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'American Idol' Recap: Judges Crack Down on Kree Harrison

Meanwhile, the show's "One Hit Wonder" theme turns out to be a massive joke.

American Idol season 12 judges top 5 L
Michael Becker / Fox
Kree Harrison

In the final stretches, American Idol is clearly putting pressure on the judges to crack down on coddled contestants who have a consistent track record of do-no-wrong performances.

It's not enough to have a good voice; you gotta have star quality, too. With that Idol mantra in mind, the panel collectively knocked Kree "Kreedom" Harrison off her throne along with Candice Glover, another frontrunner. While Kree and Candice were on the receiving end of rare (and especially harsh) criticism that left the former on the verge of tears, Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb won mostly positive acclaim for middling and overrated covers of songs that were A) dated B) sappy C) really, really, really lame or D) all of the above.

Throughout Wednesday's performance show, the judges piled on Kree for her sleepy stage presence and Candice for lacking the "M" factor: marketability. "What I don’t want to happen to you is for people to see you as an old-fashioned artist," said Nicki Minaj, noting that her feedback would now focus on a singer's future prospects in the music industry rather than mere vocal prowess.

Funny, that.

On Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter published the bombshell scoop that producers and Fox execs -- anxious over the show's sagging ratings -- had concocted a secret plan to replace Mariah Carey with Jennifer Lopez, and that Mariah responded by threatening litigation. (This could very well explain her defiant behavior in recent weeks where she has complained on the air about the control room cutting off her rambling speeches on key changes.) Meanwhile, insiders told THR a search is underway to find replacements for Carey and possibly even Nicki, who's brash and witty but apparently too aggro for focus groups populated by wimpy, ubert-conservative viewers who probably voted for Lazaro Arbus and Janelle Arthur.

STORY: 'Idol Panic': Secret Plot to Replace Mariah Carey With Jennifer Lopez Fails

How interesting, then, that Mariah suddenly appeared coherent and engaged rathe than passive -- except when she was caught on camera checking her phone -- and Nicki backtracked on her blunt love-it-or-hate-it outbursts to offer astute criticism that carried more than a whiff of harsh truth.

The final four each performed two songs -- one of their own choosing and another within the viewer-selected theme of "One Hit Wonders" -- as well as a duets pairing Angie with Candice and Amber with Kree. And in the MOST RIDICULOUS COP-OUT, the one-hit-wonder selections included "Emotion" (written and sung by an obscure band called the Bee Gees, you've never heard of them) and "MacArthur Park," a No. 1 from Donna Summer. The show, finding a loophole in the theme, permitted hopefuls to pick songs that were first recorded by not-famous artists and covered by someone with a slew of hits. Such is the case with "Emotion," a 1977 single by Samantha Sang, and "MacArthur Park," a 1968 release from Richard Harris. 

I don't even know who those people are! You cheated, Idol, you cheated. "Any one-hit-wonder songs from at least the last decade?" cracked Keith Urban, the sole voice of reason and sanity and Nigel Lythgoe if you fire Keith and swap him for Bruno Mars or my nightmare, Taylor Swift, I'm going to start watching Canadian Idol instead.

(Sidenote: You know what would have been good? "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis. I heard it this week while shopping for hummus in my neighborhood bodega and started to whisper-sing along but stopped as soon as I noticed the bodega cat watching me. Always watching.)

Moving on: ROUND ONE!

Amber ("The Power of Love," Celine Dion): Looking chic and Whitney-esque in a white-and-black jumpsuit and curly hair, the underdog contestant -- who's managed to hang on this far despite bigger accolades for rivals Candice and Kree -- delivered a lovely and understated (but still kind of meh) rendition of the Dion power-ballad. "That song was made for you. ... You are so current outside of your amazing voice!" cooed Nicki in a sentiment echoed by the rest of the panel. And in the Nicki-ism of the night, the judge also called Amber a "big, sexy glass of milk." WHAT.

