As the American Idol swan song swims its melody toward shore for a final beaching, the focus — at least for me — has been an even split between the remaining singers and the horrible format that continues to put all decision-making power on the judges’ shoulders.

And it sucks, plain and simple.

The only thing viewers have ultimately determined thus far has been the decision on who rounded out the Top 10 after Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr., selected the best of the bunch to automatically advance. Because, let’s be clear, America cannot be trusted to vote for those who obviously deserve to be there.

And that trend continues with the Top 6 set to become the Top 5, as the girl with the lowest vote total will for some reason get a chance to save herself no matter how few votes she actually received. And the judges will again choose which girl goes home from your bottom two. (And yes, those pronouns are not meant to be gender neutral.)

American Idol Recap: Solos, Duets and 2 Eliminations Ahead of the Top 6 >>>

Say Something I’m Giving Up On You

I (and many others) have written ad nauseum about this agonizing America the Moot-iful structure, to the point where I’m exasperated and have moved into a state of begrudging acceptance. So I’m just not going to do it anymore, or at least fight the urge as best I can.

The only aspect that I’m curious about and partially troubled by when will the voters take the reins. It has to happen before the finale, right? At least by the Top 3. Can you imagine if the judges make the call on one of the final two singers? Because that’s America deciding who they want to have a chance at being crowed the final American Idol

Even though I might boycott under those circumstances (yeah, right), it’s worth noting that Jax would’ve likely made it over Nick Fradiani had the judges had a say in last season’s Top 2.

Great Expectations

There’s not much to discuss in this department, because the esteemed Jeff Dodge is spot on in his predictions. What I expect to happen and what should happen are aligned for many reasons, least of which is that voters tend to lean male.

American Idol Predictions: Who Will Leave the Top 6? >>>

Anything but a bottom two of Sonika Vaid and Tristan McIntosh means America got it wrong, as they are both gifted vocalists who have failed to grow into their potential. 

While the latter has one great performance amid a plethora of pitch issues and bad song choices, the former finally dove into the emotional content of a song at the expense of staying on key. I give Sonika the slight edge in development, but whoever survives will likely be on the chopping block again next week anyway.

This one is as clear cut as they come, so naturally, expect none of it to happen this way.

Welcome to the Show

In addition to two solo performances (I guess producers weren’t fans of the contrived duets either), Idol is welcoming back alumnus Adam Lambert, as well as Empire stars Jussie Smollett and Bryshere “Yazz” Gray to debut their new song featured in the Season 2 trailer.

Because as the field is holstered, the filler is bolstered. The live blog begins now.

Adam Lambert kicks things off with a reprisal of his Season 8 “moment,” Gary Jules’ “Mad World,” as made famous by Donnie Darko. It’s even better than it was the first time, as years of being a professional have added a polish and confidence he lacked as a noob. 

Ryan Seacrest introduces the judges, in their usual attire except for J-Lo, who looks like she’s trying to blend in with a wallpaper background. He also announces that tonight is the final “judge rescue,” meaning votes will actually matter starting next week. 

The theme is “America’s Choice,” meaning you’ve chosen the songs that the Top 6 will be singing. Starting with Trent Harmon.

Trent Harmon is a Falling Star

Trent has a load of fans at home in small-town Mississippi who all recorded supportive messages, including one pizzeria that now offers a Trent-themed pie. He’s getting the competition started with OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” 

I don’t recall hearing him singing a pop/rock song like this, and it’s a straight cover. There are some moments where his voice sounds amazing, particularly in the falsetto. But there are others that seem off, whether in tone or timing, and he looks uncomfortable having to move around. It’s a solid performance, but nothing amazing.

Keith found himself watching but not being pulled in, partly because it seemed like Trent had no idea what was going on. So for him, the song wasn’t a good choice to blend with Trent’s personality. J-Lo feels like he did everything he could with something he wouldn’t pick for himself, and Harry liked that it felt like a good old-fashioned hoedown. Or a hootenanny.

