American Idol Recap: Divas' Advocates [Updated]

Amber-Holcomb-American-Idol-Barbra-StreisandPay no attention to the man alongside the curtain!

Yes, folks, this week on American Idol, Jimmy Iovine surrendered his “mentoring” role and pre-performance “advisory” sessions and instead put on his Justin Bieber Bigboy Collection (TM) cap to bark like a snake-oil salesman and rally a nation of speed-dialers behind Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb after their Round 1 “Songs From the Year They Were Born” numbers.

Did Jimmy possibly pre-tape his commentary before the live Top 5 telecast? It sure felt that way, considering his effusiveness about Amber’s moderately successful stab at Mariah Carey and Angie’s vocally dubious Pretenders cover that seemed to connect only because she’d started by dedicating it to the bombing victims in her home state of Massachusetts. C’mon, though, if we were judging this competition on sentiment, Lazaro Arbos would be poised to inherit Phillip Phillips’ crown and sash.

If Jimmy’s #TeamAmber t-shirt and #TeamAngie placcard weren’t enough to sway the public, the judges added four exclamation points during Round 2 (a drearily executed “Divas” theme). Keith, Nicki, Mariah and the foolio who’s always yapping “in it to win it!” all got on their feet for Angie and Amber, as well as Candice Glover and Kree Harrison.

Had this been a kindergarten singing lesson, then poor Janelle Arthur was playing the role of the cheese, standing alone, waiting for the Uncle Nigel Great Symbolic Tours Bus to pull up and carry her directly to the summer tour, without passing go, and without upsetting the pre-ordained order of How Things Were Meant to Be*. (*Unless there’s still a “Save.”) (There’s probably still a “Save.”)

To be fair, Janelle had arguably her weakest night in all of Season 12, but her shortcomings weren’t a magic elixir that fixed Angie’s intermittent pitch problems.

Anyhow, let’s get down to reviewing the evening’s set, shall we?

Songs from the Year They Were Born
Candice Glover: Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” | I’m a hardcore conspiracy theorist when it comes to Idol — and tonight I was struck by a bone-chilling realization while suffering through some shoddy camera work that too often focused on the back of Candice’s head. No matter how much the judges praise Candice’s performances, they never mention looking forward to her post-Idol albums or concerts. In their feedback, Candice only exists within the confines of the competition, and it makes me worry that it’s a not-so-subtle campaign to undervalue the most creative, most daring and most vocally spot-on woman in the Top 5. (Hmmm…didn’t Haley Reinhart get the same treatment back in Season 10?) All that aside, “Straight Up” proved to be yet another masterful interpretation of an unexpected number from The Lady Glover: In her hands, Paula Abdul’s chirpily delivered earworm became a swaying jazz ditty, muscled up with upright bass and bongo drums for good measure. As Keith noted, Candice’s expertly placed runs were like slow winks from across the bar, and her “buh-buh bye-byes” were so saucy and expressive, I let out an involuntary whoop of delight in response. Jimmy jumped on to the screen to yap that Candice needed a bigger song with a broader range, but that made no sense. I mean, did he miss the part where Candice lifted Paula’s narrow vocal line like a baby up on her shoulders and took it on the journey of a lifetime? Sheesh! Grade: A-

Janelle Arthur: Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” | There’s not a whole lot to say about Janelle’s performance this week: It was a pretty but somewhat pedestrian rendition of a Vince Gill chestnut about the unexpected end of a love affair. And as Keith pointed out, the central pain and loneliness were absent from the performance, like a juicy hamburger that’s void of even salt and pepper: If you eat it on auto-pilot while reading emails at your desk, it’s perfectly acceptable; but once you close your eyes and pay attention, you can’t help but be a wee bit disappointed. Grade: B

Kree Harrison: The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” | Kree’s opening number prompted the first live argument between Mariah and Nicki all season, one that ended with Nicki’s madcap plea of, “Simmer down, sir!” But hey, at least the neophyte lady judges are acknowledging each other’s presence again, right? You’ve gotta start somewhere. But I digress… Kree’s vocal was supple and inviting as always — like a nice glass of Pinot Noir that you end up topping off, even if you don’t need to — but Mariah was absolutely right in noting a lack of organic-ness in the actual performance (even if she buried it under more “keep doing what you’re doing” blatherspeak). Kree kept smiling at the most inopportune moments — and then added to the weird vibe with a series of head shimmies that almost made it look like she was dismissing the notes that had just come out of her mouth. Was it the stupid spike-heel boots she wore for Nicki? Come on, Kreedom, boots or barefoot next week! Grade: A- B+ (hate to downgrade this from my original mark, but it’s a televised performance — and visuals count!)

