American Idol Top 9 Performance Recap: Such an Easy Game to Play [Updated]
At first, I didn’t understand why American Idol needed to get Jimmy Iovine to endorse the John Lennon-Paul McCartney songbook at the top of tonight’s Top 9 performance telecast.
Then, as several contestants approached their ditties the way I might open an AP Calculus textbook — which is to say with bewildered ignorance and/or total indifference — I remembered: I’m an old man. Come to think of it, you’re probably old, too. And those Beatles songs? They’re history, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
But who among us hasn’t scraped a little mold off an excellent cheddar or pricey Camembert from the back of the fridge, taken a taste and let out an expletive like an overexcited Nicki Minaj? “#@*% that’s good!” Every song on tonight’s set list may have been about three times older than Burnell Taylor, but the bulk of the Top 9 contestants proved at the very least enjoyable, if not utterly delightful, while tackling the Fab Four’s undeniable melodies.
So yeah, while it might’ve been nice to hear one or two or even eight more uptempo choices, I’m gonna put a lid on my kvetching and jump to assigning letter grades. Without further ado…
Kree Harrison: “With a Little Help From My Friends” | “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” asked Kree, delivering the night’s first lyric and making me chuckle a little bit. I mean, that’d be like me asking, “What would you do if I stopped production on Idology and forced Melinda Doolittle to do an entire YouTube series based around ABC’s celebrity diving competition Splash?” It’s simply not gonna happen. Still, while Kree looked gorgeous and her voice was as supple and pleasing as ever, there was something a little, er, low-impact about her performance (for me, for you). The notes were all there, but the energy was slightly muffled — to the point where, when the six-person chorus crashed the party on the opening refrain, I found myself sighing and thinking, “Isn’t it a little early in the season for dramatic choir reveals? And how come Kree’s not giving me 100 percent of the emotional abandon I need in my life right now?” Don’t get me wrong, Kree deserves to go directly to the Top 8 without passing go and without collecting $200, but it won’t exactly land her on Boardwalk or Park Place. Grade: B+
Burnell Taylor: “Let It Be” | Has everyone recovered from Burnell admitting he’d never before heard “Let It Be”? I mean, I’d have been less horrified if the kid had thought the tune was a Kris Allen original on account of our Pocket Idol’s Season 9 results-show cover. Nevertheless, you can’t judge a vocal based on its pre-performance package, and if I’m being honest, I kind of liked how Burnell’s gruffly soulful instrument sounded up against one of the Beatles’ church-ier anthems. What bugged me, though, was the blank grin that kept cropping up on Burnell’s face during the performance, an expression that left me wondering, “Does he have any idea what he’s singing about? Why am I getting the same vibe I got from “Flying Without Wings”? Where’s the electricity?” To keep the metaphor going, at this point in the competition, Burnell is a little like geothermal energy: A really good idea that hasn’t quite come to fruition yet. I’m interested in at least a few more weeks of research, though! Grade: B
Amber Holcomb: “She’s Leaving Home” | To my ears, Amber’s performance was so mesmerizing that I didn’t even notice her utterly random “industrial scenes” backdrop — not until she hit her last note and my husband asked, “What’s with those pictures of smokestacks?” (Maybe they were the source of all that white smoke that swirled around Amber and her chamber-music accompanists?) Far more vexing to me was the judges’ mixed feedback — Randy claiming the number started “slow and unsure,” Nicki demanding a change in lipstick color, Mariah admitting she’d never even heard “She’s Leaving Home” (!) — but no one giving Amber credit for a sophisticated arrangement that highlighted the soaring quality of her vocals, and gorgeous phrasing that brought to life the somberness of the lyrics. I wish Ryan Seacrest could’ve thrown a flag on the play and demanded the judges watch an instant replay (apologies for that possibly botched sports reference): Maybe a second listen would’ve opened their ears to the awesomeness they just weren’t appreciating. Or maybe they were just following instructions from Uncle Nigel in the first place? Grade: A-