After an emotional goodbye to Burnell Taylor last week, made even more bitter by the injustice of it all, the final American Idol six contestants had to tackle two themes this week: First song from the songbook of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and the second a song that they wish they had written.
If you are still stuck on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David reference, you're not alone. In the face of plummeting ratings, American Idol has opted to double down on their old, stodgy, relics of songs, despite the fact that The Voice on NBC is closing in the ratings, and putting Idol to shame with current music which viewers can relate to.
To put this in perspective, the American Idol contestants were required to sing from a songbook that is five-decades old, when they themselves have only been on earth for two. How exactly does Idol hope to compete with this kind of model?
While there is no expiry on good music, if American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe wants to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce then perhaps he should start producing a singing competition for an older demographic featuring contestants old enough to actually know and love this era of music. To try and appeal to a younger viewer base by putting a maximum age of 28 on the talent and then subjecting them to music they have no desire to sing or listen to is a sure way to alienate a fan base.
The second half of the evening was dedicated to songs that the contestants wished they had written, a theme that may as well have been called "Songs that Idol Usually Won't Let Us Sing."
Angie Miller was the first to perform; the first to have to take an old, dusty memory of a song and try to make it relevant. Angie is a great singer but she's not a magician so her performance of “Anyone Who Had A Heart” by Dionne Warwick just didn't match the bubbly, excitable girl who just admitted to making ridiculous heavy metal YouTube videos with her best friend. When Keith Urban complained that she didn't seem to have passion and Nicki Minaj said she sounded old-fashioned, Mariah Carey suggested that it was because Angie enunciated her words too well. Ah yes, that must have been it. Clearly it had nothing to do with forcing her to sing a song from 1963! B-
Amber Holcomb was the next to face the music, and she chose to perform, "I Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick. Amber sounded better Wednesday night than she has for the last month, despite the judges' non-stop over-exuberant feedback of the last few weeks. And if they were over-exuberant when she wasn't great, one can imagine the hyperbole that was flying about the studio this night. Nicki, claimed that with that song Amber became her favorite girl in the competition and Randy Jackson announced that Amber has arrived. Suddenly, flashbacks of last season and the panel's blatant favoritism of Jessica Sanchez started resurfacing. So when Keith Urban claimed that he felt like a summer breeze had just blown in, I had to agree that there certainly was a lot of hot air being blown about. B
Lazaro Arbos graced the stage with what has to be the ugliest suit seen on American Idol since Paul McDonald rocked his red rose suit in 2011. In fairness, Paul had the gleaming smile to help ease the pain and Lazaro offered nothing to help ease the pain of his suit or his performance. Lazaro sang "Close to You" by The Carpenters and suddenly the injustice of Burnell's elimination became almost unbearable. Randy got right to the point by telling Lazaro that it was horrible and his worst performance since he's been on the show. Mariah, who claimed that she had been reprimanded by the powers that be, who reminded her she was there to judge and not be nice, gave a two-minute, disjointed, convoluted, lecture about why Lazaro was bad. That'll teach them to force you to judge, Mariah! Nicki, who was nearly in hysterics, passed up on giving feedback otherwise they would be there until midnight. F
As if Lazaro could have felt any worse, next came Kree Harrison with her performance of, "What the World Needs Now is Love" by Jackie DeShannon. She absolutely enamored the audience. The song, especially when it started in A cappella, was breathtaking. Keith said it was the best Kree had ever been and Nicki claimed that Kree is ready to be a country music performer. Randy then went on to drive the stake deeper into Lazaro's heart by saying he was glad she sang after Lazaro, because this is what singing is all about. A-
It was clear that Kree was going to be a rose between two thorns on Wednesday when Janelle Arthur performed, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Burt Bacharach. While not quite as offensive as Lazaro, Janelle's performance made us feel like we were watching a Dolly Parton-inspired puppet on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The judges couldn't seem to decide whether they liked the performance or not, with Mariah being the most confused of them all. Perhaps Mariah knows what she's trying to say, but it's quite certain no one else does. C
Candice Glover was as stunning as she normally is with her performance of, “Don’t Make Me Over” by Dionne Warwick. In the early half, the theme-iness of it seemed to be constraining her but by the second half, Candice let loose a barrage of awe-inspiring vocals that drove everyone to their feet. Nicki exclaimed that Candice was born to do this and Randy relied on his same old phrases like, "In it to win it," and "This is what the show is all about." A
Part Two: Songs the contestants wished they had written
Angie Miller returned to the piano with an unfamiliar, Christian-rock ballad, “Love Came Down” by Kari Jobe. Angie seemed sure that this song would get her into the top five and while the judges seemed to agree, Angie's performance gave this Idol critic a tooth ache with its ultra-earnest, devotional emotion, complete with doves soaring through the background. Nicki claimed that the only way Angie can compete is to stay behind the piano because otherwise Kree, Amber, and Candice will take all the trophies. B-
Everything that is wrong with Amber Holcomb was evident in her performance of “Love On Top” by Beyoncé. Starting in a key that is just too low for her, she did hit some of her Whitney Houston-like notes later in the song but while those notes may be enough to earn the judges forgiveness, some of us feel that the entire song should be judged not just the high notes. The judges were once again so over the top in their praise that one can't help but wonder if the producers aren't pushing an Amber win for some reason. B-
Lazaro Arbos somehow continues to come out on stage no matter how many times he gets knocked down. He tried to win back some of the judges' respect with "Angels" by Robbie Williams. While it was slightly better than his last performance, the gap between his talent and that of some of the others becomes more apparent each week. Nicki isn't even offering critiques at this point, while the rest of the judges are just agreeing that he has no place in the final six. Let's hope his supporters see that voting for Lazaro week after week is only putting him in situations that are becoming increasingly more difficult for him. Time to let Lazaro go, America - if you love him, set him free. D
Kree Harrison chose what she called a simply beautiful song, "Help Me Make It Through the Night," by Kris Kristofferson and she was simply beautiful. The judges all agreed. A-
Janelle Arthur wished she had written, “The Dance” by Garth Brooks. What was evident in her performance was that Janelle truly loved the song and she made viewers really connect to it. Keith earned his paycheck when he told Janelle that she should have performed that song with just the guitar. It was great advice but chances are even that wouldn't have been enough to get a leg up on the other girls. B
Candice Glover selected “Love Song” by The Cure, explaining that love is one of her favorite things to sing about. Words cannot express just how incredible Candice's performance was. She had viewers absolutely transfixed from the very first note all the way to the last. At the end, three judges were on their feet while Keith was on his knees bowing down and Mariah even approached the stage to toss glitter on Candice. Randy was not exaggerating when he called it the best performance in 12 years of Idol. A+
And that, Mr Lythgoe, is what can happen when you allow your talent to sing music that means something to them.