‘American Idol’ Top 4 Redux: High Standards and Low Blows

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks (New)

Over the past few weeks of this "girls' season" of "American Idol," I've noticed an uncomfortable trend: The judges have repeatedly praised Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb--i.e., the two thinner contestants who tend to wear tiny shorts--as "marketable" and "current," even when these girls performed Julie London, Celine Dion, or "MacArthur Friggin' Park." Conversely, the judges have blasted the two fuller-figured (though still quite attractive) contestants, Candice Glover and Kree Harrison, for being too "old-fashioned."

The judges haven't flat-out said, "You are skinny and leggy, therefore you look like Rihanna or Miley, therefore you are more relevant!" However, that has been implied.

But Nicki Minaj--the most image-focused judge on this year's panel, the one more likely to praise a contestant's lipstick shade than praise that same singer's actual vocals--took this to a whole new offensive level on this Wednesday's performance show. Backpedaling from her harsh "old-fashioned" critique of Candice last week, Nicki praised Candice's supposed newfound relevance and said, "I can see you as a current R&B singer. I don't know if you lost weight or what…"

Um, did Nicki actually say that Candice seemed current because she looked suddenly SLIMMER? Maybe that's not what Nicki meant, but that's certainly how it came across. NOT COOL. This was especially icky on a night when 56-year-old Randy Jackson pulled a Steven Tyler and lecherously praised 18-year-old Angie's leather shorts, and it was especially uncool coming from a woman who has a voluptuous figure herself (and is presumably proud of her famous hourglass curves).

Not. Cool.

But you know what was cool? The triumphant return of guest mentor Harry Connick Jr., whose mentorship in Season 9 is still the stuff of "Idol" legend. Invested, enthusiastic, tough-but-fair, and really frickin' funny, Harry was great back then, and when he came back to the show this week, he made a pretty strong case for why he'd be a great judge in Season 13. His entire appearance was like one long, awesome screen test. I sincerely hope Nigel Lythgoe was paying attention.

Anyway, speaking of being current (or not), this week's top four redux show, a sort of do-over after no one went home last week, had a "Now and Then" theme--with the contestants singing one song from this year, and one Great American Songbook standard (that's when crooner Harry's expertise really came in handy). Which contestants were really now and really wow? Read on to find out.


In rehearsal, Harry told Angie, "There's something about you that doesn't click for me"--and Angie laughed at what a hilarious jokester Harry was. Yes, actually, Harry was joking. At least I think he was. Or maybe he's just passive-aggressive, or maybe he once read The Game and he likes to "neg" girls. Whatever the case, Harry had a point. Angie has had trouble really clicking, due to her annoying habit of getting into staring contests with the "Idol" camera lens. And old Angie habits are hard to break, I guess. Her cover of Rihanna's "Diamonds" started out promisingly, just her on piano with a bit of conga accompaniment. But then she riveted her unblinking eyes to the camera and flashed that toothy Miley smile (which didn't quite gel with the song's somber tone), and it all started to fall apart. But it didn't really fall apart until Angie attempted to hit the song's high note--you know, the one that RiRi needs AutoTune to reach--and she sounded like Lazaro Arbos on a bad day. OUCH! The judges were hard on Angie (Nicki called her "bland" and "lackluster")--but, frustratingly, none of them pointed out that bum note. Nicki, Randy, and Keith Urban all blamed the song choice and Angie's radical arrangement. Mariah Carey blamed Angie's goo-goo-eyed camera stare, claiming that Angie "played to the camera more than usual." (This indicated that Mariah has spent every single one of Angie's performances distractedly gazing at that mysterious spot off to the left. Angie always aggressively plays to the camera!) I agreed that this performance warranted a tough critique, but the judges were tough on Angie for all the wrong reasons. Why wasn't Jimmy Iovine speaking tonight, as he had the past couple Wednesdays? He would have spoken the truth.

For her "Then" song, Angie did "Someone to Watch Over Me," but not before Harry cracked more poker-faced jokes about not liking her. (Okay, now it was staring to get weird.) I liked this performance, however--it was much, much better than Angie's first. Simply accompanied by a jazz guitarist and some strings (Randy hated the music, but whatever), she sang with restraint in the beginning, leading to a majestic big finish, with thankfully not an ouchy note in between. The genre suited her theatricality well. Keith loved her "timbre, clarity, and presence." Randy, despite his disdain for the arrangement, loved Angie's voice. Mariah rambled about her mom or something. Nicki called Angie "Broadway" and "Disney," which didn't exactly sound like high praise to me. Then Nicki and Mariah got into some sort of spat and Nicki conveniently fished a cotton swab out of her purse and ordered Mariah to "clean dem ears out." Apparently Mariah carries loose glitter with her at all times; Nicki carries Q-Tips. Go figure.


In her "Now" rehearsal, Amber forgot all the words to Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason," and Harry thought this was freakin' awesome. I assume he must've been a huge Lazaro fan, then. Either that, or he'd been drinking the judges' Amber Kool-Aid. Once Amber got onstage, she did remember her words…but her performance was forgettable. How ironic that the contestant who'd been most frequently declared "current" by the judges was able to make the song that is number-one in the country RIGHT NOW sound like such a dud. "Well…I like your jeans," said Nicki, which was not a good sign. Apparently Nicki also preferred the more fun-loving, lyric-flubbing Amber she'd observed with Harry in rehearsal. "Did you have a good time? Are you having fun?" asked Randy. Amber flashed a pained expression that indicated the answer was no, not at all. Randy noted the bad vibes in the air, then added, "That was not stellar." I can't recall what Mariah and Keith said, but they seemed to like this performance. I guess they were still trying to make Amber happen, but for a moment it seemed like Nicki and Randy had finally given up on that mission near-impossible.

