The solo rounds on “American Idol” this week were quite the struggle for the second dozen singers, who dared to try different styles, but whose song choices left the judges’ panel perplexed. Thursday’s February 18 duets with past Idols, now in the star ranks, presented chances for redemption, and really raised the bar, along with the confidence level, of the young talents on their quest. These performances have been among the best ever seen in the competition’s long run, and it was fitting that the past contenders got proper respect for their tutoring –it was clear for all to see! Who would be chosen as the seven to stay in contention for the title?
It’s hard to imagine that Kellie Pickler won this title way back in Season 5, and she’s just 29. She went on to win “Dancing with the Stars” in 2013. Fans can look back and remember Simon Cowell trying to teach her about escargot, but she’s definitely shown that she knows how to get what she wants, and grab her audience’s heart. She was all support for Amelia Eisenhauer in their performance of “Suds in the Bucket,” and the two performed as a team. They gave a great kick-start to the night, and Harry Connick, Jr. was the first to agree, saying “I loved that– it was terrific!” Keith Urban praised young Amelia on how she “stepped up,” and he enjoyed her fiddle, too. Jennifer Lopez credited Kellie as “the perfect partner for you,” and starting the night off perfectly. Haley Reinhart and Kory Wheeler chose Haley’s winning song from her season, Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” and she pushed him in new and jazzy-cool directions, and he came even further out of his shell. The pair also looked great and Keith Urban noticed, complimenting how well they matched up, and calling their song “so good.” Jennifer also praised that they were a “nice pairing,” and Harry said “we’re 2 for 2” with the night’s performances being great. Season 5’s rocker, Chris Daughtry, did a world of good for teen Lee Jean, once he was able to speak past his nerves. Their collaboration made for such a smooth blend on Daughtry’s own composition, “Home,” and their high notes were heaven. Jennifer Lopez label their duet “amazing” and was stunned that while Lee was “just a baby,” his performance was so strong with a star so much more seasoned. Harry simply loved “the fun you have performing– it’s captivating,” and Keith offered that Lee brought out the storyteller on the song. The judge also noted how gratifying it was that sets talent as Chris, and songwriting of the quality in his song, all were sparked from “American Idol.”
David Cook had his own cheering section at the Vibiana, and they were vocal through his performance with CJ Johnson on the Collective Soul song, “The World I Know.” Cook wanted Johnson to shine on the last note, but in some ways, CJ seemed to fade out through the song, despite his nice falsetto. Harry said that the two sounded good together. Keith Urban was disappointed that it wasn’t much of a song to bring out their best vocals, and Jennifer agreed that it was “too mellow” to bring an audience up. Manny Torres was blessed by the voice, grace, and generous tips of Season 6 winner, R&B beauty, Jordin Sparks, who shared her hit with Chris Brown, “No Air.” Sparks was able to convey the need for real emotional connection when singing to Manny, and it made such a difference. Keith Urban teased that he felt for Manny, as seeing him with Jordin in red, on her super-high heels, was “like me with my wife on the red carpet.” He also praised how good Jordin was for Torres. Jennifer said that they were “the perfect marriage” in song, and Harry said that he could not keep his eyes from going back and forth between Manny and Jordin, even as good as she looked, showing how much improvement Manny had gained. Broadway starring Constantine Maroulis goes all the way back to Season 4 of the talent TV original, and his voice has only gotten stronger between all his stage performances. He partnered with Jenn Blosil on “My Funny Valentine,” and she was a very good student, already a talent. These two were lost in song, so sexy, and for the first time, Jenn was seen singing to someone else. Keith Urban was up giving a standing ovation in an instant, gushing “I freakin’ loved it!” and also praising that Jenn dominated that unique performance. Harry was a bit of a dissenter, saying that the song didn’t need any added energy, and Jennifer loved that it was like “the two of you coming together in your own world.” It was definitely a highlight.
