American Idol Top 4 (Redux) Performance Recap: Standards Operating Procedure [Updated]
It’s no secret that American Idol‘s ratings have slipped in Season 12, and tonight — despite some stellar performances by the Top 4 ladies — we witnessed several moments where you could practically feel the Nielsen numbers dropping by tenths.
There was Randy Jackson leering at Angie Miller after a particularly harsh critique and declaring, “I do like the leather shorts!” [Tonight's mathematical truth: Randy + the word "Leather" x Sexual Innuendo = Saw-level horror.] There was Nicki Minaj, trying to insert herself (her favorite pastime) into the middle of one of Mariah Carey’s critiques, and later, Ryan Seacrest breaking up one of the female judges’ tiffs with a “someone needs to be put in the corner!” scolding that played up the anti-feminist notion that “girls” simply can’t get along. Oh, and in other Nicki news, we had the “Starships” rapper telling the incomparable Candice Glover that she’d suddenly become marketable — then asking if she’d lost weight.
And if that wasn’t soul-crushing enough, the show’s producers flashed an onscreen hashtag of Randy Jackson’s most irksome catchphrase, you know, the one that makes America collectively cringe every time he barks it: #inittowinit. Hashtag: HOW?
All that went down, of course, before guest mentor Harry Connick Jr. and Randy hijacked poor Kree Harrison’s second performance critique to get into an extended pissing contest regarding their level of music credibility. Harry won, obviously, but was it worth claiming poor Kree’s dignity as collateral damage?
Practically lost in all the low-brow shenanigans was another jaw-dropping evening for Candice Glover — who fought back from last week’s shellacking to score back-to-back standing ovations from the panel (not that they mean anything anymore, but…). Combined with Kree’s magnificent first performance and Amber’s solid (albeit rehashed) second number, it left presumed front-runner Angie Miller as the contestant who endured the most difficult night — both in terms of “having a moment” and suffering from so-so feedback.
Still, last week’s 38 million votes are being added to this week’s tallies — and knowing that Candice and Amber were last week’s Bottom 2, Thursday night’s results-show telecast may be the most suspenseful of the season.
With that in mind, let’s jump to my letter grades for tonight’s performances:
“Now” (Songs Released/Charting in 2013)
Angie Miller: Rihanna’s “Diamonds” | Angie came into this week knowing she was already in the Top 2 vote-getters, so I appreciated her refusal to play it safe, instead choosing an unexpected artist like Rihanna and reimagining her huge recent hit as a dramatic piano ballad. Despite Keith’s complaints about missing the “percussive muscular weight” of the original, I thought the arrangement worked. Angie managed to breathe added life into the new-agey love story that, in Riri’s nasal bleat, sounds like little more than a cryptic chant. The problem here, though, was that Angie’s actual vocal wound up being a little flawed — thanks to the haywire glory note on “toniiiight” and the intermittent sharpness as she pushed her upper register at the end. Plus, as Mariah noted, Angie worked so hard at maintaining eye contact with the camera that it started to become a distraction. None of those issues were deal-breakers, mind you, but they left this one shining more like a cubic zirconia than the full dazzling diamond it could’ve been. Grade: B+
Amber Holcomb: Pink & Nate Ruess’ “Just Give Me A Reason” | For the contestant who’s been most lauded by the judges as “current” and “commercial,” Amber sure seemed out of her element in the “Hits of 2013″ part of the competition. And no, I’m not buying the judges’ excuses about how hard it is to learn new lyrics or to be a “carefree,” “relatable” girl under the pressure of Top 4 Week. Amber’s got a big, lovely voice — there’s no denying it — but she’s never shown the kind of emotional rawness or sly conversational delivery necessary to tackle anything in the Pink songbook (not even “There You Go”). Perhaps even more troubling, though, is that when Amber is faced with a tune that doesn’t fit her as snugly as her many pairs of Daisy Dukes, she hasn’t exhibited the musicality or creativity to reinvent or reinterpret it as her own — or even to act on advice as simple as Harry’s note to snap her fingers and stay in the pocket. Thus, what Amber ended up delivering was a rote recitation of “Just Give Me a Reason” — mostly on pitch except for that high note that sounded like a small dog had gotten caught underfoot — but without any guts or passion or high-wire audacity. Good thing Mariah was there to hold the party line and tell voters that she already knew Amber’s second performance was going to be great. Wait, did Paula leave her Idol crystal ball at the judges’ table when she stopped by the other week? (And here I thought Jason Castro had smashed it out behind the dumpster back in Season 7!) Grade: B-