"American Idol" 2013: Songs from the Year they Were Born/Diva Songs


Well, we're definitely going to have a female winner for the first time in six seasons. For the first time in show history the Final 5 is entirely one gender, and it is also entirely female. You don't have to be a Stonemason to work out that conspiracy. Still, there is a LOT of talent in the competition this year, so nobody is begrudgingly any of these ladies their continued presence on the show.

That said, I was not nearly as enamored of many of the performances Wednesday as the judges seemed to be. Nothing was terrible, but a few of the numbers were over praised (in my opinion), which has been the case pretty much the entire season long. Given the massive slide in ratings and the fact that this panel just isn't working, expect a huge shake-up before next season starts.

We had two themes again: Songs from the year the contestants were born, and diva songs.

Candice Glover was born in 1989, and she did "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. That is...unexpected. She totally transformed the song into a slow r'n'b/jazz jam with a very cool world-beat vibe. As has become typical for Candice, she kept getting better as the song went on. She had some great little runs and vocal flourishes, but it never felt oversung. Keith Urban said he never realized how good that song is until Candice sang it. That's because the original is pretty cheesy; seriously, I listened to some Paula on Spotify last week and it was not good. I couldn't even make it through "Rush Rush." Nikki Minaj and her breast window liked how Candice put her own spin on the song. Randy Jackson is loving how cool and confident Candice is on stage now - she has improved tremendously on her stage presence since the semis. Mariah Carey said the song choice was genius. Apparently it was Janelle's idea. Then it certainly wasn't genius... Interestingly, Jimmy Iovine thought it was a poor song for Candice because the range was too narrow for Candice's big voice.

Janelle Arthur was also born in 1989 and she picked Vince Gill's "When I Call Your Name." This was another one of those songs that Janelle obviously loves, but which is not a good fit for her voice. I'm not sure why she's so obsessed with male country songs (last week it was Garth, this week it's Vince), but the low parts were too low and the high parts were shrill. And the song is a total snoozer - I can see why it put her to sleep when she was a baby. Janelle was emoting throughout, so that's good. But the vocal was not strong. Nikki wants Janelle to go back to her guitar (um, she WAS with her guitar), but she thought the vocal was pretty. Randy thought the song "brought Janelle back." Mariah wants Janelle to keep her confidence. Keith, god bless him, spoke sense. He said that the song is pure emotion when Vince sings it, but he didn't feel anything from Janelle. He said she got all the notes right - um, no she didn't.

Kree Harrison was born in 1990; she picked "She Talked to Angels" by the Black Crows. This was a somewhat unexpected song choice for Kree, and she sounded great on it. In fact I think it's the best she's sounded in a few weeks (not that Kree ever really sounds bad). The weird thing was that Kree seemed to lose a bit of steam as the number went on. Still, it was very good. Randy picked up on the natural soulfulness in Kree's voice. Mariah wisely picked up on the fact that Kree seemed like she was too focused on the performing of this song, and that she didn't get lost in it - but Mariah loved it, too. Nikki put on her British accent to say that she thought it was the best number of the night up to that part. She also thought it was the first current-sounding song of the evening. Then she and Mariah got in a little wig-yanking. It is surprising how well those two have gotten along since the show went live.

Angie Miller was born on 1994, and she was a chunky baby. She did "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders. There was a moment of awkward hesitation before Angie dedicated the song to "my home, Boston." I am conflicted about that. Angie performed this while playing the piano. I love this song and I like Angie, but I do not think this was a great fit. Her voice is so bright and thin that I don't think it naturally went together with a Chrissie Hynde song. In fact there were parts that I thought sounded really awkward, while other sections actually worked quite well. All the judges except Nikki gave her a standing ovation. Hm. Praise all around, and all of the judges giving "shout outs" to Boston. I'll concede that I may be the outlier by not loving that.

Amber Holcomb was also born in 1994, and she did Mariah Carey's cover of "Without You." Amber played with the rhythm/tempo here a bit, and I was OK with it. This is a huge song with a massive range and Amber handled it all well. A few slightly flat sections, but there were some tricky key changes in there. Another standing O from all the judges except Nicki. Keith loves the way that Amber opens up the notes at the end. Nicki thought Amber did not compare positively to Mariah's version in the low section; she just seemed off and scared. Randy thought Amber did a damn good job. Mariah said, "Vote for Amber!" She also really liked the changes that Amber made to the melody, and how she took the song higher at the end.

