Believe it (or not -- hey, do what you want), tonight was the 500th episode of American Idol. That's a pretty big deal for a show that isn't on daily. Granted, there were some seasons earlier on where Idol aired for three nights, but those days are gone -- and the "greatest singing competition that ever was and ever will be" (according to Randy Jackson) celebrated by opening the show with a little montage of some great moments from the show's past. I have rewatched Kelly Clarkson's original audition more times than normal, but it gets me every time to see her so young and innocent and full of hope and potential. Watching Carrie Underwood come into her own onstage, or Jennifer Hudson commanding attention, or William Hung doing whatever the hell that is, the show has really come a long way. Check out this infographic we made celebrating this milestone. Oh my God, a Ryan retrospective with all the different hair styles -- why am I in tears of happiness over this? Oy, I'm judging myself.
But back to this season's competition: With only one week left before the winner will be named, the last three singers in returned from their hometown visits with an added boost of confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately for Caleb, he also came back without a voice. A doctor was brought onstage to prove how serious the situation was for everyone/make it a lot more dramatic. Caleb had bronchitis and a vocal chord hemorrhage, but no worries -- the doctor thinks he's gonna sound fantastic! OK, doc, we'll be the judge of that. As will Keith, Mermaid J.Lo, and Harry, cause that's technically what they get paid for. That, and to take unnecessary selfies with audience members while The Chain Smokers play their song "Selfie." (Audible groan.)
For the performances themselves, the contestants each sang three songs: one picked by Randy Jackson, one picked by the judges, and one reprise performance picked by their hometowns. Let the games begin with Randy's choices.
Caleb Johnson, "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS: Uh-oh, has King Caleb already fallen before he's even been able to start his reign? HA -- better luck next time. Caleb started off the song by lounging on a random throne (that was never fully explained) before continuing with his performance. Um, okay. Caleb said (or nodded) that he didn't know the song, and he definitely looked the most nervous he's been all season. The judges were pretty unanimous in their praise for Caleb's vocals and professionalism under the circumstances, with J.Lo even saying that Caleb's "worst performance is still better than some people on their best night." The judges were also unanimous in their general concern for Caleb's well-being for the rest of the night (and potentially next week). I'm honestly surprised more contestants don't get sick throughout the entire competition, let alone the final weeks. Good for everyone for staying so strong for at least this long. You (almost) did it!
Instead of talking in between performances, Caleb and Ryan tried to communicate with each other just through body movement and thought (Harry's idea). It didn't really work out, and they just ended up hugging. Then Keith showed that he had a framed picture of his wife, Nicole Kidman, on the desk, because that is totally normal. Unfortunately for Keith, she was wearing a beautiful blue gown in the photo -- and "not me," which he would had preferred. Nicole is in Cannes at the moment, so I doubt she was awake to be embarrassed by that comment.
Alex Preston, "Pompeii" by Bastille: Randy picked this song for Alex because he thought it would allow for his inner singer/songwriter vibe to mix with a band in a more uptempo song, and I guess to get him to lead the band as well. I'll admit, I had doubts at the beginning. I was distracted by the orange haze and lights, and the four drummers mysteriously standing behind Alex, who also sounded like he was holding back vocally. Then he threw back his guitar, dealt with a minor microphone outage, and started to join in with the percussionists. Wait -- what's that? Is Alex actually moving? Is he interacting with the audience in a way that wouldn't be described as hostile? Is he, dare I say it...creating a moment? Alex is a smart puppy in seizing this opportunity, as the other guy in the competition is considerably weaker. By the end, I forgot about the bad beginning (even though Keith didn't) and thought it was a strong start for arguably the underdog of the night.
Jena Irene, "Titanium" by David Guetta (featuring Sia): I am Titanium? More like Wicked. What the what was that? Jena started the performance on top of a hydraulic lift that eerily resembled Elphaba defying gravity. I thought the song started too low and, again, Jena was the victim of a bad arrangement and distracting staging. I don't know how much say the contestants actually have in all these decisions (I doubt it was her idea to start the show that high up), but it all got in the way for me. The judges seemed to like it. Keith even said Jena inspires him. But J.Lo was honest for once, saying that the whole thing felt stiff from the shaky beginning. Randy agreed with J.Lo, while Harry called it a high risk/high reward situation for a song that usually lives in the recording studio and isn't performed live.
NEXT PAGE: Judge's picks