Season 13

American Idol Top 13: Song by song grades

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It’s tough to imagine a more pressure-packed situation than the American Idol semifinalists faced last week.

They didn’t know what order they would sing in. They didn’t even know if they’d be picked to sing.

The American Idol Top 13 pose for a photo following last week's semifinals. (FOX Photo)

The American Idol Top 13 pose for a photo following last week’s semifinals. (FOX Photo)

Then, confronted with the emotion of learning they’d been chosen to do so, they had to rush to the stage to perform on live TV for the first time.

To say the ladies suffered last Tuesday night as a result of the ensuing nerves would be an understatement.

But the guys rebounded nicely on Wednesday night, raising my hopes that Season 13 could be something special.

Tonight, there should be fewer variables for the Top 13 to contend with. Everyone sings. And the Idols should know before the show when they will sing.

And so the Season 13 finals begin. For a look at my rankings heading into tonight, head here. For a look at where the Idols stand in terms of social media ranking, head here.

Now it’s time to grade some performances.

And the theme: This is me. That’s a nice broad theme. Nice start, Idol.

But this set looks like something out of The X Factor, which ain’t good. And I hope the audience stops screaming when the 13 starts singing.

Dexter Roberts

Dexter Roberts

1. Dexter Roberts, 22, Fayette Ala.: The country guy is up first and is off to a pretty weak start. He’s having trouble being heard over the music. He’s selected this song because it’s so much fun, but it also didn’t show off much vocal range. Like that he started with something offbeat, but the vocal was just so-so. The song was “Aw Naw” by Chris Young. Keith says he needs to figure out how to make it more than a good cover. Christina calls it really, really good but also suggests it wasn’t a wow performance. Harry points out some pitch problems, and says Chris could have had even more fun on stage. Grade: C

Malaya Watson

Malaya Watson

2. Malaya Watson, 16, Southfield, Mich.: Pretty sure this will be a high-energy performance. She practically bounced out onto the stage at the top of the show. She’s singing “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars. Here she comes. Told you. She’s quite the performer. The question is whether she can pull this off vocally. And the early verdict: No she can’t. This is a way below average vocal. Shame because Malaya is delivering a fun, high-energy performance and is really likeable. That was just bad karaoke, though. Jennifer says her performance was an A+, but says it wasn’t her best vocal performance. Keith loves her energy, but he says she needs to be on top of the song, not flirting around it. Grade: D+

Kristen O'Connor

Kristen O’Connor

3. Kristen O’Connor, 24, Sebastian, Fla.: Kristen is going to tackle Kelly Clarkson’s “Beautiful Disaster.” She says she thinks she has a lot to prove because she was a wild card selection. She might be the wisest of the first three by slowing it down. I feel like Malaya was so focused on having fun, she let the vocal suffer. Kristen started out a little rough, but hit her stride on the chorus. Still, I’m not sure this is going to be the kind of unique, look-at-what-I-can-do performance that’s going to be remembered at the end of the night. That said, those final notes were absolutely beautiful. Harry says she was out of tune in spots. Keith liked the song choice because it showed her range and dynamics. Jennifer suggests the contestants might be thinking a little too much. Grade: C+

Ben Briley

Ben Briley

4. Ben Briley, 24, Gallatin, Texas: Check out Ben’s new black leather baseball cap. Ben is going to sing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” He says this is the song he kicks off every show with. And my guess is here comes the best performance so far tonight. And Ben’s on the spot from the word go. Did Randy say he should slow it down? If so, Ben is doing the opposite, determined to fit as many lyrics as possible into Idol’s shortened time span for a song. And he ends the performance with a nice little jump. Keith called the tempo “a little quick,” but warns him not to sacrifice artistry for the sake of entertaining. Jennifer liked the fact that he made the song his own. She says she “loved it.” Harry called it unquestionably the best performance of the night. I agree. Grade: A–

Curtis (C.J.) Harris

Curtis (C.J.) Harris

5. C.J. Harris, 23, Jasper, Ala. C.J. sang twice last week and didn’t quite nail either performance. He’s going to sing “Radio” by Darius Rucker. Here comes another guitar; the third we’ve seen so far. Afraid this vocal is going to fall into the same category as the two last week — just so-so. C.J. is trying to inject some energy into the performance and seems less nervous on stage this week. And that was a nice little wrinkle at the end. Jennifer calls the performance “fun” and likes the energy the singers are bringing to the stage. Harry wanted to hear the “cry” in C.J.’s voice and says that song didn’t provide that opportunity. Keith liked the song choice. I didn’t have a problem with the song choice. I think that just paled in comparison to a Darius Rucker vocal. Grade: C+

