On Wednesday night, Harry Connick, Jr. rejoined American Idol as a mentor and it was like taking a deep breath of fresh air after years of suffocating under the stifling egos of Idol's diva-heavy panels. While Harry himself assured the contestants that he's a big star, his affable, down-to-earth, self-deprecating charisma made him an absolute pleasure to watch. It's no wonder Grace fell so hard.
The first set of performances were songs from 2013. Yes, viewers - 2013. Did you adequately brace yourselves for music from not even just this decade but songs from this year? Holy Currentness, Batman!
First up was Angie Miller and her infamous piano. Angie took on Rihanna's "Diamond," and while the performance started off well with Angie delivering strong vocals, eventually it became clear that the arrangement was weighing Angie down, preventing her from achieving the kind of moment that becomes more critical with every passing week. The judges all echoed the same sentiment and even called Angie on "over-performing," which is odd since this week it seemed that she had actually toned down her enthusiasm for the dramatics. Chances are we'll still be welcoming Angie back to the North Shore of Boston for a Top 3 home-town visit but this time she did not shine bright, like a diamond. B-
Amber Holcomb selected, "Just Give Me a Reason" by Pink and Nate Ruess, which has recently become one of this author's favorites. It would have been nice if Amber could have just given us a reason to vote for her, unfortunately this performance was not going to compel viewers to take any action. Finally, the judges recognized that Amber is not the second-coming-of-Whitney Houston and they all expressed disappointment in her performance, although Keith Urban kind of back-peddled from criticism into some bizarre compliment. Obviously Keith is still in cahoots with the producers and their ploy to promote Amber as a finalist. C-
Candice Glover opted to perform, "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars. While Candice struggled to develop a natural rapport with Harry, she handled Bruno with ease, wowing the judges with another fantastic vocal despite the pronoun discrepancy. Keith said it best when he said, "When you sing like that you could have been signing 'When I Was Your Giraffe.' " Candice has the kind of voice that can make the lyrics of a song seem secondary. A-
Whatever Harry might have felt was lacking during his visit with Candice, he certainly found it with Kree Harrison. Not only was he blown away by her version of "See You Again," by Carrie Underwood, he and Kree also shared a New Orleans hometown bond, complete with a Creole exchange. Kree's understated rendition of the song bordered on tepid at times and Keith argued that there was a discrepancy between Kree singing with the band a la power ballad while simultaneously toning down the song so much that she sat throughout the performance. But the rest of the judges loved the sound of Kree's voice, as did Harry Connick Jr., who threw any concerns about the distastefulness of favoritism out the window by coming out on stage to give Kree props. C+
Round II: Standards (all classic songs are fair game.)
Angie Miller chose the haunting classic, "Someone to Watch Over Me." The realization that Angie has a rather large tattoo running down the side of her rib cage was more riveting than her performance could ever hope to be. Keith asked the question, "Does then have to bo so then," referring to how old-fashioned Angie's song choice was and Nicki Minaj said that Angie reminded her of a Disney Princess and said she would do well on Broadway. Ouch. Nevertheless, they all agreed that Angie's vocal was beautiful. Despite the fact that they all essentially agreed on something, Mariah Carey took another seemingly unprovoked jab at Nicki – it was nice of her to ensure that no matter how poorly the other contestants sang, Mariah's would still be the worst performance of the night. B-
Amber Holcomb then delivered a rather stunning performance of, "My Funny Valentine," again. The vocals were beautiful, as was Amber. That had to be a relief considering that during her mentor session with Harry, he pointed out that she had absolutely no idea what she was singing about, which had to be humiliating. When Harry asked what the song was about, Amber's response was, "It's about a guy . . . and I guess they're being really funny and weird." After that display of ignorance (plus a few others that followed), Amber's only hope to save face was, ironically, to sing her face off, as Randy Jackson would say. She did. A- (I might have given Amber a straight "A" but as someone who covets words above all other things, I knew I'd never be able to look at myself in the mirror again.)
Candice Glover then came out and sang, "You've Changed," and put the rest of the contestants to shame. Seriously, they all need to just pack their bags and bow out now, kind of the way Nicki did when it was her turn to give feedback to Candice. A+
Kree Harrison was inspired by Etta James's version of, "Stormy Weather," but Harry was not inspired by the contestants' tendency to laden their songs with runs that in his opinion are not necessary and ultimately dilute the meaning behind the lyrics of the songs. Poor Harry must have been beside himself last season when Jessica Sanchez continually chose songs that were so outside of her frame of reference. The judges were not pleased with Kree's performance and more than once insinuated that Harry's influence might be the reason for Kree's failure to thrive with the song. When Randy told Kree she should have opted for the Etta James version, Harry had just about had enough. Thankfully Keith brought Harry to the judges' table where he proceeded to school Randy. "You're talking about individuality and singing it your own way and you just said you should have chosen the Etta Jame's version. You're telling her to sing it like Etta." Randy blathered on about how all he wanted from Kree was just to be Kree, to which Harry added, "Yes we want you to be Kree, just be the Etta James version!"
Oh Nigel Lythgoe (the American Idol producer), do you not see the writing on the wall? Have you missed the rays of blinding light that broke through the clouds of Idol's drudgery? Redemption has graced your studio on this night and his name is Harry Connick, Jr.. Do not be afraid, Mr. Lythgoe. Inanity is not the path forward; you must see that having something intelligent to say and beyond that, a passion about music rather than about one's self, is far more valuable to Idol's future than senseless blathering, indulgent catch phrases, and faux-British accents.
So while Harry certainly earned an A+ Wednesday night, Kree just scraped by with a C.
Bottom two this week? Amber and Kree, and hopefully the universe will correct itself and finally send Amber home. You can already see the cracks of pressure on her lovely visage; let's hope voters spare her anymore grief and just set her free.
By the way, was anyone else annoyed that they couldn't vote for Harry this week?