The transition in each "American Idol" season from the recorded, edited shows — auditions, Hollywood Week and the like — to the live shows is always a little jarring, sort of like stepping off a moving sidewalk onto stationary ground. It can take the show a while to seem steady on its legs. But this season's first live show, the start of a brand-new round called "Rush Week," which aired Tuesday night, was especially discombobulating. And we viewers weren't the only ones to notice.
Jennifer Lopez took issue with the way the performers had to run to the stage and sing without catching their breath. Keith Urban agreed, calling the Rush Week moniker "so literal."
Part of the problem was that the show was trying to pack way, way too much into two hours. Determining the fate of the final 15 female singers was almost the least of it.
Randy Jackson — Ryan Seacrest cutely referred to him as the "Dawgfather" — returned to meet with the contestants and sprinkle his trademark meaningless exclamations on the proceedings.
"This is it, Ryan. This is it!" the former judge told Seacrest, in an attempt to underscore the importance of the evening's performances.
"Yo, yo, yo, dawg, dawg, dawg, dawg!" the host replied, to Jackson's apparent irritation. (Seacrest seemed to be in a particularly judge-tweaking, truth-telling mood: "So let's take a moment and just reflect on Jennifer's dress there for a second," he said of Lopez's cleavage-baring sparkly-blue micro-minigown.)
Also back from "Idol" seasons past: former contestants Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, purportedly to offer guidance and expertise.
"Your voice is stupid. … It's insane," Daughtry told current hopeful Malaya Watson. He meant it as a compliment.
The producers also took the opportunity to introduce the show's assortment of vocal and movement coaches and stylists, the musical director and (insert record-scratch sound effect here) this season's "nondenominational spiritual advisors," who looked like characters in a Christopher Guest film.
We also had to resolve last week's ho-hum cliffhanger: which of two male singers, Neco Starr and Ben Briley, would be given the last spot in the top 15 guys. The audience had voted, and Starr and Briley were shuffled onstage to hear the results: Briley would stay; Starr would go, though he'd be allowed to stick around and watch the rest of the show. (Um … thanks?)
How long Briley will stay is unclear, given the Rush Week process. By week's end, 30 singers will be reduced to 13 — 10 chosen by the "Idol" audience and three judge "wildcard" selections.
But the audience would not have a chance to hear from and vote for all 15 women and 15 men. Seacrest informed us at the top of the show that, although all 15 female singers who'd survived thus far were prepared to sing, the judges would give only 10 of them a chance to do so. The five others -- Kenzie Hall, Brandy Neely, Jillian Jensen, Austin Wolfe and Andrina Brogden, as it turned out -- would sit silent and scared in the holding room and then be sent home looking stunned at the end of the show.
And the 10 who did sing? When their names were called, they were expected to hop up, run through a hall lined with people, pumping their fists and doling out high fives, grab the mic and sing, breathlessly and briefly.
If it sounds like a recipe for vocal disaster, by and large, it was. The judges who'd begun the evening optimistically declaring this year's contestants to be maybe the best ever looked deflated by the end of the night. Few of their favorite singers had apparently performed as they'd hoped.
We heard from:
Adorably gap-toothed Majesty Rose, who grabbed her guitar and sang Pharrell Williams' "Happy," turning in one of the most confident performances of the evening. "A very good start," Lopez called it.
Resident nurse Kristen O'Connor, who gave a lackluster performance of Adele's "Turning Tables." Urban thought she finally settled into the song halfway through.
Returnee Briana Oakley, who fought her way through Demi Lovato's "Warrior." Lopez compared her to a "young Whitney Houston" — and said she'd wanted to give her a hug -- but seemed concerned as to whether she'd continue in the competition. Connick warned her not to get flashy with her high notes, making a timely Olympics reference by comparing them to triple axels.
Jena Irene, who seems to have dropped her last name (Asciutto), though those involved with the show continue to butcher her first name (Really, how hard is it to remember it's pronounced "Gina," not "Jenna"?). Her song choice, the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," was a peculiar choice, prompting Connick to quiz her about its meaning. But both Lopez and Urban called her one of their favorites.
Lipstick-loving Bria Anai, whose take on Melanie Fiona's "Wrong Side of a Love Song" Connick said "felt very, very shouted," a statement that earned him boos from the audience. "The first of many," he said. Urban said Anai did "kind of overshoot the runway," and then, by way of comfort, added, "but you still have the lips."
Early judge fave Marrialle Sellars, who gave everything she had, including one of her shoes, to Katy Perry's "Roar." Though Urban said she deserved credit for maintaining her poise "in the midst of complete calamity," he nevertheless called it "too karaoke, baby." She was, he said "much better than that," a sentiment echoed by the other judges.
Pink-haired Jessica Meuse, who showed off her appealing vibrato with "Drink a Beer" by Luke Bryan. The judges complimented her tone in general, but expressed disappointment with this particular performance. Connick observed that her voice had gone sharp and that she never seemed to settle into the song emotionally. He felt a "wall between you and me," he said.
Emily Piriz, who invited a disappointed-dad lecture from Connick by singing Grace Potter's steamy "Paris (Ooh La La)," and got it. "Is that really what you want to be singing about?" he asked sternly. "Oh, it's a touchy subject, Harry," Urban said. "Literally," Connick responded. Lopez, though, said she really liked the performance, calling it "relaxed" and "comfortable" and expressing hope that Piriz would survive the vote.
MK Nobilette, the out gay contestant whom the show is very pleased with itself for including, who gave her all to John Legend's "All of Me." "The crowd loves you," Urban observed, after Nobilette had been given a standing O. (Her two moms were particularly enthusiastic, one of them sobbing throughout, the other waving a small handmade sign.) Connick called Nobilette an "elegant, articulate singer," and Lopez said, "At the end of the day, it's really just about making people feel something."
Malaya Watson, the enthusiastic tuba player, who brought up the rear with her rendition of Ray Charles' "Hard Times." (She said she sought to combine Sly Stone and Beyonce and make "Slyonce" in her performance style.) Lopez noted the effects of pressure and nerves, but told Watson she had "no doubt that you are one of the big powerhouse singers of the competition," adding, "every time you get up there, for me, it's epic." Urban said that, while Tuesday's performance was "a little over the top," Watson had the confidence to "make glasses and braces look so cool."
By the end of the evening, the judges just seemed grateful it was over. Of course, Wednesday night we'll do it all over again with the guys.
What do you think of the "Rush Week" process? And were you pleased to see Randy Jackson again?
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