Dalton Rapattoni is Numb

His grandmother and her friends at the salon offer well-wishes, as do his colleagues and students at The School of Rock. Toss in a superfan and an elementary school, and you’ve got a mix of the young and the old.

Dalton is doing an acoustic version Lincoln Park’s “Numb,” and while I appreciate his originality, it’s a bizarre arrangement for a song that hits so hard with desperation. Like Trent, it’s not bad, but it’s missing the power and emotion that made this one a hit.

J-Lo can understand why he’s a crowd favorite, but he took the oomph out of the original and skated through it. Harry disagrees, feeling like Dalton poured his guts into the lyrics, but he urges him stay in the pocket with his guitar playing. Keith coins the phrase “Daltonizing,” and he agrees more with Harry than Jenny. But he would’ve stripped it down even more. 

La’Porsha Renae is Ready for Love

After messages from her high school band leader and superfans who are obsessed with her, it’s time for India Arie’s “Ready for Love.” 

There are a half-dozen violinists and a crap-ton of fog as La’Porsha launches into the ballad, and it’s restrained and beautiful. She opens it up during the chorus and belts to the top of the rafters, and despite my usual complaint about her over-singing the runs, it’s fantastic from start to finish.

Harry found it pleading, mournful and everything the lyrics called for, while Keith realized he was a captivated spectator instead of a judge. It’s one of J-Lo’s favorite songs, and La’Porsha had the soul and spirit to match the original in a complete performance.

Filler Squared

The Top 6 hop in a pair of Ford Focuses (Focusi?) to hit up Laura Sykora’s yoga studio, where they master downward facing dog and nothing else. Then it’s time for a mid-first round musical interlude with Jussie Smollett and Yazz singing “Never Let It Die.” 

There are background dancers galore, and then the Top 6 join the party before whichever guy rocking the flat top strips down to his beater. Now, everybody watch Empire when it comes back on March 30. 

MacKenzie Bourg is in the Top 5

Big Mack is safe, meaning we’ve got a no-surprise bottom two of Sonika Vaid and Tristan McIntosh. Back at home, Coach Broussard and a bunch of kids had fun with a video camera in the AV room.

MacKenzie, who every week reminds me more of Matthew Lawrence during his Boy Meets World days, is putting a funky spin on Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” which is a song that doesn’t usually get a funky spin. And if the judges’ biggest complaint has been lyrical interpretation, then this is a giant whiff. It’s laid-back and fun, a sentiment I don’t think the original artist was aiming to accomplish.

Keith offers a hearty “wooo!” and compares MacKenzie to cake batter in that even when he’s not cooked, he’s really good. J-Lo thoroughly enjoyed every second of the performance, and she praises his likability and always feels like he’s singing directly to her. Harry liked the tempo and tone on a song that Mack could record and sell, but he cautions him about awkward pauses in between phrases and changing the melody when it’s unnecessary.

Tristan McIntosh Sings for Her Life — Part 1

Tristan also has a lot of fans at home, and all these per-recorded videos are running together. Her save-me song is Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” and she’s accompanying on the piano.

This is the type of song at which she excels, and it’s a lot closer to her “Go Rest High on the Mountain” than the more disappointing things she’s done. Still, it’s nothing exceptional, like a wheelhouse performance that doesn’t really go anywhere. She probably has a future no matter what happens, because there’s so much room for growth to go along with her star qualities. 

J-Lo isn’t enthusiastic in offering Tristan advice to mix things up and stop doing the same thing over and over. Harry knows she’s at her best when singing songs that are based on pain, and his sage piece of wisdom is that she needs more time to grow up in order to improve and hone her skills. Keith offers a lot of praise about her as a person and artist, but she needs to make a decision whether she strips down a song to make it intimate or goes all out with full power, because this one was in the middle.

