Second time is not a charm on “American Idol.” For tonight’s Top 4 redux, the very fibers that hold the show together seemed to be fraying. Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey bickered, the guest mentor usurped the judges’ power, and finally, someone actually called out the ridiculous over-the-top interpretations of lyrics these girls don’t understand. Tonight was a night where everything that needed to be said on this show was actually said. And it made everyone look bad.
The two rounds were 2013 songs and classics. So, finally when the contestants get a chance to sing something current, they are at the same time forced back into a songbook that expired before their parents were born.
Guest mentoring was Harry Connick, Jr., who maybe wasn’t the obvious choice for 2013 songs, but was exactly what these girls needed for the classics. In both rounds, he gave amazing advice. And in both rounds, no one listened.
Angie Miller started off the night in the rehearsal room with Harry, who pretended like he hated her (though it’s probably funny cause it’s true). So the two banter a bit and end up improvising a song together called “Take Care” that shows Angie being kind of quirky and smart and adorable all at once, something she never really pulls off. I mean, any improvisation to cut away from her creepy calculations is just major. But out on stage, that all goes away. She sings “Diamonds” on the piano, which was good but got a little screamy. Nicki felt like Angie was making too much eye contact and trying to reach out too much to the audience. When the critique got to Mariah, she said she sensed Angie playing to the camera. So Nicki interrupts to say Mariah agrees with her. And Mariah’s doing anything in her power to say no. Even though she is basically saying exactly what Nicki said. Round 1: draw.
“Idol” Drama: Did Nicki Diss Mariah?
For Angie’s second number, she chooses “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and her video is all about how her mom sang it around the house. Harry continues to say he doesn’t like her, and that he saw her steal some silverware. I think he really doesn’t like her, because he doesn’t really say anything to help her be more relatable than a Disney princess, which is what Nicki compares her to. Mariah, of course brings it all back to her, and how her mom used to sing that song to her, too. “Thank you for choosing this song,” she says, “because it has a special significance TO ME.” That’s all well and good and typical Mariah, but then she feels the need to register a disagreement with “certain members of the panel” about Angie sounding better in her upper register (which is what Nicki told her). Mariah exaggerates, of course, that whoever said that, said “every moment has to be at the top,” to which Nicki starts telling Mariah to “clean them ears out,” and then—literally—takes a Q-tip out of her purse and waves it at Mariah. It’s hard to know what anyone is saying at this point, there’s just a lot of screeching and Q-tip waving. Didn’t Nicki see that “Girls” episode? Those things are dangerous! All I know is it ends with Mariah saying, “Your notes will continue to shine, regardless of the dirt that gets splattered around you.” Whoa. Round 2: Nicki might have the edge on this battle, only cause she had props.
For 2013 songs, Amber Holcomb inexplicably chose a song she obviously does not know, Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason.” In rehearsal with Harry, she hummed and snapped her way through, because she didn’t know any lyrics. But she actually came across as loose and likable. Harry tells her she should do that for the performance, but she doesn’t. On stage, she’s stiff as ever, and even though she sang the words this time, still performed as if she’d never heard the song before. Everyone tries to give her a pass, and goes on about how difficult Pink’s music is. Just take that in for a minute. Randy Jackson tells her it seems like the fun has gone away from everyone.
After the break, Ryan’s wandering through the audience and making fun of Carole Bayer Sager’s hair, and then walking right past—and then standing completely in front of—Haley Reinhart, without introducing her.
For her classic, Amber sings a song she’s already sung before. Cause there just aren’t enough classics in the world, I guess. It’s “My Funny Valentine.” And here’s where Harry kicks into high gear. He asks her if she knows what the song is about, and here’s what she says: “a guy who is being funny.” Harry’s head exploded. Does she know what “your looks are laughable” means? No. What a Greek figure is? Definitely no. It’s embarrassing. He tries to give her a history lesson on Lorenz Hart—he even tells her to look him up, which you know she was totally not going to do. His critique really makes her seem so much less likable now. I’m realizing she does not know how to interpret lyrics, that her emotional moments are copycat from someone else who did know how. That Amber’s an actor, but she’s not an artist. Her performance is well sung, but Harry’s notes keep coming back into mind. At the end, she goes up on a triumphant high note. The judges all say they loved the second half of the song. Amber’s dad is crying. She’s crying, but I think it’s because Harry made her look stupid. Ryan walks up to her and tells her that the reason she is crying is because she is experiencing “real raw emotion.” Something that has been heretofore unknown to her, apparently.
After this break, Ryan questions Harry about the performance, and he rails against the runs, especially that last high note. It “doesn’t make sense.” And you know what? He’s right. Because the song is dark, not sunny, and that’s not something these people get.
