American Idol Recap: We’re Almost There

Photo: Michael Becker / FOX
American Idol
Episode Title
Finalists Compete
Editor’s Rating

Okay, you guys. We are so close to the finish line I can taste it, and it tastes like rainbows. Even Ryan Seacrest expresses something close to relief when he says, “We’re almost there.” Which of course raises the question: Where are we almost? Does it matter who wins this thing? Wouldn’t Phillip Phillips’s “Home” have been a huge hit even if he hadn’t won? Haven’t each of these final three already gotten whatever boost this show can give them, and aren’t we kind of spinning our wheels at this point? Is there a cash prize anymore, or do you just get a record deal, and what is a record deal even worth in a time when everyone can record and promote a song on their own? When Ryan Seacrest himself seems to want this thing to be over, has Idol not wrung us bone-dry?

Luckily, there is an awkward moment right up top that reengages me: Seacrest says to Mariah: “Well! Somebody hasn’t had any carbs today.” And indeed: She is looking good in a white midriff-baring top, but the comment comes off like something someone would say on a Real Housewives reunion. (And oh boy: If any show needed a Real Housewives–style reunion, it’s this season of Idol. May I host it please?)

Tonight, the top three will sing three songs each: one chosen by Jimmy Iovine, one by the judges, and one by “the Idol production.” Not the Idol producers, mind you; the Idol production. So, like, Tony the grip gets a choice here? Nancy in craft services is calling the shots? Nobody explains, because tonight’s show is only two hours long and there simply is no time.

For round one, Jimmy gives Kree Pink’s “Fuckin’ Perfect,” which she of course can’t sing in its natural state, and when you sanitize the chorus, there’s not much song to sell. Plus, Kree’s soothing tone lacks the defiance that this song requires; she makes it sound like a very nice song, like something you would dedicate to your niece, which is a thing she actually does. Also, because everyone’s singing three songs, it’s truncated to such a degree that it doesn’t have time to get going. Keith says the song choice just reinforces the fact that she’s a country girl, which is not praise, but the audience cheers anyway because nobody’s paying attention. Nicki says, in these exact words, “the quality of your voice has a lot of quality.” Mariah says she gets why Kree held back a little bit, because she has to sing twice more tonight. Hey — if singing thrice is so hard on these kids that they have to give less than 100 percent, could they maybe sing fewer than three times? Could they make this thing 90 minutes and then give Ben and Kate one last swing? It doesn’t have to be an endurance test for everyone, you know.

Kree’s homecoming is at once understated and brutal. There is the requisite hometown concert and main-street parade (a local tavern bears a sign saying KREEM ALWAYS RISES TO THE TOP, which, hey don’t.) It’s all very nice, and then comes the gut-punch: Kree and her sister revisit the house where they grew up, which is crumbling and still filled with piles of their dead parents’ possessions. It’s manipulative, and it works. Rise to the top, Kree(m).

She briefly does. For round two, the judges choose Rascal Flatts’s “Here Comes Goodbye,” one of those brutally effective Country Inc. songs that just cannot fail. It’s a smart move by the judges, when there’s nobody like her left in the competition, to position her so strongly country. (If they want her to make it to the finals, that is — which, do they? So many questions, you guys.) It is of course fucking great. But then all of the judges behave like they’re actually at Kree’s parents’ funeral. Girls, take it easy.

Somebody was going to give Kree a Band Perry song at some point; leave it to the Idol Production to give her “Better Dig Two,” a song about dying with your true love that, given the emotional content of her hometown package, is just a little too on-the-nose. (“If I Die Young” would have been la chanson juste.) The song is written to suit the Band Perry singer’s limited range, so there isn’t anywhere for Kree to take it. The judges are lukewarm; Nicki says “whoever gave you that song ought to be stoned.” It’s a lackluster night for Kree overall, and I have no idea whether it even matters anymore.

Jimmy chooses U2’s “One” for Candice, and of course she models it on Mary J. Blige’s gospel rave-up version. And of course she does well with it, but an arrangement like this cannot be a revelation once it’s already been done. (Except maybe to Candice, who prior to this week had never heard any version of “One.” Were all of this year’s finalists in captivity for a period of time? Is that this season’s theme?) The judges love it. Randy is wearing a giant marquee R on his jacket and an Iron Man cuff on his wrist. He’s like a mixture of Laverne DeFazio, Tony Stark, Kid, and Play, and he needs to stop it. Mariah does the thing where she uses a bunch of big words in her critique. When Mariah does the big-word thing, she evokes Lark Voorhees.

Candice goes home to Fripp Island, South Carolina, rides a scooter, answers the phone at her old job, and says “Oh my gosh” a million times. It’s more emotionally affecting than it sounds; she seems like a genuinely nice woman, and God knows she’s put in the work. (Again, this is the third time she’s been through the Idol experience; has she really improved that much in the last year, or were Steven, Jennifer, and Randy just terrible judges? Both can be true.)

The judges give her Emeli Sandé’s “Next to Me,” which is a shockingly current choice. It doesn’t give her a ton of opportunity for vocal craziness, which may have been the point. My question about Candice is can she deliver an upbeat song, and the answer is mostly yes. Randy congratulates himself on the song choice thusly: “Koo-dooze to us.” Nicki says Candice is going to inspire girls everywhere to be confident in how they look, and Candice replies that she came into the competition insecure about her body, and everybody cries about it and BOOM she’s in the finals, end of story.

Oh boy. For round three, Candice gets “Somewhere” from West Side Story. It’s not exactly the thing to show how relevant she’ll be as an artist, but it is an atom bomb of a song choice. And even though it’s a little overstuffed with mini-runs (Harry Connick Jr. would be horrified), it is big and full of the emotion tonight’s performances almost universally lack. The judges give her a standing ovation. I truly don’t know where you put a Candice Glover in today’s pop landscape, but I hope there’s a place for her.

Jimmy gives Angie Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” which is a decent choice for her voice, even if you can’t possibly imagine her doing anything that she would regret, ever. She sings it like she’s apologizing for cutting someone off in traffic, plus she’s not at the piano, where she is clearly most at home. The judges mostly agree with me. Mariah calls her dahling a million times, and really should have won this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In her hometown package, Angie mentions the Boston Marathon bombing an awful lot, which I don’t think I love, but then there’s lots of her clapping and charming classrooms full of children, so if you like her, you’ll let it slide. I will say that it’s kind of amazing, given that she comes from the Boston area, that Angie is not deeply unpleasant.

The judges’ choice for Angie is Pink’s “Try,” and again, she can’t quite sell it. Can you even conceive of Angie Miller getting burned by passionate love? When you try to picture her getting dumped by the love of her life, don’t you sort of see her going, “Yeeesh, awkward turtle,” and then shuffling off, tipping an invisible top hat? To get “Try” across, a person needs you have, you know, tried.

The production gives her Emeli Sandé’s “Maybe,” for which she sits at the piano, and though the song is forgettable, it’s her only good fit of the night. I feel like she hasn’t grown much in this competition, as her best performances still just remind you of that one original song she did in Hollywood week.

I’d say Candice wins the night and Kree loses. So here comes an unpopular and probably off-base prediction: Angie Miller is going home tomorrow. Hear me out: If you’re voting for the best singer, you’re going Candice, and while Kree might seem to be the obvious choice for elimination, she is now full-on country, and country has a wide and loyal fan base. Plus, when finalists underwhelm (as Kree did tonight), they have a tendency to get a bump from their superfans; Angie’s young voters might simply be cocky by this point. (And tired.)

Either way, it does not matter. Let’s get through next week and then sell our televisions and take up macramé.