The Top 6 get a little bit country and not enough rock 'n' roll as they sing two solos for the first time.

By Jake Perlman
Updated April 24, 2014 at 05:29 AM EDT

Season 13 of American Idol is quickly become the season with the most vague and general themes ever. Tonight, the contestants got all Donny and Marie with one country and one rock ‘n’ roll song. But don’t worry, if you forget the theme at any point during the night, it’s plastered all over the set to remind you. The judges seemed a little too kind as the contestants had to sing two solos for the first time, revealing some interesting flaws in some frontrunners. Ryan also showed some interesting flaws tonight, like his lack of singing ability (once again) and admitting he can barely even host sometimes. Poor Ryan, don’t be grumpy! Besides — that’s the cat’s job. By the way, what makes a recording contract insane?

First up – ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!

Jena Irene, “Barracuda” by Heart: Jena started the show two weeks ago but showed some nerves being the first one out tonight. The song was a great choice to show off her ridiculous range and overall, it was a great way to start. I think the problem with most of the contestants (and Jena’s in this case) is that they really don’t know how to perform on well on TV. She seems too focused on the cameras and logistics and needs to release a bit more, something Keith mentioned in his critique for pretty much everybody tonight. Jena is a frontrunner, no doubt, and we don’t need J. Lo to verify that, Ryan, for it to be true, ok? Jena has been one of my favorites since her first audition, and I think her humbleness is both getting in her way and helping her succeed. She doesn’t have to worry about coming back next week, she’ll be here, but as J. Lo said, the stakes are getting higher and eventually to win this thing, she will have to take it to another level.

I guess Ryan really is struggling in the hosting department, totally stealing Ellen’s Oscar selfie bit with R5, cause I guess Fox needed to promote them in someway. Fun fact, though — I own that Elvis mug shot shirt.

Sam Woolf, “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons: From the second this song started, I questioned the decision to use a guitar. Again, he needs to let loose a little bit more and having a guitar strapped around you is only going to make it harder and clapping your hands barely above your face doesn’t really work either. Fortunately, Sam kind of kicked it up a notch with the ending of the song when he actually started showing some attitude and edge. Keith thought so too. He and I were pretty much on the same page the entire night, actually, except for his obsessive singing-along. It was really bad on this song and on several others throughout the night — and usually J. Lo is the bad one! Maybe she was too distracted by the goosies she got! Sam just turned 18 so you know what that means…no guardians! Wow, is that really as exciting as it gets for this kid? As I like his vocals more and more every week, I just like him less and less as a performer.

NEXT PAGE: C.J. has gotta go bye-bye

C.J. Harris, “American Woman” by The Guess Who: Calling the song a sing-along classic is just asking for the judges to join along, but this one actually didn’t get Keith or me moving much at all. Even though it worked for J. Lo, I didn’t like his look — it felt very disconnected to who he is as a performer. The whole thing did and again, Keith and I were thinking the same thing — he just wasn’t “bad” enough for this song, but in a good way. He didn’t have the edge or attitude to make it his own like a certain Lenny Kravitz did, and this performance felt like the inverse of that. But seriously, C.J.’s intonation problems are really laughable at this point. How can someone be in the Top 6 of the competition and still never manage to start a song on key? And here’s a thought — don’t pick a song that ends “I gotta go. Bye, bye” because the irony of that statement may sting tomorrow.

Alex Preston, “Animal” by Neon Trees: We all know Alex is the pride of New Hampshire and an artist and apparently, Jason Mraz’s best friend, but can he rock? Eh, kind of? I liked the song choice but agreed with J. Lo when she said that something was missing and Keith wanted him to release a bit more. Hmm…sound familiar? How about they release all the guitars from the competition? I found them to be especially distracting tonight for some reason. First off, let’s be honest that at least from a TV viewer’s perspective, musically it makes very little difference most of the time whether or not the contestant is accompanying themselves. And if it makes a difference for the Idol themselves, then I think that’s a problem because to win this competition, you should easily be able to do both. I think Sam gets the edge over his buddy tonight because he was at least trying to take some risks (and did lose his guitar for his second song), while Alex seemed to get a little lazy.

Caleb Johnson, “Sting Me” by Black Crowes: Caleb apparently did something incredible in the middle of this performance when he dropped his mic and it went rolling, but, of course, the cameras didn’t catch it even though the judges were freaking out about it. I was left dazed and confused. I thought this performance was good, but I didn’t like it as much as the judges seemed to, mainly because they were just talking about his amazing recovery in the moment, J. Lo calling it the mark of a true performer. With such a strong rocker reputation already, I thought he could have picked a better song but I think my expectations might have been high. Caleb is such a consistent performer and as long as he doesn’t get too cocky after Harry said that he was pretty much impossible to beat, he will easily make it into the finals. Caleb is such a fun performer to watch regardless of mic malfunctions because he seems excited to be there every time. And maybe because he never plays the guitar.

Jessica Meuse, “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane: Jessica makes me a little uncomfortable, I’ll admit it. I thought her time should have ended long ago and though she has been able to prove herself a little in the last couple of weeks, her lack of charisma onstage is simply boring to me. The judges always compliment Jessica on her strong vocals, and Harry actually liked that she just stood there the entire time and had her body inform the rhythmic delivery of the song, cause that’s totally what she meant to do. I’ve said in past weeks that I wanted to just shake Jessica out a little bit because she seems so stiff all the time, but I guess Harry likes things stiff (Insert your own joke here). Once again, Keith and I were seeing eye-to-eye in that Jessica’s own eyes looked completely dead the entire time and were completely disconnected. I didn’t think she either wanted or needed somebody to love at all.

