You know what they say: What happens in Vegas…keeps happening in Vegas. We’re now in week 5 in Sin City. Don’t the Beatles Cirque du Soleil people have a show to do? Alas, “American Idol” has been camped out in this theater in the land of buffets and is still going strong, for the rest of this week, anyway.
At least the show was live, for the first time this season—though nothing beats the live shows with Steven Tyler on the panel, and it was always a question whether the bleeper would manage to catch every profanity before he lobbed it onto the airwaves. Nothing quite as unpredictable happened tonight in that arena. The big surprise was that, for the first time in years, the singers were the most interesting thing on our TVs—not whatever dead bird a judge had in his braid.
The judges were, however, top notch as well. Nicki Minaj gave us some gems of critiques tonight as always. Mariah Carey, who elegantly put her boobs away this week, imparted a little more original wisdom than usual. Keith Urban looked nice, and Randy Jackson wore partial cow print.
But it was the majority of the performers—the top 10 girls—who made the show one of the better music competition episodes in recent memory.
Zoanette Johnson kicked it off, and she was really the lone fluke tonight. She seemed to forget the words to “What’s Love Got to Do With It” right off the bat, and her pitch was generally all over the place. Plus, the too tight short-shorts and circusmaster’s pinstripe jacket did nothing to draw us away from the dead animal on her head that inspired Ryan Seacrest to engage in a post-performance conversation about wefting. Randy called it a mess. Nicki pointed out that the “regular person” might have wanted to hear her “be on key and stuff.” Overall, not a good night for Zoanette, especially with all that was to come after.
Breanna Steer was next, and maybe her low-key song choice, Beyonce’s “Flaws and All” might have worked better had Zoanette succeeded with some crazy powerful performance. Instead, after Zoanette’s trainwreck, Breanna was essentially assigned the task of opening the show all over again with something striking. But what started off as slow and quiet stayed that way, and despite the beauty and restraint in her voice, her performance wound up forgotten. Keith liked the song, which Nicki outright disagreed with. And Mariah drove it back home to herself, explaining that in her own concerts, she’d do an intimate song like that towards the end of the night.
Aubrey Cleland finally got things going, singing Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” She was better than the original during the storytelling parts of the song, which I’d never even paid attention to before. The judges were really into her vibrato, which Randy said reminded him of Rihanna “in her tender moments.” Mariah said she has “multi-platinum potential.”
Janelle Arthur had a pretty bad week last week, and tonight she was definitely the one most improved. But was it enough? All the judges told her last time to stick with classic country, so tonight she sang Elvis’s “If I Can Dream.” Her voice was great on the Elvis parts, but then she mistakenly tried to do a little Celine Dion, too, which she didn’t have the power for. Still, the judges were happy with it, Nicki calling it the best vocal of the night so far.
Tenna Torres also took last week’s criticism to heart. In her case, it was Nicki’s dislike of her hair. So tonight, she went for a simpler, smoother look, which won over the judge. Also winning over Nicki: Tenna’s boobs, which she called classy. How bout the song? She did Faith Hill’s “Lost” and had some of the so-called moments Randy so loves, and yet there’s something girlishly cloying about her voice—a background squeak or a whine, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Mariah complemented her on the fullness in her lower notes, which led to the sexual harassment case Ryan Seacrest probably now has on his hands when he told Tenna afterward, “Nicki and Mariah agreed on something: They both love your fullness.” Womp womp. After watching the brilliant PBS documentary “Makers,” about the history of feminism, I’m not sure that was totally legal.
Next up: Angela Miller, who will heretofore be known as Angie Miller. In Vegas, she failed to live up to her spectacular original song performance the week prior in Hollywood, and it seemed like we might have another Andrew Garcia on our hands—the season 9 contestant who tried and failed for weeks to hold a candle to his Hollywood performance of “Straight Up.” But Angie tipped the scales back in her favor by doing another all-piano performance of a song that might as well have been original, for all that we’ve heard it before, Colton Dixon’s “Never Gone.” So, taking into account the usefulness of this song in acknowledging her Christianity and reaching Colton’s fanbase, Angie is the front-runner regardless. Her voice is clear and lovely, and she’s so beautiful at the piano. Nicki asked executive producer Nigel Lythgoe to just make her an album right now so she can buy it.
