By Chaz Lipp

Two performances by each of the Top 7: one Prince song, one song from the contestant’s year of birth. This season’s Idol (the very first if you go back ABC’s count, since host Ryan Seacrest formerly announced “Season Two” for next year) has become a wild ride due to the decision to cast out multiple contestants per week with no “elimination” show. It sucks, really, because it drastically reduces the ability for the contestants to actually compete week-to-week. Without further ado, the recap:

Jurnee – “Kiss” – The judges’ take: Lionel – “Congratulations. You took care of business, I’m loving the fact that you’re doing the songs.” Katy – “You look like a snack. I appreciate that you were moving around. I want more.” Luke – “Great song choice. Great job, I had a good time watching you.”

Ah, the first “congratulations” of the night—once of the more bizarre recurring bits of auto-praise the judges (particularly Lionel) have fixated on throughout the season. What exactly is he congratulating these contestants for, before they’ve actually achieved anything? Anyway, nice bit from Katy there… How on earth would saying “you look like a snack” (if you haven’t heard that currently in-vogue ‘compliment,’ just give it a moment’s thought) sound coming from Lionel or Luke?

Kudos to Jurnee for picking a truly iconic Prince classic AND for delivering a solid rendition of it. The band sounds great, Jurnee sounds great. She’s just not quite ‘there’ in terms of stage presence, which has plagued her throughout the season. Grade: B

Gabby Barrett – “I Hope You Dance” (Lee Ann Womack – 2000) – The judges’ take: Katy – “I have to be honest with you. Tonight what I heard in your voice is: there’s only one Gabby.” Luke – “That may be one of the best vocals we’ve heard in this room thus far. I can’t get over it.” Lionel – “Do you know what was wrong with that performance? Nothing.”

Respectfully disagree, Lionel. It wasn’t especially memorable. It was technically fine, it just seemed like a placeholder for Gabby, who we’ve seen much more from most weeks thus far. Ah well, she’s got another tonight. Plus she’s a big-time favorite to make top two (or better), so a “just okay” rendition isn’t going to make any really impact. Grade: C+

Michael J. Woodard – “I Would Die 4 U” – The judges’ take: Luke – “We need to build you up. Don’t hold back. You have all the tools.” Lionel – “You owned it. You kept it at the right vocal range. If you could just relax and have confidence…the sky’s the limit.” Katy – “You were really embodying what Prince was all about.”

What was Prince “all about,” Katy? Because I just have to say, he didn’t evoke The Artist here. Not that he needed to or was trying to. He screwed up the words, but covered like a pro and the judges didn’t seem to notice (or care). But Lionel, he didn’t “own” it. It was a bit monotonous, to be honest. Michael is an interesting guy, but this was not a winning performance. Grade: C-

Cade Foehner – “Who Will Save Your Soul?” (Jewel – 1996) – The judges’ take: Lionel – “Every time you step up to the microphone you test the envelope. You struggled a little, but not enough to even mention it.” Katy – “I thought it was a really interesting rendition. I would like to hear it go super-slow to that sweet spot…not just full throttle.” Luke – “You have an iconic look. The front part, you weren’t in your wheelhouse vocally, but you always get to it by the end. Crush it on the next one too.”

According to Lionel, Cade struggled “a bit” but “not enough to mention it”—but he decided to anyway. As well he should! Katy was more balanced here (she’s often the only voice of reason among the judges, that is when she’s not fangirling over Cade). It was an “interesting” take on a song I wouldn’t have expected him to do. I’ve been a tough Cade critic in my recaps, and there’s no point really in rehashing his generally very limited vocal range. I didn’t mind this performance because (like his “Kiss the Girl” last week) it’s a bold, out-of-character choice. There’s a billion rock songs he could’ve gone with, but he went a different route. Still, his vocal was weak. Grade: C+

Catie Turner – “Oops I Did It Again” (Britney Spears – 2000) – The judges’ take: Katy – “That was one of the most interesting versions of that song. “ Luke – “I want you to start believing you’re a star more.” Lionel – “You are bringing a new style, your style, to the table. Own it.”

Nice work by Catie, reinterpreting an iconic Britney hit as a No Doubt song, kinda. It doesn’t give her much chance to show off her singing, honestly, but at least it’s interesting and seems to be getting her back to what made her notable from the start. Grade: B

Caleb Lee Hutchinson – “Amazed” (Lonestar – 1999) – The judges’ take: Luke – “It’s pretty gutsy to admit you’re uncomfortable with something. If you button that stuff up, you’ll keep getting better.” Lionel – “I think what’s throwing you off is you have these girls screaming at you. If you have to think about it, it’s wrong.” Katy – “We can appreciate that you’re showing us something new. It’s hard to come out flopping like a Gumby.”

Gumby? Is that really what he looked like? I’m not sure why the judges feel more comfortable actually critiquing Caleb than anyone else, but I think it’s because it seems clear he’s the frontrunner to win. This was much like Gabby’s earlier performance: unsurprising, unmemorable, but just okay. Grade: C

Maddie Poppe – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – The judges’ take: Lionel – “I just love it when you take an remind us of all the versatility you have in your wheelhouse. Congratulations.” Katy – “There are some people who are more artists than others on this show. Whether you win or not I’m still buying tickets to your show.” Luke – “That was mesmerizing. Good job, girl.”

