By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Thursday, February 25, 2016
While "American Idol" has made some questionable decisions in recent weeks, bringing back Kelly Clarkson as a guest judge was not one of them. That was brilliant. She instilled energy and fun as well as a proper dollop of nostalgia into the proceedings.
Ryan Seacrest quickly named the six survivors (Tristan McINtosh, Sonika Vaid, Gianna Isabella, MacKenzie Bourg, Avalon Young and Lee Jean). I guessed five of them correctly. The only miss: Gianna snuck in over Jenn Blosil. I'm not sad. As expected, Manny Torres and Thomas Stringfellow also were cut. I wanted Jeneve Rose Mitchell in there but clearly, she couldn't get enough fans to keep her around to counter her many detractors.
Already, we had four named, courtesy of the judges Wednesday: La'Porsha Renae, Dalton Rapattoni, Olivia Rox and Trent Harmon.
Not a single country act made the cut, which is interesting given how supportive Nashville has been to "Idol" over the years.
Kelly, America's sweetheart, arrived very pregnant with her second child. ("If my water breaks, you're welcome!" she joked.) She acknowledged in a taped segment how she helped legitimize "Idol" by winning a Grammy. But coming back one more time is bittersweet. "It's the end of an era," she said on the show. We see clips of her from season one. Ahh... the memories.
At the end of the second hour, Kelly sang "Piece by Piece," she broke down crying because it was about her father, who left her when she was young. The pregnancy also was making her more emotional, she said.
Her critiques were long-winded but entertaining. Very Kelly!
The top 10 was a mixed bag. The producers seemed to deliberately pace the show with the weaker performances up front and the stronger ones near the end.
Surprisingly, some of my favorites disappointed, including Dalton, Avalon, Olivia and Lee. In fact, with a double elimination, I am greatly worried that either Avalon or Lee might go home. I think the only gimme next week is Gianna leaving. Again, she is not ready for this platform. Jeneve would have been more interesting and is far more ready to be here.
Rising stars: MacKenzie, Sonika and Tristan. And La'Porsha and Trent both gave their all.
My top 10: 1. La'Porsha 2. MacKenzie 3. Sonika 4. Trent 5. Tristan 6. Dalton 7. Olivia 8. Avalon 9. Lee 10. Gianna
Next Thursday, Demi Lovato and Harry Connick Jr. are scheduled to perform.
Olivia Rox ("Unconditionally" Katy Perry) - She loved season 5's Kat McPhee's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The vocal mix is not good. Her voice sounds oddly drowned out. I bet it sounded better live. This was a very inconsistent performance. Clearly, she had nerves. Keith: "An artist trajectory. Keep loosening and relaxing." JLo liked the opening but hit it harder. Kelly liked the "tasteful" start. HCJ loved it. Grade: B
Gianna Isabella ("Listen" Beyonce) - She's a Scotty McCreery fan. Again, she's technically proficient but feels oh so young. If she's trying to sell me, I'm not buying. JLo: "That was not your best performance for me... It was very shaky." Kelly: "You're 15. People have to realize that... You get pitchy... Quit thinking. I see myself. I focus on hitting every note perfect, I'd lose emotion and go pitchy. Let go!" HCJ is impressed with Kelly's critique. "It did feel very arranged. This song is about tenacity. It felt rehearsed." Grade: B/B-minus
Lee Jean ("Skinny Love" Bon Iver) - His earliest memory is Chris Medina's season 10 audition of "Breakeven." I barely remember this guy. Lee lost his brother so he had a connection with Medina's personal struggles. (Surprise! He's in the audience! Lee asks him a question but they didn't have Chris miked up so we can't hear him.) He clearly loves his singer songwriter ouvre. But this song is more pleasant than interesting. He does a perfectly commendable job but will it generate votes? Kelly: "I love that you stick with what you like. But you are dealing with vocalists who will blow it. Doesn't mean you need to. I know you respect who you are. I'd love to come watch your show. It's easy. It's chill." HCJ said he and MacKenzie are similar but he implies that MacKenzie is better. JLo said she has to pick a song that really has meaning for him. Grade: B
Avalon Young ("Stitches" Shawn Mendes): Justin Guarini's "Get Here" was one of her favorites. "He'll be my idol forever." She's all made up! This is not a good song choice for her. It doesn't seem to fit her. She really looks much more uncomfortable than she was last night. It's really just okay. HCJ said this felt flat in terms of what you were saying. Keith said she needed to loosen up. JLo also said it was the wrong song, agreeing with me. (Thanks JLo!) Kelly just loves her. She empathized with her looking nervous upfront in the softer start, having been there. Grade: B
Dalton Rapattoni ("Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's) - He was a big Daughtry fan season five and was inspired by David Cook and his "Always Be My Baby." He tries to rock up a very soft pop song with decent results. I do want to see him do some Green Day but you have to wonder if 'Idol" could ever get clearance. It was good but not my favorite by any stretch. Keith said it was like "electric barnyard." JLo: "You are the cool, cute guy with a lot of heart." Kelly: "You are so comfortable on stage. That's a rare thing." Grade: B/B-plus
Tristan MacIntosh ("Nothin' LIke You" Dan + Shay) - She adored season 11's Jessica Sanchez and her "I Will Always Love You." She is definitely improving. I like her more than Gianna, her closest comparison. She's feeling this song, which helps make this a worthy performance. My favorite of hers to date and my favorite of the night so far. JLo didn't agree. She wasn't much of a fan. Kelly wants her to sing a big, heartbreaking song. HCJ said it was a lyrical country song. He felt like moving around affected her vocals. Keith said that was a tricky song to sing. Grade: B-plus
MacKenzie Bourg ("I See Fire' Ed Sheeran) - His favorite "Idol" memory is William Hung's "She Bangs." I'm pained, as an Asian American, thinking about that again. Thanks MacKenzie! Fortunately, he made up for this with a heartfelt Ed Sheeran cover. I like Lee but in a direct competition, MacKenzie is better. His star is rising. He could win. Kelly said her son in her belly was doing flips while he sang. "You know exactly where you want to go and you're already there." HCJ: "Compelling." JLo looks forward to see what his song picks will be down the road. Grade: A-minus/A
La'Porsha Renae ("Diamonds" Rihanna) - She loved Kelly from season one. She felt that could be her. She took a modern song and brought out some really great texture and soul. I was impressed. She didn't go crazy with it. Just brought it. The applause went on far longer than anybody else and she cried. Kelly: "If I were you, I would just open my mouth, say, 'You're welcome!' " She then starts dancing. JLo: "It's your control." Keith: "Pure humanity." Grade: A
Sonika Vaid ("Bring Me To Life" Evanescence) - She recalled seeing Kelly sing "I Surrender" even with a sore throat. "I wish I could be confident like her on stage." Wow. She came to play! She surprisingly pulled this really difficult song off. Dominant! Keith said it had the right drama and played to her strengths. JLo: "You're dangerous!" Kelly said she's never pitchy and loved the way she followed La'Porsha. "That gave you more balls!" HCJ: "I loved the way you sang the song. That was a different type of angst and passion." Grade: A/A-minus
Trent Harmon ("Like I Can' Sam Smith) - One of his favorite "Idol" moments was David Archuleta's "Imagine." I love his energy. I'm not as big a fan of his voice. Just a wee bit shrill to my ears. But performance wise, he's got that star quality. JLo said he does exciting things with his voice. Kelly likes his distinctive voice and his falsetto. HCJ: "Fantastic." Keith: "Everybody's rising to the occasion." Grade: B-plus/A-minus