This just in: Mariah Carey is currently in the American Idol naughty corner (located somewhere between Keith Urban’s fitted t-shirt room and Nicki Minaj’s false-eyelash trunk).
Yes indeed, the “We Belong Together” singer mentioned in one of many verbose critiques tonight that she’d been “reprimanded by the powers that be” for failing to perform her duties as a judge (and presumably for doing little else besides offering empty platitudes and avoiding eye contact with the crazy cartoon character two chairs to her left). Said talking-to resulted in the debut of Mariah 2.0, a malfunctioning robot who spat out wilted word salads like “that was more in a direction of a performance that would be preferable” and shot glitter from her fingertips. What the what now?
In the end, though, the Reconfiguration of Mimi was a mere footnote to the emergence of Candice Glover not just as the true Season 12 front-runner, but as the kind of vocalist who — if there’s any justice in the world, and if there’s any common sense left in radio-station programmers — should be poised to have her name uttered in the same vaunted company as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson, the franchise’s three boldest-faced alumnae.
Candice’s one-two punch — a modern twist on Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over” that Mary J. Blige probably wishes she’d done herself, and a wicked rearrangement of The Cure’s “Love Song” that was far more complicated and daring than the Adele cover that inspired it — TKO’d Nicki, Keith, Randy and Jimmy’s stupid, lying assessment last week that Ms. Glover was not among the Top 3 contenders to inherit Phillip Phillips crown and sash.
Not only was Candice transcendent, though, but her rivals Kree Harrison and Amber Holcomb delivered some pretty potent performances of their own — enough to ensure that no single contestant can afford to phone-in a single note over the next five weeks of competition. Heck, Angie Miller and Janelle Arthur were reasonably good, too. Who says Season 12 is a dud? (Okay, I might — if Lazaro Arbos survives another Thursday night cut at the expense of one of the ladies. And apologies for even putting that idea into the universe.)
Anyhow…on to tonight’s set list/letter grades!
Angie Miller: “Anyone Who Had A Heart” | The judges came down on Angie for a lack of “humanity” (Keith), for coming off as old-fashioned (Nicki), and for overenunciating at the expense of emotion (Mariah), but (heaven help me for saying this) Randy came closest to nailing Angie’s failure, even if he didn’t articulate it very well: We’re at a point in the competition where World’s Brightest Teeth needs to do more than offer a clean and competent vocal. As someone who’s proven her songwriting chops, she should’ve played with the arrangement to better emphasize the song’s maudlin emotions — or at least copied Shelby Lynne’s mesmerizing take from a couple years back. In other words, girlfriend needs to get in touch with her inner David Cook, and shut down her inner Thia Megia. Grade: B
Amber Holcomb: “I Say A Little Prayer” | The judges were so wildly effusive about Amber’s opening performance that — had one tuned in just at the point where they started giving feedback — one might’ve thought she’d laid hands on the sickly and infirm down in the Space Formerly Known as the Swaybot Pit and cured several cases of leprosy and blindness — plus an instance of hantavirus. That said, her vocal was pretty spectacular — full of gorgeous little stylistic choices like that riff on “my darlin’ believe me” and her muscular runs toward the finish. To be fair, Amber occasionally looked a little lost up on the Idol stage — like if she moved around enough, she might eventually bump into Sonny & Cher or something — but the robin’s-egg zip-front pantsuit was fierce. Grade: A-
Lazaro Arbos: “(They Long to Be) Close to You” | Even before his spectacularly unsuccessful key change, Lazaro’s “Close to You” was going the way of yesterday’s newspaper (cue half the Idol contestants this year: “What’s a newspaper?”) in a driving rainstorm. The opening verse was pitched way too low, as Keith noted, causing him to go crazy sharp. The bridge was barely audible. The green and turquoise suit? Well, I’m pretty sure that got shipped in directly from the sales rack in the fourth circle of hell. But oh, when the band changed keys and Lazaro didn’t, it was the musical equivalent of a honeyed ham being thrown off a highway overpass and into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler. Mariah Dahling took a good 11 minutes to point out that in instance where the band changes keys and the singer does not, “that’s just the end of the song,” but I appreciated that she finally provided a Lazaro critique that wasn’t sponsored by the word “courage.” It’s really time for America to spare this kid any further indignity, but with an Unused Save that expires on Thursday night at 9pm, I’m bracing myself for Lazaro to last one more week. The universe, or Uncle Nigel, will demand that Save be activated for ratings’ sake. And that requires a lady sacrifice, doesn’t it? Grade: F
