There are 10 contestants left. Who was—far and away—the worst of the lot this night?
That one is easy to answer, since C.J. Harris singing “Invisible” by Hunter Hayes was so far off-key that it was painful to listen to. The judges all noted this—some more kindly than others. Keith Urban started off the criticism, saying, “Tonight it was really shaky with staying in tune.” He went on to try to soften the blow of his criticism by saying, “I understand it. I’d really encourage you to work on it, because you have everything else going for you.” (I’m tempted to state the obvious, “A singer who can’t sing in tune: Hmmmmmm.) Jennifer Lopez added, “This wasn’t what it should have been,” and both Urban and Lopez made mention of what a great job C.J. had done during rehearsals. This prompted Harry Connick, Jr. to reveal that that is why he never goes to rehearsals. “I want to see what happens when the red light goes on.” Harry said, “You really seem to feel the lyrics. It’s a discipline thing. You have a tendency to sing sharp. You can do it. You have the discipline to do it, but you must get the pitch thing under control.”
Uh….Hear! Hear! (Pun intended).
Most of the early singers did not set the stage on fire, with M.K.—red streaks in her newly-pouffed hair—stumbling gracelessly around the stage singing “Perfect” by Pink. Dexter followed, singing Georgia Lines’ song “Cruise”, with Connick being particularly explicit in his critique, calling it “meandering” and “bereft of joy.” Keith Urban said he liked the beginning of the song, but not the end. I agree with Harry Connick, Jr.
By the time Jena sang “Clarity” by Zed featuring Foxes, the crowd was ready for something better, and Jena delivered it. Keith pronounced it “the best performance of the night, so far” (which didn’t take much) and the light stick distributed to the crowd and Jena’s urging the crowd to wave them in time to her song was the mark of a more-polished performer than those who preceded her. Jena admitted to a love for electronic music, which caused Harry Connick to say, “I can really see you succeeding in that. I’m starting to get a really clear idea of who you are.”
Alex Preston got the most glowing reviews of the night for his rendition of “One Direction’s” song “The Story of My Life.” Usually, Harry Styles and the boys share the singing, no doubt somewhat based on range. Alex did it all and earned comments from Harry that Alex had “really hit the bull’s eye with the artistry. Really nice choices.” Keith echoed the praise, saying, “I thought that was really good, Brother,” and with Jennifer adding, “I loved it. You were very comfortable. You were like Buddy Holly, but without the glasses. You evoke greatness.” While I agree that Alex did, indeed, deliver, I question whether he has the crowd appeal of a Philip Phillips, last year’s winner.
Caleb Johnson came at some point after Alex with his loud rendition of Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory.” Harry pointed out the obvious: Caleb has a powerhouse voice and few of the other contestants can match him for straight-out volume. Harry (Connick) compared the contest to David and Goliath saying, “You’re smart to do it.” He awarded Caleb an “A+” for originality, saying, “You do loud really, really well.” Keith was less impressed, finding the piece “lumbering” and Jennifer said she didn’t feel anything when Caleb sang, except that he could deliver power like no other contestant. A comment was made about the consistency with which Caleb delivers the goods.
Malaya, who had the dubious honor of immediately following Alex Preston, did a great job of selling Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man.” Jennifer remarked on how Malaya sang “tenderly, beautifully, with so much feeling” and delivered the lyrics unchanged. She pronounced Malaya’s version “awesome.” Keith also praised Malaya for leaving the song alone and developing more vocal control. Harry Connick, Jr., —often the harshest critic—said, “You were completely present in every single word…The thing I liked was how sincere you were with every single word.”
So, score one for Malaya, Alex and Jena and deduct points from C.J., M.K. and Caleb.
Jessica Meuse sang “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, which sounded very country. Jennifer said, of the song, “It fell right in your wheelhouse.” Harry pronounced her rendition(s) to be “one-dimensional” and Keith felt it had a “sixties country pop beat.” Comments were made about the fact that the lyrics are bleak, but the beat is so upbeat, with Harry expecting more of the message of the song to register in Jessica’s face as she sang.
Majesty Rose sang “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, prompting Harry to say, “I love what you did. I think you’re really smart,” but Keith didn’t find the completely folk version to his liking and Jennifer Lopez commented that she “saw fear” for the first time, following Majesty’s falling into the bottom three last week. I liked Majesty Rose tonight and I liked her from the beginning. This is usually the Kiss of Death on a night when my alma mater lost in overtime to Tennessee for the NCAA tournament berth.
Last, but not least, Sam Woolf sang “We Are Young by Fun featuring Janelle Monae. The program was running out of time, but Jennifer said, “I loved it. You sounded so much better than last week” and the other judges urged Sam to be more “assertive” and to “Come out on the stage and own this.” Sam is the cutest boy left, so I doubt if he’ll be cut.
It will be interesting to see if the rest of America is so tone-deaf that they couldn’t hear how poorly C.J. Harris’ performance was. There was much talk of how he was making barbecue sandwiches last year at this time. I fear he may be returning to making and wrapping BBQ, if the viewers at home are honest.
However, given the politics of things, it will probably be someone who gave a superlative performance (Alex comes to mind) who will not garner the votes.
Personally, I loved Malaya’s Bruno Mars song, thought Sam (Woolf) picked a great song for such a youthful-in-appearance singer, and enjoyed Jena’s glowstick schtick. I’m also confident that Caleb will deliver (again) with a better song next time, and I hope that Majesty Rose makes the cut. As for the rest: meh.