Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Idol Top 5

Just a couple days after a trying and frightening day in America, the television program American Idol returned to the air, to hopefully serve as a positive entertainment driven diversion, amid the reality we live in.

My feelings about this particular night of singing were a bit mixed. With Lazaro and the rest of the males gone, nothing was bad tonight. All performances were credible, but I do not know if I considered anything to be spectacular. There were though some intense vocal moments that were maybe lacking a bit of technique, along with some stellar technical singing, that felt a bit flat emotionally to me.

All things considered, the five remaining ladies likely have more than enough pure vocal talent to compete with some of the biggest female names on the charts today. At least they can usually sing well live, without Autotune. Somebody will get the lowest number of votes though tomorrow and will be the first woman to do so this season. I really do not know if the save is still "on the table" or not. If it is, for this final week, there seems to be little doubt that the judges will feel obligated to use it on whomever.

The most interesting aspect of the whole night, and one that might garner the most conversation was that Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey actually interacted tonight. At one point, it looked like a bit of a scripted disagreement between them, but otherwise, Nicki seemed to be going out of her way to praise Mariah. In return, Mariah clapped to a comment Nicki made a couple of times. For most of the season, they would not even look at each other's direction. Perhaps this was in the spirit of the week and America Coming Together, but most likely, Idol producers told them they had to do it.

For the first round, the ladies sang songs from the year of their birth.

1. Candice Glover- "Straight Up"

When we last saw Miss Glover in a performance round, she was being praised for a single performance in a way that perhaps no Idol ever had before. After such a treatment, anything she would have done here might have felt like a bit of a let down.

Technically, Candice was in fine voice, on a scaled back, jam band feel version of a 1989 dance hit by original Idol judge Paula Abdul. It sounded good, but the performance just felt a bit ho-hum, as if Candice knew she could sing it, by just going through the motions. Maybe she had earned the right to coast a bit here though.

2. Janelle Arthur- "When I Call Your Name"

Also born in 1989, Janelle sang a Vince Gill song I had never heard, and that might have been risky for her, because only serious country fans were likely familiar with the number. It had some nice moments, and she seemed emotionally connected as she played guitar along with her vocals, but some notes sounded off to me. Looking back now, a bit under three hours after watching the performance, I really cannot remember much about the song.

3. Kree Harrison- "She Talks To Angels"

I was a bit surprised to realize that Kree was born in 1990, and is thus younger than both of the ladies that preceded her. She just is presented on the show in such a maternal way. I was pleased with this song choice, but I felt old, as I remember when this Black Crowes song debuted.

This was not commented upon by the judges, but something happened early in the song, where it appears that Kree missed a vocal entrance. I am not sure if that means she forgot the words, or if something else happened, but I noticed it, and then at parts in the song, it seemed like Kree knew she was not delivering her best, and was trying to overcompensate vocally. She has been so strong throughout the season, but the middle of this performance felt a bit sloppy. At the end though, she hit some good notes and ended strongly.

4. Angie Miller- "I'll Stand By You"

I wonder if Angie had been preparing to do this song for the full week, or if she suddenly decided to give it a try after the tragic terrorist attack in her home area of Boston on Monday. As she began singing, she dedicated the song to Boston, ensuring that she would be receiving a standing ovation and much praise from the judges no matter what, and probably certain immunity from elimination. It should be noted that Angie is the only non-Southerner left in the competition (which was still the case as many as two weeks ago), but her kind of Christian worship style might appeal most to many in the Red States.

Considering that I like this song, and wanted Angie to do well for the people in Boston, I really wish I could say that this was a great vocal. I thought she struggled in several ways, and while she is emotionally connected while playing at the piano, I do not think this particular song worked well with the instrument. While a strong vocalist, I do not think Angie's voice and style of enunciating suited this performance well. I just like the original and several other cover versions better.

Also, while the judges skipped over this, Angie definitely had a couple of lyric flubs, stopping herself in mid-word at one point before getting back on track. She looked a bit more nervous and tentative than usual, which has me wondering just how long she had been rehearsing this particular number. Still though, this had to have been an emotional couple of days for her, and I am sure her performance had a tremendous impact on many, especially the people back home.

5. Amber Holcomb- "Without You"

This was a song from way back from before even I was born, but Amber, born in 1994, was able to use it because, Idol judge Mariah Carey covered it that year. So, she would be singing it in front of Mariah herself, a huge risk, but it is not as if Mariah was suddenly going to be mean to her.

