Curtis Finch Jr. is gone. I’m not hugely shocked. Most veteran “American Idol” observers aren’t hugely shocked. But I’m guessing we’re going to start Wednesday (March 20) night’s episode being hugely shocked.
Then we’re gonna sing Lennon & McCartney songs. Jimmy Iovine says it’s a theme that requires no gimmicks.
8:02 p.m. ET. Nicki Minaj made it on time! So we’re already ahead of the game.
8:04 p.m. I like Carly Rae Jepsen. She’s plucky and Canadian. But why are we pretending that some sort of Coca-Cola-sponsored thing with a new Carly Rae Jepsen single is a big enough deal for the “American Idol” finale?
8:05 p.m. Charlie Askew and Aubrey Cleland are here to learn their Fan Save fates. AUBREY CLELAND will be on the tour this summer. Charlie Askew will not be. Poor Charlie. The producers are, I’m sure, relieved. Aubrey will be proficient, predictable and pretty on tour this summer. There’s value to that.
8:07 p.m. And despite Ryan telling us this would be a jam-packed show, we’re getting our first commercial before our first performance.
Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: “With a Little Help From My Friends”
My Take: I forgot that we’d heard Kree’s backstory before, with the two parents dying when she was young and the cute siblings. Sniffle. And speaking of sniffles, Kree’s got a cold. The arrangement has been a little country-fied, a little more Joe Cocker than Beatles, but with a pleasing twang. Kree looks and sounds confident, even with a rather large ensemble backing her up. Her voice isn’t overwhelmed by the band and backup singers at all. I think there might have been an arrangement that might have let her do a few more runs, but I like that she’s being true to what she does best, which is earthy, fully felt vocals that don’t go over-the-top. That was a comfortable, strong way to start the show. Kree’s good.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I love that no matter what song you’re doing, you’re Kree,” Keith says, calling her “all of the cool things about country.” “The choices that you make musically are always the perfect choice for your voice,” Nicki says, also praising Kree’s fashion choices, particularly her five-inch heels. Randy teases for a second, but he thinks it was the bomb. “You came out and you blew the vocals out of the water,” Randy tells her, raving about her confidence. “I didn’t think it was good… I thought it was fan-freaking-tastic,” Mariah says, calling it “Kree-ly amazing.” Mariah doesn’t understand that you’re not allowed two fake-out judgings in a row. Ryan Seacrest, on the prowl for a new girlfriend, tells Kree she looks stunning.
Singer: BURNELL TAYLOR
Song: “Let It Be”
My Take: Ruh-roh. Why does Burnell not know “Let It Be”? And why is Burnell singing “Let It Be” if he doesn’t know “Let It Be”? I think they’ve slowed the song down just in case Burnell forgets the lyrics. By slowing the song down, they’ve made it into a pure showcase for Burnell’s tone. Fortunately, Burnell’s tone is smooth and distinctive enough that he can get away with this sort of showcase. There are some quirky phrasings and breathing choices that make this sound like no version of “Let It Be” that I’ve heard before. In one or two small moments it’s a tiny bit affected — the nasally high notes and the near-the-end falsetto — but I don’t even mind that. That’s a nice and respectful performance and with Burnell, you always know that he’s going to emphasize and honor the lyrics, which is important on a night that’s about songwriting.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You didn’t even sing the song, you caressed it,” Nicki says. “I didn’t know if I wanted cry or do the church-stomp,” Nicki adds. “I know of them, but I shouldn’t know them like I should know them,” Burnell admits to Randy, regarding the Beatles. Randy praises Burnell’s choices, though, and says he didn’t “want for nothing.” Mariah was initially concerned that Burnell didn’t know the song, but she was happy with him. Keith praises Burnell’s unique tone and his soul.
