Rebel Wilson? Really?? Nobody from, you know, the music industry was available this week to work with the contestants? Wilson provides some funny moments and a few glimmers of insights (she calls out Uché, prophetically, on choosing too obscure a song). The stomach-churning, “you’re a STAR!, you’re an ARTIST!,” ego-stoking by the judges (Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan) goes into hyperdrive.
Actually, it’s host Ryan Seacrest who is emerging as the only thing resembling a “judge” on the entire show. After all these years hosting, sometime has rubbed off on him—and definitely not courtesy of this current trio of cheerleaders. Though never critical, Seacrest offers more constructive comments after each contestant’s performance than anything the so-called judges have to offer.
Uché – “I 2 I” The Goofy Movie The judges’ take – Katy – “I thought it was….good. I have to be completely honest. I don’t know that song very well. I love the kind of magic you bring to the stage. I’m definitely waiting….I just thought maybe you had a little more voice.” Lionel – “You know I love you. You can’t do any wrong. You’re a performer. I’m going to lean on that as long as I live.” Luke – “Bottom line is it’s not detrimental we don’t know the song. Whatever song it is you make it an Uché song. You did that tonight.”
The best showperson in this season’s Top 10, Uché comes out doing what he does best. This odd but spirited dance number proves to be the most lively of the evening’s selection, but maybe after his near-dismissal last week Uché needed to hone in more on his formidable vocal ability rather than the showmanship. Grade: B-
Laci Kaye Booth – “I See the Light” Tangled The judges’ take – Luke – “You’re becoming a Disney princess in front of our
eyes. You have an incredible knack of making every song yours.” Lionel – “That was a perfect song, perfect delivery.” Katy – “You really made the song your own. Your voice has its own sound, its own texture. It’s instantly recognizable. You really look like a Disney princess.”
Laci knows what her audience wants: ballads all the time. And so she doesn’t change up the formula that has kept her safe. It’s pleasant, but the kind of performance one forgets about as soon as it ends. Grade: C
Alejandro Arando “Remember Me” Coco The judges’ take – Lionel – “What’s so amazing about you is you embody what I call true artistry. You take us on a journey every time you perform.” Katy – “I just love you so much. Everything you do is really heartfelt. Whatever happens I will remember you forever. This has been an incredible journey for you and it’s just beginning.” Luke – “This is taking you out of your comfort zone. You’re learning. Great job in growing with us. We love you.”
The ruse continues. All the Alejandro hype has worn off on audience members. How else can one account for the inexplicable support this non-entity continues to receive? Yes, the guy can play a mean guitar and piano. But the voice—a thin, wispy falsetto—is nothing special. But since his audition, Idol has worked hard to create a myth that Alejandro is something magical.
This Coco rendition is a standout for all the wrong reasons. At the very least, Alejandro’s undistinguished voice has generally be on-key. Here he’s not only struggling with pitch, his thin voice isn’t projecting well even over a relatively unfussy arrangement. Grade: D
Alyssa Raghu – “Colors of the Wind” Pocahontas The judges’ take – Katy – “Beauty and grace. That was so beautiful and elegant. I’m so happy you tried on a couple of new notes.” Luke – “Way to come out here and fight.” Lionel – “I know this is not a beauty contest, but you look absolutely beautiful.”
Sort of like Laci, Alyssa gives us more of what she has always provided: tasteful ballads delivered in a strong, clear voice. She’s a better singer than Laci, but continues to struggle with popularity even after being saved by Katy last week. Lionel, in lieu of anything production to say about her singing, compliments Alyssa on her looks (Ms. Raghu looks none too pleased). Grade: C+
Interlude – Lea Michele singing “Part of Your World” The Little Mermaid
Waste of time, all the more evident when the judges—at the very end of the show—have almost no time to deliberate whether to use their one and only “save” for the season.
Wade Cota – “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” Toy Story The judges’ take – Luke – “I was thinking what a glimpse into the future of what your voice can be. Great job.” Lionel – “We’re noticing you’re having fun. You’re a star. You have that identifiable voice. The sky is the limit.” Katy – “You’re coming out of your shell. What a fantastic song choice. You did Randy Newman so proud.”
