American Idol Top 8 Recap: This Theme's a Mystery, Every Contestant Must Stand Alone
Tonight’s installment of American Idol kicked off with chyrons promising “a story of innovators, a story of visionaries.” And then we jumped right into a theme that Idol has coughed up roughly 26 times over the course of 12 seasons: “Detroit: The Music of Motor City” (AKA Motown Night Plus a Random Madonna Track).
Randy Jackson shouted “in it to win it!” (the verbal equivalent of a pile of dusty horse bones getting worked over with a cat o’ nine tails). Mariah Carey did her impersonation of a butterfly (much flapping of the wings/gums; very little in the way of pointed critique). One singer used the “I wanted to have fun” card while trying to explain away a catastrophic mess of a performance. And while, thankfully, the majority of contestants chose uptempo tracks — thereby ending a run that gave us ballads for 17 of the last 19 performances — a sense of ennui prevailed for most of the episode, with a few jarring exceptions.
Nicki Minaj poured 100-proof honesty into the watered-down punch — at one point becoming so disgusted with the three remaining male contestants that she demanded they leave the stage immédiatement. (From what Devin and Burnell mumbled to Ryan Seacrest, though, it sounded like they thought the vitriol should’ve been heaped solely on Lazaro — and his failure to participate in choreography/learn his lyrics. Yikes!) Guest mentor Smokey Robinson used his keen ear to give the Top 8 some legitimately sound advice. And Janelle Arthur, who looked no better than a mid-pack player a couple weeks ago, played the David Cook card and changed up her Motown ditty in a way that was downright electrifying. (Three of Janelle’s fellow chicas weren’t too shabby, either.)
With that said, let’s cut to tonight’s set list — and celebrate another Nicki Minaj side eye — while assiging letter grades for every performance!
Candice Glover: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” | I love that Candice took some chances with the tempo and melody of a song we’ve heard six times before on Idol — including renditions in Seasons 9, 10 and 11 (Andrew Garcia, Casey Abrams and Skylar Laine), but there was something a little underbaked about her funk-centric rendition. It didn’t help that the camera shot during Candice’s opening verse was almost entirely obscured by a glaring spotlight, nor that the show’s director spent half of the performance cutting to backup singers, the saxophonist, and pretty much anything other than a closeup of The Lady Glover herself. But I felt like Candice didn’t completely immerse herself in the groove, didn’t display 100 percent of the “I got this!” swagger that’s usually welded to her awesome vocals. That last growling run was fantastic — and yeah, the judges should’ve given Candice some points for creativity — but I couldn’t have disagreed more with Keith that this was her best work to date. Grade: B+
Kree Harrison and Janelle Arthur: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” | Speaking of creativity points, can I get a slow clap for Kree and Janelle for choosing the only track this week that took the “Detroit” theme past the Motownville and into less-traversed neighborhood of Madonnaland? Okay, with that praise on the record, let’s be honest: Kree and Janelle’s arrangement of “Like a Prayer” was about as authentically country as the Jersey Shore hottub (no matter what that lady from Duets has to say). I agreed with Nicki that — were this a battle — Kree got the edge over Janelle, but considering that both women got a tad steamrolled by that massive 10-person choir (unnecessary much?), it was a hollow win at best. Grade: B-
Lazaro Arbos: Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” | The judges seemed elated that Lazaro hit a much higher percentage of notes than he did on last week’s “In My Life.” But to put the performance in baking terms, dude went from starting a raging kitchen fire to merely dropping his pie face-down on the floor. “For Once in My Life” wasn’t irreparably damaged, but it still wasn’t very good. Part of the problem is that at this stage in his vocal development, Lazaro is nothing more than a solid karaoke singer: There’s no depth of emotion, there’s little creativity, and when he tries to riff on the melody it often goes awry. Add in details like that odd side-to-side dance step usually reserved for first graders who need to go pee-pee and what seemed to be an almost dismissive response to the judges’ feedback, and I think Lazaro is guaranteed for a Bottom 3 placing come Thursday. Grade: D+