Singer: AMBER HOLCOMB
Song: “She’s Leaving Home”
My Take: Is this really the first we’ve ever actually learned about Amber? She comes from a big family and lives on a farm in Texas. This is a FUNKY song choice from Amber. It’s not a song we’ve heard on “Idol” in these various Beatles-based shows and it’s not a song that necessarily is encapsulated all that well in 90 seconds. She’s been given a small string accompaniment and after a very basic and slightly dull start, there’s a key change and it becomes a fairly different and emotionally interesting song. You can tell that her goal tonight is to give an emotional performance and to just do another Whitney-fied piece of vocal acrobatics. And I like it. She looks beautiful and seems confident and the bluesy conclusion is totally earned. Points to Amber.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy thought it started unsure and slow, but she found herself in the middle. Amber also didn’t know this song before. What’s wrong with these kids? Oh. It’s not just the kids. Mariah Carey also didn’t know the song, but she calls it “fearless.” Whew. Keith knows the song. It’s his favorite Beatles song. “You came out and made it sound as fresh as if it was just written this week,” Keith says. Nicki thought she could see Amber’s uncertainty with the song on her face, but says Amber’s vocals are unmatched.
Singer: LAZARO ARBOS
Song: “In My Life”
My Take: As I always mention when somebody on “Idol” sings this one, “In My Life” is my grandmother’s favorite song. And this is… Not good. I love how stripped down the arrangement is. It’s just a guy on a guitar and a few backing vocals. But the point of a stripped down arrangement is to let the lead vocals shine. And they don’t. Lazaro is quiet and unsure of the melody and, as always, he can’t do anything with the lyrics. He gets lost in the already-minimal mix. It becomes a blur and not an especially in-tune blur. That should be enough to send him home. It won’t be. Sigh.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Mariah tells Lazaro that it’s hard to sing a Beatles song, so she commends him on his bravery. She’s proud of him. Mariah, though, wanted even less of an arrangement. “When I look at you, it’s about our courage and your perseverance,” Mariah says. No. It’s can’t JUST be about that, Mariah. Keith also thought there was an initial key problem for Lazaro. Nicki misses the Lazaro she remembers, blaming Jimmy for taking away Lazaro’s confidence. Randy calls it Lazaro’s worst performance ever and says it was out of tune from beginning to end. “Where did the vocals go? I don’t know?” Randy muses. Lazaro had to change his song and he tries to explain the change. It’s sad to watch, because this is the first time that we’ve seen Lazaro genuinely frustrated by his inability to express himself. It’s one thing to be unable to banter with the judges, but Lazaro has never needed to stand up for himself with them before and, of course, he can’t really do it.
8:58 p.m. Yikes. That last moment with Lazaro was so awkward that Ryan is asking the judges to justify their presences and to justify Jimmy’s presence. Oy. I know we have time to fill tonight, but stop…
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “Come Together”
My Take: BALLSY choice by Candice. And dangerous, since the wacky lyrics have no meaning at all for Candice. I hope she does it justice. Vocally, she clears the first hurdle by landing the first note. And no, I’m not sure if Candice has a clue what she’s singing, but who does? She’s got a spectacular amount of sass and this isn’t a performance that you would have thought of Candice giving. I can’t salute her enough for having the guts to do a genuinely up-tempo rocker-girl performance with this one and for mostly making it look convincing and for entirely make it sound convincing. Is it her best vocal? Of course not. But I genuinely think this was the most difficult performance she’s attempted and she proved she can do it. Well played, Candice Glover.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I thought that was absolutely killer,” Keith says. “Sometimes I want you to wear it on that face,” Nicki cautions Candice, telling her to make sure the attitude always remains in her face. That’s a good, solid criticism from Nicki. “I don’t know what’s going on in your face, but the voice is crazy,” Randy says. “It was like a prize fighter, darling,” Mariah says weirdly.
Singer: PAUL JOLLEY
Song: “Eleanor Rigby”
My Take: The string section is getting a workout tonight. I used to play “Eleanor Rigby” on my violin! I wish Paul would stop pretending that just because he’s never done musical theater he isn’t theatrical at his very heart. Because what would be so wrong if we voted Paul off and let him go appear in a touring production of “Rock of Ages”? That would be an absolutely viable gig. I don’t know why so much oversinging was required on “Eleanor Rigby.” It’s not pleasant and not organic and at least initially, it’s a mess. And yet, as it progresses, some of the oversung moments have vocal integrity, or they would in a different context. That performance was all over the map and largely unsuccessful for me.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Nicki likes Paul’s outfit, but she did not like the performance. She calls it “safe,” “bland” and “forgettable.” Randy felt that Paul was disconnected from the song. Mariah thought it was a great song choice and then it gets confusing. I think she liked his voice, but didn’t think he was connected. Mariah suggests that Paul sing an up-tempo dance record. That was Keith’s second favorite Beatles song. He didn’t like the middle, but he praises Paul’s pop-rock vibe in the middle. This is what I’m saying. The kid was made for cheesy jukebox musicals and he refuses to embrace his own identity.
