"American Idol" 2013: Burt Bacharach/Songs the Idols Wish They'd Written

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Last night's "Idol" featured the highs and the lows of competition. Literally, we had some of the best singing of the season, but also the worst of possibly ANY season. I was hooting and clapping so loudly at my TV screen that I realized: this season has actually somehow become amazing. Largely in spite of itself, but still, I will take it.

Because the show MUST be two hours, even with only six singers, each Idol sang two numbers last night. The first song had to be from the Burt Bacharach/Hal David Songbook (very topical!), and the second theme was "Songs the Idols Wish They Had Written." That's actually a great theme, and it allows these kids to really show us what they can do/how they want to sound.

Angie Miller opened the show with "Anyone Who Had a Heart." It is by nature a fairly tepid song, and Angie didn't really come alive on it until the last chorus. That sounded good, but up until then even Angie seemed bored by it. Keith Urban said that Angie has a great voice, but she needs to actually feel the songs - there was no passion there. She has repeatedly gotten that note from the judges. Nicki Minaj agreed, and called it old-fashioned. It's a Burt Bacharach song. That is an unfair critique. Of course it's going to sound old-fashioned. Randy Jackson picked up on Angie being better on the second part of the song, but Mariah Carey gave her the dreaded "too perfect" note about the vocal. To her credit, Angie took the critiques in the spirit in which they were given.

Amber Holcomb did the Dionne Warwick classic, "I Say a Little Prayer for You." The low notes were a bit too low for Amber, but she sounded terrific in the upper register. This was a very straight cover of the song, aside from some good runs here and there. There seemed to be a weird disconnect in the bridge, and Amber needs to watch her face when she sings because she looks like she's in pain sometimes. Randy said that the competition started with Amber. Mariah blathered on about how impressive it was that she did that in just one take. Mariah, dear - they all do that! Keith said that he loves that Amber never overperforms, and that the whole thing seemed easy. Then Ryan Seacrest did his gross thing where he talked about the personal lives of the contestants, asking Amber about her boyfriend (which, admittedly, Nicki brought up). She said it was Curtis, presumably a reference to the first axed member of the Top 10. I sure hope she and Curtis aren't dating, because that's not going to end well for either of them. Later they suggested it was Burnell. I would suggest that this entire line of questioning is gross and pointless.

LazaroArbo did "Close to You," and holy cats, it was terrible. WAY, WAY too low for him. The pitch was astonishingly off. This wasn't even a high-school talent show. This wasn't even karaoke. This was painfully bad in parts. The back-up singers and the band even seemed embarrassed. Randy said, "I'm actually kinda speechless." He said that he thinks that Lazaro as a person is inspiring, but as a singer, it was "horrible." He said this was the worst performance he's ever seen on the show. Mariah actually laughed, and then said ON CAMERA that the producers have "reprimanded" her for being too nice, and that she needs to judge. She said that on camera! She said that Lazaro continued singing in the wrong key after the key change, and if Lazaro can't hear that, "it's kind of a big deal." Her entire critique was a reality-television gem. It was like a coyote trying to chew off its arm. Nicki was literally looking at her watch while Keith was giving his critique and then just totally abstained from comment. And then Ryan went to Lazaro, and predictably, Lazaro had an excuse: "We kind of changed the keys a lot, low and high." This fucking kid.Worst.Performance.In "Idol" history. And I won't even discuss the horribly racist caricature they put into his "personality package."

Kree Harrison did "What the World Needs Now is Love," and she started out singing entirely a cappella. Smart choice, as it allowed us to hear the beautiful timbre of Kree's voice. Kree seemed to struggle a bit with the lyrics or the see-saw rhythm of the song up until the big chorus. I also had a bit of an issue with the "lilt" she added to the ends of the lines, but overall it was very good. I have no idea what Mariah was trying to say. She was truly at the top of her blathering idiot game tonight. Nikki said that next year Kree will be performing at the Country Music Awards, because she's ready. I think that's probably true. Randy took the opportunity to shit on Lazaro again, and also yell at America to stop voting for him. Good luck with that!

Janelle Arthur did "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." She sounded better on this than I expected. She still has a tendency to go flat, especially on the low parts. Her folksy performance thing somehow comes off as endearingly cheesy instead of annoying. On the whole, though, I thought she delivered her best vocal in recent weeks. Keith likes that Janelle shows different sides as a performer each week. Nikki said that Janelle is commercially viable, but found the number super boring. Randy said that Janelle found some really nice moments in the song, but she has to be more consistent. Mariah was blessedly cut off by the band. She and Nigel Lythgoe are going to have a really uncomfortable discussion...

