"American Idol" 2013: Top 9 Perform (Beatles Week)

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Oh, gee. Beatles week. Because we haven’t done THAT countless times before. At least Nikki Minaj showed up on time tonight.

Before we got to the actual singing, the show had to do some quality whoring. Carly Rae Jepsen apparently still exists, and she’ll be debuting her new song on the season finale, and it has something to do with Coke. Let me blunt: Carly had her hit. She had a HUGE hit. And America has been indifferent at best to her subsequent singles. It's over. This whole thing feels gross and lame to me at the same time. It’s a reflection of how out of touch this show is that they think a Carly Rae Jepsen/Coke collab is going to get attention.

Speaking of gross and lame, Ryan Seacrest then announced the winner of the final spot on the Idol Tour, which was between Charlie Askew and Aubrey Cleland. I was stunned to hear that Aubrey made it over Charlie. Aubrey sang very well last week, but it wasn’t exactly a memorable performance. Charlie, on the other hand, actually impressed me, and I full-on hated him going into it. Part of me wonders how legit those results are…

Kree Harrison got the show running with “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Kree did not sing out of key, so that’s good, but the verse was a bit thrown away. She came alive on the first chorus and sounded terrific from that moment on.It was a great number for Kree for several reasons, especially because it broadened her appeal beyond just the bluesy-country thing she’s been doing so well. Nikki Minaj liked that it didn’t sound like the original, which was true, but it did sound a lot like the Joe Cocker version. Nikki also spoke about Kree’s confidence, which really is improving. That lame-ass Randy Jackson tired to do a fake-out, and then Mariah Carey one-upped him by saying, “I didn’t think it was good…I thought it was fan-freaking-tastic!” And that’s literally all she said. How much is she getting paid for this?

Burnell Taylor chose “Let It Be,” and I thought this was a missed opportunity for Burnell. After the notes he got last week, and Curtis’s boot, you would think that he would try something different than yet another slow, sad ballad. Have we ever heard Burnell sing anything up-tempo? I normally love Burnell’s voice but I found it too affected on this song. It’s like he wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics at all; he was trying too hard. And yet still I felt the song swallowed Burnell by the second chorus, and he has an aggravating inflection on his intense “ee” sounds, too. Nikki thought he was very gentle with the song, and said that she felt like she was in church. Randy got Burnell to admit that he was largely unfamiliar with The Beatles -- he definitely didn’t know the song. Basically the judges all loved it. I didn’t think it was bad, but I was really hoping for Burnell to step up this week, and he didn’t.

Amber Holcomb did “She’s Leaving Home,” a beautiful song and a real change-up for Amber. She kind of biffed the first line, and Amber continues to have tempo issues -- second week in a row she was fighting the song’s rhythm. That said, once she got to the chorus it was absolutely lovely. Big notes and well executed with some nice twists to the melody. Amber was really connecting with the song and I saw what the judges have been talking about with her -- that was a natural performance, and felt very authentic. Amber also had never heard her song prior to this performance -- Mariah Carey had never heard of it either! Who are these people? Weirdly Nikki felt that Amber’s lack of awareness with the song made her come across as defeated on stage, which I did not get at all. “She’s Leaving Home” is not a smiley song. If she’d been smiling through it she would have looked deranged. Which Nikki knows something about…

LazaroArbo picked “In My Life.” At this point the Lazaro recaps basically write themselves. The song was too low for him? Check. The lyrics were largely indecipherable? You know it. Pitch problems? Sure. On top of that, it was dreary and boring and his voice was the weakest we’ve ever seen. This wasn’t even a “Star Search”-caliber performance. I think Lazaro knew he’d laid an egg on that one. Mariah started out saying how difficult it is to perform a song by Lennon & McCartney. She thinks Lazaro was brave to get on stage with it. What a bullshit critique, especially on a night when the contestants HAVE TO SING BEATLES SONGS. She did say it was too low. That note is about a month too late for this kid. Keith Urban said that Lazaro needs to watch his keys. Nikki said that Lazaro is still too nervous and she needs them to stop putting him in the room with Jimmy Iovine. Give me a break. You don’t want him to be in a studio with a well-respected music executive because his confidence takes a hit? What is he supposed to do after the show is over? Only work with nice people? Pfft. Randy at least had the guts to tell Lazaro that it was his worst vocal ever. This prompted tears from Lazaro, who told Ryan that he only learned the song last night, because they changed his song at the last minute. This kind of things happens fairly frequently on these shows. I don’t need the on-stage waterworks from Lazaro when the judges do something other than fawn over him, nor do I need Ryan’s “sensitive” schtick. After the break Ryan tried to make it sound like Lazaro’s issue was about not listening to himself and listening too much to what others tell him. The issue with Lazaro is that he is not a very good singer. He is certainly not capable of singing at the level of this competition.

