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"American Idol" Recap: Showcase Week 1

I didn't do recaps for Hollywood Week because it was too difficult on top of my very busy schedule to do a more nontraditional recap. However, I'm back in the game this week, with recaps for both nights, combined.

The showcase rounds of "American Idol" kicked off with 12 performers singing solos of their choice. Each performance was preceded by the contestants sharing a little-known fact about themselves.
• Stephany Negrete wants to learn a lot of languages. She came out in a black sleeveless top and black skinny pants, with a dramatic fringed neck piece, and sang "Mama Knows Best" by Jessie J. She powered through it and tried to interact with the audience, but it was emotionally flat and sort of shouty. Keith Urban thought she could loosen up more, but she deserved to be here. Jennifer Lopez said she has the looks and talent, but she had to think about the lyrics. Harry Connick Jr. felt that something was missing, though it was a strong performance.
• MacKenzie Bourg has the ability to recall a lot of rap songs from 2006-2007, which he demonstrated by singing part of one on command. He sang "Say Something" by A Great Big World, wearing a simple brown jacket, white shirt and jeans, and playing his guitar. He gave it the singer-songwriter treatment, making it luminously airy. Jennifer thought he stayed true to himself. Harry liked that he changed the melody but kept the integrity of the song. Keith thought it was a good song choice, and he believed every moment of it.
• Jeneve Rose Mitchell plays enough instruments to be her own band. She chose "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, performing with a full-sized harp, without her signature cowboy hat and wearing, instead, a red brocade jacket and white lacy shirt with black pants. This was one of the best performances we've seen of her, showing emotion for one of the first times. Harry didn't like her playing the harp and would have liked her to focus on the lyrics. Keith disagreed, saying he liked that she took risks. Jennifer admitted that she'd not been convinced about Jeneve, but the performance gave her "goosies."
• Jenna Renae memorizes songs very easily and was also home-schooled. She sang a country tune, "My Church" by Maren Morris, wearing a black long-sleeved dress with a fringed hem, black boots, and a black fedora. She took the song to church, but there was little in dynamics to speak about, except for loud. Keith thought it was a good song for her but wants to see other sides of her. Jennifer felt she was in her element and had a lot of joy. Harry liked the energy, but said it was a little bit shouted, and her pitch was sacrificed as a result.
• James VIII earned his first professional guitar from his parents by staying in Boy Scouts until he became an Eagle scout. He accompanied himself on guitar while performing "Love Lockdown" by Kanye West. He wore a dark denim jacket over a black hoodie and dark jeans, wearing a brown knit hat (looking very much like a backing musician. In his performance, he gave the song a bluesy feel, which showed off his baritone but lacked emotion. Jennifer found it an interesting song choice, because it "stays so even." Harry thought it was "super easy" what he did, but "when does it get more complex?" Keith told him he had to be careful between being cool and being indulgent. "You kind of assume you're going to be here to do another song." (In other words, it wasn't enough.)
• Sonika Vaid loves sheet music but, ironically, plays the piano by ear. She sang "Safe & Sound" by Taylor Swift, featuring the Civil Wars, wearing a floor-length shiny rose sleeveless ball gown. The arrangement was stripped down, allowing her to highlight delicately beautiful tender vocals. Harry found it one of the more emotional performances but told her to focus on the vocals even more. Keith said her voice made him sit up and take notice. Jennifer advised her to pick songs that make people feel something: "Stuff that makes your heart sing."
• Gianna Isabella, daughter of pop singer Brenda K. Starr, is a bookworm. She sang the Annie Lennox cover of "I Put a Spell on You," wearing a shapeless Bohemian dress in flesh tones and maroon, with big brown boots. Her performance showed a lot of sides, with plenty of tasty runs. Keith said her voice is undeniable, but she needs to work on stagecraft. Jennifer said she has the most "privileged voice" in the competition. Harry challenged her, instead of just singing loud notes, to find more dimension in her performances.
• Emily Brooke has an autograph with a number of autographs. She wore a mess of a black lacy dress, which was appropriate, because her version of "I Am Invincible" by "The Voice" winner Cassadee Pope was also a mess. The song was too low for her, and she had a lot of pitch problems. Jennifer didn't think it was a good song for her because it kept her in the deeper part of her range. Harry thought she didn't connect with the lyrics, and she had pitch problems. Keith acknowledged the song didn't suit her strengths but liked that she was moving out of her comfort zone.
