Did "American Idol's" Top 13 rise to the occasion?
Monday was the official debut of the Top 13 finalists and apparently, the debut of voting at the top of the hour. The night's theme is "This Is Me," which we take to mean we can totally psychoanalyze the singers by their song choice. Will anyone dare to do "Billionaire"?
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Let's get to the performances:
Song: "Aw Naw" by Chris Young
The performance: He opts for electric guitar and delivers a fairly solid take on the song. He needs to put his own voice and spin on it though.
The judges say: Keith Urban agrees with us and feels like it's a competent cover. Jennifer Lopez says he got the crowd going but the pitch didn't hit his voice's sweet spot. Harry Connick Jr. gives a tip: Ditch the ear monitors because it might be what's making him sing out of tune.
Song: "Runaway Baby" by Bruno Mars
The performance: We're supposed to see Slyonce in this performance, but we see the same quirk-monster that we've seen before. She's fun and full of energy, but she tends to mumble. It prevents her from hitting the notes.
The judges say: J.Lo likes her but thinks the vocal performance wasn't the best. Harry says she seemed nervous and out of tune. Keith says she wasn't quite on top of the song.
Song: "Beautiful Disaster" by Kelly Clarkson
The performance: Does Kristen suddenly look tanner? That's what L.A. will do for you. Usually she has a nice and strong voice, but it doesn't seem like she's in control of it tonight. It sounds like it's taking effort.
The judges say: Harry thinks she's a really strong pop singer, which sounds like a backhanded compliment. Once again, he has issues with what the song means. Oh, and she was out of tune. (We sense a trend!) Keith digs her song choice. Jen advises her to stop thinking, but then to think about what she knows. Huh?
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Song: "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash
The performance: It's clear that he's done this before; he's very comfortable and makes it look easy. The beginning is a little snoozy but once he starts wailing, we're fans.
The judges say: Keith cautions Ben to not let the artistry go when he amps up the performance aspect. J.Lo loves the picked-up tempo. Harry thinks it's the best performance of the night (so far) and admires the retro selection.
Song: "Radio" by Darius Rucker
The performance: Ouch, even kicking up the key a bit, C.J. is way out of tune. This song is very blah vocally and doesn't let him do anything to shine. His fan club is adorable though.
The judges say: Jen says his energy is good. Harry likes the "cry" in C.J.'s voice but misses it in this "OK song choice." Keith disagrees and likes the swagger.
Song: "Satisfaction" by Allen Stone
The performance: The song doesn't do anything to show off her tone. We'd like a little more soul and strength to hit the beats. It's interesting but not very good. The pink suit is nifty though.
The judges say: Harry advises her to relax more in the song, but likes what he hears. Keith (who's looking very red tonight) doesn't think it's all there yet, but likes the voice. J.Lo is vaguely supportive as well. We don't think they're really speaking the whole truth here. C'mon, Harsh Harry! Where are you?
Song: "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae
The performance: It's an ambitious and lightning-fast song, and she meets the challenge. It's a great song to show her happy energy, especially when she leaves the mic stand. She's just a natural performer and seems to know herself well. She ends on a very similar note (performance-wise, not musically) that she did for "Happy."
The judges say: Keith says it's a killer song choice to show herself off. J.Lo fawns about everything and gives props for how the rhythm hits Majesty's body. Harry also points out that this is a similar song to "Happy" and says it's terrific.
Song: "The Scientist" by Coldplay
The performance: We're still getting used to Jena's phrasing, and the tune is a little disjointed at the beginning. But she eventually finds her vocal footing and turns in a decent rendition of the Coldplay ballad — which she tells Seacrest was the first song she learned to play on piano. Her voice bears more than a passing resemblance to 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry's.
The judges say: J.Lo calls Jena a "powerhouse singer" but she and Keith both say it was pitchy and a little off at the beginning. Harry praises her for emotionally connecting with the song (unlike her "Paint It Black" performance last week).
Song: "A Beautiful Mess" by Jason Mraz
The performance: "Idol" is firmly back in "White Guys With Guitars" territory this season, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Alex has a nice tonality, and although the song choice doesn't do much to showcase his range initially, he definitely pulls out some big moments towards the end. The last note is a clunker though.
The judges say: Harry calls the performance too "introspective" and warns Alex, "Just try to sing in tune." (Good advice, Harry.) Keith also says the song was inward-looking but argues that it pulled him in, and Jennifer agrees.
Song: "The Crow and the Butterfly" by Shinedown
The performance: We've seen Jessica tackle country, so it's a smart choice for her to veer into hard rock territory. Her voice has a nice graininess to it and she can more than hold her own on top of heavy instrumentation.
The judges say: Keith calls the song choice "bold but cool" and praises her rasp. J.Lo says it's her favorite vocal performance of the night so far but encourages Jessica to relax a bit. Harry says he was distracted by the graphics, but also loves that Jessica showed off a different side of herself.
Song: "Glitter in the Air" by Pink
The performance: Yawn? Emily's voice has a nice ethereal quality, and she has some big moments towards the end of the song. But if she's looking to make a big impression on viewers out of the gate, this probably isn't the best way to go about it. The judges disagree, however.
The judges say: Jen admits that she's "gushing" over Emily's pitch and enunciation. Harry also loves the performance, and Keith says the "beautiful vocal performance" is one of his favorites of the night.
Song: "Unwell" by Matchbox Twenty
The performance: Sam offers a faithful (if slightly slowed-down) rendition of Matchbox Twenty's hit single, but also makes it completely his own. Out of all the WGWGs, he's the one who looks the most natural up on stage with his instrument, and also appears to be the most confident in his vocal abilities.
The judges say: Harry wishes the vocal would have been a little more "messed up" to match the sentiment of the song. Odd. Keith says the tempo was a little slow for his liking, and J.Lo tells Sam to loosen up a little bit.
Song: "Pressure and Time" by Rival Sons
The performance: The resident rocker of Season 13, Caleb has a Sammy Hagar-ish quality to his voice — but his shtick sometimes veers into Jack Black in School of Rock territory. We know he can do a hair band imitation, but we're excited to see what else Caleb has in his arsenal.
The judges say: Caleb earns a standing O from Keith and Jennifer, but Keith tells him he needs to put a twist on his retro aesthetic. Harry says Caleb could easily step in if Rival Sons is ever in need of a vocalist.