Five more contestants are about to be sent packing on American Idol: The Farewell Season, inching us ever closer to the point when audiences will finally have a say. But before Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr., can round out the Top 14, we’ve got another round of Idol alum duets on tap.
The first set of pairings largely fell flat, save for the Caleb Johnson/Sonika Vaid and Avalon Young/Ruben Studdard combos and, to a lesser extent, the Fantasia/La’Porsha scream-run battle. Still, it’s nice to see all the people we’ve helped become famous return to where it all started. Except for Scotty McCreery, who clearly had no interest in being there.
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Does This Even Matter?
The duets didn’t seem to have much of an impact last time around, as the judges were willing to overlook terrible performances by the likes of MacKenzie Bourg, Jeneve Rose Mitchell and Tommy Stringfellow to push their preconceived notions based on so-so solos.
It came at the expense of Stephany Negrete, who had the look and the chops (albeit unrestrained at times) but apparently got on someone’s bad side.
After only two standouts and a whole lot of low-energy, dud-song suckiness in the second group, however, it’s possible these duets will be much more influential on the final outcome.
Sizing Up the Competition
Dalton Rapattoni and Olivia Rox were king and queen of the Vibiana and are essentially safe no matter how terrible they might be, while the next tier includes Trent Harmon and CJ Johnson. I’m on board with Trent, despite his bizarre trilling vibrato, but I disagreed with the judges that CJ was perfect all around. I found him underwhelming and thought his decision to ditch the guitar made it more difficult to forge an emotional bond on a relatively easy-to-connect-with “I’ll Be.”
After that, you have a whole lot of work to be done with Glo Worms Shelbie Z., Manny Torres, Jenn Blosil, Kory Wheeler, Adam Lasher, Tristan McIntosh and Lee Jean. Tristan and Jenn are the safest, since the former showed real power for the first time while the latter is memorable if nothing else.
The last to mention, Amelia Eisenhauer, needs the performance of her life to stick around.
(And if you’re younger than 27-ish, Glo Worm was a pajama-clad stuffed worm wearing a nightcap whose face lit up when you squeezed it.)
Amelia Eisenhauer Fiddles on the Roof
Ryan Seacrest introduces the judges and welcomes back Constantine Maroulis, Jordin Sparks, Haley Reinhart, Kellie Pickler, David Cook and Chris Daughtry, and after a quick recap of the mediocre “Twilight Zone” night, it’s time for Kellie Pickler and Amelia Eisenhauer to kick things off. Or, more aptly, to get Amelia out of the way.
They’re singing Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket,” a Kellie highlight from her season, and Amelia is bringing her fiddle to the party. The concern is that she gets her confidence from her instrument, and there’s no telling if she can keep pace without it.
Amelia holds her own on a fun collaboration, but it’s true that the fiddling stands out more than the vocals. Still, it’s a solid duet with some quality harmonies, and they work together rather than compete. They’re a good match and put on an entertaining show.
Harry commends Amelia for coming out fighting against a more experienced partner, and Keith loved it and congratulates her for stepping up her game. J-Lo calls it a great pairing that complemented Amelia’s strengths and helped her reach another level.
It was a pleasant surprise, but will it be enough to help save her? Will we remember that after 11 more performances?
Kory Wheeler Hits the John
Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” was a moment during Haley’s season, and it was also Kory’s audition song. So they have high hopes as she aims to stay in that sweet loungy zone, while he seems annoyed at the sheer volume of “Bennie” mentions that she wants to throw into the mix.
Kory’s guitar is jarring when he starts playing because it’s so much louder than everything else around them, but otherwise, it’s another good match. The back-and-forth is great, though not so much when they sing in unison. Like the duet before them, they collaborate instead of battle, and we’re two for two.
Keith loves Haley’s flow and swagger, and it was a great song for the two of them to do together. J-Lo praises Haley and believes that Kory kept up. Harry has nothing negative to say, and he thinks Haley helped keep Kory grounded.
Lee Jean is Going Home
Our teenage heartthrob-to-be is intimidated and flustered to meet one of his idols, and they’re singing Daughtry’s smash hit “Home.” Chris lauds the youngster’s voice but worries that his nerves will show through, so they do the Roger Rabbit to cut the tension.