• Avalon Young rocks a skater chick vibe, with no makeup and easy clothes. She proved that in a short-sleeved gray hoodie, sitting on the lip of the stage and singing, "Love Yourself" by Justin Bieber. Her voice soared on the sing-songy tune, making it bouncy and fun. Harry felt she was the most in tune with who she is, and only gave her a tip to try changing in up a bit near the end. Keith agree, advising her to take chances with arrangements. Jennifer told her not to get self-conscious, because "if you have a good time," the audience will have a good time.
• Jordan Sasser, who had auditioned by himself, is a turtle lover. He sang the Celine Dion song "All By Myself," wearing a black leather jacket with ridges on the shoulder, over a wine-colored shirt and dark jeans, his hair cut short. He sang the torch song at a standing mic, and it was very predictable, although it allowed him to show off his range and his ability to sustain notes. Keith felt it was too theatrical and needed heart. Jennifer agreed, saying the song should have "broken our hearts." Harry thought it was very showy and loud. "You don't need all that. Just sing the song."
• Thomas Stringfellow is adept at speaking pig latin, which he used to do with his sister. Wearing a red and white plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the neck and a brown wide-brimmed hat, he sang Radiohead's "Creep," accompanying himself on piano. When I first heard this, I thought he completely lost the melody in his arrangement, but relistening to it, I liked it better. Jennifer liked that he pushed the envelope and sang with emotion. Harry thought it was really strong, and that he used dynamics effectively. Keith loves that Thomas tends to "lean into abandonment."
• La'Porsha Renae gave the final performance of the night, and revealed she likes to listen to film scores. She sang "Proud Mary" by Ike and Tina Turner, wearing a black fringe dress and shook her booty as she gave a fairly predictable performance of the song. Still, her talent could not be denied. Harry predicted her performance would make her fellow competitors either want to get better or want to quit. He pronounced himself incapable of judging it (!). Keith got deep, calling her a "portal for the gift." Jennifer loved it, saying she dreams about voices like hers.

The theme for Thursday night on "American Idol" was "Idol Star Duets," where tonight's contestants performed with six past "Idol" finalists. The 12 who performed on Wednesday would perform duets, with 7 continuing and 5 being cut by the judges.
• Emily Brooke performed with Lauren Alaina, who worked to help her loosen up and gave her tips on making a connection. They sang "Flat on the Floor" by Carrie Underwood. Emily wore a lacy jumper with knee-high boots and a periwinkle lacy jacket, while Lauren wore a floor-length white dress with a pronounced slit in the front and big shoulders. Lauren was clearly the stronger singer, but Emily opened up more than the night before, seemed more comfortable, and had better pitch. Harry Connick Jr. said you could hear the difference in age, and Emily sounds very young. He critiqued the song choice as too "big and loud and rocking." Keith Urban agreed thought Emily held her own, but it wasn't necessarily her lane. Jennifer Lopez thought she has potential to be like Lauren someday (the implication being that she isn't just yet).
• Thomas Stringfellow was paired up with Nick Fradiani, last year's winner, and they sang "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson. Nick advised him to sing in front of the mirror (which I think was advice he received from the judges last year). As usual with Nick, I found it fairly forgettable, but he wasn't my pick to win last year. Nick wore a black leather jacket, white T-shirt and black pants, while Thomas wore a black T-shirt, dark jeans and white suspenders. Cute. Keith thought he was struggling with doing the original version, because he usually changes it up. Jennifer thought it didn't really sound like him. Harry thought that last night's performance was strong enough to forget about this one. (Although I didn't like that one either.)
• Stephany Negrete sang with Ruben Studdard, who tried to work with her on letting go. They sang "Superstar" by The Carpenters, with him in a suit with a gray and blue silk scarf draped around his neck, and she wore a silky dark green and silver evening gown with a raised front hem and some embellishment and sequins. They sounded lovely together, and they shared a tender moment. Jennifer said it brought tears to her eyes, and remarked how Ruben sounds like Luther Vandross, and there was magic between them. Harry liked the emotion in it. Keith felt it was a gorgeous song, and their voices had blended beautifully.
• Sonika Vaid, paired with Caleb Johnson, sang "Skyfall" by Adele, wearing a black lacy dress, him in a black suit with black shirt. I wasn't sure she would be able to match Caleb, but she was just as strong as him on the chorus. She seemed a little nervous in her body language, though. Harry enjoyed it but thought her nervousness was adorable. He agreed that she'd held her own with him. Keith thought they were great together. Jennifer also noted her nerves and told her to loosen up, "Because with a voice like yours... the sky's the limit."
