In the Still of the 'Idol' Night: Caleb Johnson Rocks the Top 5
OK, allow this article to serve as your own personal DVR. It's time to fast-forward to the final five minutes of this Wednesday's "American Idol" top five show. The episode actually featured several standout numbers, but if you only watch one "Idol" performance this week — nay, this season — make it this one:
Yes, Caleb Johnson — the seeming immaculately-conceived-in-the-wrong-decade lovechild of James Durbin and Meat Loaf, the rock 'n' roll Viking of Season 13 — did Whitesnake's "Still of the Night." On a fan-request-themed episode, this was all the brilliant concept of an Oregonian viewer named Cameron Martin (although I'd tried to put the idea out into the universe a few weeks ago), who declared in an amateur video message: "It requires power and range, and you have all of them. Just go out there and crush it!"
And Caleb did just that. This performance rawked so hard, all that was missing was Tawny Kitaen cartwheeling on the hood of a Jaguar and Caleb's name spelled out in some pointy, umlaut-augmented, Gothic font behind him. Someone please give me that Cameron Martin guy's home address, so I can send him a thank-you gift basket, stat.
The judges — two of them, at least — were just as appreciative. About a minute into Caleb's pyrotechnic performance, when he hit a glory note with more hair-raising power than an entire industrial-strength can of '80s Aqua-Net, Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez jumped to their feet and started banging their heads like they were extras in a scene from "The Decline of Western Civilization, Part 2." I'm sure if cigarette lighters had been allowed inside the building, they would've been flicking them, too.
Stuffy old Harry Connick Jr., who probably wouldn't get out of his seat for anything, even if the building actually were on fire, seemed less enthused. Maybe that was because he wasn't joking when he said he'd assumed Caleb would be doing a Cole Porter song by a similar title. But during his critique, Harry had to admit, "You just can't sing that song any better than that, man. Fantastic job."
Some other contestants did fantastic jobs Wednesday, refreshingly with some much more modern songs by artists like the Neighbourhood, Lana Del Rey, A Great Big World, and Young the Giant. Here's who rocked it… and who didn't:
Alex's attempt to do something more uptempo last week with Neon Trees' "Animal" was somewhat of a disaster, but thankfully, he fared much better this week with the Neighbourhood's "Sweater Weather." This wasn't exactly "The A Team" or "Always on My Mind," and I still prefer Alex sweet, slow, and stripped-down, but this was nice. And I was impressed by how he nailed every word in this semi-rapped, syllable-packed, auctioneer-paced tune. Keith thought Alex did a "good job," but wanted to hear "more soaring with the vocals." Jennifer passive-aggressively complimented Alex with: "I can see why America chose this song for you. It's an easy song for you. Almost like you could do this in your sleep." Harry was, surprisingly, the nicest, saying he could imagine Alex's version on the radio. And thus, all was good in the Neighbourhood.
Alex's next number, A Great Big World's "Say Something," was right in his wheelhouse. This was real magic Alex: tender, tearful, and intensely emotional. Harry called it "the performance of the night." (Side note: He hadn't seen Caleb sing yet.) Jennifer said Alex "took it to another level." And softy Keith, who seriously looked like he was about to cry, said, "If there was a perfect marriage of song and artist, it was that. Absolutely beautiful."