Have the guys just given up on American Idol? After all, judge Nicki Minaj has said publicly that the guys have no shot at winning, and Randy Jackson has hinted as much during the shows. And a group number by the three remaining guys in the competition — Lazaro Arbos, Devin Velez and Burnell Taylor — to close the evening could only be described as an act of resignation.
The American Idol Top 8 tackled "Music from the Motor City" Wednesday night, performing songs done by artists from Detroit. (Though the theme is often referred to as "Motown Night," host Ryan Seacrest stressed at the start of the evening that any song by a Detroiter — i.e. Madonna — was fair game.) For their week of preparation, the contestants were mentored by both Jimmy Iovine and special guest Smokey Robinson. Question: If contestants weren't familiar with The Beatles last week, how were they supposed to know who Smokey Robinson & the Miracles were? Just saying.
We'll get to the individual performances in a minute, but the real story of the night was the group numbers, namely the aforementioned guys' take on The Temptations "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch." In a classic case of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, it seemed like each of the guys was performing his own song. (Or not performing at all in the case of Lazaro, who blatantly missed a line cue during the bridge.)
"I felt like this was back in Hollywood Week," Minaj said to them afterwards. "I don't know what that was, but I'm gonna act like I didn't even see it or hear it. I'm going to thank God that all three of you already had your solo performances. Lazaro, you fell as flat as a pancake. ... All three of you, get off the stage."
They did ... but not before Seacrest gave them a chance to respond to Minaj's criticisms. And that's where things really started to go downhill. Burnell and Devin proceeded to throw each other (but really, mainly Lazaro) under a bus, each emphasizing that they had learned their individual parts and Devin adding that he "tried to save a couple people." Burnell's comments were made worse by the fact that he followed them with an obviously insincere, "Not to throw anybody under a bus, but this is a competition." Minaj signaled to him from the table to cut it off right there.
With that disaster being the last performance of the night, we can't help but wonder how it will impact voting, since the guys (even Lazaro!) all did fairly well in their individual performances. Speaking of which, here's our rundown:
Candice Glover — "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (Marvin Gaye): She peppered her rendition with bluesy runs and more than a few hip shakes, and definitely took Minaj's advice from the previous week to have the attitude in her face match the attitude in her voice. Though she initially seemed restrained (perhaps intimidated by the notion of going first), by the song's midpoint Candice was once again owning the stage. Jackson complimented her "effortless" singing, while Mariah Carey told her, "You epitomize what this competition is." Still, it didn't top her performance of "Come Together" the week before. Grade: A-
Lazaro Arbos — "For Once In My Life" (Stevie Wonder): Perhaps realizing it was do or die time after two horrendous performances in a row, Lazaro somewhat redeemed himself by going with an upbeat number that he picked himself. The song was the strongest vocal effort from him in a few weeks, and he even managed to work the stage a little bit, interacting with the audience and the judges and looking more comfortable than he's seemed in a while. "I don't know if you completely redeemed yourself, but this was far better than last week," Jackson said. Keith Urban agreed that it was "exponentially better." And Minaj noted, "You're definitely back. ... See what happens when he stops listening to Jimmy?" Grade: B+
Janelle Arthur — "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (The Supremes): Sorry, but Janelle automatically loses points for turning this classic dance-y number into a ballad (and, predictably, a twangy country one at that). It's admirable that Janelle, armed with her guitar, put her own spin on a classic. But unfortunately the new arrangement abandoned the take-charge attitude of the original and instead turned the narrator into a victim. Janelle's vocals were decent (better than her duet with Kree at least, although that isn't saying much), but the version still fell short. The judges disagreed, however, lavishing praise on Janelle after the performance — though Minaj said she seemed a little emotionally disconnected. "That was you at your finest," Carey said, while Jackson affirmed, "I absolutely loved it. I thought it was incredible. I think this is one of your best performances on the show." Grade: C