• Jenna Renae performed with Scotty McCreery, singing his song, "See You Tonight." She wore a short black dress with a shapeless faux-fur black jacket (not a great look). As she did harmonies for him, they were clearly off, and she had some pitchy moments in her solo. He was, of course, very comfortable, wearing a black leather jacket with black T-shirt and black pants. He tried to share the stage with her, but she kept backing up. Keith thought it was hard for her to perform Scotty's song. Jennifer thought she "did the best you could." Harry said it was entertaining, and they sounded great together.
• La'Porsha Renae sang with Fantasia, who advised her to take all of her emotions and put it in the music. They sang the Ella Fitzgerald song "Summertime," which was a powerful moment for Fantasia the year she won. Fantasia wore a blue cocktail dress, while La'Porsha wore a black floor-length dress with spaghetti straps and had her afro pile on top of her head, coming through a head wrap. It was a little bit of a sing-off, with the two of them exchanging runs. La'Porsha didn't have quite the lightness and subtlety of Fantasia, but she did show off some pipes. Keith gave her a standing ovation. Jennifer thought it was "mind-blowing" to see the two of them sing together. Harry thought it was a "cutting contest" more than about the song. It was a "battle of runs," and "both of you killed it." Keith agreed that it was "a force meeting an unstoppable object."
• MacKenzie Bourg sang with Lauren Alaina, doing "I Hope You Dance," and she flirted with him a lot during their practice session. Harry thought it was sweet, but he thought last night's performance did a better job of showing his talent. Keith told him, "That girl likes you, MacKenzie." He thought that MacKenzie was sort of awkward on the stage with her, probably nervous. But he added, "I like the way you do things, MacKenzie." Jennifer thought it felt mismatched but still "kind of nice together."
• Gianna Isabella performed with Nick Fradiani, doing his single, "Beautiful Life." She wore white pants and a glittery blush top, while he wore a brown leather jacket, black T-shirt and jeans. Her voice was great on the song, and she managed to embellish it in places, something he never really does. Keith asked what it was like to work with Nick, and she said he'd been very encouraging. Jennifer thought it was the perfect song for both of them. Harry said he can't figure out if she's a goofy young kid, but "there's more to it, right?"
• Avalon Young was paired with Ruben Studdard, and he gave her advice on dealing with nerves. They sang Ruben's song, "Flying Without Wings." He wore the same suit as earlier, and she wore a black sweater and black leggings. She has nice tone but sometimes backed off at the end of phrases, although the harmonies were good. Jennifer called it incredible, saying they were equally matched. Harry said there's something about her that's incredibly likeable, and that it was a really strong duet. Keith liked that she's so real, and that she wasn't intimidated by Ruben.
• James VIII got matched up with Caleb Johnson to do a rock song, "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones. James started off, and he was a pale comparison to Caleb, when he came in. A rough comparison for him, for sure. The other thing that didn't help him is that he chose to play guitar during the performance, which effectively turned him into a background singer. Harry called him a talented guy, but that's Caleb's wheelhouse. "I thought you did a pretty good job hanging with him." Keith liked the way he performed. "You were really aware of the crowd." Jennifer thought they complimented each other, which made for a good performance.
• Jeneve Rose Mitchell sang with Scottie McCreery doing a Montgomery Gentry song, and she wore another of her costumey-cowboy outfits: loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt and loose vest with long skirt bloomers and a big cowboy hat. They had a lot of fun with the song, and sounded great together, if very quirky. Keith thought it was bizarre. He had no idea why "you got saddled with that song." He told her he'd forget the performance happened, "Because I like you, Jeneve." Harry told her that she's extraordinarily musical, and it was better last night. Jennifer said that last night she really won her over, and even though the performance was out there, Jeneve is really special.
• Jordan Sasser and Fantasia sang her "Idol" coronation song, "Believe," both in black. He had a black track jacket, and she wore a black blazer and cigarette pants. His voice was a match to hers in strength, though he lacks some of her finesse, and he didn't get into a run battle with her at the end. Jennifer said that her voice brings tears to her eyes. "You were very lucky to get to sing with her." She said he did a good job. Harry cautioned him not to upstage the person he's singing with, but to sing to them. Keith felt that Fantasia was singing so strong that it made Jordan try a bit too hard.
• Then the judges announced who was in: La'Porsha, Sonika, Avalon, Gianna, Thomas, MacKenzie and a very surprised Jeneve.
Tags: american idol, music, television

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