American Idol: 'Artists' shine on Top 10 performance night

Posted at 03/20/2014 11:42 PM

Who dares wins — if you got the talent to back up that courage.

A Top 10 night on American Idol is often a make-or-break event. Faced with so many hummable tunes, some contestants will transform the show’s snazzy stage into some sleazy karaoke joint. Some will choose a great hit and spin it around a bit "to make it their own." And then there will be the brave ones who will take on the unexpected song.

On a night when the artists forged ahead of the pack, a 16 year-old young woman — still in braces — tamed everyone with the manliest of songs.

Malaya Watson has never received flowers nor has experienced that great HHWW teenage rite of passage (holding hands while walking). Yet with Bruno Mars’ “When I was Your Man,” that lament to the things that could have been, she went through the scale of emotions with a pitch-perfect delivery.

Seated throughout on a stool, Malaya eschewed egregious diva runs, throwing just enough power to remind viewers she’s this season’s belter.

She nailed every note. But what will remain with us are the lines that drop into quiet pools, punctuated with husky murmurs of pain. And her face, ageless, a woman of such great power she doesn’t have to change a word in what’s the modern equivalent of a barroom confession.

Completing the top three are two white boys with guitars and a shared aversion to smiles.

Alex Preston, the pompadoured guy who’s sometimes too precious for his own good, went with One Direction, an uber pop gang of puppies as only the British can make them. Wisely he chose one of the group’s few songs with a reasonable amount of depth.

Preston infused “Story of My Life” with a smidgen of country crossed with rock and roll. This guy is the strangest thing. He can stand there, hardly acknowledge the crowd. Yet, as J-Lo demands, he can own the stage.

It’s almost like watching MTV, with the camera bringing us into his inner world. Some people are entertainers who will do anything to please the audience. Some people are artists who challenge the audience to take a walk with them. Preston’s with the second group.

I doubt Sam Woolfhas the habit of asking people to take a stroll. It probably takes a lot of energy just for Woolf to stay and deal with a world that has demanded so much from him.

Remembering last week’s disastrous “Come Together” — deservedly a bottom three result — I cringed on hearing he’d chosen “We are Young” by Fun and Janelle Monáe. It’s basically a sly ode to the wild (and slightly addled) ones, those rebels without a cause, and comes with a video that clobbers anyone who fails to get the lyrics’ message.

Woolf did a nifty take on the song that’s all him — the great outsider, inarticulate, with eyes that seem to be on the watch for the first kick of the night. He started the narrative almost musing.

Keith was right during the auditions. The guy’s pitch is superb. He naturally slides into every note. Maybe there could be more oomph in his movements, but once he got into “we could set the world on fire,” you know that a horde of gals and guys would probably jump to it. He also has very sexy deeper notes — check out “so between the drinks and subtle things”. He’s not going home. That ending? That’ll keep him in the top half of the group.