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'American Idol' recap: Top 11 come into focus on movie night

March 13, 2014|By Amy Reiter
  • "American Idol" judges Keith Urban, left, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.
"American Idol" judges Keith Urban, left, Jennifer Lopez and… (Michael Becker / Fox )

The Top 11 on "American Idol" tackled songs from the cinema on Wednesday night, and in keeping with the theme, many of the singers seemed to come into artistic focus for the first time.

As each stepped forward to sing a song either written for or "heavily featured in" (or in some cases, loosely connected to) a film, they faced heightened stakes. They were singing not only to remain in the competition but also to earn a spot on the summer "Idol" tour. But more than anything, they probably did their best in hopes of not displeasing Harry Connick Jr.

They succeeded. "The competition, as far as I'm concerned, started tonight," the tough-love judge said halfway through the performances.

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Connick also took the opportunity, early in the show, to get in a dig at the dawg, Randy Jackson, whose on-screen presence was significantly diminished this time around. 

After Jennifer Lopez declared that the judges were looking for the contestants to show some fight and shoot for No. 1, Connick said he'd thought up an appropriate catch phrase: "You have to be in it to win it," he said.

"I think I've heard that before," Lopez said.

In fact, on Wednesday, we heard some contestants sing with a passion and power we had not heard before. Others still in it have yet to prove they can win it.

Sam Woolf kicked things off with the Beatles' "Come Together," which was featured in the film "Across the Universe." Woolf sat on a box, then walked awkwardly downstage and sang to a few members of the audience. The vocals were OK, but the performance never quite came together. Keith Urban nevertheless told Woolf he was on a good "trajectory." Lopez said she craved more personality, calling Woolf a "baby rock star," whereas "we need big rock star." Connick, clearly trying to be kind while still being honest, correctly dubbed the performance "average." Woolf was "on the way" to being better though, he said, calling it a "pretty good job."

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Jessica Meuse sang Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence," from "The Graduate," which you may have expected her to nail, since she said she performs it routinely, but the song's timing was off. Lopez said Meuse "never got her groove on," and warned that, even though she thinks Meuse can win, she has to nail it "every single time." Connick blamed the band for the timing issues and said it was actually admirable that Meuse had maintained focus in the midst of the musicians' flub. Urban tactfully avoided the bigger questions and told Meuse she looked great and, having graduated to a bigger venue, should work on exploring the dynamics of her mike.

C.J. Harris turned in his best performance to date, grabbing his brand-new guitar and singing a soulful, stirring version of the Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See," featured in the movie "Blow." Urban gave him a standing ovation, later calling the performance "killer." Connick was uncharacteristically effusive, telling Harris he had "picked and sang" his way "back to the forefront of the competition" with a "very, very strong" performance. Lopez said she was "so proud" and that she believed Harris had the ability to change the world with his music. 

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Alabama boy Dexter Roberts showed off a new hairdo and familiar vocal style with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," which has been heard in movies including "Forrest Gump." The judges liked Roberts' look, but reiterated their advice to make songs his own. "Put your Dexterism in there," Urban advised. Lopez credited Roberts with starting to believe he could win. And Connick told him he was playing it "smart" by singing solid renditions of songs "everybody knows," a strategy that could make him "tough to beat."

Ben Briley had one of the night's biggest stumbles, brushing back his hair, trimming his beard, donning a velvety jacket and turning in a loungy rendition of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" (featured in the movie "27 Dresses"), which he began by plinking along on the piano. The judges said they found Briley's changed persona confusing. Lopez told Briley his vocal was good but the song may not have suited him. Connick called the performance "lackadaisical" and affected and said he was still looking forward to hearing "the real Ben." Urban said it didn't feel "authentic."

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