American Idol goes back to the '80s

American Idol recap: On Wednesday night, the contestants ventured back to the 1980s with the help of David Cook but without the safety net of the save.

Mario Anzuoni / REUTERS
Jena Irene poses at the party for the finalists of American Idol XIII in West Hollywood, California on February 20, 2014.

On Wednesday night, after last week's epic save of Sam Woolf, the remaining eight contestants (none of who were born in the 1980s - and yes, it hurts my heart to even write that) went back some 30 odd years with the help of Season 7 winner, David Cook.

In case you've forgotten, Season 7 was the battle of the Davids and by some miracle David Cook snatched the title of American Idol away from the wheezy, saccharine-sweet David Archuleta. If you paid close enough attention to host Ryan Seacrest's intro of David Cook, his success was due to his ground-breaking performance of '80s music on the show - so it was natural to ask David to return to help out the wide-eyed youngsters. 

Before we jump right into things, taking a week off of American Idol coverage resulted in two things: First, something exciting happened and the judges used their save. (I wonder if Sam even knows that his salvation was a direct result of my absence.) Second, it inspired me to change things up a little bit and tonight we'll group the contestants into three categories: "Yay!", "Meh" and "Boo!" Yup, we're going wild around here - it's amazing what a mini-vacation can do for creativity.


Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson: Jena and Caleb paired up to perform "It's Only Love," by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner and pretty much stole the show and not just because of Jena's dress. They sounded great together with Jena channeling her inner Heart and Caleb didn't demonstrate any of the extreme awkwardness that practically debilitated Alex when he had to look in Jena's eyes last week. Thank goodness for this performance, otherwise there would have been no one in the "Yay!" category!


Jena Irene: Jena gravitated toward rocker chick Joan Jett and selected,  "I Love Rock and Roll." It wasn't a bad song choice for her other than being slightly predictable. Plus, something with a little more lyrical finesse, like an Annie Lennox song, might have allowed us to hear more of Jena's unique tone and phrasing. Her decision to slow it down was interesting but early on, the music seemed to drown out her voice and Jennifer Lopez was right when she said that the middle of the performance kind of languished. But all of the judges applauded her originality. 

Dexter Roberts: Dexter performed "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by The Georgia Satellites, with the help of a Keith Urban-lookalike guitarist. It was refreshing to hear that David Cook has as much trouble understanding Dexter as yours truly and he advised him to work on his enunciation - advise that seemed to fall on deaf ears since Dexter was as hard to understand as usual. The judges loved Dexter's performance but Keith encouraged him to move around with a little more spontaneity.

Alex Preston and Sam Woolf duet: Alex and Sam sounded great together despite the inherent, doggone corniness of "The Girl is Mine" by Michael Jackson. 

Sam Woolf: In an attempt to prove he was worth the one save of the season, Sam performed "Time after Time" by Cyndi Lauper, and like we've seen time after time, Sam failed to take advantage of the energy that a live crowd of screaming young girls can bring to a performance. Although he was standing, surrounded by adoring fans, Sam started directly into the camera, as if he was hoping that if he didn't make eye contact, they'd just disappear. Vocally, Sam's voice still reminds me of browned butter but he needs to let go and relax. Of course, all of the judges agreed with me.

Jessica Meuse and Dexter Roberts: Dexter and Jessica performed "Islands in the Stream" by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. They sounded decent but their chemistry was strange, especially when rather than looking into Dexter's eyes and singing, Jessica studied Dexter like he was under a microscope.

Caleb Johnson: Caleb claimed that he wanted to make some old ladies cry with his version of "Faithfully" by Journey. Ah, no better way to earn votes than by insulting the voters and he needn't have worried. He's nearly brought this "old lady" to tears more than once. Unfortunately, it was never in a way that made me want to vote for him. Everyone seemed to love Caleb's performance but his voice did not sound as crystal clear as it usually does. But then again, my hearing might be going in my advanced years.


Malaya Watson: Malaya performed "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan and it seemed that David Cook was enamored by her vocals. Unfortunately, in her live performance, she didn't quite enamor the crowd or the judges. Although the judges didn't specifically address her being off key in the early part of the song, they all did agree that it seemed as though Malaya spent the entire song anticipating the big notes at the end. 

Jessica Meuse: David Cook immediately zeroed in on the the fact that Jessica Meuse usually looks miserable when she sings and encouraged her to try and have fun with her performance of "Call Me" by Blondie. It was a step - or many, many steps - in the right direction as Jessica promenaded around the stage like she was performing in a Pedometer Challenge. Despite all of her cardio, the judges were still left feeling cold and complained that Jessica wasn't feeling the song.

C.J. Harris & Malaya Watson:  CJ and Malaya attempted "I Knew You Were Waiting" by George Michael and Aretha Franklin. Vocally, it wasn't great but it was a hoot to see C.J. so animated. 

Alex Preston: It wasn't a surprise that Alex changed up the song "Every Breath you Take" by The Police and made it his own. He's an artist and artists create. Sadly, not all creations are a success - just ask Victor Frankenstein. Alex's version was so stripped down that it lost the emotional impact. Maybe if there had been someone else performing, someone who could have compensated with his own injection of passion, it could have worked. But, in Alex's detached and aloof hands, it withered. Harry encouraged Alex to be more of an entertainer. Jennifer, like me, felt that the emotion of the song suffered from the changes.

C.J. Harris: In rehearsals, David Cook fell in love with C.J.'s performance of "Free Fallin" and was clearly excited about his potential. Perhaps C.J.'s pitch suffers when he gets on stage and becomes nervous. But like many performances before, he struggled with staying in key. The judges loved C.J.'s emotion and ability to connect despite the struggles with pitch. 


With just eight people left, the bottom 3 should get easier. Alas, it's proving to be a challenge, since the country doesn't always agree with my assessment of the performances. Here's my best guess:

  1. Malaya Watson
  2. Sam Woolf
  3. Alex Preston

Tune in tomorrow to see who gets sent home, since we know it has to be someone this time! Leave your feedback in the comments below (I read all of it). Oh, and a special shout out to my biggest fan - the Applebee's waiter from NC. You know who you are. 

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