"Tonight, 'Idol' rocks out," Ryan Seacrest--clearly a pathological liar, or just a guy who, much like Ron Burgundy, will read anything off a teleprompter--announced at the start of "American Idol's" top seven show this Wednesday. Rock Night had only just begun, and I already knew that Ryan was not speaking the truth. I mean, none of this season's contestants are rock singers by trade (where's James Durbin when we need him?), and not even the shreddy presence of guitar goddess Orianthi could make this episode really rawk. Ryan was much more truthful when the top seven first emerged onstage and he semi-joked, "They look confused already! I'm worried!"
I was worried, too.
The fact that no ballads were allowed this Wednesday (say it in the "no dogs allowed" voice from Snoopy Come Home, just for kicks and/or dramatic effect) further put these poor, utterly un-rockin' kids at a disadvantage. But of course, two of the contestants couldn't resist slowing everything down, and they did ballads anyway. (Yes, they sang power-ballads, but a power-ballad is still a ballad; if people are able to slow-dance to a song at prom, then that song is a ballad, period.) So really, the most interesting, and most edgy, thing about "Idol's" supposed Rock Night was the fact that judge Keith Urban inadvertently revealed that he is a foot fetishist. Seriously, the man spent more time praising the female contestants' boots and stilettos than he did critiquing their actual vocals. If only any of the contestants had been able to give this show the boot-kick up the bum that it sorely needed.
Here's how everyone "rocked" on Wednesday:
Burnell Taylor - Burnell gave rock a bad name with his cover of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love A Bad Name"--a song that really, really should've been retired from "Idol" after Blake Lewis's game-changing version in Season 6. I'd already suspected that Burnell, a crooner who favors slow soul songs, would be one of the contestants who'd struggle the most this week. But instead of struggling, it didn't seem like Burnell even tried at all. (Note to Burnell: Just because you put on one of Adam Lambert's old Skingraft jackets from Season 8, and start your song marching through the audience, doesn't mean you are "rock." Or even "roll.") This performance was just wholly unconvincing. Remember that night when Jordin Sparks tried to do Bon Jovi, epically failed, and admitted freely that rock was just not her forte? It was like that. Jordin survived that night, of course--but I don't know if Burnell will survive this, especially since he sang in the death spot. I just don't understand why Burnell didn't get creative and try to turn this rock song into a soul jam, since, as Keith noted, "rock 'n' roll is not your thing. I've never seen you look more uncomfortable in a song." Mariah Carey overly nicely and condescendingly praised Burnell's attempt and said it seemed like he'd "had fun with it." (Well, he was the only one having fun, then.) Randy Jackson didn't dig the performance, but thought it was a "good learning experience" for Burnell. (Yeah: Burnell learned that he SHOULDN'T COVER BON JOVI.) Nicki Minaj said Burnell was still "lovable" and that she "still wanted to hug" him, but I am afraid she may be hugging him goodbye on Thursday's results show.
Kree Harrison - Kree fared much better, because she picked a song that made much more sense for her twangy style, Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart." But, like Burnell, she failed to make the song her own; this was the sort of Janis cover I'd heard a jillion times on "Idol." Still, at least Kree came out looking confident with her Pretty Woman boots and salon-blowout hair, and she belted out every word with ease. And in her own quiet, Kree-ish way, she sort of rocked. Or soft-rocked. "That's what I'm talking about! I feel like the show finally started tonight! I love seeing this bluesy side of you," said Randy. "You have an innate ability to choose your songs, and I think that shows you are a true artist," said Mariah. Keith enjoyed Kree's performance, but thought her skyscraper-high boots had kept her from fully working the stage--at which point Kree revealed that she was suffering from a pinched nerve. This was just another example of how Kree is a total pro. Said Nicki: "You coulda had a pinched nerve, got on my nerve, got on several nerves…and you'd still be magnificent." I don't think Kree got on anyone's nerves tonight; she'll rock the votes and stay safe. But that is Kree's problem sometimes: She is too safe when it comes to her performances. Sometimes she just doesn't have enough nerve, so to speak.
