This week’s Wednesday, February 17 edition of “American Idol” brought the last 12 of the Top 24 before the packed crowd inside the Vibiana, and before judges who wanted to see really special performances, and special songs, after the bar was set so high by the first dozen last week. The style for the panel was all black and white, and maybe that trend carried over to their thoughts and commentary, because the cuts come hard with only seven moving on, and making the most of any stage time is crucial. Jennifer Lopez said that while the duets always bring great entertainment, the solos reveal more about which talents are truly artists. One of the first elements that displays artistry knowing what song fits with voice, style, and personality, and that was a struggle that kept turning up. Who got the formula right for this pressure cooker night?
Shelbie Z wants to win so badly she can taste it, and she put on another punching performance with Gretchen Wilson’s “Work Hard Play Harder,” this time, decked in sleek black with sparkles shimmering from her microphone scarf. She made Jennifer Lopez smile through the performance, but Keith Urban criticized right out-of-the-box how she sacrificed the whole song in a lower key just to get her big note at the end, which she got. It wasn’t worth the trade, in his judgment. Jennifer Lopez thought she got the night off to a good start, while Harry said it would be a matter of seeing how she stacked up against other singers. Manny Torres still oozes with that silky vibe, like he’s still trying to woo Jennifer Lopez, but this time he used it all for the camera with Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime,” and the audience seemed to lap it up. He got a slap, too, though, for choosing a song to easy for his voice, and without “big” moments. Jennifer told him she loved his voice, and while he may have worked the camera fine, she wanted more connection to make her feel something. Keith commented that the song “suited your spirit,” but Harry was more stern, calling the effort “piecemeal.” Probably for much of America, this was the first full performance seen from Kory Wheeler, and showed a different depth as a performer, choosing James Bay’s “Let It Go” from the piano. It was his best so far, but Harry couldn’t see it this time, again, dubbing it “not great, not special.” Keith and Jennifer saw it differently. She noted that this was the most comfortable she had ever seen Kory, and Keith loved his mixture of “confidence and vulnerability.”
Amelia Eisenhauer tested herself, too, with a perky rendition of “Wake Me Up” without her instrument, and it was obvious that it was a stretch, but she still has the vocal chops. Keith Urban commended that she was “trying things.” Jennifer Lopez complimented that she was “a special girl” and still had a special gift. Harry recommended that she should always look for “quirky songs” because he felt they best suited her niche. Jen Blosil brings something so unique to every performance, the rest of the technical issues fade away, and she was at her emotional best with “Sorry,” giving it more emotional punch with her own surrender to the lyrics. Harry complimented that she was “a breath of fresh air,” and then scolded her for being out of tune. Keith commended her originality, and Jennifer said that her risky arrangement and rough beginning didn’t kill the end of the song for her. CJ Johnson got some of the best comments of the night with Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” Sometimes, the older songs just trump the trendy, and connection was a quality that CJ gave through his whole performance. Keith said from the second he started, it was perfect song, perfect performance. Ms. Lopez told him that he felt like he was singing to her. Harry repeated his admonishment to sing in tune. Lee Jean went with Ed Sheeran’s “Runaway,” which for him was as easy as an afternoon nap. Harry did call this one among the better performances, and challenged the young man to play guitar for the whole song in practice. Keith did not approve of the song choice, nor did Jennifer, saying that there were no big songs with those big moments that decide who is the “American Idol.”
Trent Harmon took his own risk, too, this time, taking the soulful country route with “What Are You Listening To?” from songwriting phenom, Chris Stapleton. It’s a different kind of song, and like Stapleton, Trent has a different kind of voice to draw listeners in, and as Keith noted, listeners will be looking up the song now. His voice and persona are part of what make him special, and Jennifer Lopez said he would staying in the competition for a long time. Harry was disappointed that “this wasn’t the Trent I’m used to,” but as he would know himself, inconsistency can be part of artistry. Tristan McIntosh tried to go a little tougher with Carrie Underwood ‘s “Good Girl,” in tight, torn shorts, and belting it out. Harry liked that she sang loud, and Jennifer said that she really picked up steam toward the end. Keith was dismayed about the song, yet again, but said that with so much talent, she will be killer once she finds that right song. Tristan could sing the phonebook and pull in an audience.
Adam Lasher has that powerful, perfectly raspy voice, but his performance of “Black and Gold” did absolutely nothing to show it off. It was limp, and Harry was right to say that he did not drive the song on stage, but seemed more like a contented background singer. Keith confessed that he was “baffled” by the song choice, and Jennifer added that it could’ve been better, and there was nothing to the performance to draw her in. Saving the best for last is an old adage of show business, and Dalton Rapattoni did this thing again, making Billy idol’s “Rebel Yell” into a passionate, slow burning torch song. Jennifer screamed in delight the second of his last note, feeling “somp’in” then. Keith loved his interpretation, and Harry gave a one-word approval, “Great.” Olivia Rox closed out the night, and her choice of Demi Lovato’s “Confident” gave her the chance to show another side of herself in a black leather look mini-dress, being bolder than ever. “The show starts now!” Keith Urban exclaimed. Harry called her performance “very strong,” and Jennifer told Olivia to bring out her “inner rock chick” to match persona with the song.
Tomorrow should be lots of fun with duets from Kellie Pickler, David Cook, and Jordin Sparks, among others, mentoring the singers before the sting of cuts.