Last week, American Idol had one of its flattest weeks in a long time, so the show had a lot to prove for its trip to the cinema this week. Luckily for the contestants of the Top 11, they nailed it. Even the bad performances weren't so bad, and there were some truly breakthrough performances. In a season where a lot of the singers surfacely only seem OK, this week, they proved they're "in it to win it" (as Harry Connick Jr. would say).
So, let's just get to the meat of it all, and look at who did well, not so well and well enough.
CJ Harris: You don't always need a big, swelling ballad to have one of the best performances on American Idol, and CJ Harris proved that very well with his take on The Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See." Full of the perfect amount of rasp and controlled, strained vocals, his spin on this classic rock track is the first totally noteworthy performances on this season of Idol. Unlike a lot of the contestants, CJ was clearly at home on stage and he both looked and sounded like a very seasoned singer.
Alex Preston: Alex Preston has such a beautiful vulnerability in his performances, so choosing the highlight of the indie flick Once, "Falling Slowly," was a fantastic choice. With a slightly different arrangement, Alex was able to make this Oscar-winning song his own and evoke pure, strong emotions from the audience. Like CJ Harris, Alex showed there is pure power in the quiet moments and has established himself as a true frontrunner.
Caleb Johnson: Caleb Johnson had grown to be quite predictable taken on frickin' Rush last week, so when tackled Adele's "Skyfall" this week, it was a welcome break from all that classic rock. Caleb took this James Bond song and made it feel like an epic '80s ballad, but that's in a good way. He showed off that he just has a killer range, and that can get lost in all the kitschy rock stuff, but here it worked really very well.
MK Nobilette: By now, it's pretty much established that if MK Nobilette wants to get good feedback, she has to do something small and simple and quiet, which is why the oft-covered "To Make You Feel My Love" was a really great song choice. She finally seemed to have connected emotionally with a piece of music, falling perfectly into this pretty, simple little love song. If this doesn't pull her out of the bottom three, I don't know what possibly could.
Ben Briley: Like "Sweet Home Alabama," it's always super enjoyable to watch somebody sing Elton John's "Bennie And The Jets." The judges noted that this was a weird song choice for Ben Briley, who's usually so country, but I think he was just trying to show his versatility. This is a campy song, and Ben took it there, lightly plucking at the piano keys and effortlessly moving about the stage. His vocals were a little off on the high notes and he did kind of miss the mark, but it isn't the worst thing we've seen on Idol this year, and it certainly wasn't boring.
Majesty Rose: It must be so hard to even think about singing the epic Frozen song "Let It Go," but Majesty Rose is one of, like, three Idol contestants this year who could have even considered it, and she did. First off, the arrangement she and the band worked out was so chopped up and amended; it was really distracting for basically everyone in the world who's singing that song right now. She did, however, do a decent job of showcasing how "Let It Go" builds, but the quiet bits at the beginning were much prettier and well done than the massively loud and proud ending. It's just hard to even try to be Idina Menzel, and I'm not so sure anybody should try.
Sam Woolf: Sam Woolf started off tonight's episode with his take on the Beatles' "Come Together," in this case from Across The Universe. My favorite thing about this song is how raw and gritty it can be, and even though he's only 17 years old, Sam had the potential to take this song to a more rocking, sexy place and he, well, didn't. It was a just very neutered take. As the judges (particularly Jennifer Lopez) noted, he's getting more comfortable on stage, but he's not 100 percent loose yet. As for the vocals, they were totally solid -- Sam isn't just in the top 11 because of that smile, and he showed that again. He had some really nice runs near the end of the song that made up for how vanilla he was during the rest of the performance.
Jessica Meuse: There's something totally off about the American Idol band this season, namely in that they're just not very good and have a hard time melding with the singers. This was the case last week with Emily Piriz (who was eventually sent packing), and it definitely affected Jessica Meuse tonight. During her otherwise very pretty, simplistic take on Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence," the band was so off for several bars that it was really unfortunate and distracting. Jessica handled it like a pro and kept on trucking, eventually allowing her unique tone to shine through. That whole band thing was just such a shame.
Dexter Roberts: It's always fun to watch somebody perform the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "Sweet Home Alabama," and seeing Dexter Roberts do it is no different. Week after week, Dexter gives a solid, straightforward country performance and as he showed his little more rocking side, it worked. I still worry (like the judges) that he could get lost in the shuffle in the world of country, but it was enjoyable enough.
Jena Irene: Far and away, choosing to sing Paramore's "Decode" is the best decision Jena Irene has made so far this season on Idol... it's like this song was built for her. After two weeks straight in the bottom three, Jena had something to prove this week, and powered away at the piano. Her smoky, unique vocals fitted this chorus so well (sorry) that she should be able to move herself up in the Idol rankings. But if the fanbase isn't there... it isn't there. Jena is a wildcard pick, after all.
Malaya Watson: Of course Malaya Watson was influenced by Dreamgirls, so for this week, the 16-year-old tackled the classic musical's "I Am Changing." There's something very young Michael Jackson-y to Malaya's voice, and that never comes out more than when she's belting away on some big ol' ballad. That was the case here, and while it worked enough to make the judges proud, she's just still so young and it's quite distracting. Idol was clearly looking for a big moment with this song, and the producers kind of got it.
Who Should Go Home:: Ben Briley
Who Will Go Home: Either MK or Jena. Their performances were more solid than Ben's, but I just don't think they have strong fanbases.