A joke. Wade showed early promise, but we’ve heard the painful limitations of his voice. At this point in the contest there is utterly zero justifiable reason to keep him around. His Randy Newman rendition is painful. His voice sounds shot. There’s no range and no ability to carry a melody. Took awhile to cast off Eddie Island, now we need to boot Wade. Grade: F
Dimitrius Graham – “You’ll be In My Heart” Tarzan – Lionel – “We love you. Your journey has been amazing. Your heart, your soul has been in everything you do.” Katy – “You have an incredible instrument in your voice. It was really emotional.” Luke – “You did not miss one note on a very, very challenging song.”
From the ridiculous, we move to the sublime. Enigmatic Dimitrius, the dark horse of this Idol season, delivers not only the best performance of the night with this Phil Collins number, but possibly the best performance by anyone this season. Powerfully emotive. Luke gloats about how he saved Dimitrius from elimination last week… but will he be in his corner this week, should the same (exact) situation arise? Grade: A
Walker Burroughs – “When She Loved Me” Toy Story 2 The judges’ take – Katy – “That was so impressive. We tuned into every single word.” Luke – “I hope America understands how difficult it is to do what you just did. To play the piano and sing. There were chords and I don’t even know how you were hitting them.” Lionel – “We call you in our business – a pro. That was as close to a perfect performance that I could think of.”
In his pre-performance piece with Rebel Wilson, Walker says he’s not planning to play piano for this tune for fear it might mess him up. Smart thinking, focus on the vocal. But he plays piano and, guess what, it messes him up. Hitting the right chords seems to draw his attention. He even pulls away from the mic, muffling his vocal. Yet the judges act like he’s the second coming of Thelonious Monk. Grade: C-
Interlude – Maddie Poppe with Caleb Lee Hutchison “A Whole New World” Aladdin
Yowser. The the winner and runner-up from last season appear to have been replaced with robotic clones. Caleb sings in a froggy monotone, while Maddie (dressed and styled like an escaped extra from the set of Xanadu) is little better. There’s no chemistry between Idol‘s reigning power couple. And then, after their lifeless duet concludes, there’s no chat or interview or thank you of any kind. Weird.
Madison Vandenberg – “How Far I’ll Go” Moana The judges’ take – Luke – “Can you try to make it look difficult. Great job.” Lionel – “All I’m going to say is ‘What was that last note?’ that was the stratosphere of notes.” Katy – “You look so beautiful. You were climbing the steps of notes. I couldn’t believe some of those notes exist.”
The best hope for a female voice in this year’s top two, Madison continues to impress with showy, pitch-perfect vocals that are still somewhat lacking in passion. Grade: B
Laine Hardy – “Oo-De-Lally” – Robin Hood The judges’ take – Lionel – “You have found your wheelhouse. Hometown boy, hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ – that was straight down the alley.” Katy – “I said you could win it this time – don’t not believe that.” Luke – “You better be careful, you might win American Idol.”
Everyone seems confident at this point that Laine will likely win Idol. They seem to have written that narrative since his spontaneous audition, allowing for an irresistible “comeback kid” story arc. Problem is, Laine isn’t the best singer of this group and his versatility is just as limited as, say, Alejandro. Fun song choice though. Grade: B-
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon – “Candle On the Water” Pete’s Dragon The judges’ take – Katy – “You hit that note at the end with such gorgeous ease. It’s a pleasure to see you sing every time.” Luke – “You are a pro. You have never looked like you weren’t in complete control.” Lionel – “We are watching one of the greatest shows ever. You are just owning your talent.”
Along with Dimitrius, the best voice this season. I don’t want to heap on the praise at the risk of sounding as brainless as the “judges,” but Jeremiah is definitely deserving of his favored status. Excellent reading of an older song choice (rare among the Top 10, with only he and Laine choosing pre-’90s material). Grade: B+
Going home: Uché and Dimitrius
They don’t use the “save,” and that’s a terrible waste (I assume they’re waiting for the week Alejandro is bottom two). Either one is worthy of it, especially Dimitrius. Left to the hands of the voting public as a whole, you can be clearly see a pattern in who is eliminated early. This has been the most depressing aspect of Idol all along. At any rate, Idol simultaneously loses its best voice and its best showman. Shame on the judges for not letting one of them have another chance, especially after their enthusiasm last week for both of these excellent performers.