Up until literally the final seven minutes of Wednesday's "American Idol" top six show, things were looking pretty dire. Frontrunner Angie Miller tanked in her first performance. Lazaro Arbos's butchering of a much-loved Carpenters hit had Randy Jackson shouting "NOOOOO!" in slasher-flick-style horror. The babbling and rambling critiques by Mariah Carey, the top-earning talent show judge on television, proved that she must get paid by the word. And Ryan Seacrest's announcement of the first hour's fuddy-duddy theme, "Songs Of Burt Bacharach & Hal David," elicited little more than golf-claps from the unimpressed studio audience. (Way to court the youth demographic, "Idol.") But then, in the second hour, when the theme changed to "Songs I Wish I'd Written"…Candice Glover covered the Cure. And all was right with "Idol" once more. Candice's "Lovesong" was exactly what Wednesday's episode--nay, this entire "Idol" season--really needed.
Candice's exquisite performance, which owed more to Adele's jazzy cover version than the Cure's gloomy 1989 original, had all four judges on their feet--and they were practically bowing down at Candice's feet. Even Mariah (who normally doesn't even participate in standing ovations, claiming that her dresses are too tight) got up, hobbled all the way to the stage, and sprinkled Candice with glitter--the ultimate compliment coming from Mariah. "On the behalf of my fellow judges, let me say that was one of the greatest performances in the history of 'Idol,' in all 12 years!" Randy howled.
For once, Randy's wacky hyperbole was justified, dawg--even when he later embellished his critique with: "One of the greatest performances on any talent show, ever!" Concurred Randy's fellow judge, Keith Urban: "It was crazy. It was just one of those moments when all the stars lined up. One of the greatest performances in 'Idol' history."
In a lackluster "Idol" year featuring frustratingly few truly wow-worthy moments (you'd have to go back to Angie's piano original "You Set Me Free" for anything close, and that happened before the live shows even began), Candice's tour de force would have stood out regardless. This performance was just on an entirely different level from the rest of the contestants. However, this stunning showpiece can actually be filed away in the all-time "Idol" vault with past iconic performances like Blake Lewis's "You Give Love A Bad Name," Kelly Clarkson's "Natural Woman," David Cook's "Hello," Fantasia's "Summertime," and pretty much anything Adam Lambert ever did. Candice's "Lovesong" was the cure for Season 12--no pun intended--and if America's "Idol" viewers weren't already in love with Candice before, surely they are now, after watching this.
Sadly, there was a lot less to love about the first 113 minutes of Wednesday's draggy episode. While all of the contestants thankfully fared much better in the second round--when they got to do songs near and dear to their hearts, as opposed to old-fashioned songs that probably weren't even near and dear to their grandparents' hearts--only a few of the top six performances came remotely close to the greatness of Candice's show-closing "Lovesong." But below is my full recap of how everyone did--the good, the bad, and the Lazaro.
For her Bacharach & David number, Angie did "Anyone Who Had A Heart," but her heart didn't seem quite in it. While she'd come across as too theatrical in the past, it seemed her attempt to take the judges' advice to dial it down resulted in her dialing it way down--and she ended up, well, phoning it in. Her vocals were pretty much flawless, but emotionally, she flat-lined. I kept imagining how much better this would have been if, say, someone like Haley Reinhart (or Candice Glover) had taken on this song. "You have such a great voice, and all I ask is you don't rely on that alone. There's moments in that song when I was waiting to feel the passion, and because you don't have to struggle to hit those notes, sometimes it's at the expense of passion…I'm missing the humanity in there," said Keith. Nicki Minaj was equally underwhelmed, shrugging, "Maybe this isn't a song you're passionate about, because I have seen that passion before. This seemed old-fashioned." Randy advised Angie, "You've gotta digest it like it's a song you wrote, and you've gotta understand what that lyric is saying." Then Mariah babbled some stuff, and I didn't understand what she was saying. But basically, Mariah didn't like this performance much, either.
For the song she wished she'd written, Angie took a risk with a rather obscure choice, "Love Came Down" by CCM artist Kari Jobe. But it was a risk that paid off and totally made up for her previous performance. Back at her piano where she belonged, singing a song that clearly meant a lot to her, Angie came alive, giving what I thought was her best performance since "You Set Me Free" (a song she actually did write). "You tapped into the emotion. There's something about you at the piano that makes you feel it even more," noted Randy. Keith praised Angie's passion. Mariah stared off to the left and blathered something vaguely positive. And Nicki gave Angie a pretty stern lecture, but it was one that Angie needed to hear. "This is the only time when you are going to be remembered at the top of the pack," Nicki warned. "I don't know why you wanna run away from it, but if you know what's good for you, you won't. This is Angie, and I don't know why you wanna stray from that. If you don't step up with these kinds of performances, you're outta here." I sincerely hope that Angie was listening. This really is the sort of music that she needs to do.
