Is 'American Idol' waving a 'White Flag' with these mediocre Top 12 performances?

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March 06, 2014 at 06:31 AM EST

The judges are settling into their grooves: Keith Urban is like a hungry fly on a pat of buttah, excitedly reinventing ways to describe how he felt something, Jennifer Lopez cuts to the heart of the matter in a kind way (and may whip her hair if you challenge her/plan it ahead of time), and Harry Connick Jr. brutally cores out the heart of the matter in a way that could potentially destroy a contestant’s confident mindset. I’m so glad they’re not just blindly agreeing with each other. Their conflict in the face of placid mediocrity is somewhat working, even if it’s obvious they don’t even really believe what they’re saying. Because the bottom line is that these Top 12 contestants are JUST NOT GREAT.

How do you move past that? Aside from the jittery antics of Ryan Seacrest, my favorite part of American Idol is the potential for magic — and when I say magic I do NOT mean a giant computer screen that’ll tell me who’s trending on Facebook in groups of six — moments after the sixth person has performed! That is just aggressively useless and misleading. Even CNN would scoff at this bizarre incorporation of social media.

Okay. Slap out of it, Barrett! Let’s get to the down-“Home” performances:

Jena Irene, KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See”: For me, the best part about Jena’s segment was when she spoke of her supportive family and gushed, “Thank God there’s phones!” True all-encompassing statement right there. She showed she can wriggle around onstage and engage the audience with this one, but it was not the best song choice and the whole production, with pics of Jena’s face flying by on the “sunny field” backdrop from Windows 98, looked like take five (of 46) of a commercial. A lot of Jena’s notes here just disintegrated into the ether; I prefer when she showcases more strength.

Sometimes Harry the Contrarian takes it too far, right? “You should be climbing out on the ceiling with that song,” he suggested to Jena. Nope! What a liar. NO WAY would Harry ever want to watch and/or listen to that. None of us would! It’s just something to say, I guess. Someone wanted him to say that. Yuck.

Alex Preston, Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be”: Alex still presents British to me, but less so this week as those royal blue cropped pants seem like something Ron Burgundy would wear in the present day. In a nightmare. I am really not into cropped pants; they give me disturbing flashbacks to a childhood of pants that were always too short not on purpose. Pants these days seem so highly evolved; why not go for the whole leg? They can do that now! Evolution. And yet… I suspect deep down that cropped pants may look better on Alex than normal pants would. But we don’t know for sure. I’ve had a pretty rough 30 seconds here; thanks for taking this magic-devoid Idol journey with me.

J. Lo liked Alex’s rolled-up pants (witch!) but thought the arrangement overwhelmed his performance. Harry agreed, while Keith got intriguingly metaphysical with things — the song was kind of around Alex instead of him being at the center of it. I think Alex was a lot more confident and commanding in his own way than the judges credited him for, but will admit it didn’t quite dazzle as a TV performance. I liked that he played an electric guitar this time; this seemed to be all that mattered to a blissfully unfazed Alex.

Can we put Alex’s “This is your gentle, sweet” Grandma in the Top 12 after someone gets voted out tonight? That would rule.

Jessica Meuse, Dido’s “White Flag”: Arrrrrrggghh! This was the biggest disappointment of the night for me because I love this song and I love Jessica’s voice. Harry and Keith argued for two whole segments whether someone can sing off key and still compel an audience (Keith and J. Lo say yes, Harry says no). I’m on Team Harry here, in Jessica’s case. She was off-key to my ears, and no matter how much she was feelin’ the song, I was too distracted by that to enjoy it. I would LOVE a bonus segment to the episode in which we get an unfiltered hidden-camera run-through of the dozens of times Jessica has played this tune as part of her set in a smoky bar. I’d also love to hear her reaction to watching/listening to her performance on playback.

Hands down, an in-key “White Flag” from Jessica would’ve been tonight’s home-run for me. By far!

“I’m sure y’all are correct, ’cause you’re way more accomplished than I am.” –Jessica Meuse in perhaps my favorite measured reaction to the judges in Idol history.

NEXT PAGE: Puppies! / J. Lo whips her hair

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