The theme tonight seemed rife with potential sabotage: the contestants picked songs for their fellow singers.
Why not force Dexter Roberts to sing R. Kelly? Or have CJ torture us with a Whitney Houston tune? Or Sam Woolf attempt Queen?
Instead, the top 7 basically helped their fellow rivals out with songs in their zones. The result: a solid night that lifted almost all boats.
The solo songs in general were all relatively modern and to some degree, lesser known, with Radiohead's "Creep" sung by Jena the closest to oldies.
The duets (and one trio) were enjoyable, even if the chipper Sam/Alex "Let It Go" didn't really work.
Both C.J. Harris and Sam Woolf, in trouble for elimination, rose to the occasion and had their best performances to date.
Caleb was typically strong. Alex was fine, if a bit obvious. Jessica was good enough. And I enjoyed Dexter going a little darker and I don't usually like him.
The judges were falling over each other praising Jena Irene's "Creep." I was less than charmed.
So who goes home? There will likely be a bottom two. And predicting this week is very very difficult. I think Dexter and CJ will be in the bottom two. I bet Dexter is going home. Just a wild guess. I think Jena getting pimped so heavily may help her get enough votes to escape the bottom two.
I would give Sam the performance of the night though it was a close call.
My top 7: 1. Sam 2. CJ 3. Dexter 4. Caleb 5. Jessica 6. Alex 7. Jena
The seven performances:
Caleb Johnson ("Family Tree" by Kings of Leon, picked by Alex Preston) - I am honestly not familiar with this song. He brings a lovely Black Crowes blues-rock vibe to it. It feels old fashioned but it's effective. And that bass player rocks! Grade: B-plus/A-minus [Random fun facts he provided include the fact he loves horror flicks but is scared of spiders and the dark.]
Jessica Meuse ("Gunpowders and Lead" Miranda Lambert, picked by Sam Woolf) - She gets the leather pants and Stevie Nicks-style wind machine treatment. She's missing the venom that Miranda pumps into this song. She isn't bad but man, she sure is stiff on stage. I wish she could loosen up just a little bit more. Grade: B/B-plus [She believes she was chased by an evil pony once.]
Duet: Sam and Alex ("Let It Go'" Passenger) - An oddly peppy version of a very melancholy song. Yon can feel the Alex effect on this arrangement. HCJ: "Saccharine." Keith: "Chintzy." Demi Lovato, fresh from "X Factor," wanted something more exciting.. Grade: B-/B-plus
C.J. Harris ("Gravity" John Mayer, picked by Caleb) Go figure. This song has minimal range and a need for a bluesy feel. So it works for him. Keith: "A good performance but if you do an emotional thing, I want it more to be an arc." JLo said he felt more comfortable but needs to find the "moment." I agree with HCJ: his best performance to date. Grade: B-plus/A-minus [Fun facts: He loves "SpongeBob" and would love to be a stand-up.]
Dexter Roberts ("Muckalee Creek Water" Luke Bryan picked by CJ Harris) - Luke Bryan is a South Georgia boy. This is a real dirty bluesy song, which works better for him than those anthemic tunes he tends to gravitate to. Again, this would be quite a highlight in a honky tonk at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. Surprisingly, I liked this more than I've liked most Dexter performances. Keith felt like the melody got eaten up in a "Steve Earle" place. J Lo said she liked this for her given it's darker and showed a different side of him. Grade: B-plus [Fun facts: He loves crickets and had a scary plane ride once.]
Jena and Caleb ("Gimme Shelter" Rolling Stones) - They brought some heat to a great song and plenty of praise. Grade: A-minus/A
Alex Preston ("A Team" Ed Sheeran, picked by Dexter) - This is right in his pocket. His version of gorgeous. But very predictable outside of an attempt at a big note near the end. It was HCJ's favorite performance of the night thanks to his conviction. Grade: B-plus [Fun facts: A gardening and cooking buff, he loves freestyle skiing and would love to be a dermatology.]
Sam Woolf ("Sail Away" David Gray, picked by Jessica) - For the first time possibly ever, Sam emoted a bit and found some truth in this song about longing for someone. I enjoyed it. I have to say this is his best performance to date and he needs it because this has been a good night for most everyone. HCJ said he saw progress but the biggest issue was song choice. He felt it wasn't familiar enough as, say, "Hey There Delilah." J Lo looked at the monitor and said it was clear he was trying to tap into his feelings. Grade: A-minus [Fun facts: He is horrific at sports except skateboarding and pulls pranks on his grandparents.]
The Alabama mafia of C.J., Jessica and Dexter ("Compass" Lady Antebellum) - This actually works really well. Harmonies were not great but they had fun individually. HCJ hated it. Keith enjoyed it like a shish-kabob. Grade: B-plus
Jena Irene ("Creep" Radiohead, picked by Caleb) - That felt too stylized and lounge like for my taste. Keith loved it. J Lo said she "Jena-fied" it and made it beautiful. HCJ said she sings with intrigue and "unquestionably the best performance of the night." Huh? Grade: B/B-plus [Fun Facts: She peed in her pants during her first performance. She'd love to be a make-up artist and took ballet.]