While she was singing, I was somewhat distracted by the images on the Idol screens behind her. I know that they were singing songs from the year they were born, but the visuals looked like they might have been from the year she was conceived, in a microscope sort of way.

This song has been done on Idol several times in seasons past, and probably better than Amber did tonight, but still, I thought she did enough to succeed on it, especially on the high notes in the chorus. The lower notes on the verse were maybe not as good, but some credit has to be given to her in taking on a tough, emotional song, and mostly pulling it off. So, for the degree of difficulty, and with the emotional factor tied in, it was probably slightly the best of this round, even more so than Candice, who coasted a bit.

I think it was in this round that Keith Urban, enthused about the performance made reference to an "Amber Alert", and then immediately realized how inappropriate it was to joke in that way. Funny, I have been assuming for weeks that it would be Randy Jackson who would somehow fall into that trap.

Round 1-

5. Angie Miller
4. Janelle Arthur
3. Kree Harrison
2. Candice Glover
1. Amber Holcomb

Next, since the guys were finally gone, the girls were assigned to sing songs from their "favorite Divas."  Doesn't VH1 do something like that ever year?

6. Candice Glover- "When You Believe"

This is the third time this Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey duet has been done on Idol, and while I am not crazy about the song, there is no doubt that Candice sang the heck out of it.  Of course Mariah, was sure to give major props to Candice, as did Nicki, who talked about how inspiring the song was to her growing up. I wonder what Mariah was really thinking while Nicki was speaking.

So, good job to Candice for once again having a powerful vocal and making me appreciate her on a song I tend to find a bit boring.

7. Janelle Arthur- "Dumb Blonde"

I had not seen any spoilers, so I guessed Janelle would be doing Dolly Parton, seconds before Seacrest announced it. My thinking was that Janelle would once again try to do something emotional, like "Smokey Mountain Memories" or maybe a more fun song like "9 to 5." Instead, she sang "Dumb Blonde", which I had never heard of, and many others at home probably were clueless about as well. That was a risky and potential miscalculation.

Janelle is an endearing performer, but this particular performance felt more Dollywood theme park than Hollywood #inittowinit. While it was not an offensive to the ears vocal, I felt there were enough bum notes to think it was all that good. Somebody has to be the first girl to go, and maybe Janelle was just resigned to it going in. She was a bit teary eyed (again) after Keith Urban was the only judge to give her negative feedback in her first performance. He did not seem to really like this one either.

8. Kree Harrison- "Have You Ever Been In Love"

I do not know this Celine Dion ballad, but vocally Kree was quite strong again. Her voice is almost always stellar, but there is just something missing. She is just too laid back at times, and many of her performances are starting to sound alike. I think in Round 1, she was attempting to do something different, but in my view, did not completely live up to expectations on it. Looking back on the performance, there is not much I remember about it or the song, other than Kree sounded very nice on it.

9. Angie Miller- "Halo"

Taking on Beyonce was an interesting and gutsy choice for Angie. Before she began, I wondered though if maybe this was the one she should have done seated at the piano, as opposed to having done that with the first song.

All things considered, I think Angie got about as much mileage out of this as she could. I do not think that Beyonce, as big of a star as she is, is considered an amazing live vocalist, and in that realm, while maybe not every note for Angie was perfect, she really felt the song and seemed to be pouring her heart and soul into performing it. I thought it was much better vocally than her first song. I believe she received standing ovations for both.

10. Amber Holcomb-"What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life"

It seemed obvious, perhaps in retrospect too obvious, that Amber might sing a dramatic Whitney Houston ballad to close out the night, so it was maybe a surprise to some when we heard she would be singing Barbra Streisand. I guess that is a way to appeal to any of the older undecided Jewish female vote that might be out there.

I only have heard this song because Fantasia once sang it on Idol, and I felt it was a pretty boring song. That is still my impression, but I have to say that Amber really impressed vocally and sang it exquisitely. She must really have a strong jazz standard vocal background and while I do not think she had been great on her uptempo attempts for the most part, she certainly has proven that she is a talented, versatile singer.

Round Two Rankings, which much like last week, proved to be stronger than Round One:

5. Janelle Arthur
4. Kree Harrison
3. Angie Miller
2. Amber Holcomb
1. Candice Glover
Then, I had to average the two rounds together, and in all the years of doing so, I think this is the closest to a tie for first place I have ever had:

5. Janelle Arthur
4. Angie Miller
3. Kree Harrison
2. Amber Holcomb
1. Candice Glover

For Amber to basically