This Wednesday night, the American Idol Top 12 finalists performed songs that reminded them of home; a theme that would have been a bit more poignant later in the season when the contestants had actually been away from home longer than three weeks.
Also, while we're nitpicking, doesn't it seem counter-intuitive to be pining away for home when that is the last place these contestants want to go? Have they never read "The Secret"? Come on people, you have to visualize the future as you want it to unfold! (Apparently, Jennifer Lopez had been visualizing public displays of indecency and voila; this week she emerged wearing a skirt that missed tasteful by about four inches.)
Before we grade the contestants, it's important to give credit where credit is due. This week, Harry Connick, Jr. gets a big 'ole A+. Harry, unfazed by society's preference for sensation over substance, chose to give thoughtful and incredibly insightful feedback to every contestant this week. Not since Simon Cowell has a judge been so remarkably astute, but Harry's feedback is falling on deaf ears. Here's why:
- Not sensational enough. While Simon gave honest feedback, it seemed his primary motivation was not to help a contestant improve but to entertain the audience, hence the unnecessary cruelness with which he delivered his critiques. Harry's feedback, on the other hand appears to come from an actual desire to help the contestants grow – and earnestness isn't necessarily entertaining.
- Lack of Authority: To compound matters, Simon's fellow judges treated him with deference, which made the contestants view him as the de facto leader, giving his feedback more weight. Harry, on the other hand, is the newest judge and is not given the same amount of respect, which results in the contestants not devouring his advice with the appetite that it deserves.
- He's a thinker: While the other judges feel their way through performances, Harry thinks his way through performances and places a lot of importance on technique. This results in technical feedback that is often way above the heads of the audience, the contestants, and Jennifer Lopez.
Ultimately, all of these factors result in Harry's advice not being given the credit it deserves. What may be an annoyance for Harry is a real detriment to the contestants who are missing out on the invaluable feedback he's offering. But pay the masses no mind, Mr. Connick, this American Idol aficionado sees your hardships and your value and is not afraid to shout your praises from the rooftops - or at least from the comfort of my living room.
Jena Irene: Jena explained that KT Tunstall's, "Suddenly I See," reminded her of being back home in Farmington Hills, Mich., Jena's unique voice is really her strength, unfortunately tonight it seemed to be drowned out by the band and the flashing background images of her suburban Detroit hometown. Keith said her stage presence was coming to life and Jennifer Lopez agreed but Harry was left wanting more. C+
Alex Preston: Although not quite as local as last season's Angie Miller, Alex Preston is our closest thing to a hometown hero this year; he hails from Mont Vernon, N.H., and his adorable grandmother Theresa from Quincy, Mass. Alex, who claims that Gavin DeGraw is one of his heroes, opted to sing DeGraw's, "I Don't Wanna Be." The judges complained about Alex's arrangement and felt that it didn't allow him to give his best vocal. While it wasn't as good as his more intimate performances, Alex was rocking his blue suit and cuffed pants and he is still one of this season's most talented contestants. B
Jessica Meuse: By now, we all know that Jessica is from Slapout, Ala., population 250, unless you count the cows and chickens and then it becomes a major metropolis. Jessica performed Dido's, "White Flag." Despite the songs refrain, "I won't put my flag down and surrender," Jessica seems to have surrendered before she even got on stage. Throughout the performance she stood rooted in one spot with barely any conviction or emotion. Harry summed it up best when he said that her performance was blasé. All the judges agreed that she was painfully sharp, a problem that would have been more forgivable had she performed with conviction. C
Dexter Roberts: Dexter is from Fayette, Ala., and claims that there are signs throughout the state supporting him - obviously Fayette has a bigger discretionary budget than Jessica's Slapout. All this support had Dexter feeling like singing, "Lucky Man," by Montgomery Gentry. The judges, who have a much higher tolerance for country music than yours truly, loved it. JLo likened him to Scotty McCreery, Harry said it was the best performance of the night, and Keith Urban loved that Dexter showed his vulnerability by forgetting the lyrics. How's that for sending mixed signals to contestants? B
Emily Piriz: Emily, who lives in Orlando but is from Miami wasn't about to waste her opportunity to represent for the Latinos (and earn Jennifer's favor) by reminding the audience that she's Cuban and then choosing Jennifer Lopez's, "Let's Get Loud." Much like Jena's performance, Emily was drowned out by the music and the production. Although Jennifer was over the moon for Emily's performance and Keith jumped on the bandwagon, Harry kept things in perspective by astutely pointing out that the song she chose had people excited before she even started singing because it's a big song; a big song and production that Emily just could not command. C
Caleb Johnson: Caleb chose to sing, "Working Man," by Rush, a song that reminds him of his home of Asheville, N.C., and his drama teacher, who loved the band Rush. Caleb took drama? That's a shocker. Harry pointed out that Caleb is starting to become predictable but Jennifer argued that he did a great job and there's plenty of time for him to prove he's dynamic. Right now, JLo just wants to jump up and down in her chair. Harry, save that substance for another day! B
MK Nobillette: MK, who is from San Francisco, selected "Drops of Jupiter," by Train. Keith said the vocals were fine but Harry complained that it doesn't seem like MK wants to be there. The general consensus is that MK has so much potential but she's not living up to it. Her performance was bland and she seemed afraid throughout. C-
C.J. Harris: C.J. Harris is the third of the twelve finalists from Alabama. Is Alabama offering some kind of incentives to American Idol this year? Despite the fact that C.J.loves his hometown of Jasper, he believes that the South still struggles with racial equality, so he opted to sing, John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change." JLo loved it. Harry said that he sang it consistently sharp but he still felt something. Keith suggested that it was not original enough. C+
Sam Woolf: Sam is originally from Michigan but now calls Bradenton, Fla., home. Sam performed the song, "Just One," by Blind Pilot. He was more relaxed than he's ever been before but Harry wished that Sam would show more emotional range when he sang. Keith and Jennifer really love Sam's voice but agree that he could bring something more to the stage. If the song was better known, Sam might have earned a slightly higher grade but as it stands, he earned a solid B.
Malaya Watson: Malaya misses her home of Southfield, Mich., and after her over-the-top performance that landed her in the bottom last week, Malaya hoped to tone things down with "Take Me to the King," by Tamela Mann, a gospel song and a piano performance. Jennifer got the "goosies" and Keith loved her vulnerability and range. Harry applauded her bravery for choosing gospel over something more familiar. Perhaps in person it was more moving, from here it seemed like Malaya overcorrected from last week and was sharp throughout. C-
Ben Briley: Ben is proud of being a simple man from the simple town of Gallatin, Tenn., and chose to sing, "Turning Home" by David Nail. Ben changed things up by wearing his hat with the visor facing front. Ben started off strong but then quickly fell into a grating type of shrieking that wasn't appealing. Jennifer completely disagreed and felt that it got better as it went along. Harry said it was OK and that he was shouting and Keith agreed that he felt no story or emotion from Ben. C-
Majesty Rose: Majesty selected Coldplay's, "Fix You," and a beautiful performance quickly atrophied into a mess of a screeching arrangement. Let's hope that her hometown of Goldboro, N.C., stands behind her because despite that misguided performance, she deserves to be back next week. Thankfully, Keith has given us his word that she'll be back. B-
The bottom three will likely be comprised of:
- MK Nobillette
- Emily Piriz
- C.J. Harris
Come back Friday to congratulate me on my amazing ability to read the hearts and minds of my fellow Americans! Or, to watch me eat American Idol humble pie.