The second night of "American Idol's" Rush Week, on which 15 male contestants showed up ready to sing, though only 10 would be invited to do so, went much more smoothly than the first. Of course, it wasn't a terribly high bar to surmount.
Like the women the previous night, the men had prepped with "Idol" veterans Randy Jackson, Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry and sat nervously in the holding room, waiting to be summoned forth by the judges one by one to run through a long passageway lined with happy, applauding young people (Who were those people?) and onto the stage to sing.
Like the women, once 10 of the guys were given the chance to compete for our votes, the five remaining (Briston Maroney, Casey Thrasher, Ethan Harris, Jordan Brisbane and Maurice Townsend) were collectively shuffled before us, looking stunned and solemn, and then sent home, this time with a few tepidly encouraging parting words from the judges.
Unlike the women, however, the guys seemed to have a slightly clearer sense of what to expect — and the pitfalls of arriving onstage breathless — as did the judges. That meant the performances were generally, though not universally, both better and better received.
The 10 we heard from were …
—Meat Loaf lookalike Caleb Johnson, who rocked out impressively and gave the mic stand a workout with his rendition of the Faces' "Stay With Me." Keith Urban said Johnson was born to sing the way he does. Jennifer Lopez called him "ready" and "rock-star-ish." And Connick said Johnson's performance would be a tough act to follow, but was a "really great way to start the show."
—C.J. Harris, whom the judges called "mesmerizing" even before he took the stage (fresh from a root canal, Ryan Seacrest let us know) to sing "Shelter" by Ray LaMontagne. "You make me smile …. You make me feel so many things … when you're singing," Lopez told him, adding that she hoped he'd stick around "for the rest of the competition." Connick chided Harris for his "tendency to sing sharp," but allowed that the emotions behind the lyrics were solid, as did Urban. "I felt like you were singing to me. You were going to shelter me," Connick said.
—Emmanuel Zidor, whom the judges may have tapped just so they could work in their puns ("open Zidor," "I Zidor you").To say his off-key take on "Best of My Love" by the Emotions was not his best would be a tremendous understatement. It was painful. The judges looked stunned, but were kind. Connick complimented Zidor on his "happy infectious energy," while noting that he'd lost control of the song. "You're a great singer," he chided, "so don't forget to sing." Lopez, for her part, felt compelled to defend the judges' choice, asking Zidor to sing another song to prove "you do belong here."
—Sam Woolf, who just got into the esteemed Berklee College of Music. He sang "Babylon" by David Gray, with his usual appealing sweetness. "The people like you, Sam," Urban observed, "and with good reason." Lopez complimented the "pure quality" to Woolf's voice, "perfect pitch," song choice and performance, which she found "not too pushed." Connick hoped Woolf's confidence would grow because, he told the talented teen, "You're terrific."
—George Lovett, whom the judges admitted had been "flying under the radar" for much of the competition. His ultra-intense performance of Bruno Mars' "Grenade" seemed to overwhelm the judges. Lopez, who said she'd fought for Lovett, nevertheless told him he had to learn to control his runs. Connick said he'd been "so emotionally invested" he'd nearly sung himself "right off of the microphone." And Urban said he'd thought the song had not played to Lovett's strengths.
—Country boy Dexter Roberts, who, the judges said, had been among the season's most "consistent" competitors. He sang "This Old Boy," by Craig Morgan, "because I am this ol' boy," he said. Connick called his performance "solid" and "likable" but wondered how Roberts planned to distinguish himself from every other country music performer out there. "There's a thousand guys just like you fronting country bands in honky-tonks," Urban warned. But Lopez said she felt confident that Roberts would have time on the show to figure it out.
—Alex Preston, who noted, not immodestly, that he played 11 or 12 instruments. He played guitar and sang "Volcano," by Damien Rice, which Urban called "probably the best song choice of the night." "That's a song you could have written," he said, noting that Preston had "stayed in the groove" throughout. Lopez said he'd found his own lane, and should stay there. And Connick complimented Preston on his musicality.
—Malcolm Allen, who is apparently called "the singing deli man" back home in Arkansas. He performed "Comin' Where I'm From" by Anthony Hamilton, and it was far less moving and more repetitive than it should have been. Lopez told him she "wanted your performance to hit me more .… I should have got goosies on that one." Connick found Allen's singing sharp and was disturbed that he'd sung "the same run over and over."
—Ben Briley, who made the top 10 despite apparently having been in danger of not making the top 15. Before he sang the Allman Brothers' "Soul Shine," we learned that Briley has a family country-music history, with a great-grandmother who was "one of the first women on the Grand Ol' Opry" and a mother who, he said, was "the Taylor Swift of the '70s in Nashville," whatever that exactly means. It wasn't clear what Connick thought of Briley's performance, because he was obsessed with the size of the knot of Briley's necktie. "The whole entire royal family lives in that knot," he said. Urban was impressed that Briley had played electric guitar, guessing that it was "the first shredded solo we've seen on 'American Idol.'" And Lopez said Briley had "come alive" onstage as he hadn't previously.
—Pretty guy Spencer Lloyd, who sang the Fray's "Love Don't Die" and is being cast as this season's teen-girl magnet. The judges were apparently less impressed than the screaming audience members with Lloyd's performance. Connick told him the song was "not your strong suit." "Stick to what you know. That was not good," he said. "You sitting at the piano singing ballads was good."
My three faves of the night: Caleb Johnson, Alex Preston and Sam Woolf. Which were your favorites? And were you sad to see any of the five eliminated singers go home?
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