You have to wonder if the contestants are aware of the plummeting fortunes of 'American Idol" among viewers as the show hits series low after series low week in, week out. Past participants say they live in the 'Idol" bubble, but in this day and age of social media, how can they not know? That has to be demoralizing for everyone involved to know the franchise is fading away before them no matter what they try.
But as the cliche goes, the show must go on.
"American Idol" went back to those moldy oldies of the 1980s, the period when MTV played videos and hairspray was de rigueur. The three judges are all in their mid-40s and grew up this decade -as did I. J Lo wore her hair circa 1989 and Keith Urban rocked a mullet. And it was nice to see David Cook as the mentor this week since he did a great job changing up 1980s songs "Hello" and "Billie Jean."
In the end, it was a mixed bag. And interestingly, Jennifer Lopez was a tough critic tonight, taking the music from her childhood seriously. Plus, Keith, growing up in Australia, didn't appear familiar with Jody Watley's "Don't You Want Me."
Anyway, I'm not sure the three men who are in greatest danger of going home changed the landscape all that much. CJ Harris was probably the best of the three simply because he is the most engaging. Vocally, Sam Woolf was fine but again, that connection is missing no matter how hard he tries. Dexter Roberts picked a kitschy song and was unable to elevate it beyond that.
Malaya Watson chose a tune that didn't really work well with her voice or her emotional capacity. Jena Irene's star has risen since her early bottom three finish and while others on this blog hated it, I enjoyed her rather radical re-make of a classic Joan Jett song. . The other three - Jessica Meuse, Alex Preston and Caleb Johnson - have yet to finish in the bottom three and nothing they did tonight threatens their lives.
I thought Alex Preston was the best of the night simply because he somehow made his reconstructed take on "Every Breath You Take" work for him, with an odd mix of coffeehouse cool and creepiness the song's lyrics engender. (No, it's not a straight love song, people!). Caleb Johnson had some trouble in his softer points but did a very respectable version of a classic Journey song. And Jessica Meuse loosened up a bit for her Blondie song but lacked that sultry edge Blondie possesses in spade.
Who will go home? The saved person has never been eliminated the next week, which places CJ in the most vulnerable spot in my mind. Then again, Malaya didn't help her cause. So my bottom three is Dexter, CJ and Malaya with Malaya going home. CJ's personality seems to be carrying the votes and keeping him around and he may make it to top 7 as a result.
The duets came and went. Some were more fun and more harmonious than others. I enjoyed Caleb and Jessica the most, the Malaya/CJ combo the least.
My rankings of the eight performances 1. Alex 2. CJ 3. Jena 4. Caleb 5. Jessica 6. Dexter 7. Sam 8. Malaya
Jena Irene ("I Love Rock and Roll" Joan Jett) - She turned this early MTV nugget into a decent Evanescence song. She brought attitude without the cheese and some interesting drama to it. J Lo felt it languished a bit in the middle and wanted more of a traditional rock feel. HCJ felt it was too choreographed. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
Dexter Roberts ("Keep Your Hands To Yourself" Georgia Satellites) - This was a truly singular, cheeseball song from the 1980s, more of a joke than anything. It's fun. And Dexter does a pretty competent job with it and even throws in a guitar solo. Again, great wedding band performance, nothing more. Keith noted that he needs to do something memorable and unexpected. He is predictable, in other words. Grade: B/B-plus
Alex and Sam ("The Girl is Mine" Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney) - Pleasant and cute. And the chances of these two getting in a fight over a girl seems highly unlikely. Sam thanked the judges for saving him, then inexplicably thanked the voters. Why? They gave him the fewest votes! What's there to thank for? Grade: B-plus
Malaya Watson ("Through the Fire" Chaka Khan) - Her voice lacks fullness to really work the big notes. It's clear she is no Jessica Sanchez or Jennifer Hudson. So she sounds shrill instead of robust during the peak points. Keith suggested she lay back a bit more before hitting the big notes. J Lo says the same thing. HCJ said to be more in the moment. Grade: B-minus
Caleb and Jena ("It's Only Love" Tina Turner and Bryan Adams) - A delightful 80s nugget that was not overplayed in 1985 when it came out. Well done. As J Lo says it's very loose and fun. A-minus
Jessica Meuse ("Call Me" Blondie) - David Cook said her early version of it didn't sound like she's having any fun. He gives good advice about how to work the crowd and break out of her shell. She still looks a bit stiff minus the guitar but she's trying to do the smile thing into the camera and such. She loosened up closer to the end and seemed to enjoy herself. HCJ is "going to emphasize groove. You need to sing that shuffle. Feel that groove. You weren't ripping that pocket up." Keith said he's waiting for the rest of release. She needs to let it go. J Lo says she needs to tap into that sexy part of herself, then she shouldn't pick that song. Grade: B-plus
Sam Woolf ("Time After Time" Cyndi Lauper) - He goes acoustic and does pretty much the same thing he does. Pretty voice, not much behind it. J Lo is amazed he showed some emotion. As noted by HCJ, he focuses too much on the camera and isn't looking at the crowd. (He recommended late 1980s heartthrob Ricky Nelson as a comparison.) It was kind of dull. Grade: B-minus
Malaya and CJ ("I Knew You Were Waiting" - Aretha and George Michael) - Very summer theater, as HCJ said. Nothing memorable but not horrible. Grade: B-minus
Alex Preston ("Every Breath You Take" Police) He changes the song up big time and it's not bad. It's very different, fairly riveting. I like it. HCJ says there's a difference between a performer and an entertainer. "You have to make it stageworthy. This coffeehouse treatment is going to catch up to you. Think about being more of an entertainer." J Lo missed the melody and felt he lost the soul of the song. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
Dexter and Jessica ("Islands in the Stream" Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton) - I liked Jessica more on this one than Dexter. It was pleasant enough. Grade: B/B-plus
CJ Harris ("Free Fallin' " Tom Petty) - What brings CJ to the table is his dynamism, his heart. As for his tone and pitch, that's forever his problem. He did pick it up at the end, as J Lo said after a messy start. HCJ lauds him for his connection. "You have a survivor tone in your voice," Keith said. Grade: B/B-plus.
Caleb Johnson ("Faithfully" Journey) - He was told to play a power ballad. This fits the bill. He actually had some trouble going soft (probably because he so seldom does so). But once he was able to build the vocals, up, he was just fine and ended strong. Grade: B-plus