‘Idol’ Recap: A Meltdown Draws Nicki’s Fury

Burnell Taylor, Devin Velez on "American Idol" (Fox)

It’s another week of “American Idol,” and another chance to show how people born in the ‘90s and oldies maybe aren’t the best match.

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I mean, maybe this being the search for the next pop star, you might want to let these guys actually sing some present-day pop music or something. But what do I know, I’ve only spent the last 12 years watching mediocre singers try to do “For Once in My Life” and I’m sick of it, ok?

Last week, the contestants beat the Beatles songbook to a bloody pulp, but also insulted the legendary band by repeatedly admitting they’d never before heard such obscure tracks as “Let it Be.” Tonight, for a Detroit-themed show, someone backstage told them they better pretend like they’d Wikipedia-ed guest mentor Smokey Robinson or else. And most of them were fairly convincing about respecting—or at the very least, about pretending to have heard of Smokey.

Know who HAS heard of Smokey? The judges. But who’s heard of him the most? Nicki Minaj wants him to be her sugar daddy. But then Mariah Carey stands up and turns around and salutes him. So Randy Jackson shouts out to him after every performance starting at about the middle of the show. So then Mariah commends the contestants for sitting in a room with him, forgetting that they probably only looked him up on their phones five minutes before. Still, it’s clear: the judges know about one Smokey Robinson.

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Not really Candice Glover, though, who started off the night by telling Smokey she’d be singing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye. Followed by Smokey telling her that he actually recorded it first. Oops! Plus, Candice didn’t sing MG’s version, but something more like Gladys Knight & the Pips’ version, slowed down and jazzified. We’ll forgive her for not bothering to take 30 seconds to Google the song, though, cause it was soulful and big and strong and the best vocal of the night.

Mariah’s commentary on Candice, though, kicks off a night of incoherency not yet achieved on this show. “You know what I want to hear,” she says. “I want to hear that thing that you do that you know how to do. And I don’t want to go into it with you.” Mmmkay.

Next up was a duet by Kree Harrison and Janelle Arthur, singing Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” in the loosest interpretation of a theme night I’ve ever seen.

So we’re only three weeks into the finals, and we’re already doubling up with duets and such because there aren’t enough contestants to justify a two hour show. Rather than, you know, not be two hours.

Anyway, the two country girls still sound country, but they sing the song with its original pop-choir orchestrations, and it doesn’t really make sense. Except it does make sense compared to what Mariah says next, about it being a hard song to sing because it’s “not written as a big singing song.” Mariah also acknowledges that there is not enough time to “pick apart” the performance because “the powers that be live to cut me off when I get to talking a bit.” Here’s how we know she’s lost her mind. Because the powers that be don’t seem to ever cut her off. She just keeps going, and now we’ve learned that when she stops, apparently there is still more in there that has been left unsaid.

Lazaro Arbos is still here. And he’s the one who picks “For Once in My Life,” a song that in rehearsals, he admits to actually liking. Shocking—I thought Lazaro hated pretty much any song anyone has ever loved, adored, honored, and treasured. His passionate like for the song produces a barely adequate performance which the judges truthfully say is better than his performance of “In My Life” last week—a song that Lazaro, that great judge of music, openly despised. Nicki seems to think Lazaro’s improvement is all her own doing, but is more interested in Smokey’s smooth skin.

At this point, Ryan Seacrest opens Pandora’s box, asking Mariah about “fountains of youth,” to which she just keeps saying words that Ryan tries to stop and can’t. Smokey this, Smokey that, we get it. Smokey’s in the house and you need the number of his plastic surgeon asap. Nicki can’t even look straight ahead, she’s got to have her back to Mariah, in the equivalent of us cringing and putting our fingers in our eras whenever she goes off the rails like this.

Janelle Arthur was a little standout tonight, doing an original arrangement on guitar of “You Keep Me Hanging On.” She’ll probably be in the bottom three tomorrow, though, because she has the third lowest number of Twitter followers, not because the performance wasn’t actually pretty interesting and touching. Janelle sheds a tear as she informs us this is the first time she’s played guitar with a full band.

