Wednesday was the first coed competitive performance show of "American Idol" Season 12, but judge Nicki Minaj couldn't even be bothered to show up on time for this supposedly momentous occasion. She was a shocking THIRTEEN minutes late for the live taping, missing all of the first performance before finally slinking onto the set in a Unabomber hoodie and Olsen-twin sunglasses. A judge being tardy for a live show? That certainly was an "Idol" first; even loopy Paula Abdul managed to make it to work on time back in the day.
But that was the only "Idol" first this week. The theme of Wednesday's show was songs sung by past "Idol" winners (either covers the Idols did on the show, or Idols' singles), so there was a lot of retreading going on. It sort of felt like a bad episode of "American Idol Rewind." In general, it was just a bad idea. Remember when "So You Think You Can Dance" had contestants reprise past Mia Michaels routines, and it was a total flop? Yeah, it was sort of like that. Nigel Lythgoe clearly will never learn.
Sadly, most of the top 10 contestants this Wednesday were not up to the challenge of matching or exceeding the greatness of the champions who first made these songs famous in the "Idol" world. But thankfully, a couple contestants did deliver winning performances. Here's how everyone did:
Curtis Finch Jr. - Curtis took on Season 3 winner Fantasia's coronation song "I Believe," a ballad we've all, of course, heard performed better by Fantasia--as well as by last year's Joshua "Mantasia" Ledet. But apparently Curtis doesn't want to be the new Fantasia. He wants to be "The New Luther Vandross." Oh gee, like that's never been attempted on "Idol" before. Didn't Ruben Studdard get that tag from the judges way back in Season 2? In-house advisor Jimmy Iovine, finally getting some quality screentime this season, tried to tell Curtis to be more current and youthful (it's still really hard to believe this guy is only 25 years old), but clearly Curtis wasn't listening. Instead he delivered a rather boring performance; the only thing exciting about it was his paisley Liberace blazer. I gave Curtis credit for not oversinging this time, as that's usually his downfall, but this time he just didn’t take the song anywhere. He certainly didn't take it to church, as he usually does. Keith Urban praised Curtis for knowing who he is, but Randy Jackson, actually making some sense, complained that Curtis didn't try anything different. Mariah Carey loved the "choir feeling of the performance" and the whole gospel vibe. I wonder what Nicki would have thought. Maybe she was wise to sit this one out.
Janelle Arthur - Janelle did Montgomery Gentry's "Gone," which was famously covered by Scotty McCreery in Season 10. I'm not quite sure why she went with a party-outlaw country rocker like this, when she claims she wants be a country purist--I would have preferred to see her put a Patsy Cline-ish spin on Phillip Phillips's "Home," or even Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble," which was once performed by Season 5's Taylor Hicks. I wasn't buying the whole wannabe-Miranda Lambert act from Janelle, and her voice wasn't at its best, either. Keith liked the song choice (I'm beginning to think he's way too nice) and told her, "You were burning it up!" Nicki, finally in her seat and ready to do her job, appreciated Janelle's increased confidence, but told her, "I wanna hear songs that show the prettier part of your voice more." (Hey, Nicki may have been late, but she was right!) Randy said the song didn't go anywhere, but liked how Janelle worked the stage. Mariah said, "Your aura was giving us 'star'"--but I thought a ballad would have been a better star showcase for Janelle's talents. I never thought I'd be advocating for more ballads on "Idol," but in this case, I agreed with Mariah. The sassy-bad-girl shtick just didn't work for Janelle.
Devin Velez - Speaking of ballads, Devin took on Carrie Underwood's weeper "Temporary Home" and tried to give it a Josh Groban spin, despite Jimmy Iovine's advice to "not go too adult-contemporary." Devin's performance was a little dull, and definitely adult-contemporary, but there was no denying the velvety-smoothness of his vocal. Devin is probably the technically best male singer in this year's top 10. But Keith, in his first negative critique of the night, said it was the wrong song choice and not one of Devin's best performances. Nicki totally disagreed and said she loved the performance. Randy thought it was "way too safe." Mariah also thought it was the wrong choice, but she praised Devin's voice. I dunno….although I agreed with all the judges besides Nicki in this case, maybe Devin was right to stay true to himself; after all, millions of people out there buy adult-contemporary albums (just ask Josh Groban), even if I'd personally never purchase an album like this from Devin.
Angie Miller - Angie, who's been aggressively positioned to become the first female winner in six years, had the right idea to cover a song once done by the biggest female "Idol" champ ever, Kelly Clarkson. But why Celine Dion's "I Surrender," of all the songs? Why not a Kelly classic like "Behind These Hazel Eyes" or "Stronger," or just something, anything, a little more cool? This old-fashioned ballad did nothing for Angie--it was her worst vocal of the season, and considering that Jimmy had just warned her not to come off as too pageanty, it was an especially poorly timed song choice. Keith thought Angie made the Celine song current, but I disagreed. Nicki pretty much ignored the performance itself, praising Angie's styling, legs, and ability to walk in heels. (What is this, "America's Next Top Model"?) Randy raved and claimed that the competition finally started this evening when Angie took the mic. Mariah uttered just one word: "Stellar." But I am sorry/not sorry; I was unimpressed. I know Angie can do much better than this. If she keeps choosing songs like this, she's not going to follow in Kelly's footsteps.
Paul Jolley - Paul did Lonestar's "Amazed," as once covered by Scotty McCreery, and he attempted to heed Jimmy's advice to not get too Broadway-ish and not oversing. That was good advice, of course...but I think the usually theatrical Paul took Jimmy's advice way too much to heart and went too far in the other direction, because this performance was drained of all personality. It was beyond bland. Keith thought it was one of Paul's better performances, for some reason. Nicki somehow found it sexually stimulating (ick!!!!), and she also loved Paul's styling. But Randy and Mariah wisely griped that Paul held back too much this time. Paul needs to figure out how to "dial it down" without dialing it ALL the way down.