Candice Glover owned last week, and I had high hopes for her “Come Together.” I thought she took a few bars to really get into it, but once she was there she just kept getting better and better. Candice is emerging as not just a great singer, but a true star. She’s got charisma and swagger to spare. She actually made this song sound different, blending the rock with some r’n’b flare. Nikki wants Candice to commit more to the performance in her face. Randy was thrilled to see her do an uptempo song -- yes, god, yes. Mariah wants to hear Candice taking different approaches to songs. And then Randy embarrassed himself. God bless Candice for putting up with these people.

Paul Jolley did “Eleanor Rigby,” which, given his propensity for unintentional dramatics, was a risky endeavor. He started out in falsetto, the stage was covered in fog, stained glass was projected on the walls. I mean…drama, right? And yet Paul really did tone down the theatrics for the first half of the song. Once he hit the second chorus, with its big high notes, the cabaret act started to come out. Solid vocal for the most part -- the last note was a bust -- but also one of the sleepier numbers of the night. Nikki said as much while chomping on her gum: she called it safe, predictable, and forgettable. Randy felt that Paul didn’t connect with the song, and I think it’s because Paul is so preoccupied with not being dramatic that he’s living in his head right now. Keith again encouraged Paul to drop the country, because tonight’s pop/rock worked well with his voice.

Angie Miller should straighten her hair more often; she also has a kind of hot brother. Anyway, she chose “Yesterday.” Jimmy Iovine encouraged her to not oversing the song, and just to put real emotion into it. From where I was sitting, that’s exactly what she did for the first half of it. Some really delicate, beautiful notes in there. She started to goose the song in the latter half, which was less successful to me. But she was trying to build it, and she was obviously interpreting the song, and it still sounded really lovely throughout. Her best performance in weeks. Randy liked that Angie held back but still showed hints of her vocal pyrotechnics. Mariah thought her take was very respectful to the original. Keith thought that Angie was wrestling with trying to please her various masters, but I didn’t really get that. Calculated, sure. But I didn’t think it was conflicted. Nikki brought up the fact that Angie started the song in a really high key and still killed it in the high notes. That’s very true -- it was ambitious and she nailed it. And then Ryan made a flat-iron joke. That’s not going to help fight those gay rumors, Ryan.

Devin Velez did “The Long and Winding Road,” and Jimmy encouraged him to go for a more r’n’b take. Again, this seemed like a bit of a mistake. Devin was criticized last week for being dull. “Long and Winding Road” is not exactly the most exciting Beatles song. But hey, the vocal was very good and showed off Devin’s voice. But I did find myself checking out of the performance toward the end, and the song seemed to last twice as long as any other that night. Mariah basically just said that he was amazing and that it would be “a travesty” if he didn’t go through. Devin is one of the strongest male singers left, but he’s not giving us star power. Keith talked about that, saying that Devin’s got a connection issue with his performances. He really does. Nikki made a couple crass comments that got bleeped by Fox and then acted a bit like the enfant terrible. But she thinks Devin is great. Randy said that Devin brought the swagger back. There was 0 percent swagger in that performance. And then Ryan did this weird thing when he went to Mariah for a “shout out,” and she went into full diva mode, and everyone forgot that Devin was standing there. Even Devin!

Janelle Arthur astonishingly got the Pimp Slot. Country historically has not been served well by Beatles Week. She went with “I Will,” which Jimmy noted is a “subtle song.” Jimmy actually had to explain to Janelle why it was important to breathe properly during the song. Seriously. That’s where we are. This was an awfully quiet song on which to end the show, but Janelle has never sounded better. It was a really pretty, delicate vocal that justified her place in the Top 10 after I would argue at least three disappointing weeks. And Janelle was really selling it in her performance. This was a great moment for her. The ending was a bit twee, but that’s about it. Nikki said that Janelle looked like a “beautiful swan goddess,” and that the performance made her obsessed with Janelle. She loves the honesty and authenticity inherent in Janelle's performances. Randy called it one of the best performances of the night. Mariah babbled incoherently.

Recap:Kree was great but went first, which is…worrisome; Burnell was grating and kind of dull; Amber belted beautifully; Lazaro was thoroughly outclassed; Candice gave us a much-needed pulse; Paul was arguably too subdued; Angie sounded and looked lovely; Devin sounded good on a boring song; Janelle was surprisingly great.

Predictions: The only person who really bombed was Lazaro, and given his fourth-place finish last week I think we can assume his sizable fanbase will rush to save him. That leaves the forgettables, in which I would lump Paul, Devin, Burnell, and possibly Amber or Kree. The sad thing is, no matter who goes home tomorrow, they will almost certainly be better than Lazaro.

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