The R. Kelly songbook doesn't get nearly enough attention on American Idol, but Curtis Finch Jr. used it to his advantage last night: His soulful rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly" was the best performance in the final round of top-20 winnowing in Las Vegas.
Finch's version was filled with falsettos that Kellz would never dare try and all four judges gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. Nicki Minaj preached that this is what the competition is all about, Mariah Carey teared up and Randy Jackson gave shout outs to Jesus and R. Kelly.
It was a performance sure to usher Curtis through to the next round of the competition, but the song people will be talking about around the social media watercooler will undoubtedly be Charlie Askew's darkly earnest cover of Genesis' "Mama." It will be interesting to see what America makes of Charlie's tie-dye tank top, ponytail, feather earring and new and extremely wispy moustache. For their part, the judges did not approve. "I feel like someone stole my kid," Nicki wailed. "I don't want to see your arms. I don't want to see you working out. I don't want to see that ponytail. I don't want to see that earring. Lose that moustache immediately!" As Charlie got weepy over the criticism, Ryan Seacrest comforted him and Charlie admitted that he needed to vent and that he's not a happy-go-lucky person. It was unsettling and it seemed clear that Charlie is not emotionally ready to be a star.
Here's what else happened on Idol:
Elijah Lu is a Mexican-Chinese Justin Bieber knockoff who knows how to make a girl go weak in the knees. Keith Urban complimented his shoes instead of his solid, if unmemorable, performance of Rihanna's "Stay." Nicki threw around the word "marketable," and Mariah thought that he could be very relevant with the right production team. It was a fairly tepid response.
As the last notes of Cortez Shaw's take on Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" lingered in the rafters, Nicki announced, "You were feeling yourself tonight." Before Cortez had a chance to respond Nicki told him to get a new stylist, which prompted Seacrest to point out that at this point in the game, the contestants don't have stylists. Meaning Nicki just made fun of Cortez's clothes. For that alone he should make it through to the next round.
Nick Boddington's song choice was "perfect" according to Keith, although Nicki, who unexpectedly considers the Goo Goo Doll's "Iris" her favorite song of all time, wanted him to stick closer to the melody. Mariah and Randy agreed that it was solid, but boring, which actually rang true for many of the top 20 performances.
While Burnell Taylor was the fourth performer of the show, he truly started the competition. He opted to recycle the song he auditioned with – "I'm Here" from The Color Purple. A lesser performer would undoubtedly have been scolded for the repeat performance, but Mariah was "happy to hear the song again."
Last week Jimmy Iovine saved Paul Jolley in a tiebreaker with a gentle reminder not to over-sing. This week the judges couldn't tell what to make of his version of Christina Aguilera's "Just a Fool," probably because Paul seemed unable to settle on being a country singer or a Broadway star. He cleared things up, sort of, by announcing that he wants to be a male version of Taylor Swift. The judges shrugged, because Paul will probably not be around long enough for it to matter. He's not bad, but he's not memorable either.
Lazaro Arbos woke the audience up with his version of Michael Bublé's "Feeling Good." Nicki announced, "I loved it and I love you," while Randy doled out his ultimate compliment, "Lazaro's in it to win it!"
Devin Velez sang his song, Andrea Bocelli's version of "Somos Novios," in English and Spanish, but it was the Spanish verse that got the fist pump from Randy. Randy said, "you have a tone that I really, really like." Nicki called him a "Latino Ken doll."
Last week Nicki told Vincent Powell that she could imagine a lot of 40- or 50-year-old women throwing their panties at him. He lived up to that middle-aged-lady-slayer reputation with his version of Boys II Men's "End of the Road." The judges, though, weren't impressed with the performance, while not discounting Vincent's talent. In fact Keith was so enthralled with Vincent's vocal skills that he got bleeped.
Most Randy Moment: While Jackson was doling out compliments to Devin Velez, he noted that Devin was "kinda handsome – like I am."
Best Reason to Tune in Tomorrow: The results!