American Idol: ‘Artists’ shine on Top 10 performance night

Who dares wins — if you got the talent to back up that courage.

A Top Ten night on American Idol is often a make or break event. Faced with so many hummable tunes, some contestants will transform the show’s snazzy stage into some sleazy karaoke joint. Some will choose a great hit and spin it around a bit “to make it their own”. And then there will be the brave ones who will take on the unexpected song.

On a night when the artists forged ahead of the pack, a 16 year-old young woman — still in braces — tamed everyone with the manliest of songs.

Malaya Watson, 16 Photo from
Malaya Watson, 16 Photo from

Malaya Watson has never received flowers nor has experienced that great HHWW teenage rite of passage (holding hands while walking). Yet with Bruno Mars’ “When I was Your Man,” that lament to things that could have been, she went through the scale of emotions with a pitch-perfect delivery.

Seated throughout on a stool, Malaya eschewed egregious diva runs, throwing just enough power to remind viewers she’s this season’s belter.

She nailed every note.  But what will remain with us are the lines that drop into quiet pools, punctuated with husky murmurs of pain. And her face, ageless, a woman of such great power she doesn’t have to change a word in what’s the modern equivalent of a barroom confession.

Completing the top three are two white boys with guitars and a shared aversion to smiles.

Alex Preston  Photo by
Alex Preston Photo by

Alex Preston, the pompadoured guy who’s sometimes too precious for his own good, went with One Direction, an uber pop gang of puppies as only the British can make them. Wisely, he chose one of the group’s few songs with a reasonable amount of depth.

Preston infused “Story of My Life” with a smidgen of country crossed with rock and roll. This guy is the strangest thing. He can stand there, hardly acknowledge the crowd. Yet, as J-Lo demands, he can own the stage.

It’s almost like watching MTV, with the camera bringing us into his inner world. Some people are entertainers who will do anything to please the audience. Some people are artists who challenge the audience to take a walk with them. Preston’s with the second group.

I doubt Sam Woolf has the habit of asking people to take a stroll. It probably takes a lot of energy just for Woolf to stay and deal with a world that has demanded so much from him.

Remembering last week’s disastrous “Come Together” —  that really deserved a bottom three result — I cringed on hearing he’d chosen  “We are Young” by Fun and Janelle Monáe.

It’s basically a sly ode to the wild (and slightly addled) ones, those rebels without a cause. The song comes with a gruesome but fascinating video that clobbers anyone who fails to get the lyrics’ message.

Woolf did a nifty that’s all him — the great outsider, inarticulate, with eyes that seem to be on the watch for the first kick of the night. He started the narrative in musing mode.

Keith was right during the auditions. The guy’s pitch is superb. He naturally slides into every note. Maybe there could be more oomph in his movements. But once he got into “we could set the world on fire,” I imagined a horde of gals and guys jumping to it. He also has very sexy deeper notes — check out “so between the drinks and subtle things”.

Woolf’s not going home. That ending? That’ll keep him in the top half of the group. Then he can slay everyone with his original songs, masterpieces of pain. Check him out on YouTube.

Jena Irene Asciutto should be safe with her energetic, confident cover of “Clarity”. It’s the kind of song that makes you move, though none of the melody will stick. (Harry’s right but he could have said it nicer.)

I’d choose Jena’s genuinely fun version of a so-so song over Caleb Johnson’s pretentious take on Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory”. He has a great voice but he’s just too Jack Black. I want to take my rockers more seriously.

Two other female contestants gave almost but-not-quite performances.

Maybe Jessica Meuse really doesn’t want to endorse homicidal behavior. Maybe she should have chosen another song because Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” deals with that and only that.

Or maybe she could have calibrated her smile. A sarcastic smile, check. A semi-leer, check. A manic smile, yes. But a pageant smile? Come on. It’s enough to induce some homicidal behaviour. (And J-Lo should learn to read or, at least, stop pontificating on songs she hasn’t studied. So what if it’s a dancing tune? Has anyone seen Eddy Grant smile while doing “Gimme Hope, Joanna”? Or the Cranberries doing “Zombie”. Or Bob Marley doing “Buffalo Soldier”?

Majesty Rose did well to give Avicci’s “Wake Me Up,” a folksy twist. But she still sounded like a lost Disney soul and has too many affectations and unnecessary notes. Enough with the Bambi eyes. Let’s see some grit, please.

The bottom three include two contestants I really like:

Last week, MK Nicollete’s gauche vibe was just perfect for  “To Make You Feel My Love,”  a Bob Dylan original brought to glory by Adele. Her cover of Pink’s “Perfect” was just painful. I’ve seldom seen body language so antithetical to one’s get-up. She was all over the place, sleepwalking, ambling, treating  the stage was a sidewalk. A pity because she has one of the best voices.

I never really liked Dexter but good ‘ol country dude might just hang on there, the beneficiary of brand loyalty.

The one I’m really scared for is CJ Harris. He just fell apart. It was ugly. And I don’t think he’ll survive Harry’s righteous criticism.

Not a particularly stellar night. The most memorable moment? The Harry-Keith catfight, with the latter sassing the sometimes pedantic Connick with a barrage of multisyllabic words.

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