Last night on American Idol the producers made the most of the fact that they had managed to concoct an all-female top five. First they had the finalists engage in the old Idol standby of singing a song from the year they were born and if you ever wanted to feel old, watch a bunch of American Idol contestants wax on about being born in 1994. Then, to help the five singers fill two hours of primetime, the producers put the women to work singing from the diva songbook with tunes from Celine Dion, Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand, Beyoncé and, yes, Mariah Carey herself.
As is increasingly the norm in this competition, Candice Glover stole the show by making it look easy while delivering back-to-back performances that were impeccable. Her jazzy version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” redefined the song, while her cover of the Whitney Houston/Mariah classic “When You Believe” got the judges on their feet. At the end of the song all Randy Jackson could say was, “Again?!” before calling it “the best performance of the night.”
Kree Harrison had a great night, too, with a version of the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels,” which made Nicki Minaj whip out her British accent to properly pronounce it “perfection.” Kree’s take on Celine Dion’s “Have You Ever Been in Love” was also a crowd pleaser earning her a standing ovation from the judges, despite being slightly boring.
Janelle Arthur will probably be in the bottom of the rankings, not because her takes on Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” and Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde” weren’t good, but because they weren’t memorable. When you’re up against the talents of performers like Candice and Kree you have to choose the right songs and execute them perfectly. While the judges were split over her version of Gill song, her take on Parton was better suited to a Dollywood act than an American Idol winner.
Angie Miller dedicated her version of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You” to her hometown of Boston, which tugged at the heartstrings while hitting the gag reflex. That said, when Angie is singing at the piano she’s at her best and when she performed Beyoncé’s “Halo” she finally managed to tap into that power sans piano.
Choosing to sing a Mariah Carey song in front of Mariah was a bold move for Amber Holcomb, one that was even riskier because Candice also chose a Mariah song, and comparisons were inevitable. Still, Amber went for it on “Without You” (which is technically a Badfinger song anyway). She was wobbly in her lower register, but won the Mariah seal of approval. More surprisingly, it gave Nicki a chance to extol the virtues of Mariah’s version of the song like they are friends or something. Amber closed the night with the weirdly wonderful choice of Barbra Streisand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.” It was unexpected, but it really worked.
Most Mariah Thing: When explaining how she chose to cover “Without You,” Mariah said, “I heard that song in a restaurant and just knew it would be a huge international hit.” Of course she did.
Best Reason to Come Back Tonight: Clay Aiken and Fantasia are slated to perform.