Janelle Arthur - Janelle had two very strong weeks in a row, proving she is a whiz at making songs her own, with her countrified renditions of the Beatles' "I Will" and the Supremes' "You Just Keep Me Hanging On." And the third time was the rock 'n' roll charm for Janelle this week, when she put her own Southern stamp on Billy Joel's attitudinal new wave hit "You May Be Right." This effort wasn't quite as rad as that time on Season 11's Billy Joel Night when Heejun Han ripped off his shirt and screamed, "I WANNA DANCE," of course--but I was entertained. Janelle was sassy, a little bit sexy, and even a bit Underwood-esque, and she really turned the Billy tune into a convincing country song. She made me wanna dance! The judges all seemed overly fixated on Janelle's outfit--not a surprise coming from Nicki, who sometimes seems more like a "Project Runway" judge than an "Idol" one, but Keith was obsessed with Janelle's glittery cowgirl boots, and Randy wanted to borrow Janelle's metallic fringed vest. Um, strange. Eventually, though, the judges got around to praising her actual performance. "That wasn't the best song for you, but you still come out barreling. You're the one that gets better and better and better and shows other colors that we've never seen before, and you're a contender," said Keith. Nicki, explaining EXACTLY why Janelle is the type of female contestant who could break the ladies' five-season losing streak on "Idol," said: "Girls are going to love you, because you feel like every girl's best friend. You're the best friend every girl wants. It's safe to say Middle America is voting for you." Nicki can be a scatterbrain sometimes, but every once in a while she comes up with a really killer comment, and this was one of them.
Lazaro Arbos - Oh, dear. Lazaro covered Queen--for the second time of the night, after a crazy-bad "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" duet with Angie Miller--and he was doing the big kahuna of all Queen stadium singalongs, "We Are The Champions." Never mind the fact that this song technically is a ballad (regular "Idol" rules never seem to apply to Lazaro), and never mind that the Adam Lambert/Kris Allen/Queen performance of this song on "Idol's" Season 8 finale was so awesome, Adam was later invited to be Queen's lead singer on their 2012 overseas tour. All that aside, Queen songs are tough for any singer to pull off, and Lazaro, the weakest singer of this top seven, was especially out of his depth here. I understand that Laz probably related to the message behind this underdog anthem, since he's been bullied all his life, and maybe that's why he was able to dig into the song a bit, deliver it with some conviction, and actually remember the words--something he didn't do on "Crazy Little Thing." So this was not quite the trainwreck that everyone (judges included) had expected it to be. But…it was still pretty subpar. Suffice to say, Lazaro will not be invited to be the guest frontman for Queen this summer. Once again, the judges gave Lazaro a kindergarten-style gold star just for showing up, with Keith likening Lazaro to a "matador" and Nicki praising his "Ricky Martin sexiness"--and I suppose I have to grudgingly give Lazaro some props for having the guts to take on such a massive song. But this was not the performance of a champion, my friends.
Candice Glover - Candice is a self-declared "boring person," and yes, she is quite sedate offstage. But onstage? That's a very different story. That's when she gives a bit of Tina Turner realness and becomes a star. Candice didn't match the greatness of her snarling "Come Together" tour de force from a couple weeks ago, but her cover of the Rolling Stones' "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was the most satisfying performance of the night, and the one performance that came close to rocking in a believable, natural way. And she did it all with a broken toe! Now, this is a champion. "Every single performance brings a different part of you to the stage. It's just mesmerizing to see it evolve," said Mariah. "Your voice is so freakin' good…your power never wanes," marveled Keith. Nicki hated the song choice, which she said made her "fall asleep," but clarified to Candice, "I loved everything about you." Randy liked Candice's rock 'n' roll attitude. I only wish that Candice could bring a bit of that 'tude to her offstage moments. We all know "Idol" is not just a singing contest, but also a popularity contest, and Candice's reserved personality could hurt her ability to connect with voters.
