Recap: ‘American Idol’ – Top 8: Music of the Motor City Night

It’s Motown Night on “American Idol,” a theme that usually means a lot of of Stevie Wonder, since “American Idol” contestants don’t know much by way of Motown, just like they don’t know many songs by the Beatles. 

Oh well. 

Click through for all of the excitement…

8:01 p.m. ET. Are we just saying it’s Music of Detroit Night? I’m confused. I’m not very confused, though. Actually, I’m more confused that Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey appear to have color-coordinated.

8:03 p.m. Ah. It’s The Music of the Motor City. And… ugh. Group numbers. I guess we can’t do only eight performances over two hours.

8:04 p.m. Kree Harrison wishes somebody a happy birthday. Not me. Is it you?

8:04 p.m. Smokey Robinson mentored the Idols this week, which would have impressed the Top Eight if they had a clue who Smokey Robinson is. [Candice Glover says she knows who Smokey is. I guess I believe her.]

Song: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
My Take: It’s a bluesy version of this song, complete with a saxophone player upstaging Candice. It’s funny that we assumed that Candice was going to take the Big Divas approach to “Idol” song selection, but she’s actually been one of our most eclectic performers. Last week she rocked out on “Come Together” and tonight it’s a completely different brassy, soulful Candice. Of course, now Nicki Minaj’s criticisms have me paying attention to Candice’s performing expressions. And, in truth, too often she’s giving almost nothing, or maybe there’s just too much of a visible contrast between when she looks connected and when she looks like she’s concentrating on the singing and not the performing.. When she locks in and you can see the intensity — the closing notes would be a great example — she’s fantastic. When she’s blank, she still sounds terrific, but it’s a more boring terrific.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith loved everything in that performance, but he especially loved the way she lifted it up in the second verse. “This was your best performance tonight,” Keith says. Nicki calls it “exciting” and claims that her eyes were alive throughout. You know what Randy loved? He loved that Candice believes and that she came out and something-or-other. “How could you not believe that you belong in the competition?” Mariah says, adding that it was “straight-forward” tonight and “excellent,” but she wants more churchy-jazz from Candice.

8:16 p.m. I changed the headline, because if Kree and Janelle are about to do Madonna, it’s not really “Motown Night” really, is it?

Song: “Like a Prayer”
My Take: I don’t really think of Kree as a “country girl,” but I guess if they’re doing a Jennifer Nettles arrangement of Madonna… It is what it is. Kree and Janelle aren’t really going to offer much in terms of stage-craft, which is another thing that makes Madonna an odd song choice, but I like listening to the both of them. The smoke is silly. The background people are superfluous. But they sound decent together. And it’s not a competition, but Kree wins. By a lot.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Nicki is proud of them and happy that two of her favorites just did a song together. “Kreedom almost made it look like she flew in to do a duet with an ‘Idol’ contestant today,” Nicki says. Janelle smiles nervously and politely. “Kree definitely out-shined you my darling,” Nicki says. “That’s OK,” Janelle says. Randy says Janelle had some pitch problems and agrees that Kree was the winner. This is weird and this is also why generally the judges don’t critique duets this seriously. Mariah wanted to hear more of Kree. Mariah babbles and says they were both very good. “It worked really well,” Keith says.

Song: “For Once In My Life”
My Take: Lazaro claims he knows this Stevie Wonder song and that he loves it. It’s a loungy, dull, mumbly, sweaty version of the song, augmented by a satin jacket and leather pants. Lazaro just isn’t very good. With Paul Jolley out, the gap between Lazaro and the bottom of this field is massive. This is definitely less excruciating than last week’s performance, but he’s like a mannequin up there and there’s nothing even vaguely memorable about the vocals, which are less shrill and sharp than his past couple efforts. But now it’s time to coddle Lazaro!
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I don’t know if you completely redeemed yourself, but this is far better than last week,” Randy says, calling it “disconnected.” Mariah thinks it was a smart song choice, but what she mostly noticed was Lazaro’s courage and his guts. Really? From what? He lowered Stevie Wonder an octave and stumbled his way through it. Keith thought this week was vocally better, but it had rhythmic problems. Nicki tells Lazaro he’s back and asks Smokey to be her sugar-daddy. “That’s a sexy piece of specimen,” Nicki says of the man she calls “my husband Smokey.” Mariah asks if everybody is aware how many hits Smokey Robinson has been associated with. She respects Smokey. Last week, she didn’t know “Sgt. Pepper.”

