'American Idol' Recap: Nicki Minaj Bashes Janelle Arthur, Hits on Smokey Robinson
Drama on Detroit Music Night!
Firstly, the strange judge behavior continueth on Wednesday's American Idol: for some reason, I just noticed that Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey don't ever seem to look at -- let alone acknowledge -- one another on the panel. When Mariah speaks, Nicki visibly turns away from Mimi to face Keith "Perfect Highlights" Urban. We don't need a body language expert to tell us that Nicki wants to smear "I HATE YOU" in pink lipstick on her rival's dressing-room walls. Also! Mariah mentioned on the air that producers "love" to cut off her commentary; perhaps the Hello Kitty enthusiast worked it so this time, she got dibs on doling out feedback while Nicki and Keith -- usually the first ones to speak up -- waited their turns, conceding the spotlight to Mariah.
Adding to the Nicki/Mariah tension: the divas both wore red dresses, and the color coordination could very well have been calculated to get Idol conspiracy theorists like myself a-Twittering about their allegedly bitter feud.
While Mariah seemed to make an effort to play up her batty public image, brandishing a pink "magic wand" and saying things like "hashtag POW," Nicki -- brash and blunt as ever -- took on the Simon Cowell role. She was especially harsh toward her "little marshmallow" Janelle Arthur, who had the misfortune of sharing a duet (Motor City native Madonna's "Like a Prayer") with the wildly talented, super-cool Kree Harrison.
"Kreedom almost made it look like she flew in to do a duet with an Idol contestant today," sniped Nicki, while Janelle -- visibly devastated -- tried not to break down on stage, Charlie Askew-style.
But the butterscotch-voiced country singer managed to redeem herself in her stripped-down guitar solo performance of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Declared Mariah: "Janelle at her finest!" Not missing a chance to undermine Nicki, she added: "Anything that anybody said earlier, she just proved them wrong." (Nicki maintained that Janelle's voice was still "off.")
With Mariah's seal of approval, Janelle began to weep, silent tears of relief streaming down her face ... or were those tears from the realization that Kree, her biggest competition, is most likely going to outlast her in the competition?
As for the rest of the top eight, the night proved not to be a total bust -- well, maybe for one fan favorite. Behold:
Candice Glover (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”): Arguably the most powerful and dynamic performer this season, Candice can apparently do no wrong – and each week, she improves upon the last. (I mean, if you’re so good you can make mentor/Motown legend Smokey Robinson cry, then maybe you’re too good for the competition.) She nailed it yet again on the Marvin Gaye classic, sporting her fiercest wronged-woman face and closing the performance with a bluesy growl. “Effortless,” quoth Randy Jackson. “Crazy-good.”
Lazaro Arbos ("For Once in My Life"): After last week's trainwreck, I thought Lazaro was a goner -- but dude's got a devoted fan base. The pressure on, the anxiety-ridden hopeful listened to Nicki's advice not to listen to Jimmy Iovine's advice and chose a song he was comfortable with, infusing it with Latin/lounge-y flavor, and it was not the worst. Boring, yes -- but somewhere in America, the voting bloc of Lazaro mom-fans swooned and swayed in front of their TVs, lining up the family cell phones to text in multiple votes whilst replacing their David Cook shrines with pictures of the Lazaro. At least some credit for the contender's well-received turnaround should go to Smokey, who encouraged the shy ice cream scooper to follow his musical heart. "I don't know if you completely redeemed yourself but it was far better than last week," Randy told Lazaro. Echoing that sentiment, Nicki then shifted the focus on the elegant, ageless Mr. Robinson, who sat in the audience. She gushed: "I'm gonna ask Smokey if he'd like to be my sugardaddy. ... That's a sexy piece of specimen!"
(Keith cracked up; Mariah remained silent.)
Devin Velez ("The Tracks of My Tears"): This was good! But Adam Lambert's cover was much sparklier and more memorable. Devin, you are no Glambert, but like Nicki says, you do resemble a "ripe banana."
Burnell Taylor ("My Cherie Amour"): "Looking like a sexy doctor in all white!" said Nicki of the soulful, suited-up Louisiana crooner, before getting into serious critique mode: "Very, very good." Burnell radiates good energy and positive vibes, like a young Stevie Wonder, so this song was a perfect fit for his happy-go-lucky, old-school-with-a-twist performance style.
Angie Miller ("Shop Around"): Meh! Not a good song choice for Angie, a frontrunner who's bound to be in the bottom three Thursday night. Pitchy and awkward, she appeared out of breath on the uptempto tune, when instead, as Mariah correctly observed, she "coulda sung 'I'll Be There' at the piano and knocked it out." Nicki told Angie, who wore a clingy blue dress, that she didn't have to try to be "overtly sexy" and should stay true to herself. Blah blah blah. Although I agree with what they said, the judges have been unfairly hard on Angie in recent weeks: she's too "sexy," too "emotional," too "theatrical," etc. Makes me wonder if they're piling on because they want her to stick around. If voters assume she's safe, they might not mobilize to keep her in the contest.
Amber Holcomb ("Lately"): The telegenic-yet-insecure finalist absolutely slayed her rendition of the Wonder love ballad -- so much so that Mariah dubbed it a "tour de force." Then, taking a cue from Nicki, she said something that got bleeped out and also insulted our intelligence by asking if we understand the term "tour de force." "Darlings, does anyone know what that means?" WE'RE NOT STUPID, MIMI.
Kree Harrison ("Don't Play That Song"): The Aretha Franklin songbook is typically Kryptonite for Idol contestants but Kree, fearless and confident, pulled off a winning take on the high-spirited "Don't Play That Song" without attempting to imitate the Queen of Soul. Well played, Kree, well played.
Interspersed throughout the show were duets a la the aforementioned and doomed Janelle-Kree pairing. Other groups consisted of Candice, Amber and Angie singing "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and Burnell, Devin and Lazaro on "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch." Lazaro forgot the words!
"I’m gonna act like I didn’t see that or hear it," said Nicki, recoiling as Keith giggled adorably at her disgust.
Questions, Idol Worshippers: who should go home tomorrow? Should the warm and spot-on Smokey become Jimmy's permanent co-mentor? Is Mariah finally making a bigger effort to upstage Nicki on the panel? Sound off in the comments!