MTSU’s Ben Briley has survived to sing another week.
The “American Idol” TV audience voted him into the top 11 singers Thursday, setting him on track for another live performance next Wednesday and yet another vote on the way to the announcement of the Fox reality show’s winner in May.
Briley, a May 2013 MTSU advertising and public relations graduate, was one of the first four contestants to learn their fate this week. Host Ryan Secrest called his name and cried out “Safe! Again!”
Briley sang David Nail’s “Turning Home” on Wednesday night, fulfilling the week’s theme of “Home” in an appearance in the episode’s last half-hour that also featured footage of his Gallatin, Tenn., roots.
Celebrity judge Jennifer Lopez praised Briley’s performance, telling him, “The feeling was there. You had me. That’s what I’ve been looking for all night.”
While continuing to praise Briley’s voice, presence and potential, fellow judges Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban had different opinions.
“I did not connect with it and it felt shouted to me,” Connick told a concerned-looking Briley as several audience members booed.
“We don’t need to belabor the fact that you’re talented; everybody in this room is talented, but I’m just waiting for a knockout performance from you and I have not really seen it. And I don’t think everybody disagrees with me. It was okay. It wasn’t great.”
Urban sandwiched his constructive criticism with slices of praise.
“The hard part, Ben, is that you have an incredible voice and you have an incredible ability to be in charge of it and take it where you want to go,” Urban said. “That’s a blessing and a curse, because where you take it and what you do with it will affect me or not affect me.
“In the case of that song, there was so much on the technicality of the notes and the range and everything else, I lost the story. I lost the emotion from you. My advice to you is worry a lot less about the technicality. You’re so good that you could lean into that mic, close your eyes and not move a muscle and you would hit me way more, because you’ve got that kind of a voice.”
Appearing slightly embarrassed but still happy, Briley thanked them and shared a platter of deviled eggs, brought out by Secrest, with the judges. Briley earlier had said one of the things he’s been missing the most about “home” is deviled eggs.
You can watch his Wednesday night behind-the-scenes interview and live performance here.
“American Idol” airs locally on WZTV-Fox 17 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. Central.
On the Feb. 26 episode, Briley paid tribute to Johnny Cash on what would have been Cash’s 82nd birthday with a raucous uptempo cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Connick called Briley’s high-speed rockabilly version of Cash’s classic “unquestionably the best song of the night,” even though Briley was only the fourth of the 13 semifinalists to perform in the first 40 minutes.
After joking that the tempo was “particularly brisk,” Urban was balanced with his praise for Briley.
“You’ve got such a good voice. You have real artistry,” Urban told the 24-year-old Briley in that episode. “All I ask of you is that you be careful when you try to do ‘entertaining.’
“Don’t ever sacrifice your artistry in the midst of it, because there’s always a fine balance between a performance coming off as a bit kitsch or you having fun and owning it artistically. You’ve got the ability to do that.”
“Every gig I’ve played, I’ve opened the show with it (‘Folsom Prison Blues’), and this is a gig, the start of my career, and this is how I wanna start it,” Briley said before that live performance, which you can watch here.
A taped montage of interviews and performance preparation during the Feb. 19 episode included a conversation with “American Idol” mentor and former judge Randy Jackson, who asked Briley about his musical heritage.
“It started with my great-grandmother; she was one of the first women on the (Grand Ole) Opry,” Briley told Jackson, referring to Kitty Cora Cline, who played dulcimer on the historic radio show from 1928 to 1934, “and my mom (Tribby Graves Briley) sings and plays. She was kinda the Taylor Swift of the ’70s.”
Briley then walked out live onto the “American Idol” stage and confidently boomed out the old Allman Brothers favorite “Soulshine,” showcasing his picking skills with an electric guitar solo.
“Some people just come alive when they come onstage,” said judge Lopez, explaining that she and her colleagues had watched Briley and the other contestants closely during rehearsals. “You are even better now than you were then. That’s the sign of a true performer.”
Briley won his first audience vote Feb. 14 when he outpolled fellow contestant Neco Starr for the semifinals.
“I just had a feeling I’d be here, the last one,” Briley, 24, murmured on the Feb. 13 episode, shaking his head. “It’s really my future, my career, here that’s on the line. … This show is the ultimate test to show how good a musician you are.
“I want to pursue a career in music because I believe I’m good enough where I can make a career out of it for the rest of my life.”
Last summer, Briley impressed the celebrity judges with his soulful country vocals in auditions for season 13 of “American Idol.” He belted out Amos Lee’s “Arms of a Woman” a cappella on the episode that aired Jan. 23, leaving the judges agog.
“If you sang a capella on the radio right now, I would pull to the side of the … I might crash my car,” Urban told a smiling Bailey. “I just really love the sound of your voice.”
Connick teased Briley, who wore an MT Baseball cap throughout his audition, with the nickname “Brother Gumbo.” Briley wore his MT cap again in the Feb. 18 episode, and Connick teased him about his bright orange tie in the Feb. 19 show.
Briley’s segment on the Jan. 23 episode also featured footage of him and his wife, fellow MTSU grad Courtney Sanders Briley, at home and outside Atlanta, where his audition took place.
Courtney Briley received her bachelor’s degree in recording industry in 2012, and the couple married shortly after Ben’s graduation.
“Some things in life you just can’t pass up, and this is one of those things,” Briley said of the reality show opportunity.
Briley and two fellow contenders, also country singers, called themselves “Backstreet Cowboys” and harmonized on the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” complete with a bit of boy-band choreography, on the Feb. 6 episode.
Each season of “American Idol” uses its initial shows to winnow thousands of hopefuls down to 10 to 60 contestants from several cities. They sing in more performance rounds in Hollywood and Las Vegas, then up to three dozen contestants advance from those rounds into the semifinals and ultimately to a Top 12 group of finalists who perform live for audience votes.
The winner of “American Idol,” announced in late May, receives a major-label record deal and a management contract and also performs on tour with fellow finalists.
You can watch Briley’s audition and his other performances via Dailymotion videos below. The complete episodes also are available at the “Idol” website.
— Gina E. Fann (email@example.com)