Angie Miller: The Prentenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” | Look, I’m not going to complain at all about Angie’s shout-out to her family and friends near Boston at the start of a ballad that’s all about lining up shoulder to shoulder with your loved ones even/especially in their darkest hours. (Having been in Boston myself this year to watch a friend run the marathon, I still haven’t completely processed the unspeakable events that occurred just as we were heading out of the city.) But ultimately, this is still a competition — not a benefit concert — and therefore the judges had a responsibility not to give a standing ovation (at least Nicki stayed seated), but to give some honest feedback about Angie going shrill on her high notes, going flat in her lower register, flubbing her cues on the lines “when the night falls on you” and “standing at the crossroads,” and using her Xacto-knife diction to blunt the flow of Chrissie Hynde’s original. Jimmy calling this “the performance of the night” makes me wonder if he pre-recorded his commentary after dress rehearsals or if he’s now part of Uncle Nigel’s pre-season storyboarding process. Otherwise, The 50-Year-Old Bieber needs to simmer down. Grade: C+

Amber Holcomb: Mariah Carey’s version of Badfinger’s “Without You” | Is it just me, or did Amber sound just ever so slightly behind the band for the opening verse of the song she was scared to sing in front of Mariah Carey? Perhaps that was part of the emotional flatness that Nicki so astutely noted in the face of a standing ovation from her three fellow judges. To make matters worse, the opening pair of “can’t lives” were pitched too low for Amber, and her approach to a couple of the big honkin’ glory notes made my nose crinkle involuntarily (and not in a good way). The bigger crime, though, was that Amber lacked that desperate break in her voice that makes Mariah’s rendition so haunting. This was more an undertaking to admire than a performance to be felt deeply. And thus, my second downgrade from my first impression. (Ugh, I’m the worst tonight.) Grade: B B-

Candice Glover: Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston’s “When You Believe” | I get it, I get it, it was a “DIVAS” theme tonight on Idol, but I wish the Season 12 Fab 5 had dug a little deeper into their selected artists’ catalogs to mine some of their more modern-leaning anthems. I mean, imagine Candice on “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” or “Heartbreaker” or “We Belong Together” (aka the Best Song Mariah Has Ever Recorded)? (Look at me, so deep in my daydream.) But then again, this…is American Idol. Sometimes you have to give the people Grandma what she (thinks she) wants. And it’s darn near impossible to fault Candice on the technical skill with which she scaled (and then rappelled down) Mt. Mariah and Mt. Whitney — without even breaking a sweat. Candice’s body language was just a tad stiff — those outstretched arms felt a little bit like a crutch — but she ticked the final empty box marked “I can do soundtracks, too” box in the “total package” worksheet. If she’s the lowest vote-getter on Thursday, then I hope that creepy entity who interrupted last week’s “Lovesong” comes back and puts the Idoloonie nation in the naughty corner. Grade: B+

Janelle Arthur: Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde” | I’m pretty sure Jimmy’s rant that Janelle needed to go emotional on her second performance was stuck in her craw before she sang the first word of Dolly’s cutesy but hardly seminal “Dumb Blonde.” Knowing her song choice was never going to arrive in Terminal E(motion), girlfriend figured she might as well stand on the flight attendant’s desk in Terminal F(un) and give everyone a rompin’ stompin’ good time. Yet what began as determination quickly turned to desperation. All that moving around seemed to leave Janelle breathless and occasionally drown out by the amped up guitar and bass: Her voice almost disappeared on a number of the song’s more staccato notes, and veered off pitch in places where she stretched her upper register. Maybe Nicki’s warning that Janelle could be in jeopardy will spur her fan base and put Candice or Kree or Amber at risk, but I suspect this is the number that stamped Janelle’s membership to the Fifth Place Club. Grade: C+

Kree Harrison: Celine Dion’s “Have You Ever Been in Love” | Much like Candice’s second performance, Kree’s was a strongly sung, pitch-perfect (well, except for the opening note) cover of a song that’s as exciting as dryer lint. (Actually, I take that back: Removing lint from the dryer — and marveling at its fabric-esque cohesiveness — is one of my favorite unofficial household responsibilities.) I could go on about how I wish Kree had done “Taking Chances” or “I Drove All Night” or even “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” but they can’t all be “Evidence” or “Up to the Mountain” or “What the World Needs Now,” I suppose. Nicki, neck deep in a pool of hyperbole that she’ll probably be stuck in through mid-May, went on and on about how Kree isn’t country, she’s worldly, she’s iconic, she’s Adele, she’s Celine, she’ll be as viable at 20 as she is at 50 (whoops! she’s already 22!), and that “Have You Ever Been in Love” had just elevated her personal net worth. And then Nicki built a giant, vapor-filled bubble around Kree’s personal performance space, to ensure Kreedom’s highly valuable instrument never gets dehydrated. The end. Grade: B+

