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The fate of the top five was left in the hands of American Idol fans for Wednesday night’s performance show, and boy did the viewers challenge them.
With an enthusiastic audience that included FOX star Zooey Deschanel, Ariana Grande and Austin Mahone, the remaining Idols — Alex Preston, Caleb Johnson, Jena Irene, Jess Meuse and Sam Woolf — let the audience play DJ and took advice from mentor Jason Mraz.
Group numbers included a trio of Woolf, Irene and Preston on “Best Day of My Life,” by American Authors, and Johnson and Meuse pairing up for “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones.
Preston kicked things off with The Neighborhood’s “Sweater Weather,” and benefited from Mraz’s advice about how to raise the mic higher so it looked like he was dancing with the guitar without looking “cold.” Vocally, Preston hit all the right notes, sticking to the recorded version and not playing around with it too much. Keith Urban wanted to hear more of Preston’s “range” in the song, but praised his style. Jennifer Lopez wished he had made it more “exciting” and told him to keep the “entertainment factor” in mind. Harry Connick Jr. said he could hear Preston on the radio some day and praised him for remembering all the words in the song.
For his second selection, Preston did “Say Something” by A Great Big World and had a great big moment, much like his friends Alex and Sierra did on The X Factor. Preston showed vulnerability and captured the heartbreak of the lyrics. Connick called it a “beautiful performance,” Lopez said he “looked amazing” and that his vocals took it to another level. Urban gave him a standing ovation.
For some odd reason, America chose the done-to-death ballad, “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith for Johnson. Mraz advised him not to “shut down” in the song, and wanted him to open up and tell the story. Johnson decided to show his more tender side in the opening, but this was the first time we noticed Johnson go sharp. However, you can always bank that he will hit the sweet spot at the end of the bridge and he did. Lopez, who got goosies, said he “sang it beautifully,” and liked that he turned it into a ballad. Connick advised him not to look straight into the camera, and felt he lost the connection. Urban, who praised his range and ability, told him to find the feelings in the lyrics and emote.
Things amped back to 11, however, with the oh-so-delightful selection of “In The Still of the Night” by Whitesnake, which gave Johnson the chance to embrace his inner David Coverdale and us an opportunity to pretend to be Tawny Kitaen in our living room. In short: he CRUSHED it. Standing ovation from Urban and Lopez, and praise all around.
The choice of “Human” by Christina Perri, was a great choice for Meuse. Her session with Mraz looked productive, as he really worked with her onstage technique. Surrounded by smoke, Meuse strapped on her acoustic guitar and delivered an authentic and emotional performance. Connick loved that Meuse was listening to all the advice, and was happy she was focused on the meaning of the song. Urban’s favorite part of the performance was when her voice “cracked,” and showed some fragility. Lopez loved that Meuse tapped into the emotion of the song, and said she had a natural, dramatic moment that took the audience to “another level”.
Meuse had her red dress on last night, and her version of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” was a perfect fit for her vocally. Connick called it the perfect marriage of “voice and song.” Urban, stopping short of asking for more “release,” still wanted her to lean into the song, and Lopez wanted more connection. “It left me a tiny bit cold,” she said.
The degree of difficulty was raised for Woolf, to take on Ed Sheeran’s new song, “Sing.” Mraz told the teen to groove a little more without the guitar and “get funky.” Woolf tried to have a party with the song, but he isn’t exactly a funk master. Urban had a point that falsetto isn’t in his wheelhouse. Lopez felt he was more relaxed and thought it was “good.” Connick thought he was laying back too much on the vocals, but it was cool to see him do something different.
The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” was a better fit for Woolf, but he struggled to stay on pitch for most of the song. He finished on a strong note, and Lopez noted that he improved towards the end. Connick called him out on the pitch issues, and Urban agreed that he needs to work on the dynamics more.
Mraz had the funniest line of the night when he compared Irene’s smile to a “toothpaste commercial.” America’s pick of “My Body” by Young the Giant was a great choice for the emotionally dark alternative girl. Irene owned her moment onstage, totally using the stage, rocking her bangs, involving the crowd in waving their arms, and losing herself in the song. Lopez loves that Irene has a “signature style” and even a “phrase.” “Those little funny things that are your own are going to define you as an artist,” she said. Connick said it “felt like a performance.” Urban called her a “lean-in” performer and gave her a standing ovation.
Irene’s cover of “Valerie” didn’t resemble the original Motown flavorings of The Zutons or the sped-up version by Amy Winehouse. The arrangement she did do was a weird smooth jazz version that didn’t work, despite some big notes in the medley. Lopez and Urban nailed it in their critique of the song by calling out the tempo change, but Connick liked it, and was more interested in what her stage name is going to be in the future.
So, who is going home? Keith Urban performs tomorrow night. Let’s hope he gives us some release in his performance. 🙂
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