With just two weeks to go until the American Idol finale, is there any doubt about who should claim victory?
If Candice Glover tops your list, then we should be best friends and then take Candice out to dinner when she inevitably loses the season-12 title to one of her vocally inferior competitors. (Let's invite Keith Urban.) Yes, Kree "Kreedom" Harrison can carry a tune, and she's cool and calm and consistent, but she'll put you to sleep, too. And despite generally solid performances Wednesday, Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb were each out-sung by Candice, who nailed that Idol sweet spot -- virtuoso voice plus smart song choices plus magnetic stage presence -- to win both rounds and dominate the entire night.
The judges are most certainly aware of just how good Candice is. I've said it before and I'll say it again: SHE'S JUST TOO DAMN GOOD FOR THE SHOW. This week, Nicki Minaj and company heaped a ton of praise -- and rightfully so -- in a total turnaround from the Wednesday before, when they cracked down on the do-no-wrong sing-testant as well as Kree (her biggest competition in terms of talent). At the time, Nicki nitpicked Candice's "M" factor (marketability, or lack thereof), suggesting that she's too old-fashioned to sell records.
Flash forward one week later: Candice sang circles around her rivals, and proved Nicki wrong with a stunning, understated and modern take on the old standard "You've Changed," written in 1941, and a fresh spin on an even fresher song, Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man," released in 2013.
Standing up for an ovation after the Mars cover, Nicki raved: “I don’t know if you lost weight but baby girl you look good."
There are so many things wrong with that statement -- most of all, the implication that an artist has to be thin to be successful. It's an idiotic, narrow-minded and discriminatory pattern that has underscored much of Idol's 11-year run. Impossible standards of beauty govern Hollywood, a depressing reality perpetuated on this "talent" competition by Simon Cowell and Jimmy Iovine and Kara DioGuardi ... and now Nicki? And exactly how many Grammys has Adele won over her already-legendary career?
Dear America, only listen to the judges when they have something worth saying. Otherwise, zone them out (like I do Mariah Carey) when they offer lame feedback and listen to the vocals. Otherwise, the cookie-cutter contestants who don't hold a candle to professionals like Candice will continue to gather steam -- as long as they're routinely pushed by the panel, a la Angie and Amber. Those two, however, received an earful from the panelists on Wednesday after previously winning mostly positive reviews for mediocre and overrated covers of one hit wonders.
[Gets off soapbox, Googles "Harry Connick Jr." and "wife," resumes typing.]
ROUND ONE (Songs from 2013!)
Angie ("Diamonds," Rihanna): Piano? Check. Excessive eye contact with the camera? Check. Breathy belting? Check. Check, check, check. "It was bland, it was lackluster, you can do a lot better," quoth Nicki, while Randy Jackson (sporting a blinding bright red jacket) chimed in to repeat the same criticism he's leveled at a gazillion Idols before: "I didn't love it."
Amber ("Just Give Me a Reason," Pink and Nate Ruess): This rendition was all over the place with Amber on edge and having trouble remembering the words. "You looked like you were out of your mind nervous, like, thinking about 20 things at once!" said Randy, while Keith praised "the clarity and bell" of her singing. (Sidenote: I loved how Harry Connick Jr., the episode's mentor, told Amber in rehearsal footage that flubbing lyrics is fine. This breaks one of the show's cardinal rules. I bet Jimmy was pissed!)
Candice ("When I Was Your Man," Bruno Mars): Everyone was making such a big deal because Candice is OMG A GIRL and she chose a romantical song meant to be crooned by a dude. Surprise! She pulled it off, infusing her performance with soul and emotion and nuance, prompting Keith to remark: "When you sing like that, you can sing 'When I Was Your Giraffe.'"
Kree ("See You Again," Carrie Underwood): The judges basically lost their bleep over Kree's rendition of the Idol champ's new single, as did Harry (who gushed that he would actually help promote the aspiring country star's music in real life, because she's a special snowflake and all that). In past weeks, especially last, the panelists have harped on Kree for appearing detached onstage, but she wooed 'em back with passionate emoting that was further dramatized by layers and layers of really, really intense eye makeup.
The winner: Hello, Candice?
ROUND TWO (Standards!)
Angie ("Someone to Watch Over Me"): I groaned over this song choice because A) it is forever tainted in my eyes by Mr. Holland's Opus and B) I sung it solo in high school choir and TOTALLY BOMBED. (Flashbacks!). But Angie, whom Nicki dubbed a "Disney princess" in a spot-on assessment, managed to deliver a lovely version of the classic, unlike my 16-year-old-self. Mariah seemed to like it too, although I tend to glaze over during her epic and rambling 20-minute speeches so I didn't quite catch what she said. Then Nicki interrupted her archnemesis, wielding Q-tips and demanding she clean her ears out. Who walks around with Q-tips in their pocket?
Amber ("My Funny Valentine"): Deeply felt and moving, this might have been Amber's best showing of the season. Her dad was caught crying in the audience; then Amber cried and possibly won more votes in the process. Harry (may I call you Harry, Harry?) impressed with his tough-love approach as mentor, pushing Amber to understand the lyrics so she could make a better connection to the music. His advice paid off. She listened and learned something new. Too late to replace Jimmy with Harry?
Candice ("You've Changed"): PERFECTION. Take it away, Mariah: "There is no critique. ... I am going to download that ASAP."
Kree ("Stormy Weather"): Who knew the mellow Texan with the soothing Southern lilt could ignite such raucous debate? After Harry encouraged Kree to go with Lena Horne versus Etta James' "Stormy," and keep things simple rather than showy, the panelists ganged up on the old-school singer-songwriter for skewing Kree away from her natural musical impulses. Where Kree adhered to Horne's classic-ness, Mariah wanted a looser, "bluesy" feel and Keith urged the hopeful not to "get people in your head." Nicki, pointing a finger at Harry, advised Kree to pay more attention to song choice and "whether you are gonna put someone to sleep or give a memorable performance." OUCH. Given the chance to defend himself, Harry -- all riled up and smirking in the front row -- said she needed to master the melody and "then be Kree." He then ordered Randy to shut up, yelling "STOP! STOP!" while the veteran judge argued in favor of the "Stormy," the Etta edition.
The winner: Candice. Duh.
Back to Kree: all told, she did justice to the retro number. Is it just me, or does anyone else think the panel has it out for Kree? Why, all of a sudden, are they piling on her following weeks and weeks of accolades and acclaim? Are they tearing her down to trick voters into thinking she's on the chopping block? Or -- conspiracy theory alert -- do they have a master plan to orchestrate, say, a Candice-Angie match-up in the finale? If Angie wins, which is a definite possibility, will she end up with her own show on The Disney Channel? I could see that (but I won't be watching). Sound off in the comments!