The Top 10 take on Top 10 Hits; Harsh Harry is just being honest, y'all

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 20, 2014 at 05:25 AM EDT

This the Top 10 contestants could sing any Top 10 hit. Any hit! That’s, like, any J. Lo song. The possibilities were finite.

M.K. Nobilette, “Perfect” by Pink: Yikes! Well, I’ll back up. The opening part, with M.K. singing to herself in the mirror (someone — preferably Randy Jackson — please come wipe down that dusty mirror) was very cool. She’s damn near perfect in this intimate setting with her, herself, and the fiery red streaks in her hair. But a LOT of people are great in front of a non-audience. J. Lo loves singing into the mirror. As soon as M.K. headed out onto the stage, it’s like she disappeared into a sleepy fog. After she came in too early midway through the song, she fell apart, turning her back on the judges and audience. Harsh (Honest!) Harry set the tone for the rest of the show with his words for M.K.: “I think you’d make an incredible record. But what kind of show could you put together? This sounded like the Pink version with you on top. If you’re not gonna make it sound better….”

Dexter Roberts, “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line: Isn’t Dexter supposed to be a rollicking good time or something? He seems really fun with those dogs. I can’t believe how not-fun he made this usually upbeat song, by lazily walking around and redefining boring. J. Lo played nice, telling Dexter “As well as you sang it…” before suggesting next time he rally the crowd more so that the adrenaline would go up “and suddenly we’re on a magic carpet ride.” What?! With Dexter Roberts? This guy? That just ain’t gonna happen, y’all can count on it. Harsh Harry to the rescue: “I do not think that was a good performance… To be honest, we could have taken you out and had M.K. come out.” Whoa. Low blow. But fair.

Two naps down. I’m very well-rested. Could someone zap me back to life with a glow stick?

Jena Irene, “Clarity” by Zedd featuring Foxes: Electronic is where her heart is? Exclusive Idol scoop: Jena is a robot. All the coolest singers this year are. Harry Connick Jr. has been to the Ultra Music Festival, he’ll have you know (twice). He’s cool. I was so happy to see some genuine energy onstage that I think I overestimated Jena’s vocals on my first viewing. She sounded okay, but really jumpy. “You never looked desperate!” raved Keith Urban, and I think we should pause and marvel/lament in the hilarity of this being a compliment of the highest order on American Idol.

Jennifer reminded Jena to “hold the middle a little bit” instead of scurrying from side to side of the stage. I really think Jena was just focused on touching as many outstretched audience hands as possible. You gotta touch hands! It’s the one surefire way to connect with the crowd. That’s what I think these kids are getting drilled into their heads. Touch some hands, and expose your spray-tanned tummy. Look comfortable, despite your sparkly patchwork jeans. That’s the ticket.

“Electronic is definitely something that’s up and coming,” explained Jena following the commercial break. Is this the Twilight Zone or something? Electronic music has been around and thriving for decades. The way they’re pushing the Jena = Electronic = The Future = Doc Martens storyline is a bit too much. “I have a clear idea of who you are!” confirmed Harry.

NEXT PAGE: Oh, wee-ooh, he looks just like Buddy Holly Alex Preston, “The Story of My Life” by One Direction: Ha, I knew he’d presented British! Alex managed to keep an intimate setting and a high energy level throughout the song, and vocally he’s always solid, so this was by far the best performance yet. The intricate choreography of his crazy-legs (reminiscent of the Phillip Phillips shuffle?) commanded much of my attention, and I was pleased to realize that this week, Alex wore socks. So I definitely agree with Harry: “You just hit the bullseye on the artistry target.” And it’s good to know that instead of just imagining a boring old red and white target, Harry thinks of the shooting-water pistols-at-horses games at amusement parks.

J. Lo said Alex reminded her of Buddy Holly. He’s just missing the glasses, “but you don’t need them,” she insisted. Hipster glasses would definitely make him less likable. I can totally confirm that via personal experience.

The “Directioners” approve! Thanks for the Twitter check, Ryan. I don’t know why he used a computer instead of just his phone, though. His phone is practically a cohost. We don’t have room for another appliance!