ROUND 2: Diva Songs!

Candice chose "When You Believe" by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. This is not a great song, but it is a BIG song, and according to Jimmy, that's what Candice needed for her second act. When she hit the key change and went into the final chorus there was a great "Idol" moment for her. A standing ovation from all FOUR judges. Nicki said, "That is how you do a Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston song." And she appreciated the bigger message of the song, which Candice delivered. Mariah said that she was trying to avoid breaking down into tears, because she was flashing back to the moments spent with Whitney. I've given Mariah a lot of shit during her judging tenure, but I found her quite endearing during that segment, and for most of the night in general.

Janelle named Dolly Parton as her icon and picked "Dumb Blonde." I'm a huge Dolly fan, but if I had to pick a Dolly diva song, it wouldn't be that one. The vocal was better than the first number and had some fire to it, but the song just isn't particularly catchy. And Janelle did her normal walk-around-the-stage/interact-with-the-crowd bit. The last note was not good. Randy thought it was a fun performance number, but vocally didn't do much for her. Keith was right with me about that song not being high in the Dolly Parton Catalogue. Nicki point blank told Janelle that she's in danger of going home tomorrow, but that she thinks Janelle is lovable and can go far in the real world. I think Janelle is actually one of the least-talented country performers we've had on the show lately.

Kree picked Celine Dion as her icon, which was surprising. She did "Have You Ever Been in Love," which is not a song I'm familiar with. Kree is normally very savvy with her song picks, but this was not great. She still sang impressively, but this did not feel comfortable for her. Mariah thought it was a very smart choice, and liked the key for Kree. She thought the song showed Kree's versatility, since this was distinctly un-Kree. Nicki argued that Kree is not actually country; she's "worldly," she's "iconic." She's Adele, she's Celine, it doesn't matter. The judges all loved it. Again, I will concede to being an outlier on this one. But to me it just felt forced and uncomfortable.

Angie did Beyonce's "Halo." I expected this to be a mess, but I actually ended up liking it. She was definitely channeling Beyonce too much in the vocal, but the singing was still strong, demonstrating great range, control, and Angie looked like a star up there. Standing O from all the judges except Mariah. Keith called it "definitely Top 3." Nicki said that Angie is back, and did Beyonce proud. Randy did his tiresome "in it to win it" line. Mariah loved the clarity in the voice, and thinks Angie is here to stay. I think she's definitely F3 at this point.

Amber thrilled my gay ass by doing Barbra Streisand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" First, she looked STUNNING. This was a very old-fashioned, grown-up set up for Amber, but she pulled it off. There were a few moments where the energy dipped, but as soon as Amber shot into her upper register she snatched the song right back. Her vocal control is pretty spectacular, and that was lovely. Standing O from all four judges. Nicki called it "simply perfection." Randy said that it was the most difficult song of the season, and she sang the hell out of it. He called her "young Rihanna with a giant voice." Comparing Amber to Rihanna is an insult to Amber. Mariah thanked her for the performance, and thinks Amber is a massive star in the making.

Recap: Candice was cool and funky in the first number and full-on powerhouse diva in the second; Janelle was easily the weakest of the night; Kree had an odd night but sounded better in the replay than I thought she would; I still didn't care for Angie's vote-baiting first number but responded strongly to her diva song; Amber delivered two giant, complicated songs extremely well.

Prediction: Janelle is almost certainly gone. The only question is who joins her in B2. Candice is the frontrunner at this point and had another good night, and Angie really surged. Kree has been a quiet, consistent presence in the Top 3, but I really felt like she was off with her song choices this week. And of course Amber has continually struggled with votes.

The bottom line is that the Save HAS to be used this week or next. If Janelle's in the bottom this week, they won't use it. If anybody but Janelle is set to go home, the judges will deploy it. My gut says Amber will get the "shock" elimination, and then she'll be saved for another week or two.