Devin Velez got a neat little songwriting lesson from Smokey. He chose “Tracks of My Tears,” and the writer himself explained how he came up with the lyric while shaving. For Devin, who has not yet begun to shave, this must sound like something magical and wondrous. It’s enough to inspire him to give a halfway decent performance. Which in turn inspires Nicki to call him a ripe banana—“a good thing,” she says. Nicki admits she was concerned during the intro video, which focused on Devin singing the song “behind the beat.” So Mariah counters that, saying she “loved it from the second I heard what was going on in the studio.”

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The trio of Amber Holcomb, Angie Miller and Candice does “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” in which they decide Candice is Diana Ross, even though Candice is obviously Florence Ballard, and Angie is totally Diana. For one thing, she is not like the others, who are decked out in sparkles, while she wears leather booty shorts. Mariah loves it so much she can’t even think of anything new to say and re-uses an earlier abomination: “Hashtag: Pow.”

Burnell Taylor does this totally weirdly pronounced “My Cherie Amour” and it’s kind of amazing. Him in his white suit, no glasses today, just being his weird self and putting some unusual vocal twists on the song. Nicki says he looks like a sexy doctor or a priest, and calls him artsy. Compared to someone like Lazaro, who’s just trying to get through a song without oozing venom and anger, she’s right. There is art there.

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Angie Miller continued her slide downhill tonight, strutting around with her oiled up legs, singing “Shop Around,” forgetting lyrics, and trying desperately to do this thing called “having fun” that was recommended to her by Jimmy Iovine and Smokey. Smokey’s like, try to have fun, and she’s like, “FINE! GAWD! WHATEVER! LEAVE ME ALONE!” And slams her door. And then comes out in a few hours later in a tight dress, with shiny legs and now she’s some teenage rebel instead of someone who sings at megachurch. Mariah tells her she should have done “I’ll Be There” at the piano, “not because I did a remake,” she clarifies. Nicki tells her not to show us another side of herself when we didn’t ask for it. So basically fun is dumb, especially when Angie tries to have it.

Amber Holcomb is crazy. Not weird crazy like Burnell, but effortless, insane-voiced crazy. She does “Lately” which is a lot like her “My Funny Valentine,” the one where she came out of nowhere to be a contender. All four judges give her a standing ovation, even Mariah, who rarely stands. Mariah goes nuts, and starts giving us a French lesson. “That was a tour de force. A tour de force, dahhhlings. Do you know what that means?” Pause. “Does anybody know what ‘tour de force’ means? (Bleep.)” I think she’s seriously asking for someone to explain it to her.

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Devin, Lazaro and Burnell all return to trio “I Can’t Help Myself.” There’s some lyric dropping, and a disproportionate amount of Devin. Nicki berates them all, saying it reminded her of Hollywood week group night. “I don’t know what that was. I’m gonna act like I didn’t see it or hear it.” Lazaro, she said, fell “flat as a pancake.” She shoos them off stage.

Ryan asks them what went wrong, and Burnell and Devin both defend themselves and try to discreetly drop in there that they knew what they were doing and were trying to help someone else. That someone else, you can bet, was Lazaro, who—guess what—said he never heard the song before.

Last up—Kree. She does Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song,” and do I even need to tell you it’s great? Cause it is, of course. Keith Urban likes how she reminds people of blues and soul roots of country music. Mariah likes how she reminds people about Aretha Franklin. And how she reminds Mariah of that time she herself sang that song on the piano and it was a horrible experience, and those so-called “powers that be” are just letting it go on, and on, and on.


Of course what I think has nothing to do with the reality that the lowest Twitter presence comes in last every week. I expect that Devin, Amber and Janelle will be in the bottom three, with Amber in the most trouble. However, here is my pick for the order, from best to worst.

My place/Twitter followers

1) Candice Glover/29,664
2) Burnell Taylor/28,592
3) Amber Holcomb/15,762
4) Kree Harrison/30,528
5) Janelle Arthur/20,764
6) Devin Velez/16,937
7) Angie Miller/71,219
8) Lazaro Arbos/48,840

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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