It was a night of extremes on “American Idol.” On one hand, we had Candice Glover, who is probably the most talented contestant since Jennifer Hudson way back in Season 3. And on the other hand, we have Lazaro Arbos, who makes Sanjaya sound like a musical prodigy. How these two can coexist on this show is anybody’s guess (mine would be something to do with pity, guilt and “Vote for the Worst” recommendations).
But having such extremes is precisely what makes this show still worth watching this many years in. Whereas on “The Voice,” for instance, where pretty much everyone who makes it on the show is pretty good, there’s not enough awfulness to truly appreciate the amazingness. It’s way more fun to watch a trainwreck like “Idol.”
So tonight had two themes: songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (with no introduction to the legendary songwriters whatsoever!), and songs the contestants wished they’d written. Talk about extremes. These are two very incompatible themes, because I can almost guarantee you that no contestant wishes they wrote a Bacharach-David song. That’s not to say they’re bad songs; on the contrary, they are wonderful. But they are so caked with dust from the 1970s, that they have no relevance at all to the contestants, whereas the second category had the opportunity to be nothing but relevant, minus the Robbie Williams selection. It’s so clear what a difference it makes when they are allowed to sing something they like. And maybe something that is—gasp—contemporary!
Still, the better performers knew what to do in the first round, and the worse performers, well, didn’t. Starting with Angie Miller. She opened the show with “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” a song that requires levels of emotion that Angie is not capable of in secular music. Someone told me that Christian music is the same as secular music, it just replaces “baby” with “Jesus.” Someone please explain that to Angie. Any time she sings something that would be out of place in a megachurch, she just can’t connect. I mean, has she even seen “Sister Act”?!? That’s basically a tutorial for what Angie needs to do going forward.
Her second act was much better, and guess what, it was direct from the Christian charts. “Love Came Down,” by Kari Jobe. Angie was back at the piano, feeling it, and crying when it was all over. The judges gave her a standing O (one of many tonight), and Nicki told her to stop trying to do anything else but this kind of performance.
Amber made tonight all about fun, up-tempo happy smiley things. She informed us before she sang that something we don’t know about her is that she eats frozen shrimp from the bag—shrimpsicles. Yay! And then she does “Say a Little Prayer,” probably Bacharach and David’s least painful song. She’s in an awesome ‘70s denim pantsuit and hot pink lipstick. It’s finally what Nicki Minaj has been asking for.
For part two, she chose Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” and this time went super ‘80s, in cut off denim shorts and bling and hot pink high heels. Nicki told Amber after the first number that, “sometimes when your boyfriend ain’t around, you can really focus,” which leads into several minutes spent invading her and Burnell Taylor’s privacy.
Lazaro Arbos. STILL here. And tonight he did something really, really bad. After telling us that he is sometimes known as a Spanish redneck (illustrated by him in a sombrero with a blacked out tooth), he made Karen Carpenter turn over in her tiny little grave with his dismal, way-too-low rendition of “Close to You.” It was cruel, it was mean, it was a waste of everybody’s time, including Karen’s. Mariah Carey went off on a 10-minute tirade about how the so-called powers that be told her she’s too nice, and therefore she was going to use this opportunity to offer criticism for the first time on this show. She still called him courageous, but said that “at this point in the competition, we can’t go into another key and you stay in the old key.” Lazaro looked terribly confused until he realized that Mariah just handed him an out. When Ryan questioned him about the key, he said that the music director changed the keys on him, “it was low, it was high,” etc. Excuses! Ryan was having none of it, and cut Lazaro off immediately.
Lazaro’s #2 didn’t fare much better. The song he wishes he wrote? Robbie Williams’s “Angels.” Gag me. Nicki wouldn’t even critique it.
Kree to the rescue, of course. Coming after Lazaro is just show-offy, but whatever, Kree’s awesome, and if that’s all there is to complain about, so be it. She does “What the World Needs Now is Love”—amazing song, and gives it all the emotion and depth Angie can’t. Keith Urban described what Kree has and what Angie lacks as “humanity.”
Then she does a Kris Kristofferson ditty that non-country folks might not know: “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Nicki loves that Kree can sing songs she’s never heard and makes her love them, as opposed to…
Janelle Arthur. Janelle had a solid, consistent night overall, but wasn’t quite the standout she needed to be. Her “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” was bubbly and maybe a little too bright. I wish SHE did a Carpenters song, now that would be a great match. Randy Jackson told her it was lackluster.
Her second choice of Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” was definitely something she got more into, but Keith pointed out it would have been better if she had accompanied herself on guitar and skipped the band.
Finally, Candice Glover, who is a monster of a singer. She puts everyone and everything to shame. First it’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” for which she gave it the perfect combination of sassy belting and pretty sweetness. “That voice,” said Nicki, “makes me want to have a women’s revival!”
Candice then closed the show with the Cure’s “Love Song,” which, like her earlier standout “I Who Have Nothing,” has had its fair share of covers on this show. And like “I Who Have Nothing,” Candice laid that song to rest on “American Idol.” It felt like she totally re-did the song, in this smoky, jazzy way that allowed her to show the way up and down the scales. All four judges stood—even “too-tight” Mariah! Randy called it one of the greatest performances in “Idol” history, and then in “talent show” history. Candice cried, Mariah threw glitter, it’s mayhem and everyone’s secretly thinking maybe we could just wrap this whole thing up now, and save us a few of our precious hours.
So the Top 3, to me, clearly are Candice, Kree and Amber. But Angie and Lazaro’s corner on the Twitter follower market is worrisome now that we’re down to so few. Could Lazaro survive this horrid week? It’s certainly possible. But here’s what I want to happen (followed by everyone’s Twitter followers).
1) Candice Glover / 39,657
2) Kree Harrison / 43,619
3) Amber Holcomb / 25,100
4) Angie Miller / 89,549
5) Janelle Arthur / 29,856
6) Lazaro Arbos / 64,892