Song: “You Keep Me Hanging On”
My Take: On Twitter, I observed that Janelle is a Southern Shrinky-Dink version of Cat Deeley. This realization makes me like her more. And I’m even more impressed that she’s doing a guitar-infused arrangement of the song that she conceived when she was 14. This show rarely suffers from showcasing more musicality from its performers and if Janelle thinks that a White Girl With Guitar could fill the now-vacated White Guy With Guitar vacuum void? Good for her. Instruments often/usually/always make singers seem more connected to the songs they’re doing and I’d say without question that this is Janelle’s most interesting and distinctive performance of the season. I’m kinda surprised she didn’t get the pimp slot for this performance. That was very fine indeed. And I liked Janelle’s performance last week as well. I think she’s definitely stepping up. I’m not sure she’s quite up there with the Big Four, but she’s not so far off either and she may be closing the gap.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “Janelle at her finest!” crows Mariah. “That was beautiful,” Keith says, praising her fearlessness. “I think you always shine when you have your guitar in front of you,” Nicki says. Nicki interesting suggests that Janelle may be smiling too much tonight and that’s causing her to lose focus. “I absolutely loved it,” Randy says. He adds that Janelle is in it to win it.

Song: “Tracks of My Tears”
My Take: I liked Smokey explaining the origin of “Tracks of My Tears” to Devin. And, without hearing a note, I think this is a decent choice for Devin. Colombian-American Tin-Tin is a natural fit with the period style as well. This isn’t an exciting performance and the falsetto touches add nothing of note. The decision to sing just behind the beat doesn’t improve the song, but it makes Devin’s version sound like something more than karaoke, which is nice. Devin’s very respectable proficiency looks and sounds much better when you compare him to Lazaro. Burnell’s the only “Idol” guy who could possibly deserve to outlast one of the women, but this definitely isn’t the week that Devin’s going to deserve to go home. That was completely acceptable.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith says that he could feel Devin relax into the song at times, but he wants Devin not to think so much. “You up there looking like a ripe banana right now… and that’s a good thing,” Nicki says, calling it “amazing” and praising every one of Devin’s choices. She also liked the falsetto choices. Sigh. Randy thinks Devin is back tonight, calling it one of his best performances in weeks. Randy also loved the falsetto stuff. Sigh. Mariah loved ever second of it.

Song: “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”
My Take: Apparently this performance is all about flirting. Amber Holcolmb is predictably excellent at the flirting. Angie Miller is surprisingly good at the flirting. And Candice sings really well! Angie is really, really playing up her Miley Cyrus side on this performance, which isn’t bad at all. And Amber was pretty much born to be in a Motown girl group from the ’60s. And, again, Candice can sing. That was perfectly pleasant to listen to and perfectly pleasant to look at.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “Hashtag Pow,” Mariah says for the second time this season, praising them as individuals and as a group. No more judging.

Song: “My Cherie Amour”
My Take: Saxophone Man is now Flute Man! And this is just a good theme and a good song choice for Burnell. He’s not exactly doing Stevie, but he’s completely respectful of Mr. Wonderful. I can’t say this enough: I love Burnell’s phrasing, which is always unique. It’s like the way Max Greenfield makes words like “buttons” funny on “New Girl.” No matter how tired you are of his conducting gestures, Burnell’s entertaining when he does things like this. He’s messing with the song and playing with it and enjoying this performance and I’m enjoying it as well. A couple of the high notes aren’t great, but mostly it’s smooth and pure.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “Yes sir. You reminded us why we fell in love with that voice tonight,” Nicki says, also praising Burnell’s white suit. “I love your choices,” Randy says. Burnell is also in it to win it. It’s one of Mariah’s favorite songs and she loved Burnell’s modern flavor. Keith says it’s hard to critique, because Burnell’s choices are unique.

