It's Week 2 of eliminations on Season 13 of American Idol, and the theme is "Home" — which, frankly, leaves the Top 12 a pretty wide range of songs to pick from, as long as their choice reminds them of some aspect of their town. Also, the pitch problems resulting from the new inner ear speakers thankfully seem to have been resolved this week. So, which song did each of the finalists choose to remind them of home? Let's get right into the performances:
Song: "Suddenly I See" by KT Tunstall
The performance: Jena has some breathing issues at the start of this one, but settles into the song nicely and even manages to (slightly awkwardly) work the stage a little bit. The 17-year-old has some work to do but it's a solid performance for Week 2.
What the judges say: Keith Urban compliments her "stage presence," but encourages her to loosen up more. Jennifer Lopez says Jena is right on the cusp of blossoming into a true artist. "Junior," as Ryan Seacrest is now referring to Harry, agrees with Keith and says he'd like to see more energy.
Song: "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin DeGraw
The performance: Alex infuses "I Don't Wanna Be" with some R&B and reggae touches, but the performance is a little one-note (somewhat literally). Alex needs to change it up in the coming weeks to show us what he can do besides soft indie rock with a guitar. Also his grandmother is my new favorite person.
What the judges say: J.Lo loves Alex's suit, but tells him the arrangement "didn't quite suit the song and overtook your vocal." Harry compliments the creativity of the performance but says it wasn't his favorite from Alex. And Keith says it felt a little unstable.
Song: "White Flag" by Dido
The performance: Props to Jessica for showcasing a different part of her vocal range each week. So far we've seen country, hard rock and now a softer side of the magenta-haired vixen. (And her hair looks great tonight, BTW.) Jessica completely makes the song her own and presents a nice, subdued arrangement of it, but unfortunately the tone is a little off.
What the judges say: Harry says Jessica was sharp throughout the performance. "It felt like you weren't really present in the performance," he says (to boos). Keith and Jen agree, and Keith encourages her to put more feeling into the song to overshadow the pitch problems.
Song: "Lucky Man" by Montgomery Gentry
The performance: Dexter gets bonus points for the footage of puppies in his background photo. The tone in his lower range is great, but sounds a little strained when he stretches to hit the higher notes.
What the judges say: Keith says it was the "perfect" song choice. J.Lo says she knows the panel is being hard on the performers tonight, but compliments the performance, which Harry calls the best of the night so far. Harry's only complaint? That Dexter should have changed a line about the Bengals to the Saints.
Song: "Let's Get Loud" by Jennifer Lopez
The performance: It's a bold move, singing one of J.Lo's songs with the judge looking on. Emily's tone is a little too low throughout the song, and she definitely needs to take the energy level up a notch if she wants to make more of an impression. She hits one nice high note, but then doesn't recover in time for the next line.
What the judges say: "It makes me happy to hear that you were listening to this and it influenced you. ... You did a really good job," J.Lo says, charitably. Harry is a little more honest, and says the song is a natural crowd-pleaser but was too big for Emily tonight. Keith "loved it."
Song: "Working Man" by Rush
The performance: Caleb once again transports us to the late '70s with his hair band aesthetic, and ends the song by collapsing on the stage. It's a fun performance, and certainly high energy, but we can't help but wonder whether we're going to see the same thing from Caleb week after week.
What the judges say: Harry tells Caleb that he's the most consistent performer on the show this season, but cautions him to avoid becoming predictable. Keith challenges him to find out how to stand out on his own, without the band supporting him. Jennifer says she has confidence Caleb will show off some of his other talents in later weeks.
Song: "Drops of Jupiter" by Train
The performance: MK has a lovely tone that works well for soft folk songs, but she seems to be straining a bit during the bigger moments in this song — and still seems to be uncomfortable in the large arena setting.
What the judges say: Keith says her vocals are "fine," but she needs to emotionally connect with the lyrics more. Jen says she can tell MK's "pushing," but wants to see a breakout performance. Harry bluntly says, "I still get the feeling that you don't want to be here."
Song: "Waiting on the World to Change" by John Mayer
The performance: C.J. has a nice gravelly edge to his voice, and while this performance isn't a show-stopper, it's pretty solid and certainly engaging. Plus C.J. looks like he's enjoying himself on stage, rather than just grinning and bearing his way through the song.
What the judges say: The judges are mostly complimentary (though Harry tells C.J. he was a bit sharp). But Keith encourages C.J. to make songs his own and put an artistic spin on them, rather than just doing straightforward cover versions.
Song: "Just One" by Blind Pilot
The performance: 1) We love Sam's hat. 2) It's a great move for Sam to perform this song while seated among the audience. Way to play to those ladies and their votes, Sam! 3) The folky ballad is a great song choice for Sam's singer/songwriter tone, but he's a little stiff during the song.
What the judges say: Harry calls the performance "pleasant," but encourages Sam to show more of an emotional range. Keith says his tone is "like butter" and tells him he'd buy his record tomorrow. Jennifer agrees, but says she hopes Sam steps out of his comfort zone.
Song: "Take Me to the King" by Tamela Mann
The performance: After landing in the bottom three with MK and Kristen last week, Malaya needs to do something special tonight. She opts to play the piano in addition to singing, but unfortunately the singing isn't in key for most of the song. There are some big moments towards the end but the first part of the song is just too inconsistent.
What the judges say: Maybe something has gotten lost in the translation from stage to living room, but the judges eat it up. Jennifer says she got goosebumps, Keith praises Malaya's power and range, and Harry says good job in not going off the rails.
Song: "Turning Home" by David Nail
The performance: Kudos to Ben for not letting the audience's out-of-sync clapping screw him up at the beginning of the song. Unfortunately, he doesn't do anything to elevate the performance above a good karaoke outing.
What the judges say: "I did not connect with it and it felt shouted to me," Harsh Harry says. "It was okay. It wasn't great." Jolly Jen disagrees. The deciding vote goes to Keith, who says Ben was too focused on the technicality and not focused enough on the emotion.
Song: "Fix You" by Coldplay
The performance: Can we institute a ban on clapping from the Idol audience? Because Majesty's performance is gorgeous on its own, and would be even more emotionally resonant without the crowd's unnecessary assistance. Majesty adds a little bit of her own flair to the end of the song, which doesn't quite work. But the flowers in her guitar are a nice touch.
What the judges say: Harry wishes Majesty would have stayed "in the quiet zone," and Jen and Keith agree that the bigger moments didn't really work out.
Before signing off, Seacrest checks in with the results from the Facebook super-voting thus far. Among the more recent singers, C.J. is in the lead.
What did you think of the performances tonight? Are you a fan of the real-time Facebook super-vote update? And who do you think will be sent home tomorrow? Sound off in the comments!