“American Idol’s” top 5 is all girls, and boy, they won’t let us forget it. “It’s been six years since a girl won,” the text on the opening montage states. And as exciting as it is for them that they’ve finally broken the white-guy-with-guitar spell of the last six years, it’s also kind of embarrassing each time they bring it up, reminding us again and again how the female contestants of years past have been almost universally ignored and/or hated.
Ryan Seacrest comes out and looks all somber, like he’s going to try to tell us something about Boston, but the audience just won’t stop cheering. He keeps trying to quiet them but keeps getting “I love you” shouts and other unintelligible phrases hurled at him. Finally he gets them to stop long enough to say that “with heavy hearts,” they’re going to try to do the best show they can. I’m taking that to mean there won’t be any contestants annoyingly smiling throughout sad songs like usual. Tonight, it’s ok to look a little blue.
But the contestants don’t seem sad. Instead, they seem comfortable. All of them seemed to be performing tonight in their natural states. Angie Miller on piano, Janelle Arthur on guitar, Amber Holcomb doing jazz. They all found their comfort zones on at least one of their two songs.
So, the judges are all in place, including the panel’s newest member, Nicki Minaj’s cleavage.
And Candice Glover is first up, for the category of songs from the year of the contestants’ birth. These are probably some of the most contemporary songs we’ve gotten to hear on this show, considering the oldest contestants were born in 1989. Candice is one of those, so she does Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” with kind of a coffeehouse vibe, bongos and bass and all. She’s having fun and looking a lot like Queen Latifah, and she’s showing off her scales like always. It’s not like last week, though.
Keith Urban praises Candice and disses Paula all at once. “I never realized that song is such a great song,” he said. Nicki talks back though. “That song has always been great, so please get it together.” Mariah Carey likes how Candice was “putting that Candice on it.” But the most vivid critique of the night goes to Keith, who said that Candice’s runs are “like the slow wink someone gets across the bar.”
Surprise! Jimmy Iovine has been promoted to almost-judge. His criticism actually gets aired on the night of the performance for the first time ever. Although, it airs after commercial break. But still—supremely more useful than the day after. Jimmy disagrees with everyone, saying that the song had too narrow a range for Candice’s big voice, and she needs a bigger song.
Next up: Janelle Arthur. She’s also born in 1989, and chooses Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” a song that used to make her stop crying as a baby. It is lovely. So classic, like old-timey Dolly Parton. Nicki tells her she’s so much better when she’s back on her guitar. Randy Jackson and Mariah love it. But Keith feels like she didn’t have the motion of Vince Gill. But Mariah starts shouting from her end of the table, “Maybe it’s a girl thing, but you brought me to tears!” Jimmy, however, agrees with Keith. “The verses sounded like ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’”
Kree Harrison does “She Talks to Angels” by Black Crowes (1990), and it’s so good that it’s just not interesting anymore. The whole Kree thing. The perfection is getting tiresome, really. Mariah and Keith pick up on that, Mariah noting that Kree is better when she loses it a little, and Keith saying Kree’s a little uncomfortable in front of the cameras. So Nicki says she disagrees with both Keith and Mariah, but Mariah takes issue with that and there’s a whole thing. “I disagree with your disagreement,” she says to Nicki, and then just proceeds to applaud herself while Nicki continues her point. Jimmy feels like the song wasn’t a good choice for Kree.
Angie Miller goes back to what she’s good at, after some very bad weeks, playing piano and singing from the heart. She devotes The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” (1994—oh my god I feel so old) to the city of her home suburb, Boston. It’s a great song choice, but her enunciation is still an issue. “geT mad. hurT you.” It’s annoying. But everyone loves it. They especially love that she shouted out to Boston, each and every one of them commenting on that. Nicki goes so far as to say that it as “a smart choice as an artist” to do that. Seriously, that’s not eligible for critique, people.
Amber Holcomb, I think, is the first season 12 contestant (outside of auditions) to sing a Mariah Carey song, and she does “Without You” from 1994. Her intro video shows her dad once again sternly warning her that she better do a good job, this time he advises her not to be shy and just do it. Amber’s voice is gorgeous, and she gets some accolades, but Nicki just flat out doesn’t like it. She feels like the lower parts were too restrained, and that Mariah’s version is just too classic to mess with. Mariah, though, who knows what she thought? She just talks all about how her mom would sing it to her, and then she thought she could make it an “international hit,” and so she did, and now she doesn’t even sing it in America because it’s such an “international hit.” Jimmy agrees about the low parts but he does think Amber is in second place so far.
Candice’s second song, for the Divas category, is Mariah and Whitney Houston’s “When You Believe.” In her intro video, she said she initially didn’t want to sing Mariah in front of Mariah, but that after getting assaulted by Mariah’s glitter last week, she feels like they’re tight now. Candice goes for full-on power ballad, with the giant key change and all (show Lazaro how it’s done, girl). All four judges give her a standing o. And Nicki continues fangirling Mariah, which is making everyone uncomfortable. Saying how she used to listen to that song as a kid and believing in the message and how Candice made that message come out and Boston, don’t forget to mention Boston.
Janelle was always the underdog, but here she sealed her fate, picking Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde,” a ridiculous uptempo song that showed none of her gifts. Keith pointed out that out of Dolly’s vast catalog of hits, this song is just not high up on the list. Nicki essentially sends her packing.
Then comes the other country artist, and she’s doing a Celine Dion song? Kree picks “Have You Ever Been in Love” and, being that this is a diva category, demands 1,000 white kittens for her dressing room. Yes, please! The song is stunning, beautiful, powerful, and all four judges, once again, give a standing o. Nicki tells her she just elevated her net worth as an artist.
Angie chooses Beyonce’s “Halo,” obviously for its many references to praying, saving grace and, of course, halos. But if that’s what she needs to think about in order to connect to a song, so be it. She’s off the piano, and it’s the best off piano she’s ever done. Another unanimous o, and very succinct but high praise from the judges.
Finally, somebody is doing a Barbra Streisand song on this show! Amber picks “What Are You Doing with the Rest of Your Life,” to show her jazzy side like in “My Funny Valentine.” And because Amber genuinely seems to love Babs, which I totally love about her. The number is very subdued for the closing spot of the night, but she pulls off some insane vocal complexities in the most beautiful way. She’s insanely good. Standing o’s all around. Nicki calls her a young Whitney. Randy calls her a young Rihanna. Mariah contemplates why Amber still hasn’t quite caught on fan-wise. Naturally, she boils it down in the most logical way. “If America doesn’t get this, I don’t know. I’m an American and I get this.”
The top three are undoubtedly going to be Candice, Angie and Kree, as is usually the case. So Janelle and Amber are by default in trouble. Janelle did the worse of the two, so should probably go home, but who knows? Amber had a stellar night but as we are continually reminded, no one in the United States of America finds her at all likable. My guess is that the results will be close to the order of social media popularity, though I’d like to see Amber come out on top.
My ranking / Twitter followers
1. Amber Holcomb / 32,716
2. Angie Miller / 104,769
3. Candice Glover / 56,548
4. Janelle Arthur / 34,551
5. Kree Harrison / 54,099