American Idol Top 8 Performance Recap: We Can Learn to Love (This Show) Again [Updated]
Strengths: Her deep, range-y steamroller of a voice is arguably the most instantly recognizable of any Season 13 contestant — and her confidence and pitch have grown exponentially with each passing week. Jena’s shown an intriguing versatility — rocking out at the piano on Paramore, tackling EDM with “Clarity” and proving her songwriting chops on “Unbreakable Me” during the Wild Card show.
Weaknesses: It wouldn’t hurt her to try her hand at rearranging a song in an unexpected way — or choosing something by a male artist — in the next week or two. She’s also still growing into her rock-star stage presence, evidenced by last week’s note from J.Lo that she shouldn’t try to fix her flyaway hair mid-performance.
Dream Set List: Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps,” New Order’s “Blue Monday,” Anastacia’s “Stupid Little Things,” Nikka Costa’s “Like a Feather,” Kristine W’s “Feel What You Want”
Strengths: He’s got an exquisitely scratchy quality to his voice, and his intonation is rock solid. Plus, with his slightly shy, “aw shucks” charm, his teen-heartthrob potential is hard to deny.
Weaknesses: Since hitting the big stage, Sam has struggled mightily to show any kind of emotional connection to the songs he’s chosen. Careful selection and study of his lyrics will determine whether he revives his Season 13 chances or continues his downward trajectory.
Dream Set List: Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song),” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound,” Martika’s “Toy Soldiers,” Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers,” Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around”
Strengths:Her original tracks “Blue-Eyed Lie” (from her audition) and “Done” (Hollywood Week) have erased any doubt that she could be a viable artist in a post-Idol world. A distinctive tone and a penchant for unexpected song picks (“The Crow and the Butterfly,” “Pumped-Up Kicks”) have added to her appeal.
Weaknesses: Jessica’s attraction to mellow, mid-tempo jams (“White Flag,” “Rihannon”) has made her Idol journey a little too one-note, a little too void of surprises. A radical rearrangement of a pop tune would be just the thing to help her fend off any voter complacency.
Dream Set List: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” Sinead O’Connor’s “No Man’s Woman,” Paula Abdul’s “Rush, Rush,” Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Sheryl Crow’s “Leaving Las Vegas”
Strengths: If there was an award for Most Creative, Alex would be the unanimous winner, thanks to his nifty reimagining of “Don’t Speak” and his cool melodic choices on “Falling Slowly” and “The Story of My Life.” Rarely hits a bum note and seems to have a good idea of what his voice can do, and where he wants it to go.
Weaknesses: Like Jessica, Alex has left the impression that after six live performances, he’s still holding back a bit, especially with too many up-the-middle choices like “I Don’t Want to Be” and “A Beautiful Mess.” He may be a Season 13 front-runner, but it’s time for Alex to create some magic moments that can quash the idea that he’s winning by default. It might be time to unroll the pant legs and step away from the mic stand for once, too.
Dream Set List: Wyclef (featuring Mary J. Blige)’s “911,” Thompson Twins’ “Lies,” Shakira’s “Empire,” Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again,” Modest Mouse’s “Float On”
Strengths: He’s firmly planted in the bro-country lane, and with only one Bottom 3 appearance, the strategy seems to be working. He’s got a solid grasp of pitch, a deep Elvis-esque tone and an authentic “nice southern guy” charm that can’t be faked.
Weaknesses: As the judges have told him repeatedly, his covers of big, twangy anthems continue to fall short of the originals, leaving him looking like nothing more than a decent karaoke artist. His only stab at “Dexter-izing” a ditty resulted in a sleepy, turgid take on “Cruise.”
Dream Set List: Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake,” Hayden Panettiere’s “Don’t Put Dirt on My Grave Just Yet” (from Nashville), Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States,” Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”
Strengths: This season’s outré rocker has a booming voice, magnetic stage presence and a grasp of pitch that’s tighter than a Kardashian sister hanging on to fame. Sense of humor and a willingness to take risks — who’d have predicted he’d give one of the best performances of the season with Adele’s “Skyfall”? — are working in his favor, too.
Weaknesses: It’s hard to take the Idol crown without showing moments of vulnerability and tenderness — something Caleb has yet to do in the live performance rounds. Needs to also be careful that his sense of humor doesn’t creep up to the border of abrasive.
Dream Set List: U2’s “All I Want Is You,” Pink’s “Get the Party Started,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience,” The Motels’ “Only the Lonely”
Strengths: Proved with his Top 11 week cover of “Can’t You See” that he can deliver a powerful, southern-rock/country performance that’s in tune and emotionally authentic.
Weaknesses: As evidenced by Harry Connick Jr.’s repeated please, C.J. needs how to learn to sing in tune when he’s on the big stage. It’s as simple as that.
Dream Set List: Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name,” Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” Macy Gray’s “Do Something”
Strengths: She’s got one of the biggest, goofiest personalities to grace the Idol stage in several seasons. Has plenty of power in her big belter’s voice, too, and she’s made noticeable strides in controlling said instrument over the past month.
Weaknesses:When she’s pushing her vocals, Malaya’s tone can still come across as slightly nasal and immature, and her zig-zagging from Gospel to R&B to classic rock has left the impression she’s still in “reality competition contestant” mode rather than gearing up to be a future viable artist. Needs to prove she can deliver an uptempo track effectively, too.
Dream Set List: Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” Sade’s “Pearls,” Patti LaBelle’s “Music Is My Way of Life,” Michael Jackson & Mick Jagger’s “State of Shock,” Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker”