In “American Idol” land, the euphoria of joy from one week seems to vaporize under the pressure and pure hard work that goes into preparing for the next, and the strain was showing in all 11 singers still standing this week for the March 25 performances in celebration of the 80s. From snoozing in hallways, to the realization that two would go packing after the save that spared Qaasim Middleton, the heat was on, and hotter than the flames that ignited from Michael Jackson’s hair spray. Who would show America that they hadn’t scratched the surface of all he or she had to offer in song?
Few among the artists who survived the 80s understand the arc of meteoric rise and the plummeting from fame’s pitfalls better than Boy George, who was beyond gracious in the way he invested in each of the talents as mentor for the week, displaying humor, honesty, and humanity through very meaningful critiques. Mr. O’Dowd has not only maintained fine voice over the last 30 years, he also demonstrated some of his best songwriting in his latest album, “This Is What I Do,” and intended for the talents receiving his tutoring to do the best that each has ever done in the competition, too. He stressed that some were even younger than him in his early rise, and much of his advice centered on not letting criticism hold a performer captive. Harry Connick, Jr. celebrated the occasion by his wardrobe once more, wearing “DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?” emblazoned on his T-shirt. David Hasselhoff delivered the results envelope, and his seemingly endless array of 80s hits, including one by Culture Club, was the only excruciating experience of the evening.
Daniel Seavey defied the odds again, being first to sing, and selecting “You Make My Dreams.” Despite no fault being found in his voice itself, and his declaration that he just wants to “make people happy,” there seems to be no genuineness or natural ease in either his vocal inflection or in his moves on stage. Everything seems trained. Keith Urban coached that if Daniel could sing three songs, everyone could see him relax into them. Jennifer Lopez said that the song was “better for you,” but Daniel still needed to show that vulnerability that Boy George commented was so valuable. Harry thought Daniel’s performance was better than last week, but urged him to “have fun, and throw away the choreography.” Quentin Alexander was up next, and gave a penetrating performance of Phil Collins’ haunting “In the Air Tonight.” There were no screams this week, as just the power of his presence punched through every line. “Your cool factor is 1000,” Jennifer raved, as Harry praised how he “dug deep into those lyrics,” but still left Harry hungry for an up tempo song. Keith closed with “that was a killer song choice,” making it a good night for Quentin. He even gave a fashion makeover to a Glowworm toy in his pre-performance package! Joey Cook was called up next, and she was truly beside herself with joy in meeting her mentor, and the admiration was mutual. She seemed totally at ease in her “Madonna in space” couture look, but her performance of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” seemed distracted and disconnected, so uncharacteristic of her past performances. The home viewers, it seemed as though she could not hear, and was trying to catch up to ques, while Harry just said she seemed distracted. Keith chalked it all up to the pressures kicking in, and urged her to just relax, all Jennifer said that for the first time, Joey’s vocal didn’t match the song. She still was over the moon at being hugged by Boy George at the end of the song! Boy George was a little concerned that Tyanna Jones, who had her first low moment last week, might try to “show off” with the Whitney Houston song, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” just because she could, but instead, Tyanna returned to her natural spirit and terrific self, making just slight but very distinctive changes in the chorus to make it her own. Keith stressed that she should ease into singing even more slowly when the pressure is on, while Jennifer encouraged “just do what you were born to do,” while Harry complimented the changes that she gave to the song. JAX took a big vocal bite this week, choosing Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and being bold enough to do it on piano. Her bad ass attitude was back, as she kicked away her stool to top off the song. Jennifer Lopez loved that the “punk attitude” from her that the panel saw in the beginning was back, and Harry said her intrigue was definitely there. Keith reminded her to never be afraid to change a song when something isn’t working.
Nick Fradiani got very welcome news that he was safe to sing for another week, and he gave his best performance yet with “Man in the Mirror,” singing with more conviction and emotion, and being more relaxed with the audience than ever. Harry offered high praise that it was “a great vocal and the perfect song,” surprising even Jennifer. For her part, Jennifer said she felt “you really singing to us,” and Keith said that when Nick smiles, it helps him relax, and solves most of his problems. Salt-N-Pepa provided the perfect, playful interlude with “Push It,” their monster hit, and even had fun, identifying who was who with Ryan Seacrest. Clark Beckham proved he had been listening to the panel, putting loads of emotion into his rendition of “Every Breath You Take,” even though he abandoned Boy George’s advice to begin in a lower key. Keith Urban lauded that he felt “more heart” from Clark, and the melancholy in the song. Clark gave Jennifer Lopez her famous “goosies,” and Harry praised that Clark didn’t need to “run around and do all that” like some of his counterparts, he could just sing. Qaasim Middleton was more than relieved to hear his name called, but Ryan made him explain dropping the microphone last week, and he was very open in saying that he was under “ the Holy Ghost ” and not fully under his own control. In choosing “Addicted to Love,” ala Robert Palmer, Middleton wanted to showcase his voice and his control more than in past weeks, and it paid off. Boy George loved his voice “in the room,” and Harry heard it this week, too, praising that all Qaasim had to do was “stand and be sexy.” Keith heard that voice, too, along with “a fragile heart,” and Jennifer said that she “loved it,” referring to the more reserved presence and stylish suit.
With just three performers left, the next called would sing, and the two remaining would see their dream end here. Ryan Seacrest called all three to stand on stage, and Rayvon Owen was the name called, meaning farewell for Adanna Duru and Maddie Walker, who hugged one another, and Rayvon, in their farewell. Rayvon was a difficult read, even for Boy George, and his choice of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was risky. Scott Borchetta advised that Rayvon had to break the shell this week, and Harry Connick, Jr. did feel that this was “a more interpretive song” than his others, but could do without falsettos every time. Keith gave most of his commentary in adieu to the ladies, and Jennifer reminded “don’t be afraid,” encouraging Owen to stretch himself further.
Next week, Kelly Clarkson returns to the Idol stage for Classics week.