Amber Holcomb - Amber did Heart's "What About Love." WHICH IS A BALLAD. Whatever. She still sang the hell out of it--and Heart songs are almost as difficult to pull off as Queen songs--so kudos to her. But there was something disconnected about her performance. Amber always sounds vocally perfect, or near-perfect, but I never get the impression that she's feeling or meaning what she's singing; it's all very technical, very rote. This could just be an age/life experience issue; teen "Idol" contestants in the past, even ones who made it far like Jessica Sanchez and Lauren Alaina, went through the same struggle. The judges seemed to connect with Amber, though--they gave her a standing ovation, and Nicki even said this was her favorite performance of the night. Randy praised Amber's legs (gross), and Keith praised her shoes. Mariah said, "From the first time you came to audition up till now, to see you grow as an artist, to see the star quality you have…I just hope America gets to voting." I agree: Amber has come a long way, baby. But I think she has a little further to go. And I don't think she can get far enough to win Season 12.
Angie Miller - Oh, good. Angie was back at her piano! Yay. Oh, wait. No she wasn't. Well, she was for a little bit, but about 13 seconds into her performance of Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life," she stood up, walked away from her piano bench, and proceeded to stand in front of what looked like Haley Reinhart's discarded "Rhiannon" wind-machine for the remainder of the song. But Angie didn't quite rock like Reinhart. Sure, she had all the right '80s-rock-video trappings: leather pants, windblown Tawny Kitaen hair, dramatic staredowns of the camera lens. But…I was not convinced. She should have just stayed at her piano. I simply don't believe Angie is a rock chick at heart, despite her claim that she wants to do "edgy" music and Randy's totally insane comparisons of Angie to Paramore and MUTEMATH. (I seriously doubt Angie has heard a Mutemath song in her life.) "Rock chick" just seems like another theater role for this plucky, plastic princess to take on. Nicki thought "Bring Me To Life" was the "perfect song choice," but Keith picked up on the inauthenticity immediately, musing, "Part of me wants to make sure when you choose those songs, you feel it, because for me, rock is all feel." I guess Keith wasn't quite feeling this performance, then. But he did love Angie's shoes!
Along with the seven solo performances this evening, there were the dreaded group numbers. And while none of them were disasters on the level of last week's Nicki-infuriating "Can't Help Myself," none of them had me logging on to Ticketmaster to reserve premium seats for this year's Idols Live Tour, either. The best of the bunch was a Candice/Burnell duet of the Box Tops' "The Letter," which would have been the perfect chance for Burnell to redeem himself (this song suited him much more than the Bon Jovi one)…if Candice hadn't come out and been so overpoweringly awesome that she blasted him off the stage with the gale force of a dozen Angie Miller wind-fans. ("Your voice is clearly superior, Candice," Nicki later said, bluntly.) As for the trio performance by Amber, Janelle, and Kree of Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock 'N' Roll To Me," well, it didn't seem very rock 'n' roll to me at all, and Nicki in fact called it "cheesy."
But it was Angie and Lazaro's aforementioned Queen duet that was the low point of the night. Lazaro once again fumbled his words--a truly unpardonable sin at this late stage of the competition--and while Angie was a good sport and didn't call him out the way his group-number partners Devin Velez and Burnell did last week, Nicki made sure to mention Lazaro's flub. "You seemed to be comfortable…up until the part where you forgot the lyrics again," she snapped. Oh, the shade, the shade! But hey, someone had to say it.
So now, it is prediction time. I'd like to think this Thursday will finally be Lazaro's time to go, and I do think he'll be in the bottom three again. But I think Burnell will be in the bottom as well, just like he was last week, and that his terrible solo song choice, disadvantaged "death spot" placement, and utter upstaging by Candice will probably all lead to his downfall.
It's hard to fathom anyone besides Lazaro or Burnell going home--this is a "girls' season," after all--but my other prediction is, if any one of the five females is the lowest vote-getter this week, the Judges' Save may finally come into play. Tune in this Thursday to see what happens. Until then…Parker out.
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