The Top 9 become frontmen and frontwomen, but the judges' giant gummy bear from 1972 threatens to command all the attention
American Idol Recap Sam Woolf
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This week, the Top 9 had to pretend they were at the forefront of a band. (Which they are anyway, every week, at least if they wanna be!) Total stage domination was much easier said than done for a lot of ‘em. Meanwhile, Harry Connick Jr. ran up onstage to steal Ryan Seacrest’s shoe and shared a giant purple gummy bear (seriously? at least get red) with Jennifer Lopez. Later, she swore, but the five-second delay zapped it out of existence. Was it an s-bomb or an f-bomb or another rendition of “I Luh Ya Papi”? We’ll never know.

Anyway, there was a LOT of time to fill. Two hours, nine contestants. You do the math/eat the sugar.

Alex Preston, “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt: He really “chilled out” this song, man. Alex could’ve done what he did with this one on any given week. But I wasn’t too disappointed in his lack of spirit fingers for the theme, because who really wants to see Alex thrashing around onstage just because he’s supposed to? Frontmen come in all shapes and sizes and sounds. I enjoyed the complete overhaul he gave the song. Would Harry really want a guitar wizard who refuses to wear socks to try and sound more like Gwen Stefani? Nah. That’s not Alex. Alex was just being Alex.

I don’t think he’s in any danger, though singing first always leaves a contestant vulnerable. I really enjoyed listening to this. This might not make any sense, but the style reminded me of when I used to take whatever my favorite song was at the time during the mid-’90s and just sing it aimlessly to myself while doing my homework or waiting around in a parked car (I had a TERRIBLE childhood!) — rhythm and tune completely up to me, but because I already loved the song so much, there was still some sense to it, a hazy adherence to the original. I consider Alex to be a technical master of this “whatever” effect.

And then he RUINED that for me by admitting after his segment that up until this week, he hadn’t even been familiar with the song! Doiiiiiiii.

Majesty Rose, “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine: Nope! Sorry, girl. I really want Majesty to do well, but this did not help the case of the girl who’s twice been a member of the Stool Set. She basically cannot and should not be belting songs, and this one was a belter. So many notes were off, and she still looked terrified to me. The only person who looked more scared than Majesty during that song was her best friend in the audience! I think she’s out of her element.

I totally agree with Harry that Majesty could still pull out a killer performance that’ll surprise us all. I just don’t think tonight’s effort particularly forecasted that in any way, so she might never get the chance. I loved her outfit! I’m surprised Keith didn’t mention it. That crisp white wrap-romper (did not know that could be a thing), red pocket square, and tambourine? You could not ask for a cooler preschool teacher.

Dexter Roberts, “Boondocks” by Little Big Town: He’s such a freakin’ busybody! I can’t help but admire Dexter’s work ethic as he seems to have eight hands, one inside every job — tractor-fixin’, firefightin’, lifeguardin’, playin’ music, huntin’, fishin’, dog trainin’, and obviously goin’ to church every Sunday morning. This was a smart song choice, and for all of the judges’ repeated critiques that Dexter needs to do something, anything, to set himself apart from the original artists he chooses to cover, I can’t help but appreciate his overall competency and drive to do well. Something’s not clicking — he either doesn’t get what they’re asking for, or has zero ideas re: artistry — but at least he doesn’t totally suck. A ringing endorsement, right? Watch Idol!

Also, Dexter deserves much credit this week for having to stand around like a dummy during the Gummy Bear Stare and refrain from throwing some serious shade towards the judges’ antics.

Nice form.

NEXT PAGE: Sam Woolf fully commits to springtime with a bad floral shirt

Malaya Watson, “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles: J. Lo wanted some more headbanging from Malaya after that truly treacherous opening medley, but our fairest judge was still able to rev up some glistening Baby Tears from the ol’ ducts as Malaya slowed it down (and then somewhat bizarrely powered it up) for a meandering and challenging Beatles tune. All of my little criticisms of Malaya — she lacks vocal control; her physical dramatics are wildly hot and cold to a distracting effect; the braces — can be chalked up to the fact that she’s only 16 years young. She’ll grow out of that! A lot of what she’s doing is remarkable. I don’t want to use her age as a blanket excuse, but I have to. What Harry thinks Majesty could do (surprise us all), I think Malaya can and will do. As he said, she’s the most consistently improved week to week.

I loved Harry’s tweak to something Malaya said in her package interview — that she was “on the road to stardom.” She should be on the road to a better craft, he corrected her. “Work on harmonies. Hang around the piano players. Learn every note and every chord. With a voice like yours, your ear, the attitude that you have… forget about stardom; all of that will happen.” Will it? It could.

“Your voice has the sweetness of a young Michael Jackson,” offered J. Lo. “You’re so blessed.” Someone’s still a little high from that gummy bear.

Sam Woolf, “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s: I love how they had to surround this sweet and polite young man with dozens of light bulbs on the floor to help us not fall asleep during his performance. I guess perching him in the center of a gaggle of girls would have been 1) repetitive and 2) not conducive with the whole fronting-a-band thing. But basically the lights were stand-ins for an engaged crowd and/or Sam’s participating-because-they-happen-to-be-switched-on band members. There’s nothing wrong with his vocals. He sounds lovely. But I am so bored. And don’t you think it’s a bit rude to fly all the way back to the retirement community in Florida just to swipe an old lady’s flowered blouse for your American Idol performance? They have wardrobe people for that! And shipping. So strange.