(Seems like they’ve made up their mind before even hearing Sonika.)

Sonika Vaid Sings for Her Life — Part 2

Part one for Sonika was last week, when she barely survived a sing-off with Lee Jean and Avalon Young. She was only amazing by comparison, but can she again rise to the occasion or at least not sink as low as the competition?

After the montage of hometown recordings, Sonkia launches into Demi Lovato’s “Let it Go,” which is really just the song from Frozen that no one associates with Demi Lovato. She’s on the level with the music instead of on top of it, which prevents any of the lyrics from popping or striking an emotional chord. 

I’m not familiar enough to compare it with Demi, but since everyone is used to hearing Idina Menzel, I can confidently say it doesn’t come close. The only time she seems to sacrifice pitch is when she’s attempting to harness emotion, but like her angry girlfriend alter-ego, it doesn’t come across as natural. 

Harry believes it was a smart choice that was strong from start to finish, but she has to be aware of rousing underscores that can overshadow her more intimate ballad voice. For Keith, it was beautiful all around, and Sonika is starting to come alive. Jenny praises her fighter’s spirit and her evolution. 

Honestly, just crap critiques. They had their minds made up before either of these gals sang. Kieran dims the lights, and…

Sonika Vaid rounds out the Top 5


Round 2 Begins with Dalton

There’s a pair of NASCAR drivers in the audience, including one named Bubba, and then there’s a technical SNAFU in which Dalton’s previous intro plays. So we get a shot of the stagehands setting up before learning of Dalton’s low moments of depression at the age of 9. Even after his bi-polar diagnosis, he’s always struggled to express his emotions. But at soon as he found music, everything fell into place.

His second offering is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” performed in front of the Eye of Sauron. It’s more of a Green Day rocker take, though it’s still slowed down and emotional. There are moments that are reminiscent of Adam Lambert’s “Mad World,” though without the vocal prowess, which paired with the notable song choice makes it a memorable moment. 

Keith is spellbound by the lyrics of the song, and he appreciates the emphasis Dalton put on them to draw people into his soul. J-Lo found it powerful, and Harry likens to him a graffiti artist in front of a blank wall no matter what he’s singing. 

Adam Lambert Offers Hope for the Future

He’s the highest-grossing Idol alum thanks to the world tour with Queen, and it’s interesting that Dalton went before Adam Lambert while everyone else goes after him. Why didn’t he perform “Welcome to the Show” in between rounds? 

There are very few who can match his pipes, and he’s certainly developed his own style over the years. I assume we’ll be hearing this song on the radio soon, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly catchy. Oh well, I’ll probably know all the words in a month. 

Welcome (Back) to the Show with MacKenzie Jackson

MacKenzie lived, breathed and ate sports, and it defined his identity. Then, during his junior year of high school, he contracted a virus that caused congestive heart failure and could have possibly warranted a transplant. Even though he recovered, his athlete days were over, and he didn’t know how to cope. Then music became his therapy, and coming so close to dying was actually a positive because it gave him an appreciation for life. 

We’re getting dark, no?

Mack Attack made an interesting song choice with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and I’m curious as to how he’ll arrange it. If he figures out a way to hop from lit-up square to lit-up square, though, I’ll vote for him myself. 

I’ll be honest. I didn’t write any of this until after he finished. I just sat back and enjoyed MacKenzie’s “moment” of the season. It was a hauntingly slowed-down acoustic version with bone-cutting emotion, and I loved every minute of it.

J-Lo congratulates him for reminding everyone why he deserves to be here, and that was the most special re-arranged Jacko cover we’ve ever seen. Harry could tell how much thought and effort MacKenzie put into it, and he proved guys can stand there with guitars and wow an audience. Keith references the movie Bolt and says something about being a fan.

