American Idol Top 7 Performance Recap: Filler Queen [Updated]

American Idol Tonight, in perhaps the most filler-ific performance show to date, the Top 7 took on “The Many Zoomed-In Faces of Jennifer Lopez.” Whoops, no. That’s every night on American Idol!

This week’s official theme: Competitors’ Picks, aka Softballs. Zero sabotage among these super-great friends who will be sneezing onto each other inside a bus all summer. Oh well. That’s fine. If that’s how they wanna play this whole life thing, whatever.

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You may have noticed by the lack of Haley Reinhart and horse-racing mentions so far that I am not Michael Slezak — not now, not ever. I wish. You thought you and he had something special? Hello, REALITY CHECK! Look, he abandoned you. He’s just like that. You knew it would happen eventually. The man lacks character.

I’m just kidding! I love that hilarious wino — he taught me everything I know about how not to hold my liquor. Slezak is overseas stalking Jody Watley on vacation through the weekend, and he’ll be right back here next Wednesday for the Top 6.

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I hate giving out grades before watching everyone three times, but here we go!

American Idol Set List: Competitors’ Pick

Caleb Johnson: Kings of Leon’s “Family Tree” — Grade: B | Alex picked this “amazing groove” for Caleb and he sang it with clarity, conviction, and a whole lotta visible saliva. I don’t think he owned it as much as he could have… though with Caleb I always worry that if someone urged him to “go for it, more!” he’d turn into a full-on caricature. Did anyone else notice how especially fluffy Caleb’s hair was tonight? He looked like a baby shampoo commercial, like maybe he’s the baby’s crazy dad who’s just really pumped about the product. Caleb’s hair rivaled Rickey Minor’s thick teal scarf and the backdrop of a wall crumbling into flames (graphically) in terms of things other than J. Lo begging for my attention during this performance. Let’s hope he doesn’t fade in viewers’ memories like he did during that duet with the all-powerful Jena.

Jessica Meuse: Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” — Grade: B+ | A few chunks of this, like the moody opening with Jess bathed in a blue ‘X’ of spotlights, were superb — though you’d never know it from listening to the judges. Other parts, though, showed her hesitation, and I noticed a few pitch problems. That tone, though. Hers is indisputably one of the richest voices of the season.

I like Jessica so much. I just want her to rock more. Doesn’t she want to? Isn’t she able? These are my questions as a fan of hers. Perhaps the judges have similar frustrations, but damn if their comments against Jessica don’t sound like a broken record week to week. They are just blatantly not rooting for her at all. And they don’t even try to mask that, like they do for everyone else.

“When your rhythm is in your body, it’s gonna inform everything from the neck up, so you can match the pyrotechnics,” said Harry Connick Jr., a judge in a SINGING COMPETITION.

Alex Preston and Sam Woolf: Passenger’s “Let Her Go” — Grade: C | It’s cool that these two got to sing on the set of That ’70s Show — I miss it too — but man, did they miss the mark with a happy-go-lucky but ultimately personality-free cover of an emotional song. Two lumps on a silly sofa, jammin’ like they do during their down time. No thanks. And these are supposed to be our season 13 heartthrobs?!

C.J. Harris: John Mayer’s “Gravity” — Grade: B | I find it difficult to root for a guy who so consistently sings out of tune, but this week marked a firm exclamation point within his usual series of vocal question marks. He did a good job. It’s still not good enough, though, no matter how many emotionally driven stank faces he presents to the crowd (so that J. Lo can promptly mimic them, then laugh with delight once she knows the camera’s on her, at last). Jennifer gently approved of how C.J. now supposedly thinks he can really win this. Note, this is different than J. Lo saying she thinks C.J. can really win this.

You know who can really win this, though, in a surprise twist? An adorable baby with giant headphones. C.J.’s son and Dad’s lack of blatant failure may have just bought him another week. Oh, and speaking of money, it’s so cute that C.J. thinks he’s going to have enough to hire his messy roommate Dexter a maid. Lifestyles of the Top 7 and Not Famous!

