Wednesday night was the official unveiling of America Idol's Top 13 and the first theme night of the season. In order to help us learn about the finalists, American Idol introduced the theme, "This Is Me," in which artists choose songs that define them as both artists and people. Because the stress of performing for America is not quite enough pressure, now we'd like you to pick one song that completely sums up your personal and professional persona. Piece of cake.
Before the contestants could begin belting out their souls set to music, American Idol launched a short informercial on the 292 (or so) new ways that viewers can vote. When we can begin to vote. When voting ends. How many times we can vote cumulatively. How many times we can vote per method. By the time they wrapped up, it was hard to shake the feeling that Idol may just be after us for one thing. To learn that Google is now in on this peer pressure certainly didn't help. Perhaps, next season, Google and Fox TV will team up to create a tiny device that can easily be implanted in our heads that will automatically transmit votes based on our brain wave patterns.
Conspiracy theories – no matter how compelling they may be – aside, it was time for us to behold our Top 13. The very contestants who will take us to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows throughout the next three months. So in American Idol's version of speed dating, who left us wanting more and who left us cold?
When can we see each other again?
Majesty Rose: It probably doesn't come as a surprise that getting to know Majesty Rose is like dancing in a field of brightly colored tulips. Her vibrancy combined with her poise is really compelling at her age and she chose to sing Janelle Monae's, "Tightrope," because it spoke to her of the struggle to find the balance between humility and confidence. Ummm, yeah, all the kids her age are struggling with that nowadays. Majesty's performance was brilliant even with a lesser-known song. The judges all agreed.
Alex Preston: Alex is like the guy you ignored all through high school and then one day, when you matured and got over yourself, you recognized just how special he was. Alex's song choice, "A Beautiful Mess," by Jason Mraz was the perfect sentiment - sure, he's a little rough around the edges and he's not your typical leading-man type but it's the insane quality that exists beneath his humble exterior that make him fascinating. Harry Connick Jr. is obviously someone who doesn't appreciate subtlety and intrigue and complained that Alex was too inward and introspective. But Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban understood and were pulled into Alex's performance.
Jena Irene: Jena just has a quality about her voice that makes you want to take a bath in it. Is that weird? Anyway, her rendition of "The Scientist," by Coldplay wasn't perfect but she still managed to captivate the audience. The judges were concerned early on in the performance but felt that she got better as she leaned into it.
Jessica Meuse: If American Idol was a popularity contest - oh, wait. OK well, Idol is a popularity contest but one that tries to find someone who can both sing and be popular, something Jessica Meuse may not be able to pull off. Nevertheless, even though you're never going to sit together and braid one another's hair, there's no denying she has a really great voice. The judges were spot on when they lauded her performance of "The Crow and the Butterfly," by Shinedown as haunting and beautiful.
Sam Woolf: Oh Sam. Sam Woolf is like the bashful boy who never mustered up the courage to kiss you on that first date despite you silently willing him to the entire night. Perhaps it is giving too much credit to the young lad to believe that he completely understood just how appropriate his choice of Matchbox 20's, "Unwell" was for him but the lyrics, "I'm just a little impaired . . . but soon enough you're gonna see a different side of me," perfectly sum up Sam and his struggle to break away from the fear and nerves but when he does, there's nothing that will hold him back. JLo understood and called Sam "a quiet storm."
Maybe we can grab a coffee sometime . . .
Ben Briley: Ben Briley sang "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash; a song that rarely leaves me feeling tepid but Ben's tempo was way too fast and he never settled into the song. The judges loved it but what do they know? (Should I be concerned that I am in agreement with the Dogfather?)
MK Nobilette: It was ironic that MK chose to sing,"Satisfaction" by Allen Stone when in the end, she left us all just a little dissatisfied. MK has the potential to really wow us but despite the judges claiming to love the song, it seems like they were more impressed by how beautiful she looked with a hint of makeup on.
C.J. Harris: C.J. sang "Radio," by Darius Rucker and while his vocal was a little forgettable, he's just the kind of person that you can't help rooting for. Harry was right when he said the song didn't allow us to hear the "cry" in his voice. C.J. can do better but he's still a sweet pea as is evident by his girlfriend who seems beside herself with adoration for him.
Emily Piriz: Emily's vocal of "Glitter in the Air," by Pink was really impressive but she still came off a little "pageanty." Keith, in his astute brilliance hit the nail on the head when he explained that what is great about Pink is that she's a master of Yin and Yang: A little sweetness of lyrics with a little edge to balance it out. But Emily's performance was like a bowl of sugar topped with honey and a splash of maple syrup.
Don't call me, I'll call you.
Dexter Roberts. Poor Dexter is working with a handicap – how can you sum up who you are in one song if no one can understand what you are saying? Beyond his assertion of , "I'm fun," the rest may as well been in Swahili. Harry complained about pitch issues while Jen and Keith enjoyed it but wanted him to add more Dexter to the performance.
Malaya Watson: It's disheartening to have Malaya fall into this category Wednesday night but her performance of, "Runaway Baby" by Bruno Mars, was just that - a performance. The entire song was off key and while we get that she's exuberant and quirky and high energy, Majesty needs to have a chat with her about balancing confidence with humility because from the time she stepped on stage, Malaya was teetering on obnoxious. JLo gave her an A+ performance but admitted it was not her best vocal.
Kristen O'Connor: Kristen is a pretty girl with a pretty voice but she is cursed by overly affected mannerisms and less than flattering facial expressions when she sings, so her choice of "Beautiful Disaster," by Kelly Clarkson was apropos. The judges were tepid in their praise and encouraged her to get out of her head.
Caleb Johnson: Yes, he has a good voice but Caleb tries way too hard. In Hollywood Harry made a comment that he wished Caleb wasn't so Broadway and theatrical and that summation is still as relevant now as it was in Hollywood. There's a difference between knowing who you are and knowing who want to be and, unfortunately, Caleb just comes across like he desperately wants to be a rocker. Real rock gods never have to try quite that hard.
Bottom Three Predictions:
- Jena Irene – the fact that Jena was a wildcard suggests that the rest of America may not find her voice as captivating as the judges (or me).
- Kristen O'Connor – America's grown tired of the Pia Toscano's of American Idol. We want girls with an edge.
- C.J. Harris – there's one too many country boys in this lineup, unfortunately for C.J., Ben has a bigger personality and Dexter is more amusing.
So there it is – my delightfully biased scorecard for the evening. Agree? Disagree? Let it be known in the comments section.