Song: “Shop Around”
My Take: Another chance for Smokey to engage in storytelling. Yeah. This is a Miley Cyrus night for Angie. She may need to get back on the piano soon before I start thinking of her as nothing but Miley 2.0. There’s is also a “Angie Miller Has Legs” night. Nobody’s gonna argue. I don’t know who this rock arrangement of the song is associated with, but I don’t especially love it. I do give Angie credit for going up-tempo, but the up-tempo twist causes Angie to shout and causing her to shout causes her to lose her breath and that causes the notes to go all over the place. Honestly, this may be her worst performance yet for me, no matter how good she looks. Who cares what the theme is next week, Angie’s gotta get back on the piano. Fast.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy says this was the first time he’s heard her give such a pitchy performance. Mariah wishes Angie had sung “I’ll Be There” at the piano. Keith thinks that the melody kept bringing Angie down, but that her talent is undeniable. “I think that you came out today to try to show a different side of Angie that didn’t need to be shown,” Nicki cautions smartly. Mariah also wants more “faith” from Angie. Hmmm…

Song: “Lately”
My Take: I’m not sure this was the perfect song for Amber tonight, given that this was, as previously established, a perfect genre for her. Amber’s having early microphone problems, but she eventually locks in. This feels like a Whitney Houston-style cover of “Lately,” which takes a lot of the Stevie fun out of the song. This is a slow, well-sung slog. This shouldn’t be a dirge, but Amber has reduced it to that. And yet somehow, the song ends with the judges standing. Really? Come on. That was decent, but it was also a snooze. I definitely didn’t hate that performance at all, but I think Janelle may have swapped Big Four position with Amber tonight, at least for me.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Mariah Carey calls it “a tour d’force” and then explains herself using a bleeped obscenity. Keith agrees and says it was the right song, sung beautifully. “When God created those vocal chords, he was showing off honey-child,” Nicki says. Randy calls it “the best vocal of the night.”

Song: “I Can’t Help Myself”
My Take: Burnell and Devin aren’t awful. Lazaro is awful. Together, they’re not very good. At all. Make it stop. MAKE IT STOP. Yeah. That’s as bad as it gets.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I don’t know what that was, but I’m gonna act like I didn’t see it or hear it,” Nicki says, comparing it to a Hollywood Week. She tells them to get off the stage. “I did what I was supposed to do,” Burnell says. “I learned my parts. I tried saving a couple other people,” Lazaro says. It’s Ryan’s dad’s favorite song and Lazaro apologizes.

Song: “Don’t Play That Song”
My Take: Thank you, Kree, for not letting us end tonight’s “Idol” show with “I Can’t Help Myself.” I don’t think Kree is really Aretha Franklin, but she’s trying extremely hard and she’s got the highest degree-of-vocal-difficulty tonight. At times, you can see her effort and you can hear the effort and I want to tell Kree to relax just a tiny bit. Breath! Hold a note! That she does as well as she does is a tribute to Kree’s talent.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy says that it wasn’t the perfect performance, but she’s definitely here to stay. Stop with the mic feedback. Mariah agrees Kree’s here to stay. Keith insists Kree’s voice is inherently country, but she sounds like Kree. “Your confidence never wavers,” Nicki says.

9:58 p.m. I’m putting Janelle at the top of my pack tonight, followed by Kree and probably Burnell. 

9:59 p.m. Lazaro was tonight’s worst, doubly. Sadly, Angie was probably second worst, followed by Devin, who really wasn’t bad. I’d predict that Lazaro cracks the Bottom Three, but Devin goes home. 

Who were your favorites tonight? Who’s in trouble tomorrow?