Devin Velez — "Tracks of My Tears" (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles): Per usual, Devin was pitch-perfect on the number (perhaps mentoring from the original artist helped!), but we still can't get past how booooring Devin is. (Sorry, Devin.) Aside from a few eyebrow crinkles and hand gestures, it could have been a cardboard cutout up there. "Yes, sir!" Minaj said, banging her hand on the judges table. Grade: B
Burnell Taylor — "My Cherie Amour" (Stevie Wonder): Walking onstage in a white suit ("looking like a sexy doctor," according to Minaj), Burnell sang his heart out on the Stevie Wonder number, finally breaking out of his shell a little bit and moving in front of the microphone in parts. He also dipped into his signature Burnell tone fairly often, which is always a good thing. "You're so original that it's really hard to critique anything. ... That was really good tonight," Urban told him. Grade: B+
Angie Miller — "Shop Around" (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles): Coming on the heels of her blistering group performance with Candice and Amber (see below), Angie stayed with the uptempo mode for her solo number. While it's clear she's more comfortable performing ballads, seeing her strut around the stage in a form-fitting blue dress and heels was engrossing and fun. Her vocals were a little lacking for once, but her attitude more than made up for it. The judges weren't impressed, however. Jackson called the performance "not great," Carey said she would have preferred another piano song (she suggested "I'll Be There") and Minaj looked downright angry. "You came out today to try to show a different side of Angie that didn't need to be shown," Minaj told her emphatically. Well ... we liked it. Grade: A
Amber Holcomb — "Lately" (Stevie Wonder): Amber may have elevated herself out of the bottom two with a soaring version of "Lately." Not to mention, she was styled pretty perfectly too, in a white dress and bright lipstick. "That was a tour de force," Carey told her, before emulating her panel colleague Minaj and "bringing it down to the lowest common denominator," saying something that got bleeped by the Fox censors. Minaj said she felt like Amber had her bottom three ranking in the back of her mind as she was singing, but Jackson called it "the best vocal of the night." Grade: A-
Kree Harrison — "Don't Play That Song" (Aretha Franklin): Kree was endearingly starstruck while she was being mentored by Robinson — who, in turn, was so impressed with her vocals during rehearsals that he said he was going to call Aretha personally and make sure she tuned in Wednesday. Perhaps because of that, Kree looked a little apprehensive for the first few seconds of the song but soon settled into a groovy rhythm, putting a nice country spin on the number (and a much better one than she added to "Like a Prayer" earlier in the night with Janelle) and showing more emotion than we've seen from her thus far in the competition. And, almost more impressive than her vocals were her sparkly silver 6-inch heels. Though Randy said it fell short of a "perfect performance," Nicki said Kree belonged up there with the "Queens" she had covered — Aretha and Madonna. Grade: A-
Kree and Janelle — "Like a Prayer" (Madonna): The show's two country queens teamed up on the Madonna classic and failed to harmonize even once. Stick to the solo numbers, girls! Carey praised the "sisterhood moment," but Minaj gave it to them a little straighter. "Kreedom almost made it looked like she flew in to do a duet with an Idol contestant today," Minaj said. "She was so calm and so reserved and so not trying hard. Her voice sounded like butter. ... Kree definitely outshined you [Janelle]." Grade: D
Angie, Amber and Candice — "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (The Supremes): Now this is more like it! Angie and Amber should be thanking their lucky stars that Candice is painfully shy, because the former two's flirtatious attitudes during the song were the only thing that made them stand out over Candice's powerhouse vocals. But that said, the trio's harmonies actually sounded great on the choruses, and it was refreshing to see Angie tackle an upbeat number. If none of them ends up the Idol winner, they might want to consider forming a group together. Grade: A
Devin, Lazaro and Burnell — "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" (The Temptations): See above. Grade: F
So, what did you think? Who will be voted off tomorrow? And should the show just scrap the group numbers altogether? Weigh in below!
American Idol returns Thursday at 8/7c on Fox.