Emkay Nobilette

Emkay Nobilette

6. M.K. Nobilette, 20, San Francisco, Calif: She’s singing “Satisfaction” by Allen Stone. This is a change of pace for her because she’s been delivering mostly ballads. Four lines in, I’m wishing she’d sung another ballad. OK, her voice does sound good on “Satisfaction.” I mean the word, not the song. The rest of this vocal is not very good. Harry is trying to get used to M.K. with makeup. He suggests M.K.’s stage performance needs some work. Keith compliments her look and really likes the confidence M.K. is showing. Jennifer says she didn’t know the song, but loved the performance. I’m baffled by the judges. Grade: C–

Majesty York

Majesty York

7. Majesty Rose, 21, Goldsboro, N.C.: The gal who kicked off last week’s show so well is going to sing “Tightrope.” Once again, she’s coming across as a natural on stage. And she’s delivering a fine vocal on another upbeat song. Like Jennifer, I like the energy tonight, even if some of the vocals are going astray. That vocal did not go astray. Majesty managed to deliver a fine performance and give us plenty of performance flair as well. Keith liked the way her personality came out in the song. Jennifer loves Majestry’s individuality and says “singing that song was so perfect for you.” Harry calls the performance “terrific.” Grade: B+

Jena Irene Asciutto

Jena Irene Asciutto

8. Jena Irene Asciutto, 17, Farmington Hills, Mich.: Jena (please pronounce it Gina) will perform Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” I have high hopes for Jena. And judging from the start of this song, she isn’t going to disappoint. She’s showing off nice range. And she delivered a nice sensitive ending to the song, too. Jennifer compliments her on a unique voice and says she’s also a powerhouse singer. Jennifer called it a tough song choice, but says she pulled it out. Harry liked the fact that she connected with the song. Keith says the performance was a little pitchy at the beginning, but she leaned into the song and owned it from that point on. Another solid performance, though perhaps not quite as dynamic as last week. Grade: B+

Alex Preston

Alex Preston

9. Alex Preston, 20, Mont Vernon, N.H.: Alex is going to sing “Beautiful Mess” by Jason Mraz. Randy says the only concern is that this will come off too slow and sleepy. It’s going to be one of the slower songs of the night. Alex has a unique tone. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received by Idol voters. Not necessarily one of my favorite song choices of the night, but I appreciate what Alex did with it. Harry called it brave to do that considering so many other contestants went upbeat. Harry suggests he was out of tune and the performance was too inward. Keith says the performance did the opposite for him, pulling him into the performance. Jennifer, too, says she was caught up in the mood and called it a “really nice job.” Grade: B–

Jess Meuse

Jess Meuse

10. Jess Meuse, 23, Slapout, Ala.: Jess will sing “The Crow and the Butterly.” Hoping for a solid performance from her, because she was a little shaky in the semifinals, but slipped through anyway. Missing the guitar. But we’re certainly hearing the power and the grit in her voice. Interesting song choice. But definitely better than last week. Keith calls it a “bold and cool” song choice in that it was dark and haunting. Jennifer calls it her favorite vocal of the night so far and called it perfect for her voice. She did suggest Jess needs to relax a little more on stage. Harry compliments her on a nice job. Grade: B

Emily Piriz

Emily Piriz

11. Emily Piriz, 18, Orlando, Fla.: Emily is going to sing “Glitter in the Air” by Pink. Let’s see if this song choice suits Harry. Emily stumbled a little at the opening, but she’s showing off a really, really pretty voice during this performance. She’s still giving us a pretty straight-up version of the song. But she hit a really nice glory note there near the end and pulled that off much better than I expected. Jennifer says that performance leaves her gushing. Harry says he’s proud of her and that she delivered the song beautifully. Keith calls it a beautiful vocal performance from top to bottom, but suggests the performance could have had a bit more edge. Grade: B+

Sam Woolf

Sam Woolf

12. Sam Woolf, 17, Bradenton, Fla.: Sam has chosen to sing “Unwell”; he says that’s because he doesn’t consider himself crazy for trying American Idol. He’s just trying to pursue his dream. And here’s predicting we’re about to hear one of the night’s best. Sam strayed off pitch in a couple of spots, but he’s made a really smart song choice in my mind. Beware of a guy with a guitar. And cue the ladies screaming. Harry wanted his vocal to be a little messy to more match the sentiment of the song. He called the performance nice, not great. Keith thought the tempo was a bit slow. Jennifer calls him a quiet storm and suggests that he needs to loosen up on stage. Grade: B

Caleb Johnson

Caleb Johnson

13. Caleb Johnson, 22, Asheville, N.C.: Caleb will sing “Pressure and Time,” saying it’s a song from a modern rock band and the type of music he wants to perform if he gets to make a record. Here’s a good guess — Caleb will not be affected by nerves. Is this song well known? My guess is no. Caleb should learn some Idol history. Lots of rockers have made great impressions covering classic rock songs with the energy he brought to that performance. That said, he turned in one heck of a performance and showed off his booming voice. Keith compliments him on “killer pipes.” Jennifer calls Caleb “so ready for the rock star life.” He also gets rave reviews from Harry. Grade: B+

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