American Idol 2014 – Top 8 Post-Show Power Rankings
Things are getting heavy as we get deeper into the single digits of American Idol XIII. I’m finding that everyone is really stepping it up, even the contenders I would have pegged as also-rans just a week ago. Granted, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone left has a realistic shot at winning, but I would argue that this was one of the best nights of the competition so far, as everyone got to show off a little of their own individuality, far more so than in weeks past (just for the loss of “Violet Hill,” I found myself missing Majesty Rose more than I expected to this week).
If you missed the show, Rickey rocked the recap and was super fast with the videos as always, so check it out if you missed it. I’ll be excluding the duets tonight, and just ranking the individual performances, since I don’t think the duets have as much bearing on the competition as they might appear. As usual, these are not predictions on who I think is/isn’t going to be in the bottom 3. These are just my own personal, subjective rankings based on my immediate gut reactions at the end of the show.
AMERICAN IDOL 2014 TOP 8 POST-SHOW POWER RANKINGS
1. Dexter Roberts, “One Mississippi”: Have me committed if you must, but this was my favorite performance this week. I’m not even kidding. I don’t think I could have been more floored by a vocal as I was by this. Just an absolutely gorgeous performance that showed versatility I didn’t even know Dexter had. This wasn’t a “Good Ole Boy Singing a Good Ole Boy Song,” this was a competitor recognizing that he has to change it up if he actually wants to go farther in the competition. Granted, the theme didn’t really leave much wiggle room in the song choice department, but all the better for him! The control in Dexter’s voice, its mellifluous “classic country” tone, and the sparse staging that actually added to the inherent drama of the performance all blended together to make this Dexter’s best performance of the entire competition. (Download on iTunes)
2. Alex Preston, “Fairytales”: I will say, first off, that I didn’t like this version as much as I liked his audition, which pretty much bordered on magical, to me. But this was still a fantastic performance in its own right, and is the most connected Alex has been to any song since the competition began. And it’s no real surprise that this happened on a song he wrote himself. He’s probably going to win this thing, but realistically, this isn’t the kind of competition an artist like him theoretically should excel at, given that he’s only allowed to do his own thing within a certain set of parameters. The success or failure of his performances depend largely on whether he can get into a given song from a given theme on a given week. Luckily, this theme allowed him to do his own song, and so we got to see what Alex is like when he’s really doing his own thing, and not just rearranging songs into his own personal style (which isn’t without merit, of course. Hell, it’s why I loved Kris Allen so much). This was one of his best performances so far, and I hope he takes the opportunity to do more original songs if the themes allow. (Download on iTunes)
3. Jessica Meuse, “Blue-Eyed Lie”: Much like with Alex, Jessica never seemed more comfortable or more confident in her performance than she was here, doing her own song in her own style. And it’s a great song! It speaks volumes for a contestant’s talent when we can see different sides to their artistic merit. Here, Jessica sounded better than she’s ever sounded, played better than she’s ever played, and sang an original song as good as any original I’ve heard on Idol. Combine this with the fact that she’s one of only three contestants left in the competition who’s yet to be in the bottom 3, and I might be disastrously wrong in my early season prediction that she wouldn’t make it very far. If anything, she’s shaping up to be a real contender for the finale, if not the win, with performances like this. (Download on iTunes)
4. Sam Woolf, “Lego House”: Now THIS is the Sam Woolf people loved when the season started, and it’s THIS Sam Woolf that could go to Top 4, if not higher. The nuance of his voice, the ease with which he landed those impossible Ed Sheeran runs, and the smooth, unwavering tone combined to bring about Sam’s best performance of the season so far. I don’t even think Sam himself realizes how good he was tonight, and that kind of humility could carry him far and keep him out of the bottom 3. Well, I hope so, at least. After this, I really don’t think he deserves to be there again this week. (Download on iTunes)
5. Caleb Johnson, “Chain Of Fools”: I’m kind of surprised with myself for putting him so low, but when I weighed everything out, it wasn’t that I didn’t like this performance, but simply that I liked the above four far more. I think Harry is right in the sense that it is time for Caleb to do something different if he plans on actually winning this competition, since his performance catalogue is getting a bit indistinguishable. With that said, he absolutely slayed the vocal here, taking a soul song and turning it into a track with real edge to it. Even when his performances hew close to others he’s delivered, it’s hard to ignore that Caleb is one of the most distinctive performers in the competition. (Download on iTunes)
6. Malaya Watson, “Ain’t No Way”: I like Malaya’s voice. A lot. She’s got such a rich tone with incredible character to it. You can just feel the emotion pouring out of everything she sings, like a faucet of “feels” someone left running. But sometimes I feel as though she gets a bit too theatrical. Between the permanent “stank face” she adopts for her really passionate tunes, and her proclivity for getting so lost in the emotion of the song that she goes sharp and trails off with runs she doesn’t hit, some of her performances end up feeling a bit messy. Such was the case here, as I thought the performance started off really strong, but just sort of lost its way as it went on, to where Malaya was so inward with her performance that it was hard to connect with her. And that shouldn’t be the case, since she’s always been one of the most, if not the most, connected performers in the competition. (Download on iTunes)
7. Jena Irene, “Rolling in the Deep”: Jena was kind of put between a rock and a hard place this week. I think if it had been up to her, she would have gone with something other than “Rolling in the Deep,” which makes for a great audition song when you’re trying to sell yourself to a room full of judges for the first time, but is less effective as a song meant to sell yourself to America. By and large, I think people are kind of over this song, and it’s a tune audiences know so well that it’s difficult not to compare her to Adele, in some fashion, even with the interesting new arrangement. Jena is a great vocalist and did some tremendous things with her performance, but it ultimately ended up being kind of boring. And it all comes down to song choice, which, given the theme, wasn’t entirely her fault. (Download on iTunes)
8. CJ Harris, “Soulshine”: This week was better than most in terms of keeping his pitch issues in check. But CJ is still a deeply problematic singer, in that he’s still not entirely in the ballpark where pitch is concerned, and there’s only so much that grit and tone can make up for when you’re in the Top 8. In terms of pure tone, CJ has an incredible voice. But each week has me wondering more and more if he has any idea what to actually do with it. As Melinda Doolittle noted in the latest episode of Reality Check, it almost takes skill to remain as off-pitch as CJ has been. It has me wishing he had a better mentor than Randy. I think if Harry had been chosen to be the mentor for this season, he might not be having these problems, because, as Harry has said before, he would have done the hard work. He would have stayed the late nights grinding out the imperfections in CJ’s performances, until he understood his pitch issues, what was causing them, and how to correct them. Granted, nothing is really stopping Harry from doing that anyway, but it would be kind of unfair for him to take private time with CJ but not with anybody else. And really, CJ has had five weeks to get this in check, but it’s still a problem. We’re at the point where I just can’t justify rating him above the other singers in this competition, as much as I’ve liked him (and still mostly do). And that’s kind of a shame, given that I really thought he would be a real contender for the title. And hey, he still might be. But it won’t be because his performances have been blowaways. (Download on iTunes)
So what did you think of the Top 8? Who were the highlights? Which singers surprised you? Disappointed you? Bored you? Excited you? And how do you rank the Top 8? Sound off in the comments!