After creeping out all of America by confessing that she likes to eat frozen shrimp ("shrimpsicles," blech) straight out of the freezer, Amber did Dionne Warwick's "I Say A Little Prayer For You"--and she left me cold. I thought her performance was as old-fashioned and unexciting as Angie's Bacharach/David cover. But, totally bizarrely, the judges acted like this effort was the equivalent of every Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood performance combined, and they went nuts for Amber. I didn't understand the judges' wild enthusiasm AT ALL--especially Nicki's. "Oh. My. God. What just happened right now? I am bowing down for you, little girl," Nicki shouted, pounding the table. "You are unbelievable. You have just become my favorite girl in this competition!" An also-overexcited Randy chimed in with: "The competition just started now! Amber has arrived!" (Well, at least Randy didn't say Amber was "back.") Keith likened Amber to a "summer breeze." And Mariah, the un-pithiest judge in reality television history, said a bunch of stuff that would give me carpal tunnel if I tried to type it all. But basically, Mariah was also way too effusive. It's possible that the panel was just worried about Amber going home this week, so they laid it on thick--but this was much too thick, and their tactic might backfire on them. If they want Amber to stick around so badly, then they better have that Judges' Save ready on Thursday night, just in case.
Or, maybe Amber won't need that Save. She was much more impressive during her sassy second performance, doing Beyoncé's "Love On Top," and maybe, just maybe, this performance will put her in the top three for a second week in a row. Looking fun and fresh in denim cutoffs that flaunted what Nicki called her "stallion legs," and working the stage as fiercely as she worked that leggy outfit, Amber definitely came across as the most youthful and modern performer of the night. And she tackled Beyoncé, who's not exactly the easiest artist to cover. Mariah praised Amber's "star power." Nicki announced, "Beyoncé, you better look out, honeychild, wherever you are!" And the cliché-spewing Randy declared, "This girl is in it to win it!" Of course he did.
For his first song, Lazaro did the Carpenters' "Close To You," and it was not even close to good. Even by the low standards that Lazaro had already set for himself--and according to the very forgiving grading-curve by which the panel had judged him all season--IT WAS NOT GOOD. He mumbled and moaned his way through most of the song (I don't think he forgot the words this time, but it kind of sounded like he did), and he completely missed the key change--which was actually a more egregious epic fail than it would've been if he had forgotten his words. Please note, this was the performance of a TOP SIX CONTESTANT. The performance of someone who outlasted Devin Velez, Burnell Taylor, Nicki's favorite Curtis Finch Jr., and a whole bunch of excellent top 20--nay, top 40--guys. Man, what an embarrassment for "Idol." Even the judges couldn't go easy on Lazaro this time. Said Randy: "Wow, I'm actually kind of speechless. You know I love you, the person--your story inspires us all. But all I can say is…no, no, no, no! This was horrible. That was the worst performance you've ever done on the show." Mariah took about 10 minutes to express what she could have said in two words: "That sucked." (Or three words: "That really sucked.") But Mariah did make one good point when she gave Lazaro a Vocal 101 lesson and said: "There can't be a key change and you stay in the old key." I was bracing myself for Nicki's fire and ire--but either because the show was already running overlong due to Mariah's wordiness, or because even Nicki was rendered speechless for once, she said nothing. I can only imagine what she was thinking, but it surely could not have been good.
Lazaro's second attempt, singing/ruining Robbie Williams's "Angels," was somewhat better--not that that's saying much. He mostly stayed in key and remembered his lyrics, so okay, he gets a gold star for that. But it was still not at a top six level. Or even at a top 20 level. The judges were kinder this time, but every one of their critiques was a roundabout way of saying that Lazaro was out of his depth. "There's an element to your tone that makes me realize why we loved you in your audition city, but the way the girls are singing is so crazy-good," said Keith, stressing that this is the point in the season that separates "the ones who are in some sort of talent quest [read: Lazaro] and the ones who are really artists and can make a career [read: everyone else]." Nicki clammed up again and just quipped, "What Keith said." Randy grudgingly admitted that this was slightly better than Lazaro's first performance, but still pointed out, "It's a girls' race." Mariah said Lazaro redeemed himself and that this type of performance was "maybe more of a direction that would be preferable." Which was her wordy way of saying, "That didn't suck as much," I suppose.
