In case there was any doubt whether “American Idol” meant it when they said the focus of this season would be on having the singers do their best, um, we got the first Rush Week.
Rush Week is all about trying to make “good TV,” having the 15 semi-finalists sit in a room not knowing whether they were going to get a chance to sing until minutes before they had to go on. It succeeds in creating more suspense, but it comes at the expense of having the singers look prepared.
Despite the first “Idol” boot camp, led by Randy Jackson and featuring successful former finalists Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, as well as nondenominational spiritual advisers, all the singers were hampered by nerves – every single one of them.
Judge Jennifer Lopez tried to explain several times to viewers how difficult a position the singers were in. And some of them, presumably the ones who will move forward into the Top 13, were eventually able to shine in their performances. (The guys run the same gauntlet tonight, with Ben Briley landing the final spot over Neco Starr.)
Here’s how the night shook out:
Majesty Rose, “Happy”: Pharrell’s hit wasn’t a great song choice for her because it’s a little too laid back for a competition. It’s a great sign for her future, though, that she handled it well and that the judges still loved it. “You delivered that song in a beautiful way,” J.Lo said. “Beautiful start!” Harry Connick Jr. said that she did a great job, but it didn’t look like he clapped for her. Maybe that’s part of being “harsh”?
Kristen O’Connor, “Turning Tables”: Her nerves early on made her a little shaky, as Keith Urban pointed out. J.Lo said she was singing too fast for the band. However, they both said that she pulled it together by the middle of the song and hammered it home. The problem with singing an Adele song is that you’re going to get compared to Adele, and Kristen can't quite stand up to that.
Briana Oakley, “Warrior”: She has a nice voice, but needs to figure out how to connect better. The Demi Lovato song suited her well, but when the big move is getting up from the stool, there’s an issue. J.Lo called her “a young Whitney Houston,” but said she needs to raise her performance level.
Jena Irene, “Paint It Black”: “Idol” needs to cut her a break on the name thing. They keep showing her correcting people when they get her name wrong instead of editing it out. Connick questioned whether she understood the Rolling Stones song, which she clearly didn’t, but said she did a good job. She did well with the song, but has been better.
Bria Anai, “Wrong Side of a Love Song”: She did a good job with the Melanie Fiona song, nicely balancing the power and the tenderness. She got a little carried away at times, but, as Urban said, “You still have the lips.” Connick got the first boos of the night by saying she was a little too shouty. Lopez said she has “star written all over you.”
Marrialle Sellars, “Roar”: Everything about this was wrong, even before she lost her shoe. The Katy Perry song doesn’t really showcase the singer very well and Marrialle’s arrangement was all wrong – too low for too long. She should have stuck with her initial choice and done it on her acoustic guitar, but really she should have just done the original – Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”
Jessica Meuse, “Drink a Beer”: It was a great idea to do the Luke Bryan smash. Too bad she couldn’t quite pull it off. Urban pointed out that she didn’t seem to understand the song, smiling after singing about death. Her nerves seemed to get the best of her on every level and she may have come to the end of the line.
Emily Piriz, “Paris (Ooh La La)”: The sound mix on this was bad, with the backing vocals sounding like they were sung through a can. Connick questioned the 18-year-old singing the racy lyrics of the Grace Potter song. Urban challenged her to be more open with her performances. However, Lopez said she was one of her favorites.
MK Nobilette, “All of Me”: Her nerves were palpable, making it hard for her to draw her breath. However, she managed to get to her comfort zone, where her warm voice and interesting tone show through. “It was the perfect song choice,” Urban said of the John Legend song. “That was a real beautiful performance, baby.” Lopez says that the true sentiment of the song came through. “You belong here,” Connick said.
Malaya Watson, “Hard Times”: The best performance of the night. She truly felt the Ray Charles classic “Hard Times” and was overwhelmed at times by emotion. Urban said it was “over the top,” which was true, but she was also delightful.
ELIMINATED (without singing): Andrina Brogden, Austin Wolfe, Brandy Neelly, Jillian Jensen, Kenzie Hall
WILL ADVANCE: Malaya, Majesty, Kristen, MK, Emily
SHOULD ADVANCE: Malaya, Majesty, Kristen, MK, Jena
ACTUALLY ADVANCED: Malaya, Majesty, Kristen, MK, Emily, Jena, Jessica