Dexter Roberts: Luke Bryan’s “Muckalee Creek Water” — Grade: B | He’s getting comfier, I guess. No bungled notes. No wardrobe malfunctions, unless you count the effing baseball cap. I still suspect any crowded bar in the American South would go absolutely crazy for Dexter, and I can’t blame them. Drunk people just want to have fun, and Dex could thrive on that and deliver. But in a roomful of bright lights, sober sisters, and a few people who should know better? There’s just no way of getting around the fact that he’s so average. And it must be said: Dude consistently garbles his lyrics as badly as Michael Slezak on Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” in a private karaoke cell after half a bottle of Sauv Blanc.

Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene: The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” — Grade: B+ | The vocal competency was on point, but was she supposed to completely drown him out like that, or were there mic issues? Perhaps I’d been brainwashed by J. Lo’s “That is a moment” propaganda when I gave them this high of a grade. I’m sorry! The back of her dress was distracting! FROM THE REST OF THE SHOW.

Alex Preston: Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” — Grade: A- | Part of the reason I graded Alex so highly is because I appreciated last week’s complete retooling of “Every Breath You Take.” (Shoutout to everything Melinda Doolittle said about Alex on Reality Check!) Creepy kid alert: I used to sing that one to myself as a lullaby for years (of sleepless nights) before I was old enough to learn about the fine arts of stalking and evil-tinged obsession. And if you’re not brave enough to throw a classic pop song in the blender, then what the hell are you doing on American Idol?

But I digress. Anyway, I don’t have as strong a personal connection to “The A Team,” but this was a typically strong showing from Alex. Well, musically, at least. I cannot detect any activity along Alex’s emotional circuit other than a burning passion for thrifted ‘80s clothing and socklessness.

Sam Woolf: David Gray’s “Sail Away” — Grade: C+ | Zzzzzzz. Again. Sure, he always sings well. And tonight there were a few flickers of facial connection that suggested Sam might be a Real Boy after all. J. Lo noticed them in her monitor while screening for shots of herself, and she never lies. But the judges’ whole improvement arc thing with Sam? Seriously? It was difficult to listen to Harry and Keith laud Sam for being a “work in progress” when the undercurrent of their superficial praise was clearly “WE ALL KNOW THIS ISN’T WORKING.” And yet they rip apart the details of Jess’ performances even after she specifically follows their directions. I tell ya, it’s hard out there for a female who believes she was abducted by aliens these days on American Idol.

Dexter, Jess, and C.J. a.k.a. Alabama Power: Lady Antebellum’s “Compass” — Grade D+ | Maybe I should’ve gone with my gut instinct of an F-. I kept trying like mad to just listen to Jess’ voice, then okay, maybe Dexter’s, but aggggghhh definitely not C.J.’s, and within a few bars I just gave up. It shouldn’t have to be this much of an effort to enjoy something. There’s really no need to force these children to play nicely together. “You, you, and you. Congrats, you’re Harry’s bottom three. Pretend to gel.” No! Stop it!

Jena Irene: Radiohead’s “Creep” — Grade: A- | I’ll be honest: I can’t stand some of Jena’s “aoowwwww”-laden pronunciation — you’re not foreign, girl! Just accept that you don’t have a natural quirky accent! We’ve all had to do it! But on a lackluster night, this piano-driven wailer, sponsored by Screech, was the clear standout both vocally and in performance value. More than any contestant this season, Jena strikes me as a kid with potential star power right this second. You could throw her in a pop video and she’d make perfect sense. (Especially if she follows through with her terrible tattoo idea of a skull with “Don’t worry, we’re all the same” underneath. Real stars love pretending they’re commoners.) You know it’s true! For better or worse, Jena owns it. Most exciting performance of the night, by far.

Offer up your thoughts on the way J. Lo’s skin glowed tonight and other musically relevant topics — and vote for your two favorite contestants — below.

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