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Candice ("Find Your Love," Drake): Although she's my favorite (and the most talented, by a mile), only Candice could turn a track from a chart-topping hip-hop star of 2013 and make it sound like a timeless classic -- and that's not a compliment in this case. "Who is your market? … I don’t want you to get lost in that old-fashioned bracket!" said Nicki, to which Randy Jackson added: "It can’t always sound like you’re in church." Brutal, but spot-on. (Mental image of Lythgoe giving orders to Jackson via in-ear microphone. "Rip her! Rip her to shreds! RATINGS RATINGS RATINGS!!!!")

Kree: ("It Hurts So Bad," Susan Tedeschi): The judges certainly didn't sugarcoat this bluesy and dreadfully boring little number from season 12's resident valedictorian, mother hen and alleged shoo-in to win the Idol title next month. "That is NOT a top four-worthy performance," sniped Nicki, yelling: "Everybody can blow smoke up your a--hole but that wasn't it!" Taken aback, Kree's eyes began to water as Keith, Randy and Mariah all agreed that she needed to step up her game -- and show some personality -- in order to remain in the running.

Angie: ("Who You Are," Jessie J): Back at the piano, where Angie shines most brightly, the singer-songwriter -- who resembles a Precious Moment sprung to life -- pulled off a better-than-average version of the Jessie J single. While Keith cautioned her not to be so prim and proper, Angie's clear, precise vocals and musicianship won over everyone else. "Get home and get back on that piano and sing an original song," gushed Mariah, urging the hopeful to continue to pen her own material. 

The Winner: Angie, back in business following weeks of low points, poor song choices and over-emoting.

ROUND TWO:

Amber ("MacArthur Park," Richard Harris): Whoever advised an otherwise smart person like Amber to go with this so-cheesy-it's-tragic '60s tune should be escorted out of the Idol rehearsal studio and banned from ever setting foot there again. And Amber should know better. ("That song is corny and not even Amber can pull off corny," said Jimmy Iovine.) Nevertheless, cue the kudos: "I would sign her right now!" proclaimed Randy, prompting a WTF reaction across America (or at least among the holdouts still watching Idol). I don't believe you, Randy. Amber is neither ready nor outstanding enough -- there, I said it -- to be signed to a record deal. 

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Candice ("Emotion," Samantha Sang): This performance -- effortlessly sung, as always -- felt like a bit of a throwback and earned mixed reviews. Randy, perhaps guilty over his "church" comment, declared that she "redeemed" herself while Keith mocked the retro-ness of the song choice. Then it was revealed that Candice has a terrible cold! Not that anybody noticed.

Kree ("A Whiter Shade of Pale," Procol Harum/Annie Lennox): I love love love this classic-rock staple, and when Kree infuses it with her butterscotch tone, it sounds fresh and brand-new even though the country star wannabe projects the energy level of a sloth. But Keith more or less called the cover mediocre and encouraged Kree to handpick music that draws out a more dynamic performance. Nicki added, quite ominously, "I think you're gonna be in the bottom two."

Angie ("Cry Me a River," Julie London): Emerging onstage in a flowing, Mariah-style gown, Angie took on the downbeat standard (not to be confused with Justin Timberlake's 2003 pop masterpiece of the same title) that's been covered by artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Michael Buble. It was fine in the way that a high school musical solo featuring the best senior-class singer is fine: nothing earth-shattering, no wow moments, no epiphanies of "This is the next Kelly Clarkson!" That said, Keith raved that it was "mystical and celestially powerful," Mariah found it "elegant" and Randy shouted: “The best of the night. Angie wins the night! Hands down!"

Yay? 

As for the duets, Kree and Amber took on Adele's "Rumor Has It" with Amber stealing Kree's thunder thanks to her late-blooming swagger; Angie and Candice tag-teamed on "Stay" by Rihanna, successfully blending their voices together without compromising their own distinct styles.

Questions, Idol-Worshippers: who deserves to go home Thursday? Were the judges too harsh on Kree? Now that the cat's out of the bag, should Idol go ahead with Operation Oust Mariah and bring in J-Lo (and, they can only hope, more buzz for the stale series)?

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson

Email: erin.carlson@thr.com