Daughtry gets the first line, which presents a challenging opportunity to see how Lee stacks up when he joins the fray. And stack up he does not. He’s clearly out of his league and terrified, and he actually makes Chris Daughtry sound worse. Props to Daughtry, though, for dumbing it down so that Lee isn’t completely exposed. Lee just isn’t a rocker, and I guess three-for-three would’ve been too much to ask.
J-Lo somehow dubs it “amazing” and is “speechless,” while Harry uses words like “strong” and “captivating.” He also wondered how Lee would handle jumping in after Daughtry’s first line, but whereas I found it “terrible,” Harry somehow heard “controlled” and “passionate.” Jeez, guys, you’re making the decisions. You don’t have to convince us to vote yet.
Keith believes Lee brought a storyteller quality to the song and made him feel some of the lyrics for the first time ever, which is an inadvertent shot at Daughtry. I don’t know what the hell those judges were just listening to because my experience was very different.
CJ Johnson Knows the World
Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” was David Cook’s final song as a contestant, and he’ll be working with CJ to try and capture lightning in a bottle for the second time. They have the same background hustling and playing gigs, and CJ is hoping his experience shines through. In rehearsals, David gets on him for going all in right from the get-go instead of building to a crescendo, and they struggle to find balance.
CJ gets the first note, and while it’s sweet, it doesn’t kick things off with any gusto. He builds throughout the first verse, but they skip the chorus as David jumps right into the second verse. He’s clearly vocally superior, but the build is slow until they open up on the “So I walk upon high” that kicks off the chorus. It’s not bad, but it’s sleepy.
Harry believes their voices blended well together, and it’s obvious that CJ is seasoned. Keith commends CJ for keeping pace, but the song didn’t leave much room for them to do anything spectacular. J-Lo thinks they did the best they could, but it was too mellow to stack up by comparison.
Manny Torres Fights for Air
Manny gets to work with Jordin Sparks on a rendition of her Chris Brown collaboration, “No Air,” and she urges him to be believable conveying the lyrics. She doesn’t buy his vulnerable side or that he’s inserting himself into the song, and he worries that the judges only like his fun side and will pass on him being emotional.
She comes out doing her thing, and he jumps in looking like a guy who is trying hard to act the part. He suffers vocally because of it, as he just doesn’t mesh with her voice. She’s clearly the star and easily handles the emotional aspect, while he’s just trying to compete. He backs off and lets her have all the big notes, but then again, she might be good enough to carry them both.
Also, it has now been revealed how short Manny is, checking in about an inch or two under Ryan Seacrest. Jordin Sparks, all 5-foot-10 of her, plus heels, towers over both of them.
Watching that, Keith was reminded of walking the red carpet with his leggy wife, Nicole Kidman. But he thinks they were great together, and Manny’s entrance was a real powerhouse moment. Jenny doesn’t think it could have been a more perfect marriage, while Harry is impressed that he was glancing back and forth instead of just focusing on Jordin, which is a testament to Manny’s presence on stage.
Jenn Blosil is Her Own Funny Valentine
She’s teaming up with Constantine, and he’s digging her style, quirky energy and similar hairstyle. It’s Sinatra’s “My Funny Valentine,” which was a momentum builder during his season. He has always been known for flirting with the camera, and Jenn is hoping to learn a thing or two and capture his magic.
The song lends itself well to the funky tone of Jenn’s voice, and Constantine’s theatre work definitely offers an advantage in the duet department. They start on opposite ends of the stage, but halfway through, they come together mid-stage and effing belt it out in a goosebump moment. It’s not a perfect blend, but they sing to each other like there’s no one else in the room. If you haven’t acquired the taste yet, you likely don’t love it. But for me, it’s wonderful and genuine in a way I didn’t get from Manny.
J-Lo calls it the embodiment of the perfect duet because they’re so different from everyone else and were singing to each other while we simply got to witness it. Harry disagrees with Constantine that the arrangement needed an injection of energy, and for him, it turned into a shouting match that wasn’t appropriate. Keith, who gave it a standing ovation, simply says, “I freaking loved it.” He feels like she picked her spots to dominate and stayed strong, measured and in the moment.
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Tristan McIntosh’s Best Days are in Front of Her
Tristan is tackling “Best Days of Your Life,” which Kellie Pickler co-wrote with Taylor Swift. Their goal is to deliver one moment in which the audience just stops in awe, and Kellie has nothing but praise for the 15-year-old. She brings out Tristan’s happier, sassier side, and you can tell in Tristan’s body language and overall look that her confidence is growing.