Candice Glover - Randy was wrong when he said Wednesday night only got going with Angie. It was Candice who finally kicked the episode into gear. Belting out "I (Who Have Nothing)" as performed by Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks (and Season 10's Haley Reinhart), Candice OWNED the stage. This wasn't just a technically flawless vocal; this was a performance with soul, grit, heart, passion, guts, all that good stuff. Three of the judges gave her a standing ovation, and Mariah claimed she would have stood up too, if her skirt hadn't been so tight. Keith compared Candice to the great Shirley Bassey, who also famously covered the torchy song. Nicki said it was her favorite performance of the night so far, and said the song should be banned from "Idol" forever, because "I (Who Have Nothing)" now officially belongs to Candice. Randy hollered, "You worked that song OUT! That song had everything, and it was perfect." Mariah was "mesmerized and transfixed." With this tour de force, Candice once again proved she's the girl to beat--except she's a WOMAN, not a girl. And that's what I love about her.
Lazaro Arbos - Oh dear. Lazaro attempted to cover the almighty Kelly Clarkson, too. He did "Breakaway" (the song Angie really should have done instead), and his vocals simply were not up to the task. Few singers can really conquer Kelly, and let's face it, Lazaro is not a Clarkson-level singer. He handled it well, for the most part, with no major wonky notes, and he looked like a real pop star (or like a modern-day Ricky Ricardo, as Nicki pointed out). But the overall performance was underwhelming. (The weird '90s-screensaver graphics behind him didn't help much, either.) Keith said the song wasn't in Lazaro's wheelhouse. Nicki actually said it was Lazaro's worst performance, and that he seemed nervous. (Lazaro always seems nervous, to me, but Nicki apparently just noticed this now--and she blamed Jimmy Iovine for intimidating the poor guy.) Randy astutely said "Breakaway" was "way too big" for Lazaro. Mariah basically said, in her usual roundabout way, that America is falling in love with Lazaro's "courage"--his backstory, that is--rather than with his singing. I wonder how long Lazaro can coast on that story. I have to admit he's lovable, so I'll still root for him...but he should not win.
Kree Harrison - I don't understand why Jimmy told Kree not to oversing. That advice was good for Curtis and Paul, but Kree has always been a mistress of restraint. Her cover of "Crying" by Roy Orbison (sung during Season 4 by Carrie Underwood) was another stunner, with NO oversinging and just the right amount of tasteful flair. Kree's tone is just delicious, as Nicki would say; Nicki even made my stomach rumble as she compared Kree's voice to warm, syrupy, buttermilk waffles. Keith brought out the old "you can sing the phonebook" comment and said, "If you put out a record tomorrow, I would buy it. You’re there…get the songs and go to the studio!" Said Randy said Kree's voice made him feel good and tingly all over. (Ick, again!!!!) Mariah loved Kree's realness and emotion. I did too. I just want to fix myself a big stack of Aunt Jemima-saturated waffles, sit down with my plate, and savor this performance again and again. And I am already planning to serve up a waffle feast at my Season 12 finale viewing party, which will hopefully feature a Kree/Candice showdown.
Burnell Taylor - I think Burnell has the potential to be the coolest and most current male singer of this season, but not if he keeps doing treacly ballads like Westlife's "Flying Without Wings," which was Ruben Studdard's coronation song 10 long years ago. There are so many songs in the "Idol" catalog that would have worked better for Burnell. Jordin's "No Air" would have been perfect. Oh well. This was a nice performance, but I wasn't blown away. Keith loved Burnell's "unique timbre" and "Burnellisms" and pure eccentricity. Nicki thought Burnell put his own twist on the song and said, "We're looking at an artist be born before our eyes." Randy said Burnell was "back in the zone," which made no sense, since I don’t recall when Burnell left the zone; if he ever left it at all, it was during this specific performance. Mariah told Burnell he could "take his gift even further." I hope Burnell does go further, because he's my favorite male contestant in the top 10…but he won't be able to compete with the likes of Candice and Kree if he does more dull songs like this.
Amber Holcomb - It was quite a statement of intent for Amber to cover Kelly Clarkson's coronation song, "A Moment Like This," the song that started it all for "Idol." And she sang it in the pimp spot, yet--"a true grand finale moment," as Ryan Seacrest worded it. Amber put herself in the tough position of trying to make Kelly's signature song her own…and honestly, I think she failed. She had some pitch problems and absolutely did not reach the great heights Kelly did; when Amber sang, I hardly envisioned finale-night confetti raining down upon her. I think she really wasted her pimp spot tonight--which is too bad, because with the right song, she could have slayed. We'd all seen her slay before. Keith thought she sounded "effortless" and praised her final "crazy big note," however. Nicki destroyed much of the credibility she'd fought for all season as a judge, by saying this was the best performance of the night (NO IT WASN'T) and comparing Amber to a young Whitney Houston (WHAAAAA?). Randy called this song choice the “greatest Idol winner song ever" (clearly he's already forgotten "Home") and told Amber, "You blew it out of the box tonight." Well, Randy got the "blew it" part right, at least. Mariah called Amber "magnificent." I disagreed with all of the judges, but their glowing praise will probably keep Amber safe this week. And that's fine with me, because I do think she deserves another chance.
But who won't be safe? It is now prediction time, and I think the bottom three will be Curtis Finch Jr., Devin Velez, and possibly Amber, although Amber will undoubtedly survive. The one who won't survive will likely be Curtis. His death-spot position, his lame song choice, and the news about his criminal record, which broke the day of this episode, will all hurt him in the end.
Tune in Thursday night to see if I'm right! Until then, Parker out.
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