Kree was the other top girl of the night--is it too soon to start rooting for a Candice/Kree finale?--and one of the few contestants whose Bacharach & David cover wasn't a total snooze. Her "What The World Needs Now" was what the first hour of this episode dearly needed, indeed. No, it wasn't some over-the-top, showboating diva performance--it actually started off a cappella--but it was subtle, and sweet, and just about perfect in its own quietly Kree-ish way. Mariah praised Kree's easygoing, not-trying-too-hard style. Keith loved the warmth and compassion in Kree's voice, and said this was her best performance to date. "If you're not performing at the Country Music Awards next year, and the year after that, then my name ain't Onika Tanya Maraj," declared Nicki (aka Onika Tanya Maraj). And a still-reeling Randy continued to throw shade at Lazaro, saying, "I love that you came after the last performer. This is singing. This is a singing show." Oh, snap.
Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" was the song Kree wished she'd written, and she sounded so natural doing it, it almost sounded like her own composition, her own lyrics, her own story. Her unforced emotional connection to the song resonated in every line. "You're at the head of the class. You could do a song that I've never heard of and make me fall in love with it," said Nicki--shadily adding that she doesn't think Kree's most direct competitor, fellow country girl Janelle Arthur, possesses the same ability. (Ouch.) "Kudos to you. You are a natural, natural singer. You sell the story. You sell the song. That was so beautiful," raved Randy. And Keith, a bona fide country superstar, had the highest praise of all for Kree, stating: "I predict that you will become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. You're everything pure and real about country music."
Janelle had three very strong weeks in a row, but this week was a rough one. Following her unjust placement in last week's bottom two (despite giving what I thought was last Wednesday's overall best performance), she failed to rebound with her Bacharach/David number, a saccharine, circa-Season 2 cover of "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" that probably few viewers fell in love with. Her performance lacked the personality of "You Just Keep Me Hanging On" and "You May Be Right"; her attempt to flirt with Keith was cheesy and awkward; and her walk through the audience even compromised her vocals a bit. Keith, perhaps more charmed by the flirting than I was, liked this performance, saying, "There's another side of you with that song that we hadn't seen before; that was very good." But Randy called this "lackluster," and Nicki said, "There's no doubt in my mind that you could be a humongous commercial success, but I thought that was really boring."
Janelle's second number, a cover of Garth Brooks's "The Dance," was a more comfortable fit for her voice, and her affection for the song, which she has loved since childhood, definitely came through. Aside from one wonky note, this was really nice. But was it enough to keep Janelle out of the bottom two? Maybe not. Randy liked it, but said this was not her best performance. Keith said he would have preferred it if she'd played acoustic guitar. Nicki enjoyed it, but noted, "I don't think the world is hearing what I know you're capable of…I still don't think that was enough to get a leg up over the other girls tonight."
The aforementioned "Lovesong" was of course Candice's shining moment, but she was no slouch during her first number, "Don't Make Me Over." The song title was fitting, since there is basically nothing about Candice that needs to be changed. She simply always brings it--not just great vocals, but unique phrasing, ambitious arranging, palpable emotion, and 100 percent ownership of the stage. This was not even one of her best performances, but it was one of the best of this week. That's how good Candice is. The judges adored this too. "That didn't sound at all old-fashioned. It sounded like a new R&B song on the radio. This is what you were born to do. That was exquisite," said Nicki. "This is what the show is all about. This girl is in it to win it, for sure!" said Randy. I hope Randy was right. Candice really should win Season 12.
So now, it is prediction time. I think it's safe to assume that Candice and Kree will be safe on Thursday, and even Angie, with her "death spot" placement and dull first performance, has enough of a fanbase and pop/rock niche on this show to make it through. So that leaves Amber, Janelle, and Lazaro. Which one of them will be up for elimination? Obviously Lazaro is the only one who deserves to go home in sixth place--let's face it, he deserved to go home in 10th place--but his devoted following put him in the top three last week, and I am afraid that the beating he took from the judges this week will only further motivate his fans to SuperVote for him in earnest. So I am making a bold prediction here: The bottom two will be Janelle and Amber. And whichever one it is, that girl will get the Judges' Save on Thursday.
Tune in then to see if I'm right! Parker out.