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With the final five women remaining in the competition, American Idol went full-on diva with a nod to strong female icons for half its theme and what host Ryan Seacrest called “an Idol favorite” — songs from the year the singers were born — to round it out.
Despite an energetic and enthusiastic audience response on Wednesday night’s performance show, Seacrest took a moment to address the nation’s grief after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Before we start tonight, we do want to send our support to everyone affected by this week’s tragic events in Boston,” he said. “With heavy hearts, we’re going to put on the best show we can for you this evening.”
The top five, which judge Nicki Minaj praised as having “superpowers,” certainly delivered on that promise with a few memorable performances — particularly Angie Miller, who dedicated “I’ll Stand by You” by The Pretenders to “my home, Boston,” and Candice Glover, who invoked the spirit of former Idol judge Paula Abdul with a jazzy take on the ‘80s hit “Straight Up.”
In yet another Idol change-up, Jimmy Iovine was brought on to give his critiques early on for the year-you-were-born-themed half of the show. It was kind of a shame when he went AWOL for the diva half of the evening. I am curious how he scored that part of the show.
And in other Idol news, Kree Harrison managed to do the impossible on Wednesday night, getting Mariah Carey and Minaj to actually address each other in an exchange that Iovine comically quipped got the two divas to “communicate.” Hey, it was diva night, after all. But did Minaj really invoke her inner Marci from the Peanuts cartoons and say “Simmer down, sir” to Carey? Oh yes, she did.
The judges have one last chance to use the save, but will they use it on Janelle Arthur, whom Minaj predicted is definitely going home Thursday?
Here’s how it played out:
Candice Glover: Glover was born in 1989, so she picked “Straight Up” by Abdul. Glover took on the song with a jazzy arrangement, changing up the melody and injecting some soul into the lyrics. The self-described bossy Sagittarius earned across-the-board praise from the judges. Keith Urban told her she “set the bar high,” and Minaj liked that she put her own spin on it. Randy Jackson shouted out to Paula while he complimented Glover’s arrangement. “You are in the zone,” he said. Carey called it “genius.” Iovine wasn’t as impressed. “This was a song made for a much narrower vocal range,” he said as he explained Glover “should have done is a song that shows the full range of her vocals.”
Glover’s second song was a gutsy move, as she tackled two divas in one with “When You Believe” by Carey and Whitney Houston. In Glover’s hands, the song was nothing short of inspirational, complete with a choir and some powerful crescendos in the chorus. The audience once again responded with overwhelming applause, and the judges loved it. Glover’s performance was strong enough to thaw out the judge’s table, prompting Minaj to give props to Carey. “I have to say, I remember having nothing and locking myself in my room crying watching that video because I believed every word. That kind of collaboration has never happened since.” Jackson declared it “the best vocal of the night,” and Carey shed a tear for Houston and told Glover she could “sing in front of anyone, anytime.” Urban loved that Glover created “sister support” between Minaj and Carey.
Janelle Arthur was born in 1989, and was singing Vince Gill songs from a young age. For her first song, she strapped on a guitar for a twangy and subtle choice of Gill’s “When I Call Your Name.” Minaj loved this decision. “I feel like when you have the guitar, you are so much more comfortable. I thought your vocal sounded so pretty and angelic. I love the key that you chose.” Jackson felt “the song brought you back a little bit. That was beautiful.” Carey complimented Arthur’s authenticity. “I believed you. You were singing with your whole heart. It was so raw and real.” Urban wasn’t convinced, however, and felt that she “could have done that without the guitar. … Let me feel that heartbreak.” Iovine agreed with Urban: “She’s in the middle of the pack; she’s going to stay there unless she does something emotional.”
For her second selection, Arthur had a little fun with Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde.” It wasn’t quite Parton-esque, or even Kellie Pickler-esque. Jackson felt that “vocally it didn’t show anything different. Carey thought it was “cute,” but warned she should be trying to “make sure America can hear everything you can do, vocally. … Let America hear your chops.” Urban didn’t love the song choice, and Minaj, while carefully weighing her words, predicted that Arthur is in jeopardy.