Malaya Watson, “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars: I think this was her best performance to date — she showed much more vocal control than last week on a tune she sang for one of her family members with the message, “Dude, she’s gonna leave you if you don’t catch up.” I enjoy her senses of gravity and frankness re: the human condition. No piano this time, but she was piano-adjacent while perched on a stool, so it almost counts. She’s showing growth by practicing restraint, a cool inversion of the typical expansion arc. And she looked gorgeous! The emotional quality of her performance nearly matched the height of her hair!

Harry offered some sound technical advice: Malaya should ask the “music people” to show her different chords and how she could sing different runs alongside them — “It will enhance your experience as a singer,” he promised. Damn. She’s only 16. Reality check.

Caleb Johnson, “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga: “Just saying, the drums could go there.” Oh my God, thank you, Randy Jackson, for all that you do. (What do you do.) This was not my favorite from Caleb — I initially loved the song choice because I think it’s easy to consider “The Edge of Glory” somewhat of a rock ballad, but I totally agreed with Keith in that there was an inconsistency with the vocal weight Caleb brings to a song and the limits of the song itself. If he’d changed the timing so he’d been able to stretch some of those notes out and play around with them a little, it might’ve been better, but this did feel like he was “lumbering along.” Of course, Caleb’s actual vocals were spot on, as usual; I was just struck by the disconnect in the energy of the performance and the energy Caleb probably wanted it to have.

Keith did an absolutely amazing impression of Harry, complete with dozens of vocab words within 15 seconds of improv. The man is a spiky-haired, tender-hearted genius!

NEXT PAGE: ‘I don’t wanna enforce homicidal behavior.’ -Jessica Meuse C.J. Harris, “Invisible” by Hunter Hayes: Agggggghhh. This was so out of tune, it’s barely worth discussing. What could the judges even say? Keith and Jennifer assured viewers C.J. had killed it during rehearsal. Harry? Some reason, please? “I specifically do not go to rehearsals. I do not care,” said Harsh. “I wanna see what you do when the red light is on.” Exactly. Yes. He then demonstrated exactly what it means to sing sharp. There was really nothing else to say.

Jessica Meuse, “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People: Poor Jessica. She’s being so nice and fun and tolerant of this eye-rolly chaos, yet she gets this less-than-loving treatment from the Seacrest Script: “Jessica… is one of the people in the road.” Tragic! She went to spin class and this is how you repay her?!

Anyway: GREAT night for Jess. Loved her twang. I dig her vocal in this lower register and especially liked her delicate three-note run on the word “run.” She didn’t miss a note, changed up the arrangement just enough, and finished strong with an intentionally wavering “bullet.” And unlike Harry, I thought her playful facial expressions worked perfectly against the darker meaning of the lyrics. The song is friendly and upbeat! Why should she go dark and stormy in her visual interpretation if her delivery matches the sound of the original? The other two judges and Seacrest all jumped in to justify Jessica’s stylistic choice, and I noticed Jessica remained calm and pleasant throughout. “I don’t wanna enforce homicidal behavior,” she casually offered. I’m so glad she did.

Majesty Rose, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii: Ehhhh. Not Majesty’s strongest, and I’m sorry to say her fear and hesitancy ruined any better vibe her performance could have achieved vocally. I was happy she returned to an acoustic guitar performance and gave a song with driving danceability a folksy spin. That was really smart. But her breathiness was distracting, and sometimes her notes came out as whispers, and I was left wondering, “Well… could she sing it normally or not?” It didn’t seem intentional — and if it was, it was annoying.

J. Lo detected that fear and reminded Majesty that letting that affect you onstage is always unacceptable. Loving J. Lo tonight! (With no new episode of Nashville this week, she’d gamely stepped in as the Juliette Barnes of American Idol with a racy thong neckline.)

Sam Woolf, “We Are Young” by Fun.: Yep. Sam is young. He can sing. Can he set the stage on fire? NO. Absolutely not. But this was a strong vocal performance with a bunch of well-executed variations on the original melody, and he should be safe for now. More than safe, probably, because he’s cute.

Keith and J. Lo barely had time to spout their great-job-great-jobs, but Harry got his say: “Self-assertion. You have to own it. I still feel like you’re timid.”

Your favorites tonight? Discuss!

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Read more: Harry Connick Jr. on his ‘harsh’ nickname, the most frustrating part of being a judge