Maddie has emerged as my favorite in the competition. She played some piano for what was more the Sinead O’Connor version than the Prince version. She played around with the phrasing a bit in an attempt to distinguish it from O’Connor’s hit, but otherwise it wasn’t a reinterpretation. But it was a solid reading of the song. Grade: B

Michael J. Woodard – “My Heart Will Go On.” (Celine Dion – 1997) – The judges’ take: Katy – “It’s so difficult to critique ya’ll, because ya’ll are so good. I think you’re like Jennifer Hudson, you could win an Oscar, a Grammy. The sky’s the limit for you.” Luke – “The way you deliver the song, you pull people in.” Lionel – “There’s something we can’t give you and that is stage presence. I can’t take my eyes off you. You’re growing so fast.”

Eh. I guess I prefer Michael’s lyrics-botched, monotonous Prince routine to a warmed-over Celine attempt. He just didn’t find the passion in the song. And it honestly felt too ‘big’ for him, vocally. Grade: C+

Breaking Idol News, as co-delivered by Ryan Seacrest and Catie! The Top 7 will be on tour this summer. So regardless of which two are dismissed tonight, they’re all assured that.

Cade Foehner – “Jungle Love” – The judges’ take: Luke – “Perfect man, perfect. Stylist. That’s what we’re here to do.” Lionel – “You gave us instant identity.” Katy – “I know you’re a man of God, I was feeling a little backsliding watching you.”

Bad choice, a Time song (a Prince co-write with Time guitarist Jesse Johnson) rather than an iconic Prince song. How did Cade pass up the chance to do “Let’s Go Crazy?” Great to see Sheila E. get some of the spotlight here. I guess the melody is way more suited to Cade than most Prince-sung Prince songs. Grade: B-

Gabby Barrett – “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” – The judges’ take: Lionel – “That was what you call ownership.” Katy – “I think you’re the most ready to go on tour. You found something totally different I never heard in your voice.” Luke – “Mic drop moment. Congratulations on being a star.”

Again with the “ownership?” That’s an overstatement, but Gabby is back in her zone for this one. She really brought it home at the end with an impressive big finish. Grade: B

 

Jurnee – “Back at One” (Brian McKnight – 1999) – Katy – “That not a sing, that’s a saaang. I thought that was really cool. That wasn’t my favorite version of that song. I want the chill-bumps.” Luke – “Good job on that.” Lionel – “You sing it the way you sing. You were completely calm through that.”

Too bad Jurnee didn’t do this one earlier in the night, and “Kiss” at this point. Maybe the ending would’ve turned out differently. But as it is, what turns out to be the last we hear from Jurnee’s Idol journey is decidedly unremarkable. Boring, too safe choice (chosen for too personal of reasons—her parents’ wedding song—which is historically not a good route to go on Idol). Grade: C-

 

Catie Turner – “Manic Monday” – The judges’ take: Luke – “What just happened to you is okay. It happens.” Lionel – “It’s never perfect. When it happens like that it’s called recovery.” Katy – “You did great. Next time when you fumble, pick the ball right up. You’re destined. Believe it.”

Catie forgot the words. On previous seasons of Idol, this would’ve been roundly criticized by the judges. Not this season. It’s great, in fact! Actually the truth is, when Catie blanked on the words it looked like she thought—for a second—that maybe she could just start the song over again. I felt bad for her, but honestly it wasn’t an especially graceful handling of a ‘deer in the headlights’ moment (the rest of her vocal was a mess). This is the kind of botch-job that used to get people a ticket home during Hollywood week. To her credit, Catie seemed to know bad this looked. Even were it not for the flub though, it was a bad song choice (didn’t give her enough to do vocally) and likely wouldn’t have left much impression. Grade: D

Maddie Poppe – “If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow – 1997) – Lionel – “It is amazing to watch. You could be anybody right now. You’re owning yourself. Know that you have a future in this business.” Katy – “It’s so exciting to see you playing like a girl. You hold your own whenever you pick up an instrument. You’re a true artist.” Luke – “I’m going to go home and figure out some more words to describe you. You’re just showing us so many things.”

There comes a point in every episode of this season’s Idol where the judges’ fawning reaches a nauseating level. For me, much as I like Maddie and her Sheryl Crow cover, this was the moment for tonight’s episode. “True artist” because she did a nice cover version? And one minute Lionel is praising someone for their supposed “instant identity” and here he’s praising Maddie for apparently NOT having an identity (“You could be anybody right now”). Maybe he didn’t mean it to come out that way, but the point is these judges are tripping over their own words and ideas in order to lavish more meaningless hyperbole. Nice vocal though. Grade: B

Caleb Lee Hutchison – “When Doves Cry” – The judges’ take: Katy – “I’m so proud of you. It was a great rendition.” Luke – “After that I believe that you can do anything that your heart desires.” Lionel – “I’m very proud of you.”

Bold choice, bold rendition. I’m not sure if this was based on an existing cover or if Caleb concocted this reinterpretation on his own. But it worked and on Idol this type of ‘outside the box’ interpretation is worthy of commendation. Best performance of the night and further evidence that no one is playing the Idol game better than Caleb. Grade: A

Going Home – Catie, Jurnee

And just like that, we’re down to five. Off to Nashville next week. Wouldn’t it be another great surprise if Caleb decided to NOT do country??

Chaz Lipp

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