When Harry helped Amber rehearse "My Funny Valentine" next, he really had to break down the lyrics for her, line by line, because she clearly had no understanding of what the song was about--even though she'd performed it on the show before, during Vegas Week. Her youthful naiveté was on full display; this is a problem with a lot of young singers on "Idol," who have fantastic technical skill but lack the life experience to really emotionally connect with a song. However, Harry's history lesson about the song seemed to work: When Amber got onstage, she really delivered. This was gorgeous, one of Amber's finest moments to date. Unfortunately, there was one shrill moment that was a bit rough on the old eardrums, but overall, it was a great effort. Nicki called the crimson-clad Amber a "budding red rose" and of course praised her outfit. Randy told her, "You made a believer out of a lot of people who were right there on the fence [about you]." Mariah called this performance "unbelievable," and Keith said once it got going, it was "stellar." Amber got all verklempt hearing this praise and started to weep--a humanizing moment that may help her in the votes this week, especially since so few of the contestants had shown vulnerability like that all season. Harry actually called out Amber, saying her emphasis on high notes and runs was misplaced, so apparently he wasn't drinking the Kool-Aid after all. But I may have taken the tiniest of sips. This was good.


"I know I'm not a man or anything," an inexplicably defensive Candice told Harry, as she tried to explain her decision to cover Bruno Mars's "When I Was Your Man." (Oh, Candice, please just sing, don't speak. That was just awkward.) I actually liked the fact that she kept the gender-specific lyrics intact, even if this wasn't the first time that'd been done on "Idol," and even if Candice had tweeted earlier--again, just a tad too defensively--that she hadn't been allowed to alter the lyrics and therefore had to sing the song in "storyteller" mode. She didn't need to apologize, nor did she have to clarify that she's "not a man," because she sounded all woman here. This was another superb vocal from Candice, the best of the evening's "Now" performances, earning a standing ovation. All of the judges loved it. (Too bad Nicki loved it because she thought Candice had dropped a dress size.) "This girl right here--that's how you sing a song! That was amazing!" howled Randy. "That's a winning performance right there," said Keith. Damn straight.

Candice got her second standing ovation of the evening for "You've Changed"--which, with lyrics like "You're bored with me in every way/I can't understand/You've changed," might as well have been about the flip-floppy judges, who seem to randomly choose a different contestant to throw under the bus every week. Thankfully, they did not choose Candice this week, and they gave credit where credit has always been due. "Candice is in to win it tonight, y'all! She brought everything she needed, and all that [was needed] was her great, amazing voice," said Randy. "I am going to download that [song] ASAP," announced Mariah. "Your power and your control were just beautiful," said Keith. Nicki declined to comment, for some reason. Maybe she realized she'd said enough the first time.


With this, it became obvious whose Kool-Aid Harry was really chugging. Clearly, the man's a Kreeper. As Kree rehearsed her "Now" song, Carrie Underwood's "See You Again," he said he "wouldn't change a frickin' thing"; that he would help Kree with her album if she ever called on him; and that her version of the song was even better than Carrie's. (Easy now, Harry.) And at the end of the live performance, he emerged from backstage to give Kree a congratulatory hug--something he didn't do with the other three girls. I do have to say, Kree sounded marvelous here. Her voice was exquisite. But, I don't know…I'm sort of over Kree. I just don't know if she's the whole package. I'd certainly buy her (possibly Connick-produced) album, but would I ever see her in concert? Probably not. She's just not that exciting a performer. The judges were kind to Kree, though--much kinder than they were last week, when it was Kree's turn to be under the bus. Mariah loved Kree's authenticity. Nicki said Kree sang "with her eyes" and "from the heart." Keith thought the performance should have been bigger. And then Randy amusingly said, "I'm really focused on the voice." So am I, Randy. But that show isn't on till Monday! Ha.

Kree closed the show with "Stormy Weather," and though she seemed to want to do the bluesier Etta James rendition, Harry advised her to stick more to the simpler Lena Horne version--no runs, no licks, no embellishments. Kree got onstage and ignored everything Harry told her to do. How very Phillip Phillips of her! I would have been fine with such disobedience…but if she was going to disobey, then she needed to go all the way. Instead, she held back once again. She wasn't stormy enough. The whole performance was just so tentative. I'm not sure what it is that always holds Kree back--maybe she's simply incapable of giving any more than this. I was bored, and I think the judges were as well. Mariah wanted her to be more "full-out bluesy" and "less lounge-y," and said "God Bless the Child" would have been a better song choice. Keith also said a different song might have helped, and advised Kree: "Don't ever lose the things that are natural about your way of singing. Don't let people get in your head." Nicki didn't like the performance, but blamed Harry's "startling" mentoring style. Randy thought Kree should have done the Etta version of the song, even though I think that was what Kree had tried to do. Then Harry got behind the judges' table and got into some sort of debate with Randy. I didn't necessarily agree with everything Harry said…but man, he sure looked right at home in that judge's chair. Maybe there will be one with his name on it next season!

So now, it is prediction time. Since the judges decided to let everyone stay last Thursday, last week's 38 million votes will carry over to this week's tally. And last week's bottom two were Amber and Candice. Will they be this week's bottom two? I'm not so sure. Candice's strong performances and glowing critiques, and Amber's humanizing emotional moment onstage, may help them. And their worried fanbases may rally, after the girls' near-brushes with elimination last Thursday. So I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Kree will go home this week. I am sure if that happens, Harry Connick Jr. will be sorely disappointed--but hey, he can always go cut an album with her anyway.

Parker out.

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