Amber Holcomb, who has been mostly under the radar till now, broke out tonight. In the quarter-final, she did “My Funny Valentine,” which was a funny choice, though a solid performance. But tonight, she did Whitney Houston, normally a terrible decision for almost any singer. Amber just came out and did her thing, and sounded almost exactly like Whitney, yet with none of the strain that most “Idol” imitators bring to her songs. All four judges gave her a standing ovation. Nicki told her her vocals “are surpassing even this competition.”
Kree Harrison, admittedly one of my favorites for her Melanie Lynskey face and soccer-mom wardrobe, dressed down again tonight, in jeans and a long-sleeve blouse. There’s something kind of closed off about her, but it’s totally alluring. She sang Faith Hill’s “Stronger.” She’s got the more modern country voice, as opposed to Janelle’s old-school thing. She did some cool stuff sliding up to the high notes, and is probably the most heartfelt singer in the competition. Ketih gave her a standing O. Randy called her sneaky, in a good way. And Nicki bantered with Kree about how they’re married, which maybe I missed last time, but hey, what happens in Vegas… (Nicki: “Your sexiness level went up another notch tonight again.” Kree: “I mean, I’m just trying to do my wife proud.” Love it. )
This year’s Jessica Sanchez, the young and mini Adriana Latonio got all done up Sanchez style in her prom gown and Diamonique earrings. And she belted her way through this huge, belty song, “Stand Up For Love.” This usually works on “Idol,” but tonight, after Angie, and Amber and Kree, it felt like it was from another, long out-of-fashion era. Which is essentially what Nicki told her, in addition to telling her to go get some life experience. “Pageanty” came up a few times. She bombed, and the era of the little girls who sing huge songs has finally fallen.
Finally, Candice Glover closed out the show, and boy did she. Signing John Legend’s “Ordinary People,” she did runs and scales and big notes, and all that stuff you want from an up-and-coming Jennifer Hudson. Keith, Randy and Mariah stood up for her. Nicki gave her a brow salute. Randy called her one of the best singers in the whole competition.
One of the other things Randy said, which may be indicative of the next few weeks of this show, is that the producers need to let the judges have a wild card, because there are too many good girls in the competition. But here’s what I’m thinking: girls went tonight, guys go tomorrow, and Thursday we get the results from both. No one said it had to be five from each, did they? So maybe we’ll end up with a Top 10 of seven or eight girls? I’d be game for that. Anything to prevent Charlie Askew from ever touching Elton John’s catalog in public again.
So, here are my rankings for the night, and my picks for who makes it into the Top 10. Following the names are their official Twitter and Facebook followers, which could seriously impact results since only those active in social media will get to take advantage of the new “SuperVote” that allows people to allot 50 votes in any combination all at once.
1. Angie Miller (Twitter: 11,792; Facebook: 7,109)
2. Amber Holcomb (Twitter: 1,261; Facebook: 83)
3. Kree Harrison (Twitter: 3,300; Facebook: 2,056)
4. Candice Glover (Twitter: 2,978; Facebook: 1,139)
5. Aubrey Cleland (Twitter: 2,945; Facebook: 2,553)
6. Janelle Arthur (Twitter: 3,277; Facebook: 2,780)
7. Tenna Torres (Twitter: 911; Facebook: 363)
8. Breanna Steer (Twitter: 1,736; Facebook: 501)
9. Zoanette Johnson (Twitter: 3,357; Facebook: 254)
10. Adriana Latonio (Twitter: 2,173; Facebook: 443)
Speaking of stats, did you “SuperVote”? Internet-savvy “American Idol” fans got 50 flexible votes to play with, in addition to the hundreds of calls, texts and tweets they normally make to cast lots for their favorite contestants.
Here are the 10 simple steps required in order to cast your SuperVote:
1) Download the “American Idol” app.
2) Decline its offer to connect to your social media accounts, since you don’t want anyone in your life to know that you are doing this.
3) Quizzically scroll down through dozens of photos of Keith Urban’s curiously hairless chest while searching for the place where you vote.
4) Find it, only to learn that you have to connect to Facebook in order to actually use the app.
5) Try to remember your needlessly complicated Facebook password that you came up with to prevent hackers from breaking in to your account again.
6) Once you remember it, enter it three times, the third time without a typo caused by your big fingers on your little screen.
7) Reconsider this whole thing when you learn that this app will post on your behalf on Facebook.
8) Decide you’ve done too much work to turn back now and let the “Idol” robots in.
9) Satisfyingly play with your personal vote distribution until it’s just right and then submit.
10) When everyone you know sees on Facebook that you, long removed from your teenage years, still vote on “American Idol,” just blame the hackers.