For the first time ever, "American Idol" producers gave the finalists a theme where they could actually sabotage their rivals -- but it never happened. No, all those after-performance shows of fellowship and camradery were apparently accurate, because nobody during the Top 7 "Competitor's Choice" performance show chose something completely off-the-wall for their fellow contestants. They actually chose songs well-suited to the finalists singing them.
In fact, it was a pretty good show overall and, as Lyndsey Parker at Yahoo Music pointed out in her recap April 17, "Truth be told, this current crop of contestants often showed better judgment choosing songs for each other than they have when choosing songs for themselves." She also noted that the Top 7 performance show was "one of the best 'Idol' episodes in a long time."
And it was, if you edit out the trio performance near the end where Jessica Meuse, Dexter Roberts, and C. J. Harris performed Lady Antebellum's Celtic-laced elevator tune "Compass." It's pretty awful by its lonesome and in the orginal, but the three finalists really tried to make people hate what is already a snorefest of a song. The judges hated it. Guest of the show and quasi-guest judge Demi Lovato hated it. (Still, everybody kept saying that individually the singers were great, trying to salvage something from the doomed song. It's just when they tried to sing together -- which was the point of the exercise -- they didn't sound all that harmonious.) But that's later on in the show. (Spoiler alert: That performance will be skipped over at the appropriate spot in this recap. Oh... and you're welcome.)
During the show, we found out that Demi Lovato is gearing up for a tour of South America, Ryan Seacrest can be easily distracted by Judge Jennifer Lopez's bare back, Fox football analyst Terry Bradshaw took in the show because he got cold up north, Ryan Seacrest is afraid of MMA champion Rhonda Rousey, Martin Garrix took a break between weekend sets at Coachella to watch "Idol," and Ryan Seacrest and Caleb Johnson decided a duet of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" would be the latest addition to their bromance hijinks. Viewers -- and listeners -- also found out that Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson are good friends, he might take her to her prom in Detroit, and they are dominating the show vocally -- with only Alex Preston pushing for a threesome.
But as for the Top 7 performances:
Caleb Johnson led off the night. Alex Preston chose Kings of Leon's "Family Tree" for the North Carolina rocker. As per usual, Caleb delivered, setting the bar for the rest of the evening. Judge Harry Connick Jr. said that it was "a song that could be on your record." Judge J-Lo told him: "It's dangerous to put you first in the lineup. Now everybody else has to raise their game."
Nothing wrong with that...
Jessica Meuse was next. Sam Woolf chose Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead" for the girl from Slapout. Jessica thinks Miranda Lambert is "badass." Well, the song is all attitude, too, and Jessica has some, but most of it seems contained, restrained, like she's tugging at her own leash. Judge Harry thinks she's somehow out of synch with her music, suggesting she listen to some funk and dance in front of a mirror. Still, the performance wasn't all that bad, even though the judges panned it.
The third performance was the first of the night's two duets. Alex Preston and Sam Woolf did a jaunty version of Passenger's "Let Her Go." It was fun but not anything special. (But you have to wonder about the producers' decision to put two of the same duos from last week together again for this week. And if you think there's some internal orchestration by the show to push young Sam Woolf to the forefront, you wouldn't be alone. Placing him alongside the popular Alex could gain him votes by association and keep him out of the bottom on the results show.)
C. J. Harris performed next. Caleb Johnson chose John Mayer's "Gravity" for the Alabama native, telling Ryan that he'd heard C. J. sing it in Hollywood and thought it a perfect fit. Caleb was right. C. J. had a connection with the song from the first note on. The judges thought so as well. He may have been in the bottom two straight weeks but "Gravity" just might have lifted him outside the dreaded elimination range.
Dexter Roberts was fourth, performing Luke Bryan's "Muckaless Creek Water," a song chosen for him by his fellow Alabaman C. J. Harris. After last week's Georgia Satellites semi-disaster, Dexter was back in his modern country groove with this song. The problem is: The modern country groove he inhabits is a generic country sound. Judge Harry found his harsh voice for a perfect critique of the performance: "You didn't really do anything different from the original vocal. You're limiting yourself to basically singing the exact same thing that's on the record. I just want to hear you sing other things than singing along with the radio."
The two best singers on the show, Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson, performed a duet after Dexter's so-so performance. They took on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and scream-rocked the song into another sonic dimension. "American Idol" producers need to keep these two performing together until one of them is eliminated (which, hopefully, will be in the finale).
Alex Preston did his thing again. Dexter Roberts chose "The A Team" (Ed Sheeran) for him to render into an Alex construct. And he did. Judge Keith Urban nailed the critique: ""What I like is you've got your signature things that you do. Artistic little signatures of yours. They're yours. When you put them in songs, it's so natural."
Sam Woolf was next up, singing sixth. Jessic Meuse chose David Gray's "Sail Away" for the teen, and she couldn't have done him a greater favor. Playing tag with the bottom and even getting eliminated after the first Top 8 show, Sam needed something to help him rise above mediocre. Returning to the music of the artist who Sam covered best (think: "Babylon") seemed to do the trick. It was a solid performance, maybe his best in the competition, but the judges were lukewarm and Judge Harry even criticized the song choice.
Jena Irene capped Wednesday night's perforrmances with Caleb Johnson's pick, "Creep" by Radiohead. She stayed behind the piano for the entire performance, and it lent her vocals an intense sincerity. And that odd lilt that Judge Harry has mentioned a couple times (a throaty quality reminiscent of Middle Eastern singing?) seemed to try breaking through. Judges Keith and Jennifer were on their feet by song's end. Judge J-Lo loved it, said she enjoyed the way the teen "Jena-fies" her songs. Judge Harry explained why he never gives a standing ovation (as a judge, he thinks impartiality should rule and doesn't think he should stand and give ovations) but told her the performance was the best of the night. He was so very right.
So... seven up and seven down. Two duets. One trio performance. The best performances of the night? Easy: Caleb Johnson, Alex Preston, Jena Irene. In that order, ascending. Best duet? Jena and Caleb's "Gimme Shelter." The trio? Forget about it. (No. Really. Let's just please forget about it.)
Who will see the bottom on Thursday night?
Given the judges' feedback, Jessica Meuse, Dexter Roberts, and Sam Woolf have the best chances of finding the bottom. That is, if there is a bottom three this week. (Remember: The Top 8 redux only saw a bottom two.)
If there is only two in the bottom, it most likely will be Dexter and Sam. But as tough as the judges were on Jessica (her solo, her group perforance as part of a trio, and her song choice were all negatively criticized), she could very well find herself not only in the bottom but on her way home. The one thing in her favor is that she's never been in the bottom before. But if there's going to be a shocker, she's the prime candidate.
Anyway... Who's going home? Dexter Roberts, most likely. His performances overall have been pretty generic, something just about any male country singer could do on any given stage in any given honkytonk or bar on any given night throughout the U. S. In short, there's nothing particularly unique or special about Dexter's brand of country.
The Top 6 will be revealed on Thursday night's "American Idol" Top 7 results show.