Tristan McIntosh is another of the youngest in the competition, and she hasn’t mastered all the ins and outs of stagecraft, but she sang strong on mentor, Kellie Pickler’s hit, “Best Days of Your Life,” and the love showed. “Pretty darn good, “ was Harry’s summation, along with a little advice not to rush through the song, or wander onstage, especially with Kellie reaching out. Keith Urban expressed how hard it was to open a song that is such a hit for a mentor, and Jennifer also concurred that part of what Tristan is learning is all part of youth and inexperience, that will come down the road, as she finds her “groove.” Olivia Rox gave David Cook the gift of a bracelet, and he gave her the gift of showcasing her incredible voice on his song, “Light On,” calling it “powerhouse,” and she poured on the passion. Keith reminded her what high praise that was coming from a star rocker. Jennifer Lopez called these two “phenomenal,” with even more to come for Olivia when she finds her perfect “groove,” which seemed the word of the night for Ms. Lopez. Harry said that it was a fantastic job. Haley Reinhart really did her best for Adam Lasher on “I Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which is on radio now for her. She even dressed in sumptuous red, and gave him several opportunities to jump in and give more through the singing, but he seemed to not notice, still singing in fallback position. When Jennifer asked Lasher how he felt, he said “better than last time,” and she did note that he sang to support Haley. Harry called it “lovely,” but would have loved to see Adam take risks and take the opportunities that Haley was offering. Keith said he was also waiting for Adam to surrender, loosen up, and go for bigger chances in the performance.
Just to commemorate past success, and celebrate the staying power of the competition, Chris Daughtry received a special plaque celebrating his cumulative album and song sales, before moving on to the night’s featured songs. This farewell season is putting a focus on celebration.
Dalton Rapattoni had the chance to something to Chris Daughtry that he always wanted– to do a better job with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Considering that the song is hallowed ground for many listeners, that’s not easy. Each of these two did their job and then some, carrying the skill, and the passion in those verses. Harry called it “solid,” but said that the band really won on this one. Keith thought it was cool how Dalton knew how to go in and out with Chris’s vocals, and Jennifer said that Dalton was “the dark horse just now showing your best.” After some joking with Rickey Minor, Ryan Seacrest got cheers and chants from the panel and the audience to do his own performance, with Dalton offering his microphone several times. The host declined, but later did a rap snipet of his own to a round of applause. Jordin Sparks felt like the lucky one being paired up with Trent Harmon on the Bee Gees’ classic, “To Love Somebody.” She cautioned him not to give everything in the first 4 minutes, and to “save what’s in your back pocket.” They had a real connection onstage, even calling each other by name, and the song came to such a beautiful, satisfying end. It felt real. Keith Urban called it “a great match-up,” and praised Jordin for pulling things out of Trent “that I hadn’t seen before.” Jennifer Lopez simply said, “this is the Trent we love,” and Harry recommended that this be a single, for one, or both, of these talents. As much of a performer as Shelbie Z is, it was easy to think that she would dive into the drama of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Constantine Maroulis who made the song his own, singing every part, in his season reign. Unfortunately, what happened was she stood a long distance away, and never gave the vigor to this powerful song that she has given so many others, much less powerful, all season long. The connection with both the song and her partner seemed lost. Jennifer was the first to say “I lost Shelbie in there,” and Harry said that it was a tough song to duet, and that Shelbie never seemed to put forth her point of view. “You didn’t pull me in,” Keith commented. This was the worst time for Shelbie to get the toughest words all season.
The judges deliberated during the break, and their decisions for the seven singers movie on came swiftly, with Lee Jean being first, Olivia Rox next, followed by Jenn Blosil, Dalton Rapattoni, Manny Torres, Tristan McIntosh, and lastly, Trent Harmon.
Next week, all the voting goes to the viewers, as the 14 left gets pruned down to the Top 10, so there’s more tears to come, but also big futures for all these talented people. The star power is just now getting really tuned up.