'American Idol' Season 13 recap: top 5 stay on track with fan's choice songs as Jena Irene shines [VIDEOS]
Season 13 of American Idol trudges on, and this week the theme that allowed every contestant to more or less remain in his or her comfort zone was "Fan's Choice," where Twitter users picked songs using the hashtag #IdolRequest, and the top 5 picked songs based on what the people wanted.
In addition to the non-theme theme, this week of Idol continued another season 13 tradition... oddball celebrity cameos! In addition to mentor Jason Mraz, "celebrity crushes" Zooey Deschanel and Ariana Grande were in house to give awkward hugs to Alex Preston and Sam Woolf, respectively. Austin Mahone was also there, because appealing to tweens is important!
The top three contestants performance-wise, Alex Preston, Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene, remained strong, more or less, this week -- though the two frontrunner boys faltered a bit on their first tracks, and Jena stumbled on her second. Meanwhile, this seasons "how did they get this far?" contestants Jessica Meuse and Sam Woolf continued to struggle to find their footing.
Though for the majority of the Idol live shows thus far, I've been categorizing the performances into "good," "bad" and "mediocre" categories, I've noticed that the people appearing in each section from week to week have grown redundant, so I'm trying something new now: a proper ranking. So, 10 performances... let's count them down from worst best... complete with video!
10. Sam Woolf, "How To Save A Life": Even though "Sing" was a little out of Sam Woolf's element, The Fray's "How To Save A Life" is right in his wheelhouse. Despite his comfort in that mid-tempo alternative rock genre, Sam really struggled to find the pitch of "How To Save A Life," and this was totally clear in the performance's second chorus, where he was just totally off. Maybe he was trying to do some vocal flares, but instead, it just came off as insanely sharp. Sam is a little cutie but he's already been nearly eliminated... performances like these and the slightly off "Sing" put him in danger.
9. Jessica Meuse, "Human": I can only say so much about Jessica Meuse being more or less emotionally dead week after week, but boy, this girl's just got nothing behind the eyes. She's admitted that she doesn't really know how to perform in the past, so uh, why is she trying to be a performer? I digress. Besides her eternal lack of passion and energy, the vocals on Christina Perri's "Human" weren't a great fit for Jessica, who struggled to adapt to the lower register notes of this song. Her singing was much improved in the louder, higher choruses and she actually did well there. But, "Human" is literally all about vulnerability in its lyrics, which is something Jessica refuses to show, making her vulnerable for elimination.
8. Sam Woolf, "Sing": First off, someone out there decided it would be a good idea to let Sam Woolf wear a tye-dye T-shirt and a fedora on national television. Poor kid... But, I guess the cool, casual look was somehow an attempt to tie this perpetually shy teen to a funky rock number like Ed Sheeran's "Sing," which was his first performance tonight. In the studio version, Sheeran is all attitude with a killer falsetto and a bunch of attitude, two things Sam just does not have in him. He adapted well enough and managed to make this song his own through both the arrangement and some changes in pitch, but in the end, this was very so-so.
7. Caleb Johnson, "Don't Want To Miss A Thing": This song could have been a truly big moment for Caleb Johnson. In the original Aerosmith version of this song, former Idol judge Steven Tyler absolutely goes for those high notes, decorating the emotion of this song with numerous vocal flares. That's something Caleb is also built to do. But, I think he's finally blown his vocals... The first minute or so if this song sounded exasperated, with Caleb struggling to hit even mid-range notes. For the first time all season, Caleb was just straight up flat. He recovered a bit for the second half of the performance, though the song never built into the big ol' ballad it should have been. It always seemed like Caleb was a sure thing for the final three or even two on American Idol season 13, but this performance was no indicative of that. I worry for him this week after this.
6. Jessica Meuse, "Summertime Sadness": Like "Human," Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" could have been a slam dunk for Jessica Meuse, if it weren't for her icy cold personality (like Jennifer Lopez pointed out). She started off strong, and I was hopeful. She had a sultry little pose going on, with a big ol' leg tattoo showing through a slit, and Jessica even started off with the sort of dulled emotion one would want from Lana Del Rey, and then she killed it. She killed it all with her lack of passion and personality. I'm over it, and I thin America will be, too. Jessica has the vocal chops and had the potential to win American Idol with her crossover genre appeal and truly unique intonations. But, she's just not a born performer.
5. Jena Irene, "Valerie": I guess I get that Jena Irene was trying to go for some tempo shakeups with her take on the classic song "Valerie" (made popular by the late, great Amy Winehouse) but her mid-tempo take was so bereft of energy that I wasn't sure what I was watching. This song could've been perfect for Jena, with all the punch and energy that Winehouse gave it, but instead she turned it into something weird and loungey. The weird arrangement aside, Jena's vocals were pretty solid, as usual, and she had fun on stage, as usual. It's just song choice and arrangement are so vital at this point in the competition, and they sucked all the sass out of a great hit.
4. Alex Preston, "Sweater Weather": It was a good night for Alex Preston, as both his celebrity crush (Zooey Deschanel) and his musical crush (Jason Mraz) showed up to give him a little boost of morale. After a week that wasn't his strongest for the top 6 showing, Alex needed a little push, and that seems to have come through for him last night. He opened up the show with The Neighborhood's "Sweater Weather," and the song choice was incredibly fitting for his wavering alto vocals and that whole indie rocker vibe he's got going for him. While the performance was strong enough, it lacked a little bit of power. As judge Keith Urban noted, Alex could have really used a bit more of his range in the performance and I think he could've kicked up the volume dynamics a little more, too. Additionally, Alex really needs to start taking a bigger command of the stage. I get the whole guitar thing, but it can be a little suffering for his presence on TV.
3. Caleb Johnson, "Still of the Night": Even though something was really off for Caleb Johnson's first performance of Aerosmith's "Don't Want To Miss A Thing," he really recovered for his second song, Whitesnake's "Still of the Night." This song was basically made for Caleb to cover on American Idol, and he did it with such fervor and gusto that it was really a star-making type of showing. I still don't know what Caleb's viability in the modern music market is -- it's not as though this sort of classic rock 'n' roll is en vogue... but he's good on this show.
2. Alex Preston, "Say Something": While Jena shines with the big ol' anthems, Alex Preston is best when keeping things calm, quiet and emotional. Thus, A Great Big World's "Say Something" was basically the perfect song choice for him and gave Alex one of the best performances of the night. He toed the line of emotions, not fully giving into the song but really struggling with the meaning, which in a way, is the real meat of "Say Something" lyrically. Smart move, Alex. His vocals were thusly on point, with a flawless performance that helped really bring him back to the forefront of the competition. Other than that, there was that shadow-y background female singer, which was so laughably distracting, I don't know what else to say. Who makes these decisions?!
1. Jena Irene, "My Body": As the weeks go on, I feel like I enjoy Jena Irene's performances more and more. Out of the five remaining contestants, she seems to be the one who purely has the most *fun* on stage. Comparing their personalities, it's insane to think that she is basically the same age as Sam Woolf. Jena's pure energy and love of music was clear in her performance of Young the Giant's "My Body," where she was literally all smiles. She knows how to work both the stage and the audiences. Though her calls to "Let's go!" can get a little irritating week after week, it's nice that she's engaging with the audience in studio instead of just the cameramen, something her fellow contestants need to take note of. Jena got a little pitchy at points, but when someone is so totally lost in a song, that's really easy to dismiss. She's a born performer.