Kree Harrison: “What the World Needs Now Is Love” | Oh em gee, what a little slice of heaven it was when Kree delivered the opening few bars of the song without any musical accompaniment, her voice glowing like the embers of a fire on a cold and rainy day. I kinda wish the band had never kicked in — an a capella Kree might’ve split the water-cooler buzz with Candice — but the good news is for the first time in weeks, Kree seemed completely emotionally invested in what she was singing (while maintaining her standard pitch perfection). “What the World Needs Now Is Love” is a lot less angsty than last week’s “Piece of My Heart,” and yet Kree’s intensity was far more palpable this time around. The way she delivered the chorus almost felt like a demand, or at least a plea, whereas a lesser vocalist would’ve struggled to elevate the wide-eyed lyrics past being just empty platitudes. Mariah’s whole rant about how Kree doesn’t need to “ham it up” and make faces missed the point of what Kree’s critics have been saying: Hearing her get lost in the music tonight (and not worrying about teetering in silly heels) got me back to that early-season fantasy about a Candice-Kree finale. Wouldn’t that be maybe the best thing to happen on TV in 2013? Grade: A
Janelle Arthur: “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” | First things first: Most reality singing contestants who start their songs out in the audience wind up wandering to the intersection of Cheesy and Desperate, but not Janelle. This chick has enough stage presence and confidence in her own skills that her Idol performances often play out like snippets from her future concerts — and said concerts look like they’d be a lot of fun, too. Did Janelle hit a couple wonky notes on the bridge? Yeah. Did her big final note hit the water like an uncoordinated kid falling off a diving board? Sadly, yes. But for the most part, Janelle’s straightforward approach highlighted an upper register as light and sweet as a really good soufflé. Grade: B+
Candice Glover: “Don’t Make Me Over” | I’m not at all ashamed to admit that my personal trajectory during Candice’s performance began with my nose crinkling and my head shaking from side to side, continued with my throwing a Gospel hand and shouting various encouragements (“Gurrrrl!” “You bettah SING!”) that sounded like found audio from RuPaul’s Drag Race and ended with me violently punching the air (during the whole “Accept me for what I ay-am!” portion) with tears streaming down my face. Somehow, in the midst of my reverie, I managed to jot a few notes about the featheriness of the phrase “inside your arms,” the gorgeous low rumble of “by my side,” and the way the backup singers were grinning from ear to ear, happy to be part of a moment that was truly, madly magical. As for anyone who still doubts Candice’s commercial potential, I’ve got to ask: If girlfriend can take a 51-year-old song (with lyrics so retro, they’re borderline campy) and make it sound as fresh and inventive as anything that’s currently on the radio right now, imagine what she’ll do when she’s paired up with the hottest names in R&B, pop and jazz music? In other words, isn’t it time the United States exported our own answer to Adele back across the pond? Vote for Candice, people — it’s the patriotic thing to do, and it’s good for the economy! (Side note: Keith, you’re not entirely forgiven for leaving Candice out of your Top 3 last week, but your shout-out that “DMMO” vaulted her squarely into that position has been duly noted.) Grade: A+
“Song I Wish I’d Written” Theme
Angie Miller: Kari Jobe’s “Love Came Down” | Doesn’t it seem like it’s been a few months since Angie sat behind the piano? I know, I know, she was at the keys for part of her Evanescence song last week — but the interlude was all too brief. Tonight, though, she gave the judges and everybody elese what they wanted, while also proving daring and single-minded enough to choose a Christian-pop number that I’m guessing 97 percent of the audience had never ever heard. If I’m being brutally honest, this won’t be a track I download off iTunes, but I loved Angie’s conviction — and the joy she clearly felt while introducing it to the Idol audience. Yeah, there were a couple of shrill notes at the very top of her register, and the “white doves in flight” backdrop was too literal by half, but as Nicki noted, if Angie’s going to have a shot to take the Season 12 crown, this performance provided the necessary blueprint. Grade: A-
