On tomorrow’s American Idol results show, Jennifer Lopez will perform her new single “I Luh Ya Papi
(Not a Typo),” and it will almost certainly be a debacle of sparkly fabric, preternaturally glowing skin, gyrating netherregions and Auto-Tune.
But to-ni-iii-iii-iii-iii-iii-ght, during the Season 13 Top 10 performance show, Jenny From the Block set the world on fire, and shone brighter than the su-uhh-uhh-uhh-uhh-nnn.
Seriously, on a night where Harry Connick Jr. broke out my new favorite phrase (#BereftOfJoy) and pledged not to attend contestants’ rehearsals (huzzah!) and where Keith Urban mixed a perfectly balanced cocktail of truth and warmth and exactitude, it was J.Lo who stood out for delivering what was unquestionably her finest night of critiques in three seasons on the panel.
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But don’t take the preceding sentence as a cantankerous dis: The kids are
ai’ight all right! Sure, Majesty Rose needs to find a way to contain her “fear face” and 17-year-old Sam Woolf needs to steer clear of lyrics about a drunken barfly who left a scar on his girlfriend’s face during an unfortunate altercation, but these are the kinds of wrinkles that can be handled with a trip to the dry cleaners — or maybe even with one of those nifty sprays you can buy down at the local Target. (The Top 10 also proved highly amusing while posing with their voting numbers in staged “selfies.” Oh, Idol does love its buzzwords. #pow.)
So, yes, I remain cautiously optimistic — emphasis on “cautiously” — that somebody (or several somebodys) are on the edge of glory, thisclose to proving worthy of inheriting the crown worn by Clarkson, Cook, Sparks, McCreery and their ilk.
On that note, let’s jump right to letter grades for tonight’s contestants:
M.K. Nobilette: Pink’s “Perfect” — Grade: D+ | When I first heard that M.K. — a vocalist who’s at her best when she’s mellow and lilting — was tackling a hard-charging belter like Pink, I assumed she’d be stripping back the arrangement, slowing down the tempo and remagining the jam as an inspirational lullabye. But nope, girlfriend pretty much took the route of least creativity, delivering a karaoke arrangement (and a “stare in the mirror” intro championed by The Voice‘s Michelle Chamuel) that exposed her inability to stay in the pocket and to convey real urgency in her singing. There was so much dead space in between M.K.’s phrases that my attention kept drifting — that is until she botched her segue into the second chorus and then tried to cover it with multiple downward glances and some tentative caterwauling. J.Lo and Harry gave pretty tough feedback, and even M.K.’s post-commercial defense — “I thought it was pretty solid, for what it was” — conveyed a certain sense of defeat, no?
Dexter Roberts: Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” — Grade: C- | To be fair, Dexter really did take his biggest/only risk to date by slowing down the tempo for the opening half of Florida Georgia Line’s propulsive party jam. Problem was that stripped of the steady, rhythmic movement — J.Lo did a nice recreation using stomps and claps — there’s not a whole lot to recommend “Cruise”: It’s hardly a vocal showcase (and even then, Dexter hit his fair share of bum notes) and the lyrical connection definitely suffered from Dexter’s mumbly drawl. Like a glass of water you drank three Thursdays ago or a Randy Jackson mentoring soundbite, this performance was so void of flavor, so lacking in oomph that it’ll be nothing more than a vague memory by the weekend.
Jena Irene: Zedd featuring Foxes’ “Clarity” — Grade: B+ | I wasn’t crazy about the staging of this performance — contestants, please don’t allow the show’s producers to lower you into the SwayBot pit under any circumstance, even if it’s to escape Randy’s “advice” — but vocally, this may have been the episode’s most impressive accomplishment. (Well, that and Jena managing to rock out in pink Doc Martens — and not the deadly high heels the Idol styling department tends to favor.) I loved the little liberties Jena took with the melody, the way her distinctive, rounded tone filled the entire stage, and the fact that she maintained solid pitch despite bouncing around like the audience had come by solely to catch the Jena Irene concert. Yeah, I worry a little that voters might not respond enthusiastically to electronic dance music (side note: Can anyone else imagine Jena singing Kristine W’s “Land of the Living” or Cher’s “Believe” or Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind“?) but then again, isn’t that what all the kids are listening to on the radio anymore? Yeah, that was the Grampy McRickety-est sentence I’ve ever written in an Idol recap, so while I grab a mug of warm milk and a butterscotch candy, why don’t you jump ahead to the next sentence…
Alex Preston: One Direction’s “Story of My Life” — Grade: A- | I like that Alex is strategic enough that he’s already thinking about the entire Idol season as a concert set list. And while I’d like to see him tackle a selection or two that might shake up his “sensitive troubador” vibe — perhaps a radical rearrangement of an EDM track that could convey a sense of humor, or maybe a more raucous selection that forced him to work the stage — there’s no denying his delicate recreation of “Story of My Life” is the best rendition of the song I’ve ever heard. With those perfectly placed high notes he nailed on the chorus and the flawless phrasing that breathed new life into the lyrics, it’s no wonder Harry declared that he’s leading the pack at this point in the competition.