Unfortunately, their voices do not mesh from the beginning, and Tristan sounds almost frog-like going that low. They essentially avoid harmonizing, and Tristan gets overly throaty on her verse. You can spot the exact moment she realizes it’s not great, and she loses confidence and pitch as a result. She powers through it, but it’s another one that comes up severely short. I think Tristan is developing nicely, but the only way the audience is uniting in a singular moment is in a cringe.
Harry call it “pretty good” instead of bad, and he encourages Tristan to slow down, sing in the pocket, be aware of her stage presence and avoid wandering because her inexperience showed. Keith asks if she knew the song and is surprised when she says yes because it was tricky and uncomfortable for her to open with the harmony below Kellie’s pitch. Jennifer says Tristan is one they’ve had their eye on as being special, but her youth was evident next to someone like Kellie.
They clearly think she’s a lot better than this performance, which makes me think she’s going to be here even if she doesn’t deserve to be. Guess that glimpse of power in the solo round was all she needed.
David Cooks and Olivia Rocks
Olivia was just 9 years old when David Cook won American Idol, and now they’ll be performing his signature single. To break the ice, she made him a bracelet with a tiger’s eye jump stone that will protect him. “Light On” is a challenge vocally, but it’s one of his favorites. They both have the huge range necessary to handle the song, but they struggle to match some spots during rehearsal. He tells her she has all the tools, but the trick is to pinpoint when to jab instead of swinging wildly. That’s how you win.
Cook kicks things off, and it sounds exactly like the radio edit. It doesn’t miss a beat when she joins in, though some of the harmonies are off because she has to restrain. It’s an experience when they both open up and hit the same mark, though, and while it’s not as great as it could be, the sheer volume of vocal talent on stage easily surpasses anything else we’ve seen.
David tells the judges that he spent the week trying to keep up with Olivia, which Keith calls high praise that tells you something. J-Lo gushes about how phenomenal her voice is and agrees with David that if she can find her pocket and pick the right songs, she’ll be around for a long time. Harry can tell that she knows music by the way she sings, and Idol is lucky to have her.
Adam Lasher Can’t Help Falling in Love with Haley Reinhart
Adam is more of a rocker, but he’s slowing things down to pair with Haley on Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” She pushes him to make a real connection with her so they can bring the lyrics to life, and while he’s not sure about that with the audience and the cameras, he finds it much easier to sing about falling in love with someone as stunning as her.
Holy hell, her first line delivers goosebumps, but that’s why she recently released this as a single. I’m also biased because my wife walked down the aisle to the song four months ago, sung by our friend who is on Broadway. He speak-sings his part, and while it’s not on the same level, it doesn’t detract and offers a sturdy baseline for her to elevate. Even though he’s flat and clutching the microphone like it’s trying to escape, it’s pretty great overall. But that might be because she’s spectacular at this song. Still, they sing to each other and give you “that feeling.”
J-Lo believes the song is so strong that it’s hard to go wrong, and while Haley was phenomenal, Adam stayed the course and supported her. Harry feels like they were falling in love in front of his eyes, but he wishes Adam had worked his creativity into the performance instead of staying on the beat. Keith was waiting for Adam to loosen up and match Haley’s sense of effortlessness, but she was in the moment while he remained still.
Introducing Dalton Daughtry
Daughtry sang “Higher Ground” during Stevie Wonder week in his season, but he always felt like he could do it better, and this is his chance. Dalton Rapattoni’s first CD was Daughtry’s first album, and meeting his hero prompts him to “vomit in [his] brain, in a good way.” They work well together, and you can see Chris’ appreciation for working with someone who knows what he’s doing.
Daughry kicks it off, and then they go back and forth, line by line, rocking out. Daughtry looks like he’s actually having fun, and because they sound like one person, I can just sit back and enjoy it. Daughtry is fired up afterwards, so they present him with a plaque to honor his achievements.
Harry think it was great, but he gives all the credit to the band and says even Ryan would’ve been stellar performing it. And I respect that Dalton turns and applauds the band instead of taking it as some sort of criticism. The other commentary gets lost in everyone trying to make Ryan actually give singing a shot, and after it’s all done, he gives in and raps some of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” remix. And it’s awful. Just awful.