Jennifer demanded to know who was the Delilah in Sam’s life, which, ohhhh, gross, no, leave him alone, he’s just a kid. He should be encouraged to play the field of switched-on light bulbs for as many more short weeks we shall know him! Harry and Keith agreed that Sam needed to loosen up and at least suggest the notion of communication with any second party. “Sometimes I wish you’d close your eyes and go inside that head…” Harry trailed off, perhaps visualizing the empty room that might be Sam’s head. Four people clapped — just “a smattering” of the crowd wants to encourage this trip inside Sam’s mental space. “Now it sounds like your concert!” Keith immediately quipped. GO KEITH.

“What’s 40 feet long and has eight teeth? Front row at Keith Urban’s concert!” Harry snarked with some tried-and-true material. But nope. This round goes to Keith.

So who is Sam’s Delilah? “My grandma.” The uprising of “Awwww”s from the crowd was well beyond a mere smattering!

NEXT PAGE: Hunger Games unwind; life’s a state of mi-iiiiind

Jessica Meuse, “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac: Week after week Jessica proves to be way cooler than previously established. She’s used to playing to an audience of one — and sometimes it’s not even a bartender, it’s a disinterested outdoor cat. And if she’s not out on gigs or playing with her animals, she’s hunting. “It’s a skill that you should have,” said the pride of Slapout, Alabama. “When the end of the world comes, you’re gonna want the redneck on your team.” I love how she basically treats life like the Hunger Games, because HELLO. We all know it really is. We just don’t know how to hunt. Yet.

I really liked this from Jessica — no surprise, as I LOVE this song, and she sang it beautifully. I’m not a person who needs to compare this to every other “Rhiannon” cover or Stevie Nicks herself and then immediately dismiss Jessica for not out-performing any of those people. She’s not going to do that. But this was really pretty, and as cheesy as J. Lo’s comment to Jess was about the “lightness in your face” and better communication with the audience, I think she’s right. The judges are hesitant to compliment her, but you really could not find much wrong with this performance. Keith did express hope that Jess would learn to be more comfortable without playing an instrument. I loved how she sang higher on the second-to-last “dreams unwind, love’s a state of mind.” And I love that she’s so genuinely happy to be here. Her equipment is someone else’s responsibility, for now.

C.J. Harris, “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” by The Steeldrivers: I’m realizing more and more that this guy is just pure “do what feels good, feels right, feels like it means something.” That’s great in terms of passion, but in C.J.’s case, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to anything resembling a mastery of music. He knows he loves music, but it’s just not going to be enough, if he keeps missing so many notes. Every time I get swept up in a few solid lines of his and appreciate his energy and gumption, he goes sharp and the bubble bursts. It’s sad. His is a very pleasant bubble!

Keith’s critique that C.J. needed to be careful not to confuse the “sound of expressing with the feeling of expressing” was a cool comment in general, though I don’t really think that’s C.J.’s problem. He is singing out of tune. I’m not sure how many other ways Harry can explain it. Super-de-duper likable guy, though. So much grey denim!

NEXT PAGE: Introducing… Sexy Airbag Caleb Johnson

Caleb Johnson, “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin: No one can be surprised that Caleb slayed it on “I’m With the Band” night, which was probably decided on because of his participation in American Idol. He’s so consistently good week-to-week that sometimes I find myself less dazzled by his performances and more charmed by the off-roading details of Caleb, like his shaggy mane getting professionally “shaken out” by a pair of hands (show Majesty how it’s done, boy!) and his description of his typical bar gigs back at home, many of which boasted two or three people at best “or one drunk person that hates me.” I cackled out loud at that one, which is rare for me. Usually I channel my delight through these recaps or Twitter. A genuine LOL! What are the chances? (Pause for applause.)

Season 13 now has a Sexy Airbag in Caleb — Jennifer Lopez thinks he’s sexy (she even called him “Papi,” and when she infuses self-promotion into her critiques you know she’s really into the guy), and Keith said Caleb’s “whole performance came at me like an airbag in slow motion.” PERFECT description! And Harry’s followup about the fabulous Rickey Minor and the band not being “afraid to play” resonated with me — Caleb is a band’s dream in this case. (Can you imagine how monotonous and restrained they must have felt backing Sam?)

Jena Irene, “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence: If everyone sounded and performed at Caleb and Jena’s level, this would be a much stronger Idol season. Vocally I thought Jena lost her way at the end, but I’m chalking it up to her literally jumping around — her endless touching of audience-hands, interaction with the band members, and general liveliness helped justify why they’d place her last instead of Caleb. But I’m not sure I totally agree with Harry that Jena’s voice is that distinctive on its own. To me she’s a very competent mimic of whatever she’s covering. It’s like she’s poured her favorite singers into one magical surname-dropping cauldron to create a distinct Amy Lee-Hayley Williams-Amy Winehouse-Lorde blend called Jena Irene.

She’s talented! And I really like her personality. I just feel like I know more about the styles of music she enjoys than what Jena herself could offer as an artist. I know she’s got more originals up her sleeve. We shall hear them!

Happy with Top 9 night? Who’s your pick to go home? Mine is Majesty. Sad face (drawn by a preschooler).


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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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