After two weeks in the top eight, American Idol is finally down to seven contestants this week and decided to let the remaining singers show their real stuff (yet again) with their own choice of song. Thus, the picks were pretty predictable and everyone performed thusly. It's pretty well established who the stars are on this season of Idol -- Jena Irene, Alex Preston and Caleb Johnson, and those three had the strongest showings. The mediocre singers were mediocre and the boring guys were boring.
No surprises here.
The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of the night was this week's guest coach: Demi Lovato. The former X Factor judge has some experience with singing competitions and was on hand to help the top seven on their journey. That was fun.
So, as expected, let's check out the solo performances from last night's show and see who was good, bad and passable.
Alex Preston: Alongside Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene (now), Alex Preston has proved himself as one of the most consistently solid Idol performers on season 13. He's just always good. If there's one complaint to be had about him, it's that he always puts a little too much of his own spin on the songs he chooses -- unlike Dexter Roberts. So, this week, he answered those critics by giving a pretty straightforward take on Ed Sheeran's "A Team." Accompanied by his own acoustic guitar, Alex gave the pretty song with dark undertones a fittingly pretty, yet contemplative, performance. All the while he was stomping his feet with his bare ankles, and while the message was a little gloomy, it was clear that Alex was doing what he loves. Once again, this guy's a top contender.
Jena Irene: I feel like all of these competitor's choice songs have been really obvious, which I guess they would be. So, shocker that's not shocking: Jena Irene did Radiohead's "Creep." As always, she stormed through these vocals, absolutely nailing every note with as much power as humanly possible. So, yeah, from that point of view, this performance was great. Jena was also on key for the most part, which is kind of huge for her. The one major downfall of this performance is the music... the arrangement fell somewhere between a soft, acoustic version of "Creep" and the rock-heavy original. Jena stayed behind the piano the whole time even after those big ol' guitars kicked in, and that was confusing for me from a performance point of view. I think I would have actually preferred her to either get up and get really into this song or, even better, not yell her vocals and take this whole thing down a notch or two. That's not to say this performance wasn't grand; it was one of the night's best. I just want something new from Jena.
C.J. Harris: As long as he was still on the show, it was inevitable that C.J. Harris was going to cover John Mayer, and this was the week. He performed "Gravity." It was boring, even though it was technically good. This is the most in tune with both the notes and the meaning of the music that C.J. has been in some time. His vocals were fittingly smooth, soulful and smoky and his connection was there, but god, did this performance drag. Maybe it was just the song choice -- it is John Mayer, after all - but I've just never been so bored. C.J. has a problem of being a little forgettable, and at this point in the competition, that's enough to be sent home.
Dexter Roberts: Just like how it was only a matter of time before C.J. Harris would perform a John Mayer song, Luke Bryan and Dexter Roberts was an unavoidable combination. So, Dexter performed "Muckalee Creek Water." It was a good cover, like Dexter always does. More than anyone else on Idol, Dexter has a huge personality problem. I guess we know he's a farmer and he obviously likes all the big, modern country acts, but he just does such straightforward stuff that he's ended up being the most generic thing on Idol in years. This is me beating a dead horse. So, I'll stop. Vocally, yeah, he was good. He's always good enough. I'm just over this bland country thing.
Caleb Johnson: Because of his insane strength as a performer on this season of American Idol, Caleb Johnson usually caps off the show with some sort of powerhouse rock performance. For the Top 7, though, he kicked things off... with a little Southern-twinged bang. He took on Kings Of Leon's new track "Family Tree," a raucous little ditty when sung by Caleb Followill. With his throwback '80s voice, Caleb Johnson made this song all his own. The start of this track wasn't Caleb's strongest showing, and it shockingly took him a minute to find his footing, but he made it there at the end, so I'm hoping he'll be safe.
Jessica Meuse: Like I've said every week for the past few Idols, Jessica Meuse is a wonderfully versatile singer, able to traverse the line between hard rock and country perfectly. But she just seems to phone it in every week. Performing Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead" was a perfect choice for her... the guitars were turned up to 11 and the power behind this revenge anthem was in full force. The blend of Southern grit and angry rock was made for Jessica. However, she was just in the middle of it all. Yeah, she walked around the stage and it's clear she's far more comfortable on television than she was in, say, week one. But I still wanted something more from her. Some stomping, some raw aggression, some hair flips. Just something. In the end, this was a solid vocal but I just wanted 110 percent.
Sam Woolf: Sam Woolf has performed two David Gray songs on this season of American Idol. Just throwing that out there. This week, he eschewed "Babylon" in place of "Sail Away." I guess this is an arena where he's comfortable because after getting saved from elimination two weeks ago, Sam more or less proved he was good enough to be in the top seven. He had his normal problem of being a little bland, but instead of playing solely to himself or to the cameras, I'm pretty sure I saw him make actual eye contact and connection with one of the dozens of girls in the audience who were swooning for the entire two minutes he was on stage. Vocally, Sam has never really had any major issues, and once again here he had the appropriate amount of power and emotion behind the song, he swung those notes like an old pro. Like Jessica, he's getting more comfortable on stage, which is something he needs to do.
Who Should Go Home? Seriously, C.J. Please.
Who Will Go Home? It may be C.J.'s time, though something about Caleb's showing makes me nervous for tonight's results.