American Idol Top 9 Performance Recap: The Band That Rocks the Idols [Updated]
Nobody (who’s not an employee of Fox or Fremantle Entertainment) is going to pretend the current incarnation of American Idol is the best! season! ever! But for those of us with memories long enough to remember Kara Dioguardi’s “package artist” war cries/crimes, Simon Cowell’s predictable fake-outs and that time Ellen DeGeneres tried her hand at unfiltered critique (it’s OK… she lived to host the Oscars), perhaps we should stop insisting it’s the worst?
Sure, the nine remaining contenders are a little rough around the edges. There’s not a single contestant with a full page of IMDb credits or multiple failed major-label deals or experience as the musical director for Celine Dion (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But without going all One Direction on you, that’s what makes them beautiful. Or in other words, it’s the growth-under-extreme-pressure arc that’s always made The House That Kelly Clarkson Built (With a Second Wing Furnished by Carrie Underwood) a home of wide-eyed, fun-for-the-whole-family thrills.
The good news is that tonight, buoyed by an “I’m With the Band!” theme that released Rickey Minor and his motley crew of players from their sidestage cage and allowed them to integrate more fully with the performers, most of the remaining hopefuls showed dramatic (or at least incremental) improvement. Rome wasn’t built in a day — nor was Jennifer Hudson’s path to the EGOT, for that matter.
In other words, with seven weeks of live performances left to go, I’m starting to get more optimistic about the Season 13 extravaganza. I’d be even happier if executive producer Per Blankens took a cue from this week’s successes and moved the Idol house band to a more central location — the better for the contestants to interact with/feed off of/learn from/jam out with more experienced players. It certainly can’t hurt — especially if it increases the number of Allison Iraheta sightings per hour.
So with that in mind, let’s jump to letter grades for tonight’s performances:
Alex Preston: No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” — Grade: A- | Look, I can’t disagree with Harry about wanting to see Alex move away from the mic, start thinking about his season as a full set, and recognize that he needs to shake things up in terms of tone and tempo and movement. That said, his Mraz-y rhythmic choices and jazzy vocal flourishes (loved that “d-d-d-don’t speak”) transported the song to a space far, far away from Gwen Stefani’s vocal approach — without rendering the melody or the emotions unrecognizable. Without any discernably serious mentoring from Randy Jackson (man, the Dawg’s rehearsal comments are meaningless!), Alex continues to champion originality as aggressively as he rolls his pant legs. And isn’t that supposed to be one of the main points of this exercise?
Majesty Rose: Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out” — Grade: A- | I had serious reservations about Majesty trying to climb a peak as steep and treacherous as Mt. Florence — especially since none of her prior performances hinted at a voice with the range and brute power of Ms. Welch’s. Yet while Majesty’s intonation was by no means perfect, she brought a breeziness to the tune that felt more like making a Snow Angel at the base of the mountain — as opposed to strapping on her climbing gear and scaling the scary heights. Perhaps it was the ’60s waitress/stewardess jumper she was rocking, or the way she shimmyed with her tambourine, but I found myself agreeing with J.Lo that the technical imperfections were trumped by the good vibrations of the performance. Through her phrasing and physical energy, Majesty reminded us that, yes, it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back — but even the scariest of demons can be shaken out of one’s system. I believed it, therefore I dug it.