. “It was nice,” Connick said. “You’re like a quiet storm,” Lopez said. “You’ve got to really get loose up there.”
8. C.J. Harris, “Radio”: Of all the songs in the world that you could use to introduce yourself to America, you pick a middling Darius Rucker song? Really? Connick said, “I thought it was an OK song choice,” though he added it would have been fine in a 20-song set. Harris has a great voice, but he needed much better material.
9. Ben Briley, “Folsom Prison Blues”: He sped up the Johnny Cash classic for a reason that wasn’t really clear and then delivered it like he was on a cruise ship. Urban cautioned him about being too kitschy, but Lopez loved the faster tempo and Connick called it the best one of the night. Of course, that wasn’t that high a compliment at that point.
10. Dexter Roberts, “Aw Naw”: His take on the Chris Young country stomper was fun, but sort of nondescript and, as Connick pointed out, a little off-key. “How do you take it to the next level?” asked Lopez. “How do we make it Dexter?” In any case, he’s safe as houses for a long while as long as he sings that kind of country.
11. Malaya Watson, “Runaway Baby”: The Bruno Mars song is tough to sing, especially when you’re nervous. “It went off the rails,” Connick told her, which was true. “Your energy is so contagious,” Urban said. “What you gotta do now is figure out how to put that in a performance.”
12. Jena Irene, “The Scientist”: Her start of the Coldplay song was so far out of tune that it was frightening until she got it back under control. “I was actually worried for you in the first few minutes,” Lopez said. “It’s a tough song that you chose there, but somehow you pulled it out.” Ryan Seacrest helped explain the song choice by Googling it on his phone.
13. Kristen O’Connor, “Beautiful Disaster”: The poignant Kelly Clarkson ballad was not a good pick for Kristen and the terrible, busy arrangement didn’t help. She seemed lost in the song pretty quickly. “You’re a really strong pop singer,” Connick said. “You were singing out of tune and I know you can sing in tune because I’ve heard you do it.”
BOTTOM THREE: Kristen, Jena, C.J. (Actually -- Kristen, Malaya, MK)
SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Kristen
WILL BE ELIMINATED: Jena
ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: Kristen