We’re down to the top six, so American Idol is
cutting tonight’s show to a tight, breezy hour freeing up some time in the prime-time lineup and using their flagging-but-still-considerable audience to prop up one of their struggling sitcoms, showing a modicum of respect for their audience making the finalists sing two songs tonight. Tonight’s first round will be the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, because by all means let’s make these kids sing songs that will never make their albums.
Angie Miller kicks it off with “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” which she sings like a teenager with a difficult assignment, because that’s exactly what she is. (She also overenunciates hard, like a drama club girl, because that’s exactly what she is.) Keith, Nicki, and Randy call her on her lack of passion, and Mariah echoes the sentiment for three full minutes while somehow making it all about her. Round one does nothing to interrupt Angie’s slight downward trend.
Fun fact: Amber eats frozen shrimp right out of the freezer as “shrimp-sicles,” because who among us hasn’t eaten shrimp and thought if only I could have the sensation of this briny taste slowly warming in my mouth over a long period of time? Her version of “I Say a Little Prayer” is so excellent it nearly brings me out of my full-body cringe. Nicki loses her damn mind over it, but doesn’t forget to stir the pot with a suggestion of a romance between Amber and Burnell: “Sometimes when your boyfriend isn’t around, you can really focus.” Randy chimes in, if the world’s loudest gong can be considered a chime: “WHAT? HAAAA. WHAT?” Also, Randy is wearing a man-brooch of a glittering 8-bit Mario. (An 8-bit Mario would be about as insightful a judge as Randy; both of their core messages boil down to “It’s ME!”)
Lazaro loves to go hunting! Some people don’t think his ethnicity and his hunting hobby go well together, so they call him “the Spanish Redneck Guy!” Some other people may remember last week when he made a redneck joke about Janelle that might have cost him some votes and suspect that he is making all of this up! Whatever — he has bigger fish than implausible nicknames to fry; his version of “Close to You” is straight-up top-five worst performances I’ve ever seen on this show. Like, maybe two correct notes in the entire thing. Also, the Spanish Redneck Guy is wearing a Magic Eye painting as a suit, and when I stare into it, I see a guy who’s overstayed his welcome. (Seriously, you guys, this suit. When did Zubaz get into eveningwear?) The judges pan it across the board, with Mariah saying “the powers-that-be have reprimanded me and reminded me I’m here to judge.” (Mariah, gentle coaching from corporations who are paying you tens of millions does not count as a reprimand.) She also takes forever to remember a word but never does, and it’s painful, but at least Mariah finally gets a smile out of Nicki.
Kree will fix everything! Won’t she? Her brother took time off of his job on a pipeline to be there, and brought the Most Excited Person in Human History along with him.
“What the World Needs Now” is her song, and of course it’s flawless. The judges love it. Nicki says that she’ll be singing at the Country Music Awards next year, which is a safe bet because there are 400 country music awards shows every year.
Janelle played a boy in a school play one time! That’s her surprising secret fact. Janelle helps me understand why small-town kids often turn to meth. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” is another semi-deep cut that plays to her strengths while forcing her to stretch ever so slightly. I like the cut of Janelle’s crossdressing jib! Nicki says it was boring. Mariah then redefines boring by talking forever and never making a point. For real, though: The kids on the AT&T commercial make stronger, more concise points than Mariah Carey.
Candice does “Don’t Make Me Over,” and it is absolute perfection. She manages to make it sound like a brand-new song, which is really something with a song that’s been beaten to death like this one. There’s not much to say about this. Sweet Jesus, can Candice Glover sing.
Round two is Songs the Idols Wish They’d Written, which should at least be interesting but probably won’t be. Angie Miller wishes she wrote “Love Came Down” by Kari Jobe, who I will just go ahead and speculate is Angie Miller in disguise, so perfectly does the song play to Angie’s strengths. It’s her at the piano, so of course the judges love it, and if you like Angie, then so did you. Nicki gets in the critique of the night by telling Angie that doing emotional songs on the piano is the only way she can win, “because then you’re doing something them other girls can’t do.” Good call.
Song I Wish She Wished She’d Written: “Surrounded,” by Chantal Kraviazuk.
Amber wishes she had written Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” and she dresses like she wishes she had been a cast member of Kids Incorporated. It’s a decent fit, but it’s written to be all vocal tricks, so it gets a little showy and boring right away. The judges love it.
Song I Wish She Wished She’d Written: “Freak Like Me,” but the Gary Numan mash-up version the Sugababes did.
Lazaro will not be satisfied until he sucks the life right out of me, so he wishes he had written Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” It’s still lousy, but he hits twice as many correct notes as he did in round one (which is to say: maybe four). Keith says this week is separating the kids in a talent contest from the people who really have what it takes to be superstars, and the rest of the gang pretty much just says “Word.”
Song I Wish He Wished He’d Written: John Cage’s “4’33””
Kree does Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” and it’s fine, but it’s your standard-issue country ballad, and it’s 9:30 by this point, and Lazaro has just sung, and it is next to impossible to focus on anything under these conditions, so a person had better bring some energy. The judges love it, Keith adding that she’ll be a part of the Grand Ole Opry before long because of her ease with country music — which somehow with his accent sounds like “crunchy music.” I wish her music really were crunchier; country is an easy fit for her, but I’d love to see her go in a slightly rockier direction. I’ll be seeing her do something, I know that.
Song I Wish She Wished She’d Written: “Every Little Bit” by Patty Griffin.
(In his critique, Randy says that Kree is a natural, which we have established pretty solidly by this point, and adds: “The four of us were talking about that,” and then after a too-short pause: “that includes me, I know you’re like who’s the four people, there’s only one dogg. HA HA HAAAA.” Randy, we know you are there. Message received.)
I honestly cannot wait to see which song Janelle wishes she’d written; sister has some intriguing taste. Except tonight; she chooses Garth Brooks’s “The Dance,” which is a depressingly necessary safe choice for her. She does an okay job, but the arrangement is neither here nor there; it’s not a huge, bombastic version nor a quiet acoustic rendition. It’s all just kind of right in the middle and it ends on a wobbly big note. She’s still not up to the standard of the other four girls, and it still won’t matter, because country radio will eat her up with a big ol’ spoon.
Song I Wish She Wished She’d Written: “You’re the Only One” by Maria Mena.
Ryan teases that Candice will put her stamp on the Cure, and I lose my mind with excitement over what she’ll do to “Why Can’t I Be You” before I come to my senses and realize she’ll just do Adele’s version of “Love Song.” And she does a big jazzy version of it that makes you feel like you’re at Joe’s Pub and makes my dog bark at the television. Of course it’s great. Of course it’s also not a whole lot of fun. We need some fun versions of some fun songs up in here, especially if we’re going to be kept here for two full hours.
Song I Wish She Wished She’d Written: “A La Modeliste” from that Mark Ronson Re:Generation project.
Oh, and then, as the judges do their standing ovation (at least their third of the night; the impact of a standing-o gets diminished with overuse), Mariah furtively pours out a Michael’s jar of glitter into her hand, walks out onstage, and straight Jack Rubys her with it. Two things: (1) Mariah has a terrible arm; the glitter barely hits Candice (but will still be a nuisance come shower time), and (2) wouldn’t a Mariah Carey want to distance herself from the entire concept of glitter?
I think the judges’ open contempt for The Spanish Redneck Guy will make his fans vote twice as often, and that Janelle will sing for — and get, just because it’s their last chance to use it — the save. I also wish I’d written the pitch for American Idol; I swear, I would have gotten us out of here in one hour.