The voting order may have been a little strange, but “American Idol” ultimately ended up with what I would argue was the correct Top 5. In the auditions and sudden death rounds, the judges pretty clearly decided this was going to be a year for a female winner and the deck was stacked, but just because the deck was stacked didn’t mean that America wouldn’t find some way to screw things up.
And guess what? We’re all good, America. Did Lazaro Arbos last a month longer than he should have? Absolutely. Should Curtis Finch Jr. have stuck around for a few more weeks? Probably. Would I tolerate an argument that Burnell Taylor *maybe* might have deserved Janelle Arthur’s Top 5 place? Yeah, I guess so.
But here we are. We have five talented women remaining on “American Idol.” And that’s not bad.
I’ve heard a bunch of rumors regarding tonight’s themes and my current headline just reflects the rumor I heard most recently. If Ryan Seacrest starts the show by saying something different, I’ll change it.
Click through for the full recap!
8:00 p.m. ET. “American Idol” is really proud that a woman is going to win this year. It’s almost like they’re pretending that this hasn’t related directly to the drop in viewership this season. Oh well. Or yay. Whichever.
8:02 p.m. Ryan Seacrest needs our attention. Anybody with sense knows what he’s about to say, but morons in the crowd won’t shut up. Geez. Finally, Seacrest is about to send the show’s support to people impacted by the bombings in Boston.
8:04 p.m. Whew. The rumors were right, albeit reversed. It’ll be Year I Was Born first, then Divas. I won’t change my headline for that.
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “Straight Up”
My Take: I don’t know how to break this to Candice, but Paula Abdul isn’t actually judging on “American Idol” anymore. She’s doing a mixed up, jazzy version of “Straight Up” that probably has more in common with Andrew Garcia’s “Idol” classic acoustic cover than with the dance-y original. I don’t really think this version of the song could be a hit today, but it’s a much better vocal showcase than the Abdul version. There are a few nice runs and warm comfort moments for Candice. I’m distracted by the back-and-forth camerawork and by Candice’s Angie Miller-esque decision to follow the camera’s every move. Candice ends strong, just to remind you that she’s Candice Glover and nobody else in the competition is. Last week was about Candice shaking us out of our, “Gee, Candice is really good” complacency to remind us that she’s the most purely talented vocalist remaining. This performance was back to effortless and admirable Candice. I’m not blown away, but she’s still mighty good.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I never realized that song is such a great song,” Keith says, calling her vocals “incredible,” comparing her voice to a wink from across a bar. Nicki wants to congratulate Candice on making the Top 5 and calls her “the one to beat.” “That song has always been great,” Nicki tells Keith. Randy loved the arrangement and felt that it made the song current, telling Candice that she’s relaxed and in the zone. Randy also gives a shout-out to Paula Abdul. Woot! “Unpredictable. Smart, as always. Song choice, genius,” Mariah says.
8:15 p.m. No. Sorry, “Idol.” Jimmy gives his evaluations on Thursdays. Don’t shoehorn him in on Wednesdays. Bad idea.
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “When I Call Your Name”
My Take: If Janelle progresses deeper into this competition, it will have a lot to do with being generally adorable. Oh and she also wants to remind us that when she needs to, she can whip out a little guitar playing. She’d had a couple weeks in a row of attempting to use the stage and work up-tempo. Vocally, she’s much better in this more stable position. Her guitar-playing doesn’t add much to the performance other than how comfortable she seems with it. And that adds a lot. She sounds good and looks good. She isn’t all that high-energy or high-emotion, but it’s a sturdy, honest country performance and it’ll benefit her.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Nicki says that Janelle with her guitar is like Angie with her piano, that she seems more at come and comfortable. Nicki calls Janelle’s vocals “angelic.” Randy felt like the song brought Janelle back into her world and predicts people will respond well to her in this mode. “I believed you,” Mariah says. Uh-oh. Country watchdog Keith steps in. He thinks that the song is all emotion when Vince Gill does it, but he didn’t feel it from Janelle. Vince also disagrees with Nicki and suggests Janelle didn’t need the guitar at all. “You brought me to tears,” Mariah insists.
Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: “She Talks To Angels”
My Take: Not only was Kree also a very cute child, but this journey to her past reminds us about her tragic backstory. Hearing her talk about her parents is really emotional. From the very first notes, Kree is my favorite performer of the night by a mile. Perhaps because her pinched nerve is getting better or perhaps because she isn’t weighted down by expectations from the original, she settles into this one perfectly and immediately. I’d say that she’s not 100 percent sure on what emotion she’s trying to convey here with her performance and her mid-song expressions, but I think this is the most I’ve liked her singing for a few weeks. And I always like her singing just fine. It’s not that different from the original, in terms of melody, but I like what Kree’s specifically female voice brings to the Black Crowes track.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I love your voice from note-one,” Randy agrees. Mariah says that Kree can sing anything, though she says that maybe Kree didn’t lose herself tonight. That’s what I was trying to say in terms of the performative uncertainty. She was thinking about what the performance was supposed to be and it didn’t quite hit. Keith agrees with Mariah and suggests the TV-based distractions may have gotten to Kree a tiny bit. Nicki disagrees with Keith and Mariah, calling it the best performance of the night “absolutely, by far.” A brief fight between Nicki and Mariah flares up, but goes nowhere.
Singer: ANGIE MILLER
Song: “I’ll Stand By You”
My Take: Angie was a fat blob-baby. But only for a little while. And Angie’s giving me and the judges what we want. Oh God. Right. She’s from Beverly, Massachusetts. And she begins with a dedication to Boston. Crud. I honestly don’t know if this would have hit me emotionally otherwise, but tonight and in this context I’m instantly choked up and just a bit teary eyed. I wish they would have done this without the foggy staircase and the stars on the video monitors. It should have been as stripped down as much as they could make it and this is a wee bit overblown and hyperbolic. But I’m a bit weepy at the end. That’s partially the moment and partially Angie, so credit to her. And all of the judges other than Nicki give Angie a standing ovation.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: I’m not really sure what Mariah’s rambling, but she says it was a perfect song choice. “It was a beautiful dedication,” Keith says. Nicki repeats, once again, that she knows herself when she’s at the piano. Randy calls this one of the best Top 5s the show has had in a long, long time.
Singer: AMBER HOLCOMB
Song: “Without You”
My Take: Amber’s doing Mariah. And it’s not a bad idea. I’m not sure about the octave that the song has been started in. It’s a long wait until the song begins to go up to those huge notes that you know are coming. And when the song is low, you can almost sense the ticking clock behind her as Amber waits to climb that stairway to musical heaven. Amber does those big notes well and I have to give her credit for putting effort into the phrasing and emotion of the song, even if it takes a while for her to get there. It’s not a surprising performance but it’s a good one.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “We’ve got an Amber Alert going on,” says Keith, who IMMEDIATELY regrets that description. Heh. Sometimes words just come out. I know how it goes, Keith. Nicki correctly says that Amber wasn’t entirely connected in the low parts and makes a great show of raving about Mariah Carey’s version. Awww. They love each other. Randy gives Amber mad props. Mariah loved a lot of the choices Amber made.
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “When You Believe”
My Take: Double-divas from Candice! It’s important to remember that just because Amber has been more diva-prone this season doesn’t mean that Candice isn’t the competition’s best singer no matter what realm she chooses to work in. The reason why Candice has made the song choices she’s made is that she likes to be distinctive and so a performance like this isn’t really ever going to be Candice at her best. It’s always going to be Candice proving something that she can do. And guess what? She can. And she’s better than Amber was just 10 minutes ago. There’s none of the laboring and calculation that sometimes slowed Amber down. This is… again… EASY. Candice does this kind of thing in her sleep. And it’s way harder than she makes it look. I’m judging Candice only against Candice, because other than Candice last week, nobody’s better. The judges all stand.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “That is how you do a Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston song,” Nicki says, remembering crying listening to the song as a kid. Nicki reminds us of the importance of believing. Nicki loves Mariah so much. Awww. I even kinda believe it. “That’s the best vocal of the night,” Randy says. “Personally, I think you can sing anything in front of anybody anywhere,” Mariah says. Keith liked watching Mariah watch Candice’s performance. I agree.