Malaya Watson: Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” — Grade: B+ | I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to shake Candice Glover’s soul-stirring Season 12 cover of this tune, but lo and behold, Malaya grabbed my attention from the first note — bringing palpable pain to the lyrics and an effortless beauty to those tricky “Ooh ooh oohs,” too. Keith was right that the Malaya of two weeks ago would’ve attacked every note of this ballad like a hyena to an antelope leg, but the season’s youngest contestant looks like she’s in the midst of a major growth arc — learning about restraint and shading at just the right point in the competition. And what Idoloonie doesn’t love a major growth arc?
Caleb Johnson: Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” — Grade: B- | “Lacks momentum.” That was the notation I made midway through Caleb’s Gaga cover — then underlined three times for emphasis. But Keith actually did a better job of summing up the problem with Caleb’s “half-time” rearrangement when he called it “lumbering.” Either way, though, by removing the urgency from the jam, by failing to capture the wild-eyed lunacy of Gaga howling the phrase “the edge, the edge, the edge,” Caleb wound up attaching a big old clunky hay wagon to the back of his Maserati. Musically speaking, of course. Plus, in an unexpected turn of events, I thought the Season 13 rocker struggled with
pitch intonation a little on the verse, to boot.
C.J. Harris: Hunter Hayes’ “Invisible” — Grade: D+ | I know that at the end of this article, I predicted M.K. should and will go home on Thursday night — but if the zippy red streaks in her hair resonate with at-home viewers, C.J. would make a perfectly acceptible substitute. Yeah, the judges tried their darndest to praise C.J.’s passion (¡and his rehearsal performance!) but the Alabama native’s consistent sharpness rendered all other considerations moot. Seriously, if C.J. was a surgeon performing a heart transplant, you’d want him to be passionate about keeping you alive, but more important would be his use of the correct tools in the correct manner, his depth of knowledge about human anatomy and organ replacement. Suffice it to say, when Harry had to take a beat and explain the concept of pitch to C.J., it was like watching the doc drop a scalpel into the patient’s chest cavity, complete with a giddy “Whoopsie!” Bottom line: This guy might just not be ready for primetime.
Jessica Meuse: Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” — Grade: B | I had no problem whatsoever with the sly smile Jessica kept on her face throughout her number — especially since we had a pre-performance package in which she explained the song’s juxtaposition of happy melody and creepy lyrics. Yet while I continue to be completely enamoured of Jessica’s nasal-quavery tone and her ability to paint pictures with her words, I did agree with Harry in one regard — and that’s in wanting Jessica to take risks and use her glorious instrument in less expected ways. The verse of “Pumped Up Kicks,” for example, would’ve benefitted if Jessica had twisted the melody, gone for a couple of bigger notes, rather than accepting the minimal range of the original. Yeah, we got a big and delirious payoff with that final glory note Jessica floated atop the final refrain, but now that we know she’s capable, let’s see a little more, eh?
Majesty Rose: Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” — Grade: B | Aside from swallowing the ends of certain phrases — and maybe sounding a tiny bit breathy in spots — I enjoyed Majesty’s gentler, folksier rearrangement of Avicii’s driving pop hit. And yet it took J.Lo — aka The Artist Formerly Known as the Head of the Haley Reinhart Demoralization Society — to articulate what it was about the performance that stopped me from completely getting swept away in the Majesty-ness of the moment, like had happened on “Happy” and “Tightrope.” J.Lo noted she saw “a little bit of fear” playing out on Majesty’s face in the first half of the song — and it was totally true. “I felt like what happened last week really affected you,” said Ms. Lopez, noting Majesty’s Bottom 3 placement, to which the contestant blurted out, “Of course! Oh my gosh!” But J.Lo wasn’t done; she ignored the adorableness of Majesty’s smile, and instead sagely noted that criticism and mistakes are a part of show-biz — but that it’s an artist’s job to rehearse hard, gain confidence in her decisions and never let the audience in on that self-doubt. Coming from a woman who fell on her booty at the AMAs back in the day, that’s advice worth taking.
Sam Woolf: fun. featuring Janelle Monae’s “We Are Young” — Grade: B/B- | Sam definitely showed improvement off last week’s woeful “Come Together,” but the second of my grades tonight takes into account inappropriateness of/lack of connection to the lyrics for a high-school student. I mean, look, it’s Sam’s prerogative to select a verse that paints an uncomfortable picture of domestic violence — My seat’s been taken by some sunglasses/ Asking about a scar and/ I know I gave it to you months ago/ I know you’re trying to forget — but it’s my prerogative to say it makes me skittish. Worse still, though, there was a hollowness to the delivery that made me wonder if Sam actually sat down and read the lyrics and thought about their meaning prior to his performance. That said, though, the kid’s spotless pitch and clear enunciation came through right on schedule. That alone should ensure he’s not in the Bottom 3 this week. Speaking of…
Should Be Bottom 3: Dexter, M.K., C.J. (M.K. going home)
Will Be Bottom 3: Dexter, M.K., C.J. (M.K. going home)
What did you think of the Top 10? Who were your faves? Who’s in trouble? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments! And for all my reality TV-related news, interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!