By Chaz Lipp
The Top 12 females were far less consistent than the guys last night on as the first voting week on American Idol Season 14 continued. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. seemed to recognize it too – their comments were as brief as they were to the guys, but often more pointed. There must have been a producer-instigated mandate to keep things upbeat this week, because sometimes they resorted to ambiguous terms like “powerful” rather than taking a yay-or-nay stance. And yes, after watching the top 12 gals, there were at least a few I would’ve gladly swapped for country belter Rachael Hallack (a victim of the judges’ dirty pool last week, retracting her spot in the top 24 on a last-minute whim).
Joey Cook hooked audiences with an attention-commanding twist on Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You.” Urban’s thrilled, surprised reaction spurred a laughing fit from Cook, but it didn’t interfere with her vocal – it only added to the irresistible charm of her performance. This was a perfect ‘first voting week’ performance. Cook’s accordion playing (a first from an Idol contestant, right?) was another strong hook (not that the ability or inability to play an instrument should be a factor ultimately). I wouldn’t argue if anyone insists the performance was a bit more novelty than pure vocal showcase, but it was a daring risk that paid off – it was a display of go-for-broke creativity and artistry. I want to see more of Joey and I’m betting lots of viewers feel the same way.
Sarina-Joi Crowe came out swinging for the fences and hit a grand slam with Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best.” With her game face on, she delivered the single best vocal of the night. There were lot of pitch problems from a notable number of the gals, but Crowe was utterly on-point from the word ‘go.’ Plus she truly commanded the stage and interacted with the band like a pro. This is her fourth go-round on Idol and based on last night’s stunner, she deserves to go far.
Jax was possibly the most dynamic performance of the night, taking Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” from breathy drama to belting power over the course of two minutes. It seems like Idol has been promoting Jax as ‘one to watch’ from the very beginning and here she delivered big time. Unlike some of the weaker performers last night, Jax proved her ability to hold the audience rapt with quiet, focused vocals. Midway through she stood up and took charge, creating a believable stylistic contrast.
As for those weaker performances, the first week of voting is brutal and everyone clearly invested a great deal of effort. No one’s ego got in the way of her performance, which can’t be said about the guys (Trevor Douglas, we’re looking at you). I hope Shannon Berthiaume gets to stick around another week, because her voice is a lot stronger than what we hear with her nerve-racked performance of Pink’s “Who Knew” (it seemed like she was even standing out of the spotlight, as far back on the stage as possible).
Katherine Winston and Maddie Walker seemed to not understand the importance of truly grabbing the audiences’ attention at this stage. Tyanna Jones was competent, but chose a song – Meghan Trainor’s “Lips are Movin’” – that everyone and their aunt has covered to death on YouTube. While each of the guys avoided falling flat on their face the previous night, Loren Lott pretty much did just that with a caterwauling, “what key am I in?” take on Charice’s “Note to God.”
Special mention: Lovey James went first, which is sometimes a curse (especially at this point, where there are so many contestants to follow), but she killed with her high-energy take on OneRepublic’s “Love Runs Out.” Most honest moment of the night: after receiving unanimous criticism (or at least as close to it as the judges got this week) for her heaving version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Shi Scott exasperatedly blurted out “Oh, that’s sucks.” Though I tended to agree with the judges’ comments, her honest humility definitely earned her some sympathy.
The highs were generally higher and the lows were generally lower with the Top 12 Idol gals, making for more of a mixed bag but also a more interesting night than the guys. Kudos to Joey Cook, Sarina-Joi, and Jax for making our night by doing the American Idol Season 14 Top 12 girls proud.