Candice Glover sang "Don't Make Me Over." It started out good, but it became amazing as it went along. There was nothing that I didn't love about this, and Candice sang it like a m-f'er. She got a standing ovation from everyone except Mariah Carey. I just assume Mariah has people to do her standing for her, "dahling." Nikki said that it sounded like a new r'n'b song on the radio, and Candice's commitment and conviction made her want to have "a women's revival." Randy said that it was the best vocal of Round 1, and praised the simplicity with which she approached the beginning, and the intensity Candice unleashed at the end.

For Round 2, Angie performed "Love Came Down" by Kari Jobe, a fairly obscure song. She was back at the piano, which the judges have been telling her to do for weeks. And for once the judges were right, because this was Angie's best performance in months by a wide margin. She didn't seem to be overthinking, she seemed attached to the song (though obviously she would be, since it's a song with personal meaning to her). This is exactly how I want Angie to perform every week, because she really CAN be amazing, just like that. Randy and Keith gave her a standing O. The girls did not. Hm. Keith and Randy both said that Angie just seems more connected to a song when she's at the piano. Nikki gave her a very impassioned lecture, saying that that performance was exactly why they love her, and she doesn't know why Angie keeps running from what she's good at. Because when she's at the piano, she's doing something the other girls can't do. True.

Amber picked "Love on Top" by Beyonce, and it was a mess up until the first chorus. After that it got much better and I can totally see Amber recording this type of song in her post-show career. It was fun and bubbly and I immediately added it to my Spotify playlist. She had some pitch issues in there, and the beginning was rough, but overall it was fun. Mariah said it wasn't her favorite vocal from Amber, but Keith thought it was really cute, and Nikki said that Beyonce needs to watch out.

Lazaro went with "Angels" by Robbie Williams. I believe that Lazaro sang this song on the show before, but I could be wrong. It was dreadful. Dirge-like. The lyrics were completely unintelligible. He just waded through the verse before putting some gas into the chorus. And that was...fine. But it's amateur hour compared to every other contestants still in this competition. Keith said there were elements of the song that reminded them why they liked Lazaro, but he said that compared to the girls it's still clear who is an artist and who is on a talent show. Nikki again abstained - she has totally given up on Lazaro. Randy just said "it's a girl's race." Mariah said that Lazaro redeemed himself slightly from earlier. That is damning with faint praise.

Kree picked Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night." It's not a song I'm familiar with, a very pretty, slow country ballad. Kree's soulfulness was the star here, and it was a good showcase for her voice. She does have some off notes here and there, but the notes she really hits she hits beautifully. It was a bit sleepy for me, though. It was...pleasant. I want more than pleasant at this stage. The judges all loved it, and Keith predicted that Kree will someday sing at the Grand Ole Opry, saying that her voice is a real throwback to REAL country, and a reminder of why that music is so special.

Janelle went with Garth Brooks's "The Dance," which at age 11 introduced her to the concept of "layers." That's...sad to me. This was not great. The pitch went way off in spots, and the song just didn't fit her voice well. The whole thing felt forced to me. Sometimes we can love songs, but they aren't a good fit for our individual voices. That is true for basically every Adele song ever for anyone who is not Adele. There's no doubt that Janelle was feeling the song, but the vocal was not on point. Randy said it was not her best vocal, but he appreciated her commitment. Mariah had never heard the song before, but found Janelle's performance true. Keith wished that Janelle had performed the song with just a guitar and no backing band. Nikki oddly thought that Janelle stepped it up vocally here, but she also thought Janelle was still trailing the rest of the girls.

Candice picked "Love Song" by The Cure, which was such a cool song choice for her. She interpreted it as a languorous jazzy number backed only by a piano. It was FABULOUS and so goddamned sexy. Absolutely perfect performance, and combined with her first number, a total home run for Candice tonight. Absolutely killed both numbers. Standing ovation! Mariah came up on stage and threw SOMETHING at Candice - glitter, I think - and Candice could not retain her composure and burst into tears. I am falling in love with Candice! It is happening! I've liked all the girls up until this point, but Candice has captured my heart (and my votes). Randy called it one of the greatest performances in the 12-year history of the show.

Recap: Angie was meh on the first number and fantastic on the second; Amber was bright and bubbly on both; Lazaro turned in a disastrous first number and barely hit passable on the second; Kree was lovely on the first and soulful but sleepy on the second; Janelle sounded worse in the playback on both songs; Candice is a superstar already. Give her all of the prizes.

Prediction: It's obvious who SHOULD go home. Lazaro. But will he? I am dubious. His fans will absolutely rally for him after the drubbing he got after the first number. I'm betting Janelle and Amber in the B2, with Amber going home (Janelle will get a boost after her B2 appearance last week). Interesting to note that the judges HAVE to use the Save this week or next, as the number of episodes to get to the finale have a non-elimination episode built in.

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