It's Competitors' Pick Night on American Idol, where the Top 7 finalists get to pick songs for their competitors, and each singer gets to choose one of six options. Did anyone go the sabotage route, or was everyone altruistic?
The show finally finds something for Randy Jackson to do, as he introduces the theme of the night and interviews each singer about what they would select for their counterparts. (Everyone seems to be playing nice, for the record.)
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So, what did the finalists ultimately decide on? Let's get to the performances:
Song: "Family Tree" by Kings of Leon
The performance: We would have loved to see Caleb opt for Jena's suggestion of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man," but this is ... fine. Has Caleb ever performed first before? Maybe it's due to his position in the lineup, but he actually seems a bit restrained, physically, for this number. His voice is a 10, per usual, but it would have been nice to see him work the stage a little more.
What the judges say: Keith Urban praises Caleb's consistency. Jennifer Lopez says everyone else will have to up their game after this performance. And Harry Connick Jr. loves that Caleb put his own spin on the tune.
Song: "Gunpowder and Lead" by Miranda Lambert
The performance: Love the soft piano intro from Jessica before she kicks this kiss-off into full gear. The awkwardness that stilted Jessica's performance a couple of weeks ago when she didn't have her guitar to lean on has gotten better, along with her stage presence (thanks in large part to the intense stare she gives the camera at one point). Her vocals suffer a bit as a result, though, and she could have been a little looser.
What the judges say: J.Lo says Jessica was a bit "off" vocally, and that she seemed a little uncomfortable and that the performance didn't "seem natural." Harry says Jessica was a bit out of step with the song, and encourages her to dance to some hip-hop records so that she can get more in tune with the rhythm. Keith says that the performance suffered from a "dissipation of energy."
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At this point, Ryan Seacrest introduces the night's special guest, X Factor refugee Demi Lovato. The purpose for her presence is unclear.
First duet: Sam and Alex
Song: "Let Her Go" by Passenger
The performance: It's official: Sam and Alex are basically clones, as this bland performance illustrates. It's the musical equivalent of a glass of skim milk, and if the show is trying to differentiate the finalists from each other, this is not the way to do it.
What the judges say: Harry asks the guys what they felt about the performance, which he calls "saccharine." Keith says he refuses to critique duets and calls it "chintzy" and "cute." Demi says it had "good energy" (false) and says she wishes they would have done more with the song. (A-ha! She's auditioning to be a judge next season. Mystery solved.)
Song: "Gravity" by John Mayer
The performance: Pro: We like this version of "Gravity" better than John Mayer's original (which, to be fair, isn't saying much). C.J.'s pained inflections in the second verse are particularly pleasing. And because the song is mostly half-spoken and stays in the same key, C.J. doesn't have any of his typical pitch problems.
What the judges say: Keith says that if C.J. was going to make the song so emotional, he should have incorporated an arc or crescendo. Jennifer says C.J. seems to be getting more comfortable week after week, but needs to start having some big moments in his songs. Harry recites his party line about C.J.'s ability to connect with people and calls this his best performance to date.
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Song: "Muckalee Creek Water" by Luke Bryan
The performance: Finally, we get something from Dexter that's not a dive bar singalong. Like Jessica, he does a great job of holding the camera's gaze and infuses the song with a dark intensity vocally, while still making some ad-libbed hand gestures that don't feel out of place. This is probably his strongest performance of the season.
What the judges say: Keith hints that Dexter's adrenaline might have pulled him out of the key at times. J.Lo enjoys seeing a different side of Dexter, but adds that at this stage in the competition, everyone needs to step up their game. Harry compliments subtle change-ups to the arrangement, and says he would've liked to have seen more.
Second duet: Caleb and Jena
Song: "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones
The performance: The season's two powerhouse vocalists have adorable chemistry offstage and it finally — praise be! — translates into a decent duet. It's both sweet and savvy of Caleb to step back and let Jena have the spotlight at the end of the song, and these two are the only contestants who would be able to do this song any type of justice.
What the judges say: "That was a moment," Jenn gushes. Keith rightfully notes that everyone "feels a little stiff tonight." Harry notes that the competitors need to channel their inner entertainer. Demi says she felt energized by their harmonies and wants to do a duet with Jena.
Song: "A Team" by Ed Sheeran
The performance: What a departure for Alex, to tackle a song by a white male singer/songwriter. Look, Alex's voice is great. He nails the high-pitched phrases and everything else you would expect from a whiny indie pop song. But at this late stage in the competition, we really need to start seeing some kind of range — and one barely held big note at the end of a song every week isn't going to cut it.
What the judges say: J.Lo and Harry agree that it was a "perfect song." Well, yes. Harry wonders if that's enough to win the competition, but adds that Alex's conviction may convince him. Keith loves Alex's signature style.
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Song: "Sail Away" by David Gray
The performance: We like Sam's look tonight! He still looks a bit nervous up there on the stage, but thank goodness he isn't surrounded by a gaggle of salivating tweens this week. He has a minor lyrical misstep at one point, but recovers nicely and gives a more vibrant vocal performance than we've seen thus far.
What the judges say: Harry says Sam is making progress every week, but he didn't like the song choice tonight, and says that at this point, the singers need to go with more familiar tunes. Keith agrees. Jennifer says she "felt" the performance.
Trio: Jessica, Dexter and C.J.
Song: "Compass" by Lady Antebellum
The performance: The staging of this performance is snooze-worthy, and each individual singer (Jess especially) gets drowned out at certain points in the song. But the three do come together for a nice harmony every now and then, which is more than we expected at the outset.
What the judges say: "It just wasn't good," Harry says flatly, noting that the song was mostly out of tune. Keith says the individual performances were greater than the sum of their parts. Demi agrees.
Song: "Creep" by Radiohead
The performance: It can't go unmentioned that we totally agree with J.Lo about Jena's styling tonight, which is to die for. We love the first part of this song, with Jena performing solo at the piano. But would the song have been better if she just kept it at that tempo, rather than having the full band come in? Or, if the band was definitely going to join, it may've been a better choice for Jena to leave the piano and really rock out on the stage.
What the judges say: The show is running out of airtime, but the judges are definitely Team Jena. Keith gushes over Jena's "fearlessness," and J.Lo loves the way Jena "Jena-fies" every song she does. Harry calls her a "phenomenal talent," and says it was "unquestionably the best performance of the night."
What did you think? Who were your favorite performances of the night? Who do you think will be going home tomorrow? Weigh in below!