Nicki Minaj Is Late as ‘Idol’ Honors Its Own

by | March 13, 2013 at 10:45 PM | American Idol, Recap

Lazaro Arbos performs on "American Idol." (Fox)

In “American Idol’s” most self-absorbed episode to date, the newly minted Top 10 had to sing songs by previous “Idol” winners—whether from their albums or songs they competed with on the show. It was so inside baseball that new judge Nicki Minaj, who has so little investment in the “Idol” legacy, couldn’t even bother to show up on time for her job.

Also, any of the guitar-strumming white-boy winners of recent years (and Taylor Hicks) should feel slighted that no one picked one of their songs to memorialize. We had three Kelly Clarksons, two Carrie Underwoods, two Scotty McCreerys, a Jordin Sparks, a Fantasia, and even a Ruben Studdard.

But were they better than the originals? Though the Top 10 showed some real promise last week during the last preliminary episode before the season truly began, tonight got off to a slow start, and never quite lived up to the hype of a bunch of singers who were selected so painstakingly and with such care. Mostly, the boys were responsible for that. Pitch problems, emotional disconnect, bad song choices, and all the usual issues found in the bottom half of the group plagued all of the males tonight.

On the bright side: Jimmy Iovine is back! The pre-season is just child’s play, and now that Jimmy’s here, our contestants are getting a dose of reality. Like: don’t over-sing. Learn the song. Stop trying to be like Josh Groban. And best of all: “Feel it. You’re not running for president.”

Mariah Carey could learn a few things from Jimmy’s succinctness. She tries once, calling Angie Miller “stellar” and nothing more. But the next time she tried to go for precision, we wound up with this: “Hashtag Pow. That’s all I can say.” Followed by a minute of blither, and then, “Really, like, to critique it is almost unnecessary,” followed by another 30 seconds critiquing Amber Holcomb. Sorry, Mariah, but that was no 140 characters. I don’t think she knows the meaning of hashtag. Nor does she know that it’s embarrassing to actually use it in speech.

The play-by-play:

Curtis Finch, Jr. wants to be Luther Vandross, but Jimmy warns him not to be too retro. Sings Fantasia’s victory song “I Believe,” but lacks her power and fails on the big “when you believe” note. In a paisley red jacket, and backed by a plainclothes choir, he actually seemed more retro than ever. Keith Urban felt the adrenaline affected the pitch. Randy Jackson, who knows a thing or two or negative-six about jackets, enjoyed the look, but wanted him to try something less inspirational. Mariah wants more gospel. And Nicki is on the 405.

Jimmy blatantly summed up Janelle Arthur’s chances in the business with this: “We know there’s a lot of blonde, very attractive country singers out there.” Janelle says she’s different, because she wants to stick to the classics. But then she sings the Scotty McCreery version of “Gone,” which is neither fresh nor classic. There’s not enough melody for her to show of any tricks, and Nicki and Randy tell her so. Mariah says she has a star aura, but wants to hear a ballad.

By the time Devin Velez tells Jimmy he wants to be Josh Groban, we know this show is having a tough time getting off the ground. Jimmy warns him not to get locked into an “adult thing,” so Devin proceeds to sing something as adult contemporary sounding as possible, Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home.” The only judge who liked it was Nicki, but everyone else thought it was safe and lacked confidence.

Angie Miller to the rescue. “Idol”s most popular contestant (if we look at Twitter and Facebook followers) heard some bad news from Jimmy that she is pageanty, but she didn’t let it get her down. She did Kelly Clarkson’s version of Celine Dion’s “Surrender” and had some good KC moments, plus those crazy notes in her upper register that are all of her own. “The competition starts now,” Randy said. So you’re saying the last half hour of my life watching what came before was worthless? Thanks.

Paul Jolley took Jimmy’s criticism not to oversing to heart. He got a lecture on Broadway theatricality, which helped him reel in a little of the twinkly eye camera stares and goofy smiles he injects into most performances. They were still there, just less annoying when not paired with over-the-top runs. There were some weird key changes at the end of Lonestar’s “Amaza” a la Scotty McCreery, but it was still Paul’s best performance. For Nicki, it was the first time Paul “stimulated my sexual appetite.”

Jimmy had no criticism for Candice Glover, who may not be the most popular but is hands-down the best singer on the show. She did Jordin Spark’s “I Who Have Nothing,” a great pick on the heels of Shirley Bassey’s Bond-Oscars revival. And she sang the hell out of it, with runs the likes of which Paul Jolley can only dream of being able to pull off. All the judges but Mariah stood—but that’s because her skirt was too tight, she said. Nicki said the song can no longer be done on “Idol” because Candice just destroyed and annihilated it.

Lazaro Arbos, on the other hand, needs to go. Jimmy derided him for last week’s display right before his victory song, when he told the bandleader he didn’t know the end to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Once again, he chose a song way out of his league, vocally—Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” He sounded nice in his lower register, but once he got to “I’ll spread my wings,” it was painful. Keith made the mistake of asking Lazaro why he chose the song, which—didn’t anyone tell Keith this is live TV?—took a little while to get an answer. (It was because he loved the words.) Mariah just pointed out the obvious about why Lazaro is still here: people are “falling in love with the courage you have.” Not his voice, however.

Kree Harrison reminds Nicki of waffles with syrup and butter. Which I kind of get. “Smooth, delicious, fun, I would enjoy it if I was by myself in front of the TV just on the couch eating waffles.” Kree did Carrie Underwood’s version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” which was good because she’s so beautiful. But she did a lot of similar things to her last performance—she takes the elevator up to her high notes. And her shy/quiet thing is looking a little smug now. Still, she’s a frontrunner.

Burnell Taylor went against Jimmy’s advice not to do a ballad and did Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings,” and though it had some interesting moments, it was probably his worst performance to date. But it was so much better than the guys who came before that Randy felt Burnell vindicated the guys tonight. Mariah told him she didn’t “want to go through a long drawn out thing” about her history crying over him in the auditions, and yet she recapped all of that anyway.

And finally Amber Holcomb chose Kelly Clarkson’s “Moment Like This.” Jimmy suggested taking it uptempo, and she didn’t. But her performance, and her easy voice, got her praise and a standing O from all the judges (Mariah in spirit). Nicki said it reminded her of Whitney Houston’s first album. Mariah was so impressed, she tried to quote the mechanics of Twitter.

All in all, it was the girls’ night, with Candice Glover out front, followed by Angie Miller. Down on bottom, Curtis and Devin are probably in trouble. I’d say Lazaro, but he has too many social media fans to put him in jeopardy when there’s a SuperVote at stake.

Here’s the social media lineup:

Name/Twitter/Facebook

1 Angie Miller/46,246/38,008

2 Lazaro Arbos/29,892/9,611

3 Kree Harrison/17,504/4,468

4 Burnell Taylor/16,566/1,369

5 Candice Glover/14,748/5,118

6 Janelle Arthur/12,437/5,070

7 Paul Jolley/11,418/4,178

8 Devin Velez/9,549/1,329

9 Amber Holcomb/8,175/1,397

10 Curtis Finch/7,178/2,573

Random observations:

Jimmy Iovine’s all there mentally, but he looks like he’s wasting away. Is he sick or just hungry? Somebody look into this.

Opening the show, Ryan Seacrest said, “We are coming to you live and on time from Hollywood.” What does that even mean? For this show to be on time, it would have ended three weeks ago.