Usually “American Idol” producers get what they want.
Last season, they wanted a female winner and they did everything in their power to make it happen. This season, they want teen heartthrob Sam Woolf to happen, a tall order considering his inexperience. Barring that, they clearly want a showdown between Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene, the two power singers.
The thing is Alex Preston might be the best of the bunch. And last night, with all of the show-sponsored pandering for his competitors, he ended up outshining them all.
(BTW, the amount of filler on this show is crazy, with odd appearances from Demi Lovato, who offered her opinions a lot, and Martin Garrix, as well as a promo for UFC with champ Ronda Rousey. We learned that Dexter Roberts loves strawberries! And crickets! Sam Woolf can skateboard. We learned that Jessica Meuse may or may not have been abducted by aliens. No, really.)
Here’s how the Top 7 stacked up:
1. Alex Preston, “The A-Team”: He reworked the Ed Sheeran song masterfully, letting the emotion guide some sweet falsettos and a nice run toward the end. “There’s great beauty in smaller performances,” Harry Connick Jr. said, adding that it was the best performance of the night. (He took that back later after seeing Jena Irene.) Urban congratulated him on his artistic signatures.
2. Caleb Johnson, “Family Tree”: He did a great job with the Kings of Leon song, raising the key to make it more dramatic and more suitable to his powerful voice. “It’s dangerous for them to put you first in the lineup,” said Jennifer Lopez. “Now everybody else has to raise their game … That was pretty amazing.” Connick liked it, saying, “It sounded like a song that could be on your record.”
3. Jena Irene, “Creep”: She did a good job with the Radiohead song, adding her own twists and building it without using a falsetto the way Thom Yorke did. It just kept getting bigger. She gets a standing ovation from Urban and Lopez. “You Jena-fy every song that you do,” Lopez said. “It was so beautiful.” “You’re extraordinarily talented and you did some major damage tonight,” Connick said.
4. Sam Woolf, “Sail Away”: This may actually be Young Sam’s best performance yet, folding the David Gray into something pretty and slightly desperate. He still looks uncomfortable and can’t quite be the heartthrob the show wants him to be, but he is still likable. “You are a work in progress,” Connick said, adding that he needed a more familiar song. “I think you did a great job,” Lopez said.
5. C.J. Harris, “Gravity”: Both Lopez and Connick said his take on the John Mayer song was his best performance yet and they may not be wrong. But that just speaks to how much C.J. has struggled with his performances. This was good, but messy in places and it was constructed wrong, which Urban pointed out, saying, “If you’re going to do an emotional thing, I like it to be an arc.”
6. Dexter Roberts, “Muckalee Creek Water”: He did a good job with the Luke Bryan song, in the same way he does with all his songs. He’s just OK, which may be enough for the “Idol” voters. “Don’t let the adrenaline pull you out of the key,” Urban said. Connick told him he had to make the song his own.
7. Jena Irene & Caleb Johnson, “Gimme Shelter”: There was so much going on in this version of the Rolling Stones classic that it got confusing in parts. “That was a moment!” Lopez said. Urban wanted them to cut loose. Connick wanted them to be more entertaining.
8. Alex Preston & Sam Woolf, “Let Her Go”: Um, dudes, everything shouldn’t sound like Jason Mraz. This Passenger song is supposed to be serious and wrenching and to turn it into something peppy and faux reggae just misses the point entirely. Connick called it “saccharine.” Urban said it was “chintzy.” Lopez said, “I think the girls liked it.”
9. Jessica Meuse, “Gunpowder and Lead”: Trying to turn the already-dramatic Miranda Lambert song into something over-the-top backfired on her at the beginning and never really got back on track. She even missed a cue because she was too busy vamping. “This is the first time I’ve heard you off,” Lopez said. “You just seemed a little uncomfortable.” Connick told her that she was just wandering around and needed to focus on rhythm. Urban told her she needed to get focused and get centered.
10. Jessica Meuse, Dexter Roberts & C.J. Harris, “Compass”: You could actually hear this trio unravel somewhere in the middle of the Lady Antebellum song. That’s hard to do when you’re delivering such a bland performance, but the Alabamians managed it! “It just wasn’t good,” Connick said. “It was out of tune. It was flat. There was no spark.” Urban said there was a little bit of everything, “like a shish-kebab.”
BOTTOM THREE: Jessica, C.J., Sam (Actually Bottom Two: Jessica, Dexter)
WILL BE ELIMINATED: Jessica
SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Jessica
ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: Dexter