Angie Miller: Beyoncé’s “Halo” | Angie definitely wins the award for Best Dressed (was that draped mini made out of metal?). And she also takes home the prize for Most Disconcerting Backdrop (twin images of her face, in black and white, standing sentinel as Uncle Nigel prepared her coronation). But despite all the first-rate production, the judges’ post-performance rapture and Angie’s elbow grease (her desire to win this thing never seems to waver), I thought the arrangement was abysmal, and the vocal more solid than spectacular. Granted, the former was more the fault of the show’s backup singers, who transported me back to the Spyro Gyra concert I’ve never attended, but the latter shortcoming falls squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Miller. The opening two-thirds were pretty solid — aside from a loss of power on those upper register “oohs” — but the real trouble began in the final third, as Angie’s repeated ad-libs (“pray it won’t fade away!” “don’t fade away!”) dissolved into a shouting, not-entirely-musical chant. That mood shift, to my ears, missed the point of Beyoncé’s rapturous anthem: “Halo” is a celebration of those angels who come into our lives and change us forever, not a plea so they won’t abandon us in our time of need. I might be in the minority, but that disconnect scraped up against my ears like a shopping cart against the side of a brand new car. Grade: B-

Amber Holcomb: Barbra Streisand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” | Since Amber got her “Mariah Moment” out of the way in Round 1, it freed her up to return to the jazzy first-impression she made back in Vegas with “My Funny Valentine.” And like a favorite old t-shirt you find crumpled at the back of your drawer, the tone and range of “How Are You Doing…” proved to be a flawless fit for Amber. Girfriend caressed the melody so delicately, it was as if she barely left a fingerprint, and yet at the same time, she drove home the gooey romanticism at the center of the composition. Randy, in his infinite ineloquence, somehow name-checked Rihanna in his critique — as if Riri is capable of running Babs through her goat-bleat processor! — but let’s pretend that didn’t happen. Amber showcased a more classical side of her artistry, and while it didn’t quite provide a “Love Song”-level rafter shaking (and while her diction could still use a little work), it certainly ranked as one of her finest Season 12 moments. Grade: A-

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Season 12 Top 5 performance night? Did four of the last five performances earn Standing Os? Who was your favorite? Who’s going to be in trouble come results night? How obvious was it that the show wants Janelle to get gone? 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!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Zen says:

    Slezak, A- for Amber’s version of ‘What are you doing the rest of your life’?? I know you aren’t a fan of hers but you can’t be serious? Like Randy said that song is DIFFICULT with all the minor/major chord changes. She hit every note on point. For that alone it should have been an A+

  2. Loni says:

    I also disagree, I thought Angie did great last night. Considering how emotional she must have been and to sing songs that made her that way, I loved her performances for being so raw.

    Candice yet again proved she’s a powerhouse.

    Poor Janelle just seems confused so much of the time. The sweetest girl, she just needs a really good producer to help her natural creativity blossom, I think.

    Kree is the epitome of relaxing music and while none of her performances ever stand out to me as ‘the best ever!’ they’re all just lovely to listen to. When will she ditch those shoes though??

    Then there’s Amber. I know she’s very talented, I just find her so boring. Anyone else? Her songs just all sound the same to me. Maybe it’s because like her I live in Houston and I hear so much of the wrong type of ‘Houston’ (the city, not the Whitney), in her voice. She could improve so much if she had a good vocal coach, I think.

    All in all, such an amazing top 5, they’ll all have strong careers!

  3. Lola says:

    I agreed with Nicki Minaj that Angie’s decision to dedicate her song to the people in Boston was a smart choice as an artist. I am happy that anyone in Boston who may have been watching her was moved. I have to say, however, that I thought it was in poor taste. I felt like she was capitalizing on a tragedy. I don’t believe it was a “calculated” move – I do believe she has a heart for the city – but the bottom line is that she may have gotten more applause and more votes because of the tragedy and that upset me.

    • Lola says:

      …..and I think that’s what Nicki meant by “smart choice” and why Nicki did not stand with the other judges.