Amber Holcomb: Beyoncé’s “Love On Top” | I was so elated to hear Amber go simultaneously uptempo and current, that I initially gave her performance an A-. But upon a second listen, it’s clear that Mariah got it right: There were definitely a few notes Amber would probably want to take a second whack at if she’d had the help of a certain bowtie-clad, time-traveling Doctor. What can’t be knocked, however, is the air of youthful exuberance/nonchalance that’s been the hallmark of Amber’s Idol run. There she is in her denim shorts so tiny that the pockets have to wave the flag for modesty, tossing off Beyoncé’s series of higher and higher notes with what feels like the shrug of the shoulder. “Yeah, don’t worry, I’ve got this,” seems to be the kid’s life mantra, and 9 times out of 10, she does. Grade:
Lazaro Arbos: Robbie Williams’ “Angels” | It wasn’t all that bad. Well, except for the opening and closing notes, which were pretty rough. And the metalic bowtie. (How many of those can one boy own?) But what’s the point of constructive criticism for Lazaro when, ultimately, what he needs is four or five years of life experience and intense vocal training before he’s fit to even be an also-ran behind a Kree or a Candice or a Janelle. The problem is, the judges should have known and acted on that fact back in Hollywood Week, but their love of backstory (or Uncle Nigel’s desire to create Susan Boyle 2.0) got in the way. And that’s left Lazaro in the heinous position of being utterly outclassed, being totally aware that he’s outclassed, but being stuck in a vicious cycle where the people who profess to love him won’t allow him to get to the escape hatch. It really starts to get depressing when you think about it. Grade: C+
Kree Harrison: Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” | Kree amped up the fashion with that little black dress this week, but it wasn’t a random act of hotness. Nope, this week Kree picked a song that carried the “adult language” and “sexual situations” warning labels, and the mood (as well as the dress) fit her flawlessly. I loved the abandon Kree displayed on the line “let the devil take tomorrow,” the cry in her voice that emerged on the bridge. At last, we rediscovered the focused, emotionally deep contestant who gave us “Evidence,” “Up to the Mountain,” and “Crying” — and we didn’t even have to hear Randy shout “Kree is BACK, America!” Keith is right: With material like this, Kree is likely to get a Grand Ole Opry membership card sooner or later — emphasis on sooner. Grade: A
Janelle Arthur: Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” | It probably didn’t help Janelle’s confidence that Nicki Minaj had already declared Kree’s superiority as a country artist before Janelle had even taken the stage. But this isn’t a game of excuses, and I’m sad to say there was a slightly deflated quality to Janelle’s finished product that reminded me of an air mattress that’s lost some of its firmness and purpose after being slept on for a couple nights. Keith’s point that Janelle might’ve fared better had she performed “The Dance” with nothing but an acoustic guitar was an interesting one, but more importantly, this is a woman who needs to realize her strengths — as a competitor and a post-Idol artist — lie in the soft, lilting parts of her instrument. As a flat-out belter, on the other hand, she’s playing a game she’s unlikely to win. Grade: B
Candice Glover: The Cure’s “Love Song” | Are we in The Sixth Sense? Is anyone else capable of actually reading these words? Because Candice killed me dead — in the best possible way — when she gave “Love Song” an exhillerating jazz rearrangement. I mean, I’m not even kidding: About a third of the way through the song, I’m pretty sure the Holy Ghost hopped by the studio and whispered some kind of unintelligible utterance into the Idol mics — or maybe it was just a boom mic getting dropped? — that, when played backwards, spells “Vote Candice, you idiots!” I would’ve appreciated it if the directors had quit cutting to Randy for his pattented “this is great, dawg!” faces as Candice delivered that powerhouse vocal, but yeah, I’m gonna need to revise my Best Idol Performance gallery after witnessing another combination of vocal mastery and emotional rawness.
Okay, your turn: What did you think of Season 12 Top 6 performance night? What did you think of the judges’ comments? Who was your favorite? Who’s going to be in trouble come results night? Is Lazaro’s time finally up? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV