By Chaz Lipp
American Idol is a singing competition, first and foremost. But personality counts and that’s in evidence as much as (or more than) ever in season 15. More on that as we go. First up, host Ryan Seacrest decided to milk the hysteria that gripped viewers last week when Kelly Clarkson delivered an emotional rendition of “Piece by Piece.” The performance itself was great, but c’mon – this felt like exploitation of what was a very real, unscripted moment. Anyway, onto the top eight.
Dalton Rappatoni: “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons) Woah, one of this season’s front-runners stumbles with an uninspired, throwaway performance. The judges were unanimously dismissive. Keith Urban: “I don’t think that was a great song for you.” Jennifer Lopez said Dalton needs to “be better every week,” suggesting this was a step backward. Harry Connick, Jr. admonished him for not being “as present as last week.” Dalton can be a charismatic performer, but he seemed to be coasting this week. Grade: C-
Lee Jean: “Use Somebody” (Kings of Leon) My happiness for underdog Lee making it through quickly diminished as he used his entire pre-song package video to ward off comparisons to both Ed Sheeran and this Idol season’s MacKenzie Bourg. Lee, don’t waste time being so defensive. Then came the song, during which Lee missed an opportunity to show some grit. His smooth take on “Use Somebody” rinsed the rock right out of the song. Smoothly delivered, but not gripping. Grade: C
A brief intermission with Demi Lovato, who first performs “Confident” as a group number with the female contestants and then “Stone Cold” on her own. The latter is definitely the highlight.
Sonika Vaid: “Since U Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson) What’s going on tonight? Last week’s surprise star attempts one of Kelly’s signature tunes (never a good idea, but year after year Idol contestants just can’t resist) and comes up way short. Just like the first two performers, this wasn’t bad by any means – it just lacked passion. Actually, now that I think about it, it was actually kinda bad during the verses – where Sonika’s tentative vocal seemed to get swallowed up. Grade: C-
MacKenzie Bourg: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Whitney Houston) Harry summed it up: “pleasant” but “nothing special.” JLo was supportive but very reserved in her praise. The issue here: MacKenzie started the song with a relaxed vibe, which continued – unvaried – throughout. There was no shape to the performance. He didn’t demonstrate much vocal range. Much like Dalton, he just didn’t seem to be trying that hard. Coasting on viewer goodwill already? It won’t hurt him quite yet, but he better step things up. Grade: C
La’Porsha Renae: “Halo” (Beyonce) Best of the night so far, but this felt like a clone of her standout performance from last week. Let’s talk about personality counting in Idol, sometimes as much as singing. There seems little doubt that La’Porsha has the best voice this season. But she’s assumed a haughty, almost regal attitude that is very unbecoming. Every time they cut to the sidelines after a performance, La’Porsha looked utterly bored, barely able to muster more than polite golf applause for her fellow contestants. That iciness carried into her performance, which was technically superb but marred by a creeping sense that La’Porsha is buying a little too heavily into her own hype. That’s why the judges’ refusal to really critique her isn’t helpful (especially JLo’s continuing proclamations that she’s already a lock to win). Grade: B
Another intermission, this time for Harry Connick, Jr. to step out from the judges’ table. His performance of “(I Do) Like We Do” is a poor showcase for his talents. His vocal almost seems to begin in the wrong key and ultimately it becomes more a showcase for the guitarist than Connick himself.
Trent Harmon: “When a Man Loves a Woman” (Percy Sledge) The judges love him, but what he does here is definitely sub-Michael Bolton. But on a weak night like this, Trent’s smooth adequacy manages to feel almost like a highlight. Harry loves it, Keith thought it was a good song choice, and JLo doesn’t want Trent “to change a damn thing.” They see something marketable in him, but Trent is a flatliner in the charisma department. Grade: C
Tristan McIntosh: “Go Rest High on That Mountain” (Vince Gill) “That’s the Tristan America fell in love with,” gushes JLo. While I’m not sure America ever really fell in love with her, this is a very solid performance. In fact, Tristan gives La’Porsha a real run here for best of the night so far. It felt mature and it felt emotionally real. So real, in fact, that Harry correctly guessed she had someone specific in mind (her recently injured grandpa) as she sang it. This was the performance Tristan needed to deliver at this point in the game. Grade: B
And now… the BOTTOM THREE! Two will go, one will stay…
Avalon Young: “Earned It” (The Weeknd) How prophetic a song choice, as it turns out. Avalon is unique among this season’s contestants. She’s confidently cool such a natural way, it never feels forced nor arrogant. Her vocal style is different, too – almost improvisational. If her phrasing choices are all pre-planned, she pulls off the trick of making it seem like they’re not. In it’s non-flashy way, this is the performance of the night. The judges select her for next week (since the voters don’t count as much this season). Grade: B+
Olivia Rox: “Trouble” (P!nk) How prophetic a song choice, as it turns out. From her too-cute stage name to the forced perkiness of her personality, this former child TV actress has been an ill fit for Idol from the very start. The judges have tried to shove her down our throats (she was one of four automatic top ten selections a couple weeks ago), but it turns out viewers weren’t as enthralled. Her performance tonight is trouble, indeed. She tries to do too much with this bluesy rock tune and winds up proving how undefined her identity is. Her showbiz parents overly groomed her for this (she was also a failed America’s Got Talent contestant) and now she’s sent packing. Grade: D
Gianna Isabella: “If I Ain’t Got You” (Alicia Keys) The pageant is also over for Gianna, though not in as spectacularly troubled fashion as Olivia. She gives this her all, just like she has done all season long. Unfortunately, Gianna (though talented) feels too rehearsed and just generally stiff as a performer. This was actually better than several performances tonight, but no need to linger on it. Grade: C+
So the judges choose correctly from this particular bottom three, but it’s too bad the voters aren’t making the final decision anymore.
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