We’ve only been apart 24 hours Idol fans, and already I’m starting to change my tune about a few of these top 11 contestants. Why must consistency be such an issue this season? Are some of these guys and gals suffering from “being too young and green” syndrome or am I just getting old and crotchety way too early in life? Much like Harry Connick Jr.’s T-shirt says, there was a lot of obvious talent on the stage Thursday night, but some of it was squandered by overthinking, over-imitating, and underperforming. Plus, it’s heartbreaking to watch deserving contestants go home well before their time.
Party Anthems was the big musical theme of the night, and the entire venue was filled with balloons (was this cleared by the fire marshal?). But when it comes to these song selections, either I don’t fully understand what construes as a “party anthem” or Idol’s definition is much more lenient than my own. But of course before we get to the performances, the series had to plug Fox’s new hit show Empire approximately 2,3498,523 more times. I love me some Empire, don’t get me wrong, but at this point I can probably recite every word to the season finale promo. Though it is always fun to see Taraji P. Henson popping up in random arenas. Hey Cookie!
The first name called into the top 11 was Rayvon Owen—and understandably so, as his performance of “Wide Awake” still blew me away today while I re-watched over and over instead of working like a productive member of society. I expected a lot out of Rayvon’s performance tonight and while the judges fell for his rendition of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn,” I actually kind of hated parts of it. The song choice felt off, Rayvon actually looked a bit uncomfortable while singing, and overall the performance was “a little pitchy for me dawg.” Also, for some reason, his hats are starting to bug me! I’m actually worried about Rayvon this week despite his great reviews because this is a misstep for a guy who is usually on point. And I do have to share Harry’s opinion that his songs all have the same arc: They all build to a big belt note at the end. And when you’ve got a voice like Rayvon’s, it deserves to be used in more interesting and challenging ways.
Maddie Walker takes spot number 2 and gets some Scott Borchetta praise as he calls her a future “country siren” whatever that means. Maddie performs Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country” and once again Harry hits the nail so perfectly on the head by saying Maddie was imitating rather than emulating the record. She looked awkward and like she was overthinking every single moment of the performance when she should have focused on being confident with vocal choices in the song. Confidence in the voice would have easily brought confidence to the performance. Instead, she came off looking like she was singing “She’s Country” at karaoke.
Then there was Joey Cook. Now I understand that Joey is arguably the most polarizing contestant on Idol this year (along with probably Qaasim and Quentin), but she blew me completely out of the water on Thursday night with the Postmodern Jukebox version of “Fancy,” by Iggy Azalea. For reference, this is what the PMJ’s arrangement sounds like. And Joey completely kills it by doing what Harry says. She uses this arrangement but doesn’t completely copy or imitate it sound for sound, pitch for pitch. She takes a totally original rendition of a totally popular song and still somehow makes it totally her own. I’m sure there are swarms of people who hate this performance, but I am so far on the opposite spectrum. This was easily one of the top 2 performances of the night.
Break time for Empire’s Jussie Smollet and Yazz (a.k.a. Bryshere Gray) to perform their song from the series “No Apologies,” and it’s unfortunate to watch these two together only because it proves that the Idol contestants still have a long way to go before getting this good. Meanwhile Qaasim was really feeling this performance.
Next up is Stephanie Schomer-crowned frontrunner Clark Beckham. But sadly his crown was taken away for the night as his rendition of “Takin’ It to the Streets” by The Doobie Brothers was too safe. The vocals were all there, the piano playing was great. But the song just felt… too easy for the singer. He didn’t really seem to be move beyond the piece. Keith Urban made an astute observation by saying he wanted to still be inspired by Clark. I think he’s capable of it—he did something pretty damn inspiring with Wednesday night’s rendition of “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” so it’s in there. Perhaps Clark made Thursday night’s song choice in his sleep?
NEXT: The judges have a chance to use their one and only save, but ….