It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll this week for the “American Idol” Season 13 Top 6. Each “Idol” has to perform a country song and a rock song. For Caleb Johnson, I immediately want him to perform Travis Tritt’s “Anymore,” especially after the horrible performance of that song by Jake Worthington on “The Voice” this week — I need a palate cleanser.
Anyway, the rock songs are up first.
1. Jena Irene, “Barracuda,” Heart
Love that she chose Heart. However, either the band is too loud or the song is too low for her to really project because she is so hard to hear. She’s getting completely lost to the wailing guitars. Even the high stuff could be louder and more rock-y, at least until the very end. The last note was good.
I have a feeling this is one of those performances that was better live. On TV, it was a little lifeless and also, as I said, really hard to hear. Gosh, I wanted to love that. Can’t go wrong with Heart. But yeah, could have been better here at home.
2. Sam Woolf, “It’s Time,” Imagine Dragons
It’s funny how expansive the term “rock” is, since this is such a come-down after “Barracuda.” It’s so mellow by comparison. But anyway, Sam sounds nice but this song is very milquetoast as a vocal showcase. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and Sam just kind of perfunctorily sings it and then it’s over. At least Jena was clearly singing her butt off.
The one thing I will give him props for is his attitude. He’s got some fun swagger going on for maybe the first time ever on this show. It’s nice to see him blossoming in that department.
3. C.J. Harris, “American Woman,” The Guess Who
I hate this choice for him. Hate, hate, hate it. He’s sharp almost the entire time, but that’s par for the course with C.J. on most songs — he seems very averse to singing on pitch. He also doesn’t have the swagger to pull this off and the song itself is really boring if you aren’t a bastion of animal magnetism like Lenny Kravitz. Sorry, C.J.
You know what would have been amazing? If Sam Woolf has just thrown caution to the wind and done this song, getting all crazy and down ‘n dirty and writhing all over the stage. That would have been insane.
4. Alex Preston, “Animal,” Neon Trees
This is more rock than I was expecting from Alex, so good for him for picking something uptempo and with a nice driving beat. He does … a pretty good job with it, but the “Oh-oh, I want some more, oh-oh, what are you waiting for” on the chorus is actually kind of off. It’s like he’s struggling with it, which is unusual for him. He’s certainly not hitting the pitch exactly on the nose. Huh. That’s weird and unexpected from him, I just really didn’t love this.
5. Caleb Johnson, “Sting Me,” Black Crowes
Interesting choice. Really, anything Caleb is going to choose is going to be awesome, but I’m surprised he picked something that is more obscure. He’s got the entire genre of rock ‘n roll in front of him, he maybe could have chosen better. I would have liked to hear Caleb on some Zeppelin. Still, he’s the best here and there’s no reason he should be in danger. He’s just … it’s crazy. He’s so polished, so in tune, great upper register without getting screechy, which is a problem with some rock singers. Caleb makes it sound so effortless. This was outstanding.
6. Jessica Meuse, “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane
Great choice for her voice (if she wasn’t going to do any Fleetwood Mac, of course). But no, after a weak couple songs last week, Jessica is back in a big way. This is terrific, she has nice Grace Slick quality, which I had always missed because she sounds so much like Stevie Nicks when she’s doing slower stuff. But yeah, really good job. This is not an easy song and she doesn’t miss a trick.
Let’s see how the country round goes …
7. Sam Woolf, “You’re Still the One,” Shania Twain
Sam sounds good on this song, but he’s gotta watch his pitch. He’s flat on the leaps in the chorus. Also, this could have been a bigger moment for him. It would have been nicer if he had stripped it down and done a really bare acoustic song. His fans would have eaten it up. Instead, it’s just very middle-of-the-road — no rocker swagger, but no heart-felt emotion. Just kind of blah. He didn’t do anything with it.
He is probably not in danger, but Sam really needs to step it up.
8. Caleb Johnson, “Undo It,” Carrie Underwood
OK, I love it that he chose a crap-kicker female country anthem by Carrie. That’s just … fantastic. What an outside-the-box choice. And of course, he puts his back into it — it’s like if Meatloaf was singing Taylor Swift or something. This is hilarious. Vocally, it’s not his best, but he still does a pretty solid job.
Keith Urban makes a good crack that is totally lost on the audience: “That was great, I can’t wait to hear what country song you do later.” Hee! Also, he’s not wrong. As I said at the top, I would have died if Caleb had slowed it down and done “Anymore.” Or, can you imagine “He Stopped Loving Her Today”? That would have been brilliant.
9. Alex Preston, “Always On My Mind,” Willie Nelson
This should be miles better than his rock song — and then it is. Wow. It’s gorgeous. Captivating. I barely typed a word. I want to download this. This is what I was hoping Caleb would do for his country song, honestly. Props to Alex for such a delicate and sensitive performance, beautiful. Goosebumps after the first chorus. The only misstep is that one long, high note at the end. Oof. That was not pretty and didn’t really fit with the song. It also kind of took me out of the moment. As Keith says, it could have been more emotional.
10. Jena Irene, “So Small,” Carrie Underwood
Good choice for her, nice way to show off a different side. However, when she performs it, she’s just a little too rock ‘n roll on it. Again, both Caleb and Jena could have taken the country opportunity to slow things down and really be intimate and quiet. Jena hits the mark better than Caleb did, but they both could have changed things up a little more.
She’s obviously a gifted vocalist, I’m not criticizing her talent, but I expect more from the best singers and I wanted her to maybe to be better. I was second-guessing myself until Harry Connick Jr. basically says that it could have been better and she didn’t really convey exactly what she was doing with it.
11. C.J. Harris, “Whatever It Is,” Zac Brown Band
C.J. is very obviously a country singer because this is better than his rock song. However, this being slightly better doesn’t mean it was in the upper echelon of “Idol” performances tonight. He really is out-matched by many of his competitors, plus he continues to have his loosey-goosey relationship with pitch. Seriously, can he hear himself? You can see it in Harry Connick Jr’s expression when C.J. sings — he’s trying not to grimace because he can hear how off-pitch C.J. is. It’s the same expression I make.
12. Jessica Meuse, “Jolene,” Dolly Parton
Amazing choice. Terrific. Jessica knocks her songs out of the park tonight. I totally get what Keith says about wanting her to loosen up and let go, but vocally, she does a great job. The Top 4 are clearly Caleb, Jena, Alex and Jessica. Though I’m also in agreement with Keith that the arrangement of this version was not great.
Sam buys himself another week because C.J. was so bad this week, but those two really need to go this week and next week in some order.
What do you think, “Idol” fans?