"This will be tough. We’re going to lose a lot of good people today," Jennifer Lopez sighed at the top of Thursday’s American Idol Hollywood Week episode, the episode that would determine which singers advanced the top 48 round. And J.Lo wasn’t kidding. After Wednesday’s surprising and disappointing eliminations of early standouts Rocky Peter, Garrett Miles, and Kory Wheeler, the contestants kept “dropping like flies,” as country boy Keith Urban put it. And two other strong contenders, both of whom I’d assumed were total top 48, top 24, or even top 10 material, were among the first to drop.
The most troubling cut of the night was 29-year-old Jess Lamb, the quirky, Fiona Apple-esque piano chanteuse who’d memorably dueted with fellow jazzbo Harry Connick Jr. during Season 14’s premiere week. As striking as Jess’s audition was, even then I knew that her days were numbered on this show, after Jennifer (who at 45 herself should not practice such blatant ageism) claimed older contestants, like Jess, usually seemed jaded and “beaten down” by life. Sheesh. This girl is 29, not 79! With a negative setup like that, Jess already seemed doomed, so perhaps she and I should both be happy that she wasn’t cut on Hollywood Week day one and advised to go try out for She’s Got the Look instead.
No, what really bothered me was later this Thursday, when 28-year-old Nick Fradiani, another contestant in his final year of Idol eligibility, made it through to the top 48, he was praised by the judges for bringing life experience to the stage. In other words, for Nick, his age was a plus; it made him a seasoned performer and gave him an edge over all the 15-year-olds. Mark Andrew, a 29-year-old husband and father, also got through, and not a negative word was uttered about his age. No one called him “beaten down.” Apparently pushing 30 is only an issue for female contestants.
Or, maybe this is all just speculation on my part. Because Adam Lasher — Carlos Santana’s guitar-shredding nephew, one of the season’s older contestants at age 27, and definitely a seasoned pro — was also shockingly sent packing. This was flabbergasting. Sure, Adam’s performance of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” Thursday night was not his best (it was just too safe a song choice), but he’d already proven himself, and the judges gave the benefit of the doubt to many other Hollywood Week hopefuls who delivered imperfect performances. (Like Daniel Seavey, whose shaky Sheeran cover once again proved he’s not ready for prime time; Shi Scott, who once again let nerves get the better of her; and Joey Cook, who messed up her words for the second night in a row.) Even Mark flubbed his lyrics, but based on his stellar past track record, he got a reprieve.
So why were the judges so quick to let someone with so much cougar-baiting potential as Adam go? Well, allow me to pose another, very plausible theory, this one suggested by the blog Dudes Review Idol: The Idol powers-that-be have already determined their chosen ones in this demographic, and those chosen ones are the above-mentioned Nick and Mark. Adam would have just gotten in those guys’ way. Luckily, Adam has one more year of eligibility on this show, but since, like Mark, he already got booted off The Voice a few years ago, it doesn’t look good for him. Too bad. I actually think Adam could have won American Idol.
OK, enough of my conspiracy-theorizing and ageism-accusing. There were some great performances Thursday evening, by contestants who actually advanced to next week’s top 48 performance round. These were my favorites of the night, the ones that still give me hope for Season 14:
Quentin Alexander – This guy just may be the coolest Idol contestant, or at least the best-dressed contestant, since Adam Lambert. “I think I’m more excited to see what you come out wearing than [what J.Lo’s wearing],” Harry said, echoing my thoughts, as Quentin strutted out in a Zorro chapeau, fur-collared military coat, and psychedelic-patterned tunic, looking like the immaculately conceived lovechild of Andre 3000 and one of the Strokes. Quentin quickly stripped off the coat and J.Lo draped it over her own shoulders, but honestly, the coat looked better on Quentin. But Quentin wasn’t just some superfly guy: His bluesy take on Vance Joy’s “Riptide” was a revelation, an actual improvement on the original, and the performance of a real artist. I think he just became my new favorite.
Jax – Jax’s cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” would have been pretty sweet even if she hadn’t walked into the Orpheum Theater audience to serenade her chaperoning parents. But that move, which seemed refreshingly uncalculated, put Jax over the top. She almost made Keith cry. And her baby-Cher outfit (Mackie-knockoff glitter jumpsuit, shoulder-grazing rhinestone earrings, Xanadu headband) gave Quentin some stiff competition in the fashion stakes. Is it too soon to root for a Quentin/Jax finale? I’d tune in just to see what they’d wear.
Loren Lott – I hadn’t been too impressed with Loren before tonight. She was the girl that Harry said came across more like an actress trying to sing (a comment I am sure J.Lo really appreciated), the girl who had to pretend she was washing dishes just to deliver a natural and unaffected performance. I assumed Adele’s “Skyfall” would be a disastrous song choice for this previously squeaky gal, but it turned out the Bond theme played to all of Loren’s theatrical strengths. Jennifer even called this the “first superstar performance of the season.” I’m not so sure about that, but I did see Loren’s true Idol potential for the first time.
So next week, Quentin, Jax, Loren, and the rest of the top 48 head to Los Angeles’s House of Blues, where they’ll perform in front of the judging panel and a live SRO audience, competing for a spot in the top 24. Spoiler alert: I attended the House of Blues taping a couple months ago (before I knew who any of these kids were, of course), and I have to say, I was very impressed with the talent. I just hope Fox’s edit of what transpired in the club that day doesn’t leave the best moments on the cutting-room floor — and that the best contestants make it through, which so far this season hasn’t always been the case.