    • Joy says:

      I think I just have some kind of emotional disconnect with the way Angie expresses herself — when she said “for my home, Boston,” my first reaction to the words “my home” was “Oh no, she’s really making this horrible tragedy all about *her*?” I’m sure that wasn’t her intent — as soon as I thought about it, I realized she was just trying to get across the depth of her feeling for the city and what happened there — but somehow that didn’t come across to me at all. Realizing that made me wonder whether the same disconnect is why I’m so often unmoved by her performances — I honestly just *do not get* her particular manner of expressing emotion. Knowing that doesn’t actually help me enjoy the performances in question, but at least maybe it helps me understand why my reactions to her often seem so out of step with the way the judges and other viewers are responding…

      • Lola says:

        Yes, I had the same reaction. About expressing emotions, it’s almost as if she has a blank stare. I wish her well but she is NOT my top pick. In fact, I like Janelle better than Angie.

      • deedee says:

        I don’t think it was her intention to make the tragedy *all about her*, but I had a similar reaction as you. I had a moment of, “aww, really? You’re gonna use this to your advantage?”. Mentioning the Boston tragedy would have worked for an artist at their own concert, but not for a competitor in a contest. She could have waited until the results show to give Boston a shout-out. Can’t remember who posted that it was reminiscent of Danny Gokey using his deceased wife to drum up an emotional response from the audience, but they were spot on.

    • dj says:

      I’m sure she meant well, too, but it did come across a little Danny-Gokeyish.

  4. Lois Benton says:

    Candice, of course, is in a league of her own. She’s gifted in a way that few can match. Amber is the only one in this group who, one day, might be able to match her. Angie may win the whole thing, but she’s my least favorite now. She is very beautiful, her voice can be gorgeous and she has a powerful instrument. But she often sounds shrill and off-pitch, and she’s not so gifted that her youth can overcome her lack of experience. She is performing (desperately!) the songs, but not feeling the music and the lyrics, unlike, say, Candice. Of course, she has the Miley Cyrus vote locked down. Janelle has been uneven, but just as good as Angie, and she’s a better performer.

  5. Sierra says:

    I thought it was a boring show, overall.

    • Jmac says:

      I must add that her creativity is unmatched. She has control of her voice and has no problem with emotional connection. I cannot criticize one thing. She is spectacular. If she doesn’t win this season an injustice unlike any in idol history will have taken place.

  6. Jmac says:

    I have never felt so strongly,as I do now, that Candice is the clear winner of this season. She is the best! I haven’t seen her faulted yet. She sings circles around everyone else. The top five are all good, but she is the best.

  7. BrazenSongBird says:

    I’m a professional singer. I love all five of the ladies. I recognize and appreciate what they ALL bring to the table.

    However, when Janelle started her package and announced that her diva of choice was Dolly Parton, I was expecting her to sing “I Will Always Love You”. A little predictable maybe, but sure to be gorgeous. That didn’t happen. My guess is that the coaches were told that Janelle, having been selected as the next baby gazelle in the herd, was not to receive much guidance this week. Otherwise, whoever advised her that “Dumb Blonde” was a good song choice should be shot (or at least fired). Keith was right. Out of all of the songs that Dolly has performed (and written), this is NOT one to sing when Candice is singing Mariah, Kree is singing Celine, Angie is singing Beyonce and Amber is singing Barbara freaking Streisand!

    • Lola says:

      I know lol. “Dumb Blonde” was the most bizarre song I’ve seen performed on Idol – bad pick.

    • deedee says:

      She was probably going for uptempo to contrast her earlier ballad. I can’t fault her for that. But maybe she would have done better choosing a better known uptempo Dolly song like “9 to 5” or even a mid-tempo song like “Here You Come Again”.

  8. Thilia says:

    Angie Miller continues to make the show unwatchable. I honestly hope she doesn’t make it to the finals. Even Janelle sounds better than she does.

  9. Becca Knyght says:

    I’m sorry, but whose that girl that you do the videos with? I like her opinions more. I’m a Candice-stan through and through. I thought Angie was awful the last few weeks, but the ovation for “I’ll Stand By You” was much deserved. For once, she let go. Was it note perfect? No. But that’s what finally made it special. She wasn’t screaming. She wasn’t over-enunciating. She wasn’t trying to impress. She wasn’t staring the cameras down. It was raw. It was real. And that’s what they’ve all been asking of her for a month. I thought “Halo” was boring as hell. I’m sorry, but if you compared these five girls to the girls in any other season, sans the first with Kelly and Tamyra, it’s not even a competition. Only Janelle comes close to the previous girls.

