At the start of the two-hour episode, we are treated to a reminder montage of all the playful moments that led up to the selection of the Top 13. Of course, the clip of Harry cradling one male contestant like a baby is included. Fox is certainly getting their money’s worth of that select piece of footage. It’s the official debut of the top tier of contestants, and everyone looks like they’ve already experienced some serious style makeovers.
Judges Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez arrive and JLo shows off a little bare midriff, looking fabulous, as she is contractually obligated to do. We are reminded that these kids competing are singers and not actors when they are put through their paces during some very awkward product placement for some kind of new tablet phone thing. At least it’s relatively short.
Producers try to jazz up the episode with some clearly staged “surprise” 20-second interviews with contestants, who are supposed to reveal five things we didn’t know about them. It’s pretty pointless and I’ve already forgotten the things I didn’t previously know about each contestant. Now for what we tuned in to see: The singing!
Dexter Roberts is the first contestant to the stage. The country boy plays electric guitar to sing Chris Young‘s “Aw Naw.” I hope you managed to catch a glimpse of his mom’s glorious wig in the audience while he performs. It truly is perfection. When it’s time for the judges to critique, Keith and Jennifer tell him they want to see more of his personality come through. Harry tells him to be careful not to sing out of tune. Meanwhile, I love him, I really do, but what the heck is going on with Keith’s face? I can’t tell if it was a mini-facelift, or just an eye job, but things are looking strange and I’m not pleased. I blame Nicole.
Next up is the effervescent Malaya Watson, who is bursting with energy in her sassy red pants. She sings Bruno Mars‘ “Runaway Baby.” Her giant, wavy hair and red lips are extra fabulous because of her braces. I feel like she has a nerdy Kat Dennings vibe. Very cool chick. Malaya’s adorable mother claps, completely out of time with the song, while her talented daughter works the stage like a pro. Jennifer loved the energy and performance even though she thinks it wasn’t the best song for her. Harry compliments her talent, telling her to practice her tune. Keith tells her to harness her energy.
Also, for the first time, I notice that just before the contestants take the stage, that Randy Jackson quietly gives his appraisal of what the performance will be, like he’s a commentator at the Olympics. He probably thinks he’s at Sochi.
Kristen O’Connor sings Kelly Clarkson‘s “Beautiful Disaster” and it is simultaneously pretty and forgettable at once. But that’s just one recapper’s opinion. Harry calls her a “strong pop star,” but says she was singing uncharacteristically out of tune. Keith likes the song choice and vocal control. Jennifer advises her and the rest of the contestants not to think so much, lest they psych themselves out.
Ben Briley does an Instagram gag with host Ryan Seacrest, launching into some kind of Jerry Seinfeld schtick with, “Whatever happened to Polaroid cameras?” He then gives a high-energy rendition of Johnny Cash‘s “Folsom Prison Blues.” While I applaud the song choice, the pace is a little breakneck. But I still like it. The best, though, is seeing his wife in the audience, cheerfully mouth the lyrics, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” During the panel feedback, Keith cautions Ben not to sacrifice his artistry for entertainment value. He thought the tempo was a bit “brisk.” Jennifer loved it. Harry liked it and calls it “unquestionably the best performance of the night.” Big stamp of approval from the often underwhelmed Mr. Connick Jr.
C.J. Harris brings his trusty acoustic guitar with him to perform “Radio” by Darius Rucker. C.J.’s cousin and girlfriend deliver the best audience dancing of the night, hands down. Jennifer calls C.J.’s performance “fun.” Harry says he loves the “cry” in C.J.’s voice and felt he didn’t get it from this particular song choice. Keith disagrees, calling it a “good song choice” that revealed a different side of C.J.’s persona.
MK Nobilette is looking absolutely adorable with minimal makeup and a turned-back baseball cap. She switches from her usual ballads to give a rousing version of “Satisfaction” by Allen Stone. In her pale pink suit and black sneaks, she really looks the part of a quirky, unique pop star. She’s soulful throughout the performance, really owning the stage. Harry calls her beautiful and he’s enjoyed watching her “grow.” He seriously can’t stop gushing and I actually don’t blame him. Keith tells her that even when she’s nervous, “Your voice never fails you.” Jennifer calls the song selection “smart” and has nothing but good things to say.
Majesty Rose is up next. She’s looking cute, as usual, with bouncy hair and bright yellow nail polish. Her choice is “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae and after a somewhat weak start, she gains her confidence and does some good stage work. Keith calls it a “killer” song choice. JLo loves her style and uniqueness. Harry calls it “terrific.”
Jena Irene sings “The Scientist” by Coldplay while rocking a serious rocker chick look in acid wash jeans, a black studded vest and heels. Jennifer calls her a “powerhouse singer.” Harry says she “makes interesting choices on a pre-existing melody.”
Alex Preston is up next with a Jason Mraz tune, “Beautiful Mess.” Harry thought the choice was good, but wants him to “try to sing in tune.” He wants it a little less “introspection.” For Keith, however, it had the opposite effect and he tells him, “I came into you.” Wow. That’s deep. Jennifer says she was “caught up in the emotion and the mood of it.”
Jessica Meuse sings “The Crow & The Butterfly” from Shinedown and while she hasn’t always been my favorite, I’m digging the Ann Wilson vibe she’s giving tonight. Keith calls it a “very bold but very good song choice” citing her “dark haunting quality.” Jennifer got goosebumps, and calls it her “favorite vocal performance of the night so far.” Harry called it “strong.”
Emily Piriz is looking like a glam baby JLo in her sparkly silver dress and makeup. She sings a Pink song, “Glitter in the Air.” JLo admits to being a huge Pink fan and that she was initially not sure if Emily would be able to do the song justice, but believes that she lived up to the challenge. Harry says, “I really dig that tune” and thought Emily did well.
Sam Woolf sings “Unwell” by Matchbox 20. While it’s picture (and pitch) perfect, Harry wants Sam to be a little less perfect and a little more “messy.” He says it was “good, but not great.” Keith just thought the tempo was a little slow, but calls it “captivating.” Jennifer calls him “very adorable,” and tells him he sings “perfectly.”
Baby Meat Loaf, AKA Caleb Johnson, closes the night by wailing Rival Sons‘ “Pressure And Time.” He belts the tune with classic rock gusto, complete with smoke machines at the finale. Keith yells, “Dude! Killer!” He absolutely loved it, but tells Caleb not to be too retro. Jennifer tells him he’s ready for “the rock star life.” But she asks, “Who’s Caleb?” Harry told him he killed it.
Now, of course, it’s time for everyone to vote so we can see who’s going home tomorrow. Oh yeah —and who’s staying.