This season of American Idol has finally cut through the clutter and kicked into high gear, as the top 10 finalists performed for the first (and, well, really the only) time . . . and newbie judge Nicki Minaj couldn't even bother showing up on time.
As the night kicked off, Minaj was noticeably absent, leaving an empty chair at the judges' table for the first 15 minutes of the show after supposedly getting stuck in traffic. While an unamused Mariah Carey rolled her eyes and twirled her hair, host Ryan Seacrest quipped, "Which one of you gave her the wrong directions? Who drained the gas from her car?" We're looking at you, Mimi.
Minaj completely missed first contestant Curtis Finch Jr.'s performance, sneaking in during a commercial break with little fanfare while wearing a black hoodie and oversized sunglasses. (Yeah, you blend, girl.) With her came some oddly meandering, long-winded comments, ranging from verbally molesting contestants ("you've stimulated my sexual appetite") to describing her morning ritual of eating waffles. At one point, Keith Urban even sniffed her cup to see what she had been drinking.
But enough about Nicki, we have an American idol to crown.
For the theme of the night, the show patted itself on the back by making the new crop of contestants take on the music of past winners. While no one completely crashed and burned, it definitely seems like the deck is stacked in the women's favor this season. ('Cause, really, do we need yet another male winner?)
Minaj's tardiness aside, the night belonged to Candice Glover, who stole the show with her rendition of "I (Who Have Nothing)" by Ben E. King/Shirley Bassey, which season 6 winner Jordin Sparks once performed. Glover's fierce, take-no-prisoners performance set her apart from the other contestants (even though the judges and show producers seemed to want us to give that honor to Amber Holcomb). Minaj best summed it up, saying, "It would be in everybody's best interest to never, ever perform that song ever again . . . You just destroyed and annihilated it." Indeed.
On the men's side, Burnell Taylor gave the best performance of the night. Really, that's not saying much, considering the women are light years ahead. Still, his simple but fairly smooth rendition of Westlife's "Flying Without Wings," once performed by season 2 winner Ruben Studdard, made Randy Jackson call him out for "vindicating the boys" and raising the bar for "the dudes."
Other highlights included Angie Miller's take on "I Surrender" by Celine Dion, which Kelly Clarkson did during season 1; and Holcomb's "A Moment Like This," another Clarkson tune. Belittling both performances, though, were Minaj's borderline sexist comments. "Your legs are giving me everything I needed in life today," she told a leather mini-skirt-wearing Miller, as the camera panned the contestant up and down. Meanwhile, she told Holcomb she didn't like her outfit and would "pay" for her to "wear pink lipstick some day" instead of Holcomb's signature red tint. Can't we just focus on the music, people?
Possibly in trouble during this season's first major elimination are Devin Velez, who did a lackluster job with "Temporary Home" by season 4's Carrie Underwood; and Lazaro Arbos, who looked like a jittery deer in headlights during hunting season while singing "Breakaway" by Clarkson.
Making Arbos' moment even more cringe-worthy was Urban asking him to explain why he chose the song, putting the severely stuttering singer on the spot to tell a long-winded story. Sorry to be blunt, but no one else was asked such a pointed and involved question right after performing, and it seemed somewhat calculated. If the Ricky Ricardo lookalike squeaks by this week, it'll be because his "courage," as Carey put in, pulls on viewers' heartstrings.
Previously: Few Surprises as Top 10 Are Revealed