Singer: ANGIE MILLER
My Take: And speaking of theatrical, Angie’s going full-throttle musical-nerd on this one. I feel like I’m watching a Broadway show about a girl whose boyfriend just left her. On one hand, I think that’s a positive. She sounds great and her phrasing is very personal and her enunciation is precise and thoughtful. But, on the other side, this makes the song seem more simplistic and childlike than it probably should. The performance elevates and simultaneously reduces a great song. So I’m conflicted. It’s like “Cosette sings The Beatles.” Is that how “Yesterday” really should sound? I’m not completely, totally sure. But it wasn’t bad to listen to by any means.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy felt that Angie held back, but he urges her to give in to her rocker side in the future. “I feel like you did a very respectful version of the song,” Mariah says, but she thinks it showed Angie’s voice. This is Keith’s other favorite Beatles song. Keith suggests she might have over-thought the performance, but he saw through that. Nicki thought it was “unbelievably amazing” and then says something FOX has to bleep. Smartly, Nicki suggests Angie will be doing soundtracks for movies and Broadway.
Singer: DEVIN VELEZ
Song: “The Long and Winding Road”
My Take: Have we discussed how Devin Velez is a Colombian-American Tin-Tin? Cuz he totally is. This is a theme that’s tailor-maid for Devin’s old-school vibe and he’s going to need a big performance to make sure he sticks around. Last week, I thought Devin fell flat, but this is the Devin I kinda like. It’s not high on energy, but it’s sincere and unforced and technically solid. It’s my own feeling that Devin would have been much better on this show in a couple years, with a little more maturity and polish. You can sense some uncertainty tonight, particularly with how he’s using the stage and playing to the audience. He’s so much better than last week, though. And he’s better than Lazaro and Paul tonight, if that’s going to be enough.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “That was just so good. For me, you are a budding… I don’t know what,” Mariah says. That was Keith’s favorite Beatles song. He’s missing a bit of emotional connection from Devin. Nicki gives a shout-out to “the penis,” which FOX has to bleep until Nick gives her actual shout-out to the pianist. Nicki disagrees with Keith and thinks that Devin is always committed emotionally. “That was truthful,” Nicki tells him. “I think Devin is back tonight,” Randy says. Then, because we have time to kill, Ryan lets Mariah ramble for a full minute.
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “I Will”
My Take: More strings! “Idol” is getting its money’s worth out of those musicians tonight. Janelle was only No. 6 last week, but I’d expect her to be moving on up. She’s got the country votes 100 percent in her corner and if she’s going to give good, sturdy country vocals like this, there’s absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t move up the ladder and, plausibly, win this thing. The breathing problems that Jimmy warned her about are definitely audible, but what’s more audible is probably Janelle’s most consistent performance to date. She’s not the best singer in the competition, but we all know exactly how producers could package her and make a mint. And she’s a good, authentic version of what she’s trying to be.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: This one actually isn’t Keith’s favorite Beatles song. “You know who you are, you’re pure, you’re true and I thought that was really beautiful, baby,” Keith says. “You look like a beautiful swan goddess,” Nicki tells Janelle. “I think Janelle’s back tonight,” Randy says weirdly. I didn’t feel like Janelle was exactly “away.” Mariah thinks Janelle has been listening to all of their advice, but it hasn’t fazed her.
9:59 p.m. That was a decent “American Idol” night. With Lazaro and Paul, we *ought* to have a clear Bottom 2. Burnell may join them in the Bottom Three, just by virtue of going so early in the show, though I think Amber may be a Bottom Three sleeper, just because of vote splitting and all of that. But I was pretty satisfied with that.
And you? Who’d you love? Who’d you hate? Who’s going home?