Trent Harmon Knows What It’s Like to Love Somebody
Apparently, Trent has intense eyes, and he and Jordin basically rehearse in awe of each other. He suggests that they work on their authenticity, which is the exact opposite of what she had to do with Manny. He appreciates that he’s actually being mentored, and she urges him to simplify his vibrato for the first 30 to 40 seconds so that it means something when he opens up.
It’s The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” and you can tell when someone has “it.” Jordin has it. Daughtry has it. Still not sure about Kellie Pickler. Trent finally joins in, and he is visibly struggling to restrain himself, with his face all contorted. But he keeps it reined in and pleasant. And her advice was spot-on because when she throws it to him for the big note, it’s all goosebumps. They’re a team, you can feel the authenticity and this is outstanding. Like I said, sometimes you just know. When you find the right apartment or the person you’re going to marry, you just know. And I know Olivia, Trent and Dalton will be in the Top 5.
Keith praises the pairing and the song choice, and Jordin was able to pull things vocally and stylistically out of Trent that we hadn’t seen before. For J-Lo, this was the Trent she knows and loves, a mix of vocal ability and unique tone that was a great showcase. Harry is a huge fan of the song and was pulling for a good performance, and after this is all over, they could both do this as a single (or a duet).
Can Shelbie Z. Pimp Her Way to Safety?
Shelbie Z. is last on the docket, paired up with Constantine to reprise Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He was the first one to ever sing it on Idol, and it wound up being a huge moment for him. There’s a theatrical flair involved, so he pushes Shelbie to cut loose and have fun with it. But it remains to be seen if she can match the ease of a Tony-nominated stage performer.
It’s hit or miss for me because it’s spot-on vocally but a mix of highs and lows. The harmonies aren’t great, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s not a comfortable spot for her. It’s a bit flat, and there’s no interpretation of the lyrics. But the vocals are so above average that I’m just not certain how I feel.
J-Lo is sure, though, and she feels like she lost Shelbie. She is baffled by the song choice, which obviously fit Constantine better. Harry isn’t sure what perspective Shelbie was coming from because she had no point of view on what are deep and hauntingly significant lyrics. Keith agrees, in part because this was not meant to be a duet, and he wasn’t pulled into the performance.
Judging the Judges: Take Two
This was an impressive duet round that offered redemption for some who stumbled in the solo round. For me, the least deserving of advancing to the Top 14 are Tristan McIntosh, Adam Lasher, Lee Jean, Manny Torres and Amelia Eisenhauer.
I’m not hopeful for that outcome, though, seeing as how the judges heaped praise on a terrible performance from Lee and were overly soft on a similar one from Tristan. They loved Manny, while I didn’t feel the same connection.
Kieran, dims the lights, and it’s time for results. The singers who are safe (and my commentary) are:
–Lee Jean (Umm … no. He’s adorable, but he’s not ready.)
–Olivia Rox (No-brainer.)
–Jenn Blosil (She has a unique sound, so let’s see where it goes.)
–Dalton Rapattoni (Another easy call, and Daughtry is two-for-two.)
–Manny Torres (No surprise. See above.)
–Tristan McIntosh (Bleh. Judge bias on full display.)
–Trent Harmon (It would’ve been shocking, and Jordin is also two-for-two.)
That means it’s the end of the line for:
–Amelia Eisenhauer (She didn’t do enough.)
–Adam Lasher (Ditto.)
–Kory Wheeler (He deserved another shot, but he wasn’t going to win.)
–CJ Johnson (It’s a surprise, but not a shock.)
–Shelbie Z. (I was never a huge fan, but I thought she earned a spot.)
And there you have it. Our Top 14 is set, and is it a coincidence that Jordin Sparks and Daughtry coached both their Idols through, while both of Kellie Pickler’s came up short? I submit that it is. Still, I disagreed with the judges more this time than last.
Olivia, Dalton and Trent are on a different playing field than the rest, and I’d be shocked if they aren’t the last three standing from this group. It’s tough to compare not having seen them go head to head with the other half, but that’s what the final week of the semifinals is for.
Who stood out to you and who came up short? Did the judges get it right or would viewers have done a better job? The trio is in control one more time, set to narrow it down to eight before we finally get our chance to round out the Top 10 with the leftovers. Hopefully, we won’t have to save anyone they left behind.
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)