Candice Glover, always to the rescue. Her contemporary pick was Bruno Mars’s “When I Was Your Man,” which Harry is baffled by but then tells Candice she’d be an attractive guy and kind of goes gay for her. Doesn’t matter. Candice proves to be a solid interpreter of other people’s music, and by electing to sing a gendered song without changing the lyrics, and make it convincing, she’s already won the night. She makes that phrase sound like something perfectly normal for a woman to say. And Keith Urban tells her it could have been “when I was your giraffe” and he’d have believed her. Nicki says the song actually deserved a standing ovation, and Randy suggests they give her one. So Nicki, Randy and Keith stand. As they sit, Mariah then gets up, and mimes another confetti assault at Candice. Take that as a warning, Candice.
For her part two, Candice choose Billie Holiday’s “You’ve Changed.” Harry tells her to sing the lyrics, as bittersweet as they are. “Maybe some 14-year-olds in the audience won’t get it,” he says, but the lyrics are more important than runs. Second to only Jimmy Iovine, this guy speaks the truth and I love it. Candice improves in rehearsal with Harry’s help, actually just saying some really heartbreaking stuff and letting us hear that. But in performance, she goes back to her Candicey ways. Still, it’s less of a familiar song than the other girl’s standards, so maybe that’s why it works. This time, she actually gets a standing ovation, from everyone. Randy tells Harry that you “can’t take a church kid like Amber or (Candice) and tell them not to sing runs.” Nicki, for some reason, doesn’t say anything, even though her job is to say just one thing for like a zillion dollars. And that is why life is not fair.
Kree Harrison, whom the judges tried and failed to send home last week, had another opportunity to try to get back to her old self and show any kind of care or passion for the words she was singing. She picked Carrie Underwood’s “See You Again,” and in rehearsal, Harry was impressed that she dialed it back and skipped the “oh-oh-ohs.” Of course, in performance, the “oh-oh-ohs” were there, just sung by the backups. She definitely does a better job on this than her stuff last week. And the lyrics lend themselves to her backstory. But suddenly I have an epiphany. It’s like, this whole time, we’ve been wanting her to sing about her dead parents. Because Kree’s a child who has suffered tragedy, and yet never rambled on about wanting to be an inspiration to all the orphans out there, the way so many other contestants would have milked that (ahem Lazaro). We want her to be so much sadder than she is! And that’s why we don’t like her anymore. She’s actually got it all together and we can’t feel bad for her and so she’s boring to us now. Kree is the anti-“Idol.”
Still, Nicki felt like Kree was back with this performance, telling her she “sang with your eyes.” The other judges weren’t as convinced though, especially Keith, who at this point just basically has no interest in her at all anymore. Randy, of course, promoted his stupid catch phrase/hashtag, “in it to win it,” which I don’t get how it can be a catchphrase because it’s a real phrase, but whatever. And Mariah gives her best unintelligible critique yet: Complimenting Kree’s restraint, she says, “I know you didn’t go wild at the end in a complete vocal tirade for laughs.” For laughs? WHAT?
Kree wraps the night—or so we thought—with “Stormy Weather,” and here is where all hell breaks loose. In the mentor session, Harry tells her to stop doing the runs, because “they’re wrong.” And he gets on the piano and shows her how a song where the notes are supposed to come down like rain sound stupid when they go up and left and right and all over. “Learn why the melody works the way it does,” he tells her, and she looks like she’s taking it in. But she can’t do it. There are runs everywhere, she shows no restraint on a couple of climactic phrases that shouldn’t be climactic, and gives it a big old high note at the end. Unfortunately, after three mentoring sessions where Harry tells the contestants not to do runs, he’s in everybody’s head, and there’s no way to enjoy what Kree just did. Mariah said she wishes Kree did a bluesy song, and that basically she can’t think of anything else because of what Harry said. Keith said she should have just chosen another song rather than have to defy Harry. Nicki and Randy both talk about Kree’s song choice, and Randy says Kree should have stuck to who she is and followed the Etta James version of the song instead of the Lena Horne version of the song.
Ryan asks Harry for a response and Keith pulls him up to the judges’ panel to talk. Other than a giddy, “I’m holding Keith Urban’s hand!” Harry seems pissed. He picks a fight with Randy over the ridiculousness of telling Kree to sing the song like herself, but to also sing it like Etta James. First, says Harry, “you have to know the song.” And then, he gets mad about the song choice critique. “This was written by the same guy as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’!” he says. Randy’s saying something that basically sounds like “Ho Ho Ho!” and Harry yells out, “Randy STOP!” Somebody get these guys some Q-tips!
We thought this amazing night was over, but noooo. After the commercial there’s a group sing. Of “Wings” by Little Mix. With no explanation whatsoever, either before or after. There’s some marching, and a confetti pop at the end. (Mariah, did you have something to do with that?) And now, this night of insanity is finally over.
With Amber’s affront to lyricists everywhere, my love for her has gone way down. Candice is still, for me, the winner of the night. Angie was a little too cutesy but I appreciated her banter and improv with Harry Connick, Jr., so she moves up on my list tonight. And Kree’s still just checked out.
Here are my picks for the night, plus each contestants’ Twitter fandom.
1) Candice Glover/70,154
2) Angie Miller/130,612
3) Kree Harrison/66,922
4) Amber Holcomb/43,533