On Wednesday night, the newly minted American Idol Top 10 finalists had to choose songs performed by previous American Idol winners. Nicely played, producers. In the face of double-digit losses in viewership, it can't hurt to remind America of the plethora of stars that Idol uncovered.
In fact, despite the numerous shows that are considered to be competition for American Idol, none of them have produced winners who have come remotely close to the success of some Idol runner-ups, never mind winners. So the producers can't be blamed for wanting to point out that American Idol is an institution in today's music scene and there's no time better to do it than on the the unofficial beginning of its 12th season. But the importance of Wednesday night's program was not enough to convince judge Nick Minaji to allow herself a little extra time to get to the studio on time. Instead, Nicki strolled in halfway through the second performance, completely missing Curtis Finch Jr.'s performance...nicely played, Nicki.
OK, enough Idol ego stroking, let's get to the contestants - you remember, the people who actually make the show possible and are always there on time!
Curtis Finch, Jr.: Jimmy Iovine gave Curtis very good advice when he told him not to get too caught up in the past. But try as he might, Curtis seems incapable of performing a song and making it sound modern. After delivering an old-fashioned feeling, "I Believe," by Fantasia, Keith Urban told Curtis that he always picks the right songs but Randy Jackson felt those song choices might be a little too similar and he encouraged Curtis to try something a little different. That's code for, "You're boring me to tears, Dawg." Performance grade: C
Janelle Arthur: For the past few weeks, understanding what the judges saw in Janelle Arthur has not been easy. Aside from one brief glimmer of potential during Hollywood week, Janelle's performances have left viewers scratching their heads. On Wednesday, Janelle regained a little bit of that fire. Apparently, there's just something about Hollywood that agrees with Janelle. Her rendition of "Gone," by Montgomery Gentry, which was performed by Season 10 Idol winner Scotty McCreery, was her best in weeks. But Nicki Minaj, decked out in her Unabomber chic line, disagreed saying that the song last week suited her voice better. Randy also wasn't feeling Janelle's song choice, claiming the song didn't lead anywhere. Although, it did lead this writer a tiny centimeter closer to liking Janelle. B-
Devin Velez: Jimmy told Devin what so many American Idol contestants need to hear, "Don't get locked up into an adult theme." Seriously, it seems that every year there are more and more contestants who think that the only way to be taken seriously is to perform for the 55+ crowd. Devin's performance of "Temporary Home," by Carrie Underwood had so much wrong with it however, that an adult theme seemed to be the least of its worries. Most of the judges were underwhelmed, except Nicki who loved the song with his voice. If Devin keeps choosing songs like this, then the Idol stage will be a very temporary home. C
Angie Miller: If Jimmy Iovine needed to do something to prove he deserves to be on the Idol payroll, he achieved it when he told Angela Miller that sometimes she made him feel like he was watching a pageant. Angie is a fantastic artist but at times she portrays a cloyingly sweet attitude that makes her seem disingenuous. It was a good thing that Mr. Iovine pointed it out, not only will it help Angela but maybe it will quiet all the Angie fans who mercilessly hate on any poor writer who humbly suggests that Angie tone down the earnest, exhilarated girl persona. Oscar or no, it's that same characteristic that makes people roll their eyes when they hear the name, Anne Hathaway. Angie chose to sing, "I Surrender," by Celine Dion (performed in Season 1 by Kelly Clarkson). Angie did a good job with the vocals but not as good as her stylists did with her dress. The metal chain on the dress was enough to give the normally pageanty Angie an edge, without making it seem like she was in a costume. The judges loved her performance. Nicki claimed that Angela "personifies perfection" and Mariah Carey added, "Stellar." Loving the one word critiques by Mariah! Can we have some more please? B+
Paul Jolley: Poor Paul. When Paul made it into the Top 10, more than a few people were shocked. But Paul has struggled with a tendency to over sing, something Jimmy was not going to sugar coat. Iovine's frankness seemed to really pay off because when Paul sang,"Amazed," by Lone Star it was his best performance to date. There was something about Paul's conscious effort to not over sing that translated to viewers as intensity prompting Nicki to comment, "This is the first time you've stimulated my sexual appetite." B
Candice Glover: Choosing one of the best songs that Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks ever performed, "I Who Have Nothing," by Ben E. King, was a risky move. Jordin's performance of that song was so good she opted to repeat it a second time, later in the competition. And although Candice opted not to start the song in the intimate a capella way that Jordin did, mid-way through it ceased to matter. Candice was mesmerizing, not only did she look gorgeous but her vocals were transcendent. Keith sounded like a star-struck fan when he gushed, "Gosh, I love you so much." Randy called it one of the best performances of the season: and Mariah clarified that the reason she was the only judge not to get to her feet after Candice's performance, was because her skirt is too tight. A
Lazaro Arbos: Following on the heels of Candice's performance is not a good place to be, especially after having your confidence injured by Jimmy Iovine when he suggests that you never really know a song's melody and the audience sees it. So to say Lazaro was under pressure, would be an understatement. Lazaro chose Kelly Clarkson's song, "Breakaway," and from the very first note, it was clear that he was struggling and he continued to do so right through the song. The judges agreed. Keith broke it down to poor song choice while Nicki blamed Jimmy for breaking Lazaro's confidence. C-
Kree Harrison: It's always so exciting when Kree takes to the stage. The fact that she considers herself a country artist and a non-country fan still looks forward to hearing her sing is an indication of how special she is. Kree chose "Crying," by Roy Orbison - an absolute perfect song that Carrie Underwood performed in Season 4. As usual, Kree was mesmerizing and the achingly beautiful melody of the song brought Kree to a whole new level of wonderful. Keith told her,"If you made a record tomorrow, I'd go and buy it," while Nicki, chose to express her approval by comparing Kree to buttermilk waffles reheated in the microwave. A-
Burnell Taylor: Although Burnell's performance of Ruben Studdard's, "Flying Without Wings," was no where near the bar that the girls had set, he was the only guy, aside from Paul Jolley, who actually managed to be compelling. Keith claims that it is the unique timber of Burnell's voice that sets him apart but you can't rule out the quirky little hand movements he makes when singing that have some strange power to transfix. B
Amber Holcomb: No matter what Randy says, "A Moment Like This," is not the best Idol finale song. In fact, when Amber chose it, the collective groans could be heard across America. No Randy, the best Idol song was clearly, "Home" (Phil Phillips Season 11 winner). You didn't see Olympians vaulting through the air to the sounds of " A Moment Like This," did you? Perhaps it was because of the song choice but the judges' hearty approval of Amber came as a surprise. Aside from Mariah and her tight skirt, they all got to their feet and Nicki claimed that it was the best performance of the night, while Mariah added, "Hashtag Pow," if one can consider that to be adding something. Amber was pitchy throughout so to suggest she was better than Candice or Kree is hyperbole at its best. B-
Time for predictions! After such a strong showing by the girls, the bottom three will likely be comprised of Lazaro Arbos, Curtis Finch, Jr., and Devin Velez. But in the end, there's a good chance that we'll be saying goodbye to Lazaro Arbos on Thursday night. But as sad as that might be, Phillip Phillips will be performing so all will be right with the world.
What do you think about the grading and predictions? Share your comments below!