Kree Harrison was born in 1990 and was dubbed “Snow White” as a baby (aww, that tugged at my heartstrings; they called my daughter that in the nursery when when she was born, too). She made an extremely smart pick of “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes. Harrison has a natural bluesiness in her vocals, and she can sing outside of the country box if she wanted to. Still, it seemed she was holding back a bit, but Minaj blamed that on her high-heeled shoes. Jackson enjoyed the song and what he described as “the naturalness in your spirit and your voice.” Carey loves to hear Harrison sing, but enjoys it more when she loses herself in song. Urban felt she was concentrating too much on performing, although her “voice is so fine and beautiful.” Minaj vehemently disagreed with Carey AND Urban, as she considered it “the first performance of the night [that] could be a current performance. I thought it was perfection.” When Carey asked, “You don’t really disagree with me?” Minaj snapped, “Yes, I do!” Iovine wasn’t blown away. “This song wasn’t strong enough for Kree’s vocal. She’s going to have to kill it the next time around.”
For her diva song, Harrison went with a challenge: “Have You Ever Been in Love” by Celine Dion. The degree of difficulty with Dion songs is particularly high, but Harrison nailed the upper register with an otherwise reserved delivery. “You look very diva-esque,” said Carey. “Diva-licious, in fact.” Urban said it was “pleasing to listen to.” Minaj went all out with her love of all this Kree-Dom, declaring, “You’re not country. You’re worldly. You’re iconic.”
Born in 1994, Angie Miller joked that she first resembled an elf, then morphed into a chubby baby. She also was an aspiring songwriter as a little girl, penning her first “household hit,” the anthem “Little Sparkle Dress.” I want her to do this for the finale. Seated at the piano, the Massachusetts native hit an emotional home run with a spine-tingling moment — a moving and anthemic version of “I’ll Stand by You” by The Pretenders. “This is for my home, Boston.” The moment was not lost on the judges: She earned a rousing standing ovation. “All of our hearts and prayers go out to everyone in Boston,” said Carey, who was glad Miller made an “eclectic choice.” “I look forward to you hitting the road,” Urban added. “You’ve got such an amazing voice.” MInaj was thrilled that Miller took her advice and stayed at the keys. “We are all obsessed when you are on the piano,” she gushed as she noted that the dedication to her home city “was such a smart choice for you as an artist as well as a human being.” Jackson applauded her “great vocal delivery.” Iovine was thrilled that Miller turned the song into what he described as a power ballad. “She did a fabulous job. That was the performance of the night.”
Miller was equally strong on a brave selection, “Halo” by Beyonce, as she stepped out of her comfort zone in an effort to bring the drama without the piano. Minaj was sold. “I know for a fact that Beyonce’s going to watch that performance.” Jackson dusted off his first “in it to win it” of the night, and Carey loved the clarity in her voice. “You are here to stay.”
Amber Holcomb, the youngest of the five, was born in 1994. Holcomb has guts, choosing big songs every week, and Wednesday night was no exception. Choosing Carey’s cover of Badfinger’s “Without You,” Holcomb started in her lower register, but faltered as she changed key to the higher notes. Although she earned a standing ovation from three judges, Minaj was “not impressed,” deeming the performance stiff. “You seemed a little scared. I needed to see that. I needed to feel that. You started low, [and] when you went for the high notes…I didn’t like it, babe.” Jackson backpedaled on his standing ovation and agreed with Minaj that “it wasn’t perfect,” but the ever-gracious Carey smiled and said, “I loved the choices you made.” Urban announced there was an “Amber alert” going on. Iovine said it wasn’t “emotive enough,” but still thought it was the “second-best performance of the night.”
Holcomb fared better with a torchy take on Barbra Streisand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Holcomb loves showing off her jazz chops, but will America understand what she is trying to do? The judges already started pleading Holcomb’s case before the voting started — not a good sign. “I hope America gets it right,” said Jackson. “You are like this young Rihanna.” Carey called it “classic, beautiful, elegant … you are potentially a massive star.” Urban said, “You knocked it out of the park,” and Minaj called it “perfection.”
America is faced with a difficult choice, as this top five is so unbelievably strong in several different genres. Still, a cut must be made. Who will it be Idol Worshippers? Or are you praying for a save, just to hear the top five sing again? Let us know in the comments below.
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