    Kree sounds good in the studio, but she’s dreadful to watch. Last night proved that even more. I thought Amber’s critique would’ve worked just as well for Kree’s. The Celine Dion ballad went to show that Kree has nothing on Candice or Angie vocally. She couldn’t have sung a Mariah song (which is funny, because she’s always touted as a “blues” girl, exactly the type that should be able to sing a Mariah song, but she’s more like a country Amber, a much more “pop radio” voice…) Kree could never be Adele. Nicki was wrong. Kree is more like a Carrie Underwood…nasal tone, some power on her best days, and utterly boring.

    I was really hyped about a Candice/Kree final, but now I’m rooting for a Candice/Angie final. America actually gets talent this year, and that’s why Amber will be voted off and saved tonight. I also don’t dislike Janelle. Her tone is beautiful, too, she just has a more limited song-choice because she really is more of a country music fan.

    I honestly think that if they were going to do Top 3s again, Mariah would replace Kree with Angie.

    • kaba says:

      Except…even Melinda agreed that Angies first song was dreadful. Check her Twitter.
      As for Halo i agree 85% with michael. The first 2/3s of the song was lovely then she went to the end and I was more put off by that performance than Selena gomez’s at the mtv vid awards. Her over singing the last part and repeating the words over and over didn’t sound skillful or artistic whatsoever. I thought the end was piss.
      Kree sings better than Angie so idk what you’re talking about. As for her stage presence I agree that it’s often lifeless but her 2nd song was much better than Angie singing Halo. Though I will say Kree had some kind of air of despair around her as though something bad is about to happen to her or that something bad is happening to her right now.

      So…no. if you like what Melinda says moreoften then I’m sorry to say but they both agree on Angies first song.

      • HitTheGroundRunning says:

        Well, it was as I feared then. She had dinner with Michael last night and bad mushrooms it was.
        haha I can only hope that her liver was able to handle them more quickly and that she was in a better state for Angie’s second song then.

        • Halowasntthatgoodimho says:

          Good grief, he doesn’t share your opinion so he must have had bad mushrooms?!? Get over yourself.

          • HitTheGroundRunning says:

            Dammit man, I’m a doctor, not a diplomat! And if there is one thing I know, Jim, it is a clear case of bad mushrooms!

  10. TheWiserView says:


  11. HitTheGroundRunning says:

    Hmm so much for those who kept saying that nobody needed to bother voting because they would not have a bottom two this week. (always a dangerous suggestion for many reasons, even if nobody was to leave this week, who is to say that they wouldn’t then carry votes over and combine them with the next week, etc.)
    Contestants looked a bit stunned to realize that there would be a bottom two. And far more stunned that someone would be going home.
    How does the season not end early now? They can’t use save top three week can they and obviously not for the finale so I guess next week the save is guaranteed?? Or will they come up with something else?

  12. xidel says:

    First messed up Angie’ ratings (then rather downgrading all most all IDOLs’ unprecedentedly), then messed up Angie’s famous song name for Janelle’s. Seems not Angie friendly. Is there any agenda here?

  13. Kiki says:

    First of all…(brushing my hair back like Nicki)…props to MELINDA DOOLITTLE, who is so classy, intelligent, and charming on IDOLOGY. Never let her go, Michael.

    Second…I just got to watch a playback of the performance night, so I’m late to the party, but it’s SO clear why Kree was put in the bottom two, and it has nothing to do with her singing talent. When she looks into the camera with that closed-mouth smile, votes fly away from her and land on someone else.

    Kree, baby, (now channeling Keith)…smile showing your teeth. You come across as ALOOF.

    That’s all her problem is, but it’s a big one. If you want to be a star, you have to have an openness about you–not necessarily be an extrovert, but I see some fear…and the public don’t like that (I’m back to being Nicki).

  14. Sandyk says:

    Michael, you are very obvious, consistently that you do not like Angie Miller, never give her props, always find something to pick on and you do Love Amber who is far less talented. You shouldn’t be so biased. Everyone of the girls have flaws, why be so obvious. It is a real turn off. She is a very talented young girl and a very sensitive one, Halo was amazing. Do I think Angis is going to win, no I don’t but I don’t want Amber who for the most of the season has not deserved the reviews you have given her either. Guess I will go over to EW and see what Annie has written, at least if she is biased she says so up front. I used to love your critiques, but you have stopped being fair.

  15. Mary W says:

    I really freaked at all the standing O’s. Frankly a day later I couldn’t remember any of the performances. I’d given Candace and Amber each one A but in the end I’d say B. And this Grandma wants better song choices. Another “frankly” —Country isn’t my favorite but some of these other song choices are blah. By the way Melinda Doolittle is sure looking fine!