Tonight it’s Top-Ten Song Night! Or: Idol Swears These Kids Can Be Marketable. Along the way, school shootings, bathroom coke binges, and EDM. Plus, each finalist pays a visit to Ryan Seacrest’s morning show for a very special interview. It’s a weird night, folks.
MK Nobillette: “Fuckin’ Perfect” by Pink
On the Seacrest show, MK says she’s been contacted on Twitter by countless people who say she’s helped them work through their depression, and I need to know how exactly that works. She’s led people out of depression by schlepping across the stage with her head bowed? I don’t get it. Anyway, tonight’s performance is decent at first, but she comes in on the bridge just a few seconds ahead of the band, in a glaringly obvious mistake. So does she take the song’s message to heart, shrug it off, and finish strong? No. No, she does not. She retreats to the back of the stage, her voice goes flat, and she’s back to being a mouse. Bummer. The judges are merely reserved in their praise, which means they hate it.
Dexter Roberts: “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line
Dexter cleverly switches up the first verse of this song, turning it into an almost-ballad, and just as I’m about to applaud his artistry, he switches it right back to the version you’ve heard a billion times. He has no hat and no guitar tonight, and it might be that his soul is in his hat and guitar; he’s bored and listless throughout. This should be a slam-dunk for him, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Harry calls the performance “bereft of joy,” which is for sure the first time “bereft” has been said on Idol. Jennifer says he should have had the crowd rocking along with him, since this is such a familiar song, and she ends with the wise observation that you can’t have a music career without hit songs. Difficult to dispute.
Jena Irene: “Clarity” by Zedd
Jena points out that electronic music doesn’t get done much on American Idol, and it’s true, and it’s for a good reason: Electronic music isn’t generally about the singer. When there’s a vocal track at all, it’s usually a loop and rarely interesting. Anyway, Randy says that “Clarity” is “a performance song,” and Jena corrects him: “It’s an entertainment song,” and they’re both right and they’re both wrong because neither of them has said anything at all. Her performance is okay, a little throaty, but at least she gets the crowd on her side with a “let’s get those glow sticks up in the air!” Harry points out that there wasn’t much for her to do with the song, but that her character is starting to become clear, which is true. I like it, if only because she’s the first person tonight to look like she’s enjoying herself.
Alex Preston: “Story of My Life” by One Direction
But the show really starts with Alex’s galloping take on 1D’s recent hit. It sounds like the Lumineers doing One Direction, which is to say it’s about as relevant as this show is ever going to get. Even the crowd’s arrhythmic clapping doesn’t throw Alex off. Though if he had stopped in mid-song and said “Please stop doing that, you’re bad at it,” he’d have a fan for life. Plus, he looks like he’s having fun; his smile is so genuine you forget that his smile is so creepy. The judges love it. The Directioners on Twitter love it. Ryan Seacrest knows that One Direction fans are collectively known as Directioners, which I suppose a man in his position must, but boy, it still stops me in my tracks.
Malaya Watson: “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars
Just after Alex’s performance, Harry and Jennifer say that the first three performances left them missing a sense that the finalists had a real hunger for the stage, an actual need to perform. Well, here comes Malaya to sort that shit out. Her version of “When I Was Your Man” is pitch-perfect and full of actual raw emotion. It’s gorgeous! And she’s stopped flat-ironing her hair, which is a step in the right direction. She should be singing some kicky teenage R&B-flavored pop right now, some Five Star for the 21st century. Let’s make this happen. The judges love it, with Harry’s only critique being that she should work with the band and only sing runs whose notes match the chord they’re playing. Fine. Oh, and Malaya says on the Seacrest show that nobody’s ever bought her flowers, so the show delivers her a big pot of roses. That’s what you get a teenage girl, right? A giant, heavy flowerpot?
Caleb Johnson: “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga
This really should have been great. A savvy band director, or any mentor other than Randy Jackson, would have urged Caleb to tease out this song’s innate Meat Loafiness, but this version is just slowed down and joyless. Sure, he sounds great, but the performance goes nowhere. Harry gives him an A for originality but wants him to give us a quieter, more intimate moment. Jennifer says she wanted to feel the song’s emotion. I wish he’d brought someone out to scissor him and barf on his dress. Nobody gets what they want in this world.
CJ Harris: “Invisible” by Hunter Hayes
The Idol train gets even further off-track here, as CJ takes on a song that isn’t nearly big enough for his voice, yet still manages to stink it up. He’s sharp throughout, which Harry patiently explains to him (and us) by singing on- and then off-pitch. (In 13 seasons of a show that has deployed the word pitchy more times than I could calculate, this is the first time the word has been defined. Let’s keep Harry around forever.) All the judges give him bad reviews for it, but everyone reminds him how much they’re rooting for him. Jennifer calls him “our quiet killer.” There you have it, folks — CJ Harris is heart disease.
Jessica Meuse: “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People
Okay. So we all know that this song is about a school shooting, right? It’s a bubbly pop song about an awful thing. Message received. Tonight, Jessica gets up there and does a perfectly serviceable country-rock version of it, but she smiles through the whole thing. Like, she’s not paying attention to the lyrics at all. It’s fucking weird, you guys. Harry calls her out for giving such a breezy vocal performance, and Keith just straight-up laughs through the whole thing. Jennifer thinks she’s doing what Foster the People themselves did, which is dressing upsetting subject matter in a cheery way. I think she’s giving Jess too much credit. Though, helpfully, Jessica does reassure us: “I don’t endorse murder or violent behavior.” Duly noted, Ms. Meuse.
Majesty Rose: “Wake Me Up” by Avicii and Aloe Blacc
Majesty kind of Kacey Musgraveses up this song, which plays to her folks strengths but also puts an emphasis on the song itself, which, minus Avicii’s EDM trickery, is not much of a song at all. Plus, her usual winsomeness is at half-strength; she’s spooked from last week’s visit to the Stools of Shame. Harry likes it, Keith doesn’t, Jen says she saw her fear and doesn’t ever want to see it again. I think her goose is cooked.
Sam Woolf: “We Are Young” by fun.
I always forget Sam Woolf when he’s not there. And sometimes, like I do twice tonight, I forget him when he’s performing. The song itself does him no favors; you really need Nate Ruess’s tone to sell it effectively. Otherwise you paradoxically sound old, which is a weird thing to say about a guy you’d card at the box office for a PG-13 film. Anyway, Keith and Jen love it, while Harry continues to call Sam out for his timidity. He says he wants the first-audition Sam, the guy who sang “Lego House.” I forgot about that guy too.
So there it is! I think Majesty and MK will be in the bottom two, and I think Alex and Malaya need to teach the rest of the gang how it’s done. And seriously, what happened to this season?