The top three American Idol contestants performed to a packed house on Wednesday night although viewers in the know couldn't help but imagine storm clouds of doom hovering over the production after hearing reports that FOX has opted to dramatically reduce Idol's airtime next season.
This combined with conflicting reports over whether or not host Ryan Seacrest will renew his contract, has loyal fans feeling troubled, though not necessarily surprised. American Idol's ratings have been on a steady decline over the years, reaching record lows this season, despite the return of Jennifer Lopez and addition of Harry Connick, Jr. and the ousting of executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, judge Mariah Carey, and judge Nicki Minaj. And while slumping numbers are not unusual for a show of this age, what has been interesting is the lackadaisical attempts by producers to cure what ails American Idol.
This was made apparent during a recent exit interview with Jessica Meuse who said that the final four were originally given the OK to all perform original songs (since the top 4 are all singer/songwriters this season) only to later reverse the decision and force the contestants to choose from, what Jessica described as, an ever-shrinking list of approved songs.
It's conservative decisions like this, combined with a series of counterproductive decisions, such as asking the contestants to vote on whether to delay one week's elimination in exchange for a double elimination the following week and the introduction of the cruel and controversial "Rush Week" early on, that leave viewers wondering if the American Idol powers that be are resigned to an imminent demise and are just having fun torturing the contestants before the network pulls the plug.
But let's enjoy the show while it lasts.
First, everyone was shocked to learn that Caleb Johnson has a bruised vocal chord from all the strenuous singing. They even had the doctor come on-stage to explain Caleb's impairment only to then say that he's been given the OK to sing anyway. Phew. Crisis averted. If Caleb stopped taking every opportunity to sing during conversation, he might have been able to finish out the season without the need for a medic to visit the stage.
Fast-forward through the "Selfie" performance from "The Chainsmokers," really – just fast forward through that supremely sad state of time wasting – and let's get down to the performances!
Randy's Song Choices
Caleb Johnson: Randy Jackson picked, "Never Tear us Apart," by INXS for Caleb. Does anyone else feel as though Idol is really pushing Caleb as the winner with this whole over-dramatization of his bruised vocal chord? Couldn't you all just predict that despite not being able to talk, Caleb would give a great vocal and the judges would wax poetic about how brave Caleb was and how even impaired he was wonderful? Well, that's exactly what happened. B-
Alex Preston: Mr. Jackson flexed his muscle by having Alex cover the song "Pompeii" by Bastille. Well, this choice only further strengthens the theory that American Idol is attempting to influence the outcome in Caleb's favor. Alex gave what was his worst performance of the season but the judges seemed to not have received the memo because they raved about it. Who knew all Alex had to do was play percussion and JLo would think he was cool? D
Jena Irene: When they announced that Randy chose "Titanium," by David Guetta, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe Idol really wasn't trying to force Caleb on us, but when Jena struggled with pitch throughout the song, it wasn't hard to imagine Randy snickering in the background knowing that Jena wouldn't hit the notes. Again, the judges commended a performance that sounded sub-par. Were they hearing something different or is at all just an elaborate plot and the judges wanted to cover their tracks? Well, JLo and Randy changed things up a bit by keeping it real and admitting that Jena did struggle in parts, so maybe there is no conspiracy after all? C
Judges' Song Choices
Caleb Johnson: The judges selected "Demons" by Imagine Dragons for Caleb. Well, to say that Caleb struggled with this song would be the understatement of the season. Aside from the fact that his eyes were closed for the majority of the song (even he couldn't bear to watch Imagine Dragons being slaughtered on the stage) his vocals just didn't hold out. Keith Urban said he killed the song, which would have been right on if he didn't mean it as a compliment. JLo blathered on about emotion and Caleb hearing her thoughts, and Harry complained about not knowing what Caleb would do post-Idol. Caleb managed to "hang tough" long enough to communicate that he'd do original rock songs. D
Alex Preston: "Stay," by Rihanna was Alex's assignment from the judges. Alex worked his magic on the song and although JLo had her infamous "goosies" the arrangement robbed the song of a bit of its emotion. The judges enjoyed it and Harry asked Alex what kind of concerts Alex would have. Really fun ones, according to Alex. B
Jena Irene: The judges chose Demi Lovato's, "Heart Attack" for Jena. It wasn't her best performance of the season – she was weighed down by the wordy lyrics – but it wasn't her worst either. The judges had little to offer other than generalized "I-picked-the-song-for-you-so-it-must-have-been-good" comments. B-
Caleb Johnston: Caleb's hometown of Asheville, N.C., chose "Dazed and Confused," by Led Zeppelin and he made sure he expressed appreciation for the song selection. The judges, especially Keith and JLo went out of their way to express their appreciation for the song as well. Jennifer has never been more infuriating than she was during this performance; standing up and writhing around like a teenage groupie all the while making the offensive "stank-face" was almost too much to bear and only encouraged Caleb to really act out and smash his mike stand repeatedly off the stage at the end of the song. She then faced the crowd and urged them to cheer on Caleb. Keith and Jennifer described the performance as a true Idol moment and the conspiracy theory was all but proven. Sure, Caleb sounded better than one might expect for someone struggling with vocal issues (how convenient) but the "Idol Moment" failed to reveal itself to this viewer. B
Alex Preston: Mont Vernon selected, "Story of My Life," by One Direction for their hero, Alex. An interesting choice that did him no favors since he already performed the song in the Top Ten. The judges were understandably tepid in their feedback to an underwhelming final performance. But sadly, the judges know that Alex is the sacrificial lamb in this top three - whether it be right or wrong. C
Jena Irene: Farmington Hills, Michigan also opted to saddle their Idol with a repeat song with their selection of, "Creep," by Radiohead. Unlike Alex's performance, Jena managed to really create strong emotion with her song and no doubt secured her runner-up status behind Caleb - just like Idol practically mandated. The judges loved her performance - Harry said it was even better than the first time she sang it. A
If you haven't been reading between the lines throughout the article, there's no doubt that Caleb and Jena will be headed into the finale even though Alex may be the most artistically gifted of them all.
Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!