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “Dumb Blonde”
My Take: I feel like Janelle is channeling Dolly Parton by way of Carrie Underwood here. I just wish it were more convincing. I can’t tell if it’s the tempo or the melody that’s confusing her, but something her isn’t completely right. It’s frustrating because, as I already mentioned once tonight, Janelle is adorable. But she can’t get any of that personality into either the vocal or the performance. There are good moments, including the very end, but that was messier and left me colder than I’d have liked.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy thought it was a “fun” song, but it didn’t show anything different vocally. “I felt like there was more performing than a vocal kinda thing,” Randy says. It was “pow” for Mariah, but was it “hashtag pow”? “I don’t know if I’d place ‘Dumb Blonde’ way up high in the Dolly Parton song list,” Keith says. I mean… If she’d done “Jolene,” how happy would we all have been? Answer? Very. Nicki wants Janelle to know she has superpowers, but she also tells Janelle that she’s in jeopardy of going home tomorrow.
Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: “Have You Ever Been In Love”
My Take: Darnit, why didn’t Kree sing “Jolene”? I want somebody to sing “Jolene,” instead of Celine Dion. This is a boring performance of one of Celine Dion’s most boring songs. Guh. Why wasn’t think the week Kree whipped out some Adele or something? Why THIS? I’m not saying she’s bad, but this really isn’t a song that plays to a single one of Kree’s strengths as a singer or a performer. In fact, it brings out a nasally tone to her voice that I don’t much care for.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Mariah thinks Kree looks diva-esque and calls it “a very smart choice” and says it showed her versatility. Keith felt that Kree stayed in control the whole time and he loves that she will inspire many girls. “You’re not country. You’re worldly. You’re iconic,” Nicki says, comparing her to Adele and Celine Dion. Randy says what other people said.
Singer: ANGIE MILLER
My Take: I don’t think “Beyonce” when I think “Angie.” Perhaps because it’s a weird choice, I’m fairly tolerant of a solid vocal that doesn’t come anywhere near Beyonce’s inherent fierceness. It’s not that Angie lacks fierceness, but it’s a different kind of fierceness and I’m not sure it’s been injected here. It’s definitely less boring than Kree’s over-praised performance, but it’s way less emotional than Angie’s first performance. I honestly don’t have a clue what the judges are standing for. Save that, guys. Make Standing Os mean something.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith says Angie’s Top 3. “Now my Angie Miller is back,” Nicki says, even though she’s said for weeks that Angie’s only Angie at the piano. Randy says that Angie’s in it to win it. Mariah loved the clarity in Angie’s voice.
Singer: AMBER HOLCOMB
Song: “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life”
My Take: Does anybody believe that Amber really knows Babs’ full awards haul? I don’t. That being said, it’s a wonderfully unexpected song choice. It’s not a slavish cover and it’s a great showcase for Amber, who is superior on this performance in every way to her Mariah joint earlier. The tone of her voice on this song is gorgeous. It’s intimate and passionate and strong. Do I still think Candice could walk in and do this same song and knock it out of the park next week? Of course. But that was darned fine, probably the night’s best individual performance. This performance deserved a standing ovation and the judges give her one, even if it’s meaningless.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Nicki calls it “simply perfection.” Randy calls it the most difficult song of the season and he hopes America gets it right. “Classic. Beautiful. Elegant,” Mariah says. Keith is happy.
8:57 p.m. It was a mixed bag night. I really liked Kree’s first performance, but I really didn’t like her second performance. I was bored by Amber’s first performance, but loved her second performance. Angie worked some emotional magic on the first performance, but not the second. Candice probably gets a slim win for the night and Janelle is, unfortunately, pretty clearly at the bottom for me.
Who’d you like? Who’d you dislike? Who’s going home?