NEXT PAGE: A little bit country, a little bit grumpy

Sam Woolf, “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain: I thought this was a bold choice for Sam to pick for his country selection and really appreciated he didn’t use his guitar, though I actually think it would have served him better on this song than the first. Again, I really did like the way Sam sang the song, but it wasn’t personal at all. He has no one to really sing to, not even those girls that somebody clearly forced him to go to in the middle of the performance, which was just awkward. Keith told him that he needs to relax more, which is just another way of saying release. J. Lo was giggling too much with another one of her school-girl crushes and was apparently distracted by Sam’s cuteness to say anything of merit. Harry asked if Sam knew what dynamics were, which to me was a shocking question to even consider cause if he didn’t, he should be disqualified. But the fact that Harry even thought he had to ask that question, shows a lack of complete confidence and ownership in Sam’s own belief in himself and as an artist. He obviously doesn’t see himself as the heartthrob that everyone else does.

Maybe the one for Sam is Grumpy Cat, the VIP guest of the night. But probably not cause I think she and Caleb may have a thing going on now that he kissed her. Or maybe the cat would be less grumpy if Ryan could figure out how to hold her properly.

Caleb Johnson, “Undo It” by Carrie Underwood: The beginning of the song actually showed a nice, lighter quality to Caleb’s voice that we hadn’t really seen before. But then he pretty much just did the rock version of the song; good but not different than anything he’s done before. I’m pretty sure Keith actually got a little upset about it with a nice dig in his comment saying, “It was great and I can’t wait to hear what country song you do later.” Get it? Cause that was suppose to be his country song. I partly blame the purposely vague theme, but this one definitely felt a little forced, which got J. Lo booed for saying so even though she still thought it was an extremely strong performance. I think he is slowly becoming his own worst enemy in this competition because you naturally expect each performance to be better than the last, and now that they are singing more than once alone on these nights, that will get harder for someone like Caleb. We will begin to see his lack of range. Not vocally, of course. It must be fun to be on national TV for your birthday, though.

Alex Preston, “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson: Did anyone else notice some weird facial ticks that Alex was doing that looked like he thought he was messing up? It was really distracting for me because I actually couldn’t decide if he was or not. I agree with J. Lo that it was a better blend of the original version (though I like the Elvis one better, personally) and Alex making it his own. I was impressed by how Alex was really able to take control of the tone and environment of the room with the most tender and personal song of the night, at that point, but it kind of crescendo a little too soon for me and eventually, it had no place to go by the end. And what was that ending? Was that suppose to be a riff or did he accidentally burp while singing? The judges comments seemed a little too generous to me, maybe because they sense he may be in trouble with two okay performances tonight.

NEXT PAGE: Let’s get back to releasing

Ryan seemed to forget that he should wait ’til after the performers sing to get the judges critiques, which got Keith a little upset. But Harry was there to calm him down and let him, you know, release it out with a massage that had absolutely no homosexual undertones whatsoever. It just seems Harry requires a little leg stretch every once in a while to let go of some of his excessive energy.

Jena Irene, “So Small” by Carrie Underwood: Thank God the camera caught the moment that J. Lo got her goosies during the song because what would we do without another close up of her face when a contestant is performing? As for the actual singing that’s being judged, Keith and J. Lo loved it, but Harry had a hard time hearing the melody of the song, and I kind of agree with him in a way. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t familiar with the song to begin with, but I had a little trouble following along and agree that there were a couple of moments that did not feel in sync with the rest of the music. But like Caleb, I think Jena will have a similar problem of not being able to give two strong and distinct performances on the same night if she doesn’t loosen up a bit. Jena said she looks forward to hearing what the judges have to say to her every week and she definitely listens, but I think she needs to be a 17-year-old a little more and continue to show that sparkle, like her wardrobe.

C.J. Harris, “Whatever It Is” by Zac Brown Band: Whatever it is, it’s not in tune. I found my body physically unable to listen to some of the notes coming out of C.J.’s mouth it was so bad. He had this problem in the first song too, but like his fallen Alabama brother Dexter, C.J. has trouble completing words and thoughts all the way through to the point that I couldn’t understand half of the lyrics. It didn’t matter really cause it just wasn’t a good song choice, especially for someone like C.J. who really needed a good pick for this section when everyone kind of gave him a “he’s not a rocker” pass the first time around. All three judges expected a lot more from him, but I just don’t think he has more to give. Like Harry said, he doesn’t seem like he’s trying to beat anyone in this competition with his attitude or mentality. Well, I think after tonight, C.J. may have finally been beaten.

Jessica Meuse, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton: Has Jessica sung this song before because I felt like I’ve heard her do it already. It would have been a better choice if she did the original version of the song and not the awful arrangement that once again, Keith and I both hated. It was a rock version of a country song which completely defeats the entire purpose of the theme. Keith didn’t even care that he got booed by the crowed for calling it too dark (“Whatever”). J. Lo said she saw an improvement in Jessica’s eyes and thanked her for taking that note after the first performance and again, Harry liked that she just stood there and sang the song strong with conviction. Ok, well I didn’t. Is it bad that I had an urge to rip that guitar from her hands and smash it so she can never use it again? I think she may only get one more chance anyway and could be in jeopardy as well.

What did you think? Who rocked it out and who was left in the dust? Discuss in the comments!

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