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The American Idol Top 8 got ready to party like it was 1985 and David Cook returned to mentor the fun on Wednesday night’s ’80s-themed performance episode.
Cook, known for his own interpretations of Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson songs during his victorious turn on Season seven, was up to the task.
“The 80s to me, just represent incredible production, incredible music,” the 31-year old Texas native said, as he dove into the job, dispensing excellent advice and generally upstaging in-house mentor Randy Jackson in all of his sessions with a zeal that just makes us want to put this out there to the producers–consider hiring Cook for either a judging or a permanent mentor job for Season 14. To quote perky contestant Malaya Watson, “The dude won,” and his presence was a definite bonus for this year’s bunch.
The evening was packed with plenty of hijinks courtesy of the judges, starting with a mullet-sporting Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez rocking the ‘80s hair, Harry Connick Jr. going into the audience and carrying a young girl on his shoulders, a “Like a Virgin” singalong, a Jody Watley lesson, and Urban holding up his iPhone with a lighter App.
Idol duets included Sam Woolf and Alex Preston pairing up to do Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl is Mine,” Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson taking on “It’s Only Love” by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner, Watson and C.J. Harris pairing up for “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me” by Aretha Franklin and George Michael, and Jess Meuse saddling up beside Dexter Roberts for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream.”
Jena Irene kicked things off with a desire to make her mark with “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Cook was apprehensive at first at her decision to re-imagine the song, but found himself “digging on it.” Seated at a piano, she started the song as a ballad, but then turned the iconic tune into something Lorde might do, with a bit of an edge. Urban said he loves “the originality you bring to your performances.” Lopez felt “it languished in the middle, but you put your stamp on it.” Connick wasn’t a fan of the arrangement, but appreciated that she is trying to “twist “ her choices up. He felt, however, it was too choreographed and advised her to let work the crowd a little more.
Dexter Roberts chose “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” by Georgia Satellites, an obvious choice as it’s a good rocking bar song. Cook called him out on his poor enunciation, and warned him not to let the other guitarist upstage him on the song. His diction still needs help, but Lopez said Roberts’ performance “felt good today,” Connick thought it was “fine,” and Urban advised Roberts to do something unexpected like kick the mic stand.
Malaya Watson selected “Through the Fire,” by Chaka Khan. The teen went for the high notes with gusto, but still needs a little bit more maturity to pull off a song like that. She’s still adorable. Urban advised her to chill out a little bit more, Lopez agreed, telling her “you need to relax up there.” Connick felt Watson was anticipating hitting the big notes too early in the song.
Jess Meuse embraced her inner new wave goddess with “Call Me” by Blondie, which Cook said was perfect vocally, but advised her to have more fun on stage. Meuse slinked around the stage and looked like a star, and her vocals were spot on, but Connick advised Meuse to sing in the “pocket” and learn “the shuffle.” Urban said he is still waiting for the “release.” Lopez told her to tap into the sexiness of the song.
Sam Woolf tried to save face after last week’s near elimination with an acoustic version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Woolf strapped on a guitar for the song and sweetly sang into the camera, but completely ignored all the girls standing next to him on stage. Urban loved the choice to do the song solo, Lopez said his voice is a “treat.” Connick told him it was it was ok to ignore the camera and be more social with his female fans before tipping him off to look up old Ricky Nelson videos on YouTube.
Alex Preston made an interesting choice to perform “Every Breath I Take” by The Police, as a lullaby–a curious decision to lighten up a song about stalking. Connick applauded that Preston turned it into a new song, but said he needs to rethink his coffee house presentation and be more of an entertainer. Urban said that he should push and pull the meter a little bit more. Lopez disagreed with the boys, but missed the melody of the song.
CJ Harris worked out a nice arrangement of “Free Falling” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but from the first note, he struggled to find the pitch. He settled in by the chorus, but was it enough to stay in the competition? Lopez, said Harris has the ability to “touch people’s hearts.” Connick said that Harris has an incredible gift for connecting with audience, and is getting closer to zoning in and singing in tune. Urban loves the “survivor tone” in his voice.
Caleb Johnson finished the night with a big ballad, “Faithfully,” by Journey. Taking Cook’s advice to approach the song with reverence, Johnson built the song to a big ending, with pyrotechnics and commanding vocals. “It was exciting watching you walk out,” said Connick, who was thrilled Johnson finally sang something with subtlety. “It was killer,” Urban said. “It was an ‘80s flashback.” “It’s no small task to take on Steve Perry,” said Lopez, who thought he looked uncomfortable with the softer nuances of the song, but couldn’t wait to get to the “big stuff.”
So who is going home? Who was totally awesome, and who was bogus? Hit us up in the comments, Idol Worshippers!
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