To celebrate Mariah Carey’s birthday, American Idol packed up the top eight contestants and headed to Motown. The contestants were tasked with singing from the famed Detroit label’s songbook, with the help of Motown legend Smokey Robinson, and Jimmy Iovine. However any musician with even the most tenuous tie to Detroit was fair game, which is how we got songs ranging from standard Motown classics to Madonna. Sadly nobody went for legendary Detroit punk outfit Death, but I’m confident that if Charlie Askew had survived to Detroit week, he would have. If only Death had written ballads.
There were high points from last night’s show, like when Amber Holcomb opted to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” a song Smokey Robinson was sure she would “annihilate.” And she did. Mariah Carey deemed it an all-caps “TOUR DE FORCE” and when no one responded quickly enough, Mariah stood up and swore (it was bleeped so we don’t know what word she used) in the hopes that “taking it to the lowest common denominator” would make people recognize that it was in fact a tour de force. Mariah’s feat of profanity finally out-did Nicki Minaj who only managed a relatively understated, “When God created those vocal cords, he was showing off, honey child.”
Another Mimi pleaser was Janelle Arthur’s subtly overwhelming performance of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On.” The second Janelle finished, with her guitar still in hand, Mariah was on her feet hollering, “Janelle at her finest!” Keith Urban agreed, while Randy Jackson couldn’t keep his Idol Tourette’s in check and shouted, “She’s in it to win it!”
There were also low points, such as when Devin Velez, Lazaro Arbos and Burnell Taylor finished their pitchy and generally abysmal version of “I Can’t Help Myself” and Nicki announced, “I don’t know what that was, but I’m gonna act like I didn’t see it or hear it.” Then she ordered them off the stage, which they did, but only after Devin and Burnell tried to kick Lazaro under the bus.
Here are some other highlights and lowlights from last night’s American Idol:
Candice Glover made Smokey Robinson cry last week, so this week she wanted to repeat the feat with a gospel-blues version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” complete with saxophone solo. While the judges all loved the performance, Smokey saying she’s “singing personified” will surely be the thing to keep her warm at night.
Kree Harris and Janelle teamed up for a countrified version of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” The performance was fun and peppy and will surely be a hit during the Idol live tour, but it seemed like amped-up karaoke with Kree taking control of the mic. Nicki took a backhanded shot at Janelle when she said, “Kree sounded like she flew in to do a duet with an Idol contestant.” Mariah deemed it a “sisterhood moment,” which apparently overshadowed any pitch issues.
Lazaro opted to sing Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” a choice that had Jimmy Iovine nodding his approval, which after last week’s public evisceration is now seemingly mandatory. With Jimmy on his side, Lazaro delivered a much-improved performance. Randy wasn’t certain Arbos completely redeemed himself, but thought it was far better than last week.
Devin had the thankless task of singing a Smokey Robinson song (“Tracks of My Tears”) to Smokey Robinson, and Iovine, but he pulled it off effortlessly, delivering a groovy, laid back version of the tune. Keith loved the moments he “relaxed into” the song, while Nicki thought he “looked like a ripe banana,” which, in Nicki-land, is a good thing.
“We’re all Diana!” said Angie Miller, Amber and Candice, before performing the Supremes’ classic, “I’m Going to Make You Love Me.” Pity the woman who has to sing next to Glover, whose voice blows everyone out of the water like a cannonball in a duck pond. While Mariah couldn’t be bothered to stand to applaud the performance like the rest of the judges, she did dole out a score of “A-plus-mazing.”
Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” could have been written for Burnell. His voice was rich and smooth and pitch perfect. Randy loved the “little twists, little inflections” that showed his vocal skill without going big.
Smokey Robinson told Miller to have fun with her version of his “Shop Around.” Their idea of “fun” was a raucous roadhouse blues rendition of the song, which the judges did not appreciate. Randy called it “pitchy,” “not right on” and “not great.” Nicki bluntly told her, “Don’t give us another side, if we didn’t ask for another side.”
Robinson said that he was going to call Aretha Franklin and tell her to watch Kree sing “Don’t Play That Song for Me.” The pressure seemed to get to her, though, and while she delivered a pitch-perfect performance, she wasn’t relaxed at all and it came through in her voice. Not to worry, though, the judges all believed that Kree is here to stay.
Most Mariah Moment: It was Mimi’s birthday so she carried a magical fairy wand, because she’s Mariah Carey and she can carry a wand if she wants to.
Most Nicki Moment (Show Edition): Nicki asking Smokey Robinson to be her sugar daddy.
Most Nicki Moment (Non-Show Edition): On a conference call with reporters, Nicki declared, “My best and worst Idol moments? I don’t have a worst Idol moment . . . my best moment is every single moment.”
Previously: Paul Jolley’s Exit Guarantees Change