Trent Harmon Keeps It Simple

Trent doesn’t have a near-death experience or crippling depression, but instead a favorite guitar that he custom-built with a friend who died suddenly. He had a hard time even looking at the instrument afterwards and certainly didn’t play it, but he knew Daniel wanted him to chase his dreams with that guitar at his side. In fact, Daniel lives in the strings, and this is a bizarrely dark collection of introduction montages. 

To honor his friend, Trent is keeping it simple with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” It’s a well-known song that’s in Trent’s sweet spot, and he slays it in typical splendid fashion. From choice to arrangement to emotional connection to overall persona, simple perfection.

Harry thinks it’d be fun to watch a glass-shattering duet between Trent and Adam Lambert, and a song like this brings out Trent’s appealing country essence and takes it to another level. It’s Keith’s favorite Skynyrd song, which is perfectly suited for Trent. J-Lo gets weepy, because it’s moments like this that make her realize how much she’s going to miss American Idol

Sonika Vaid Seeks Clarity

I wrote the heading before the commercial break ended, because there’s no chance La’Porsha and Mary J. aren’t nabbing the pimp spot. Sonika finally breaks the tear-jerking mold by using her montage to walk us through her journey, which is a struggle of tackling nerves and overcoming shyness to perform in front of a big crowd. She burst the bubble with Evanescence, and now she feels like she’s at the top of the highest mountain in the world.

Her take on Zedd’s “Clarity” starts off rough, and she again struggles with pitch. The chorus allows her to show off her range, but her fight to stay above the music leads to a lot of screaming instead of singing.

Keith praises the song choice and claims he was drawn to it, and he urges her to continue to let go and have rough edges. So it’s recycled criticism because he stopped paying attention. J-Lo didn’t like the song choice, as this was not normally something Sonika would tackle, while Harry’s favorite Sonika moment was her chatting on stage with Tristan prior to the elimination. He preferred the glimpse into her personality over anything she sang, which is a lot more insulting when you actually think about it.

La’Porsha Renae Has No Room for Drama

La’Porsha + Mary J + “No More Drama” = pimp spot glory. Her gut-wrenching intro is about the man who fathered her child but also crushed her soul with verbal and physical abuse. The birth of her daughter motivated her to change her situation, because in order to protect her baby, she has to stay alive. So she moved to a shelter and starting chasing her dreams, and here they are. 

It’s a perfect song choice for La’Porsha without her backstory, but add the connection she inherently feels with the lyrics and you can tell how much this means to her. It’s not her most stunning vocal performance, but she brings a natural stage presence and attitude to it that we haven’t seen from her before. She’s not singing someone else’s song. She’s living it. And she breaks down in tears as soon as she finishes. 

J-Lo is a blubbering mess, and she gushes about overcoming adversity before Ryan points out that we’re out of time. But that’s fine, because there’s not much for the judges to say after that powerful performance anyway. 

Bye Bye Miss Sonika Pie

I mean, that’s an easy call, right? After that chock-full-of-sobbing second round, it’s clear that Sonika is out of her league. She’d be a lock to go home even without two straight bottom 2/3 appearances, and it wouldn’t matter if there was still a judge save. 

La’Porsha is the class of the show, but it will likely be her and three guys after next week. And that makes it unlikely we’re going to find the blatantly-desired Kelly Clarkson bookend. One thing I think we can all agree on, however, is that we didn’t have to listen to Tristan McIntosh perform Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

I was terrified at the prospect, as I hate the song to begin with (and I’m from Jersey) and can’t imagine what she would have done with the arrangement. She hasn’t been one to change it up, but I can’t see a straight cover being anything but a train wreck. 

Who do you think has the edge as we creep towards our inevitable Top 4? Who won the night for you, and who let you down? Finally, what does everyone need to do moving forward to get a leg up on the competition. Will the status quo hold firm? Or do they need to mix it up?

The Top 4 performances come under the guidance and songbook of Sia, so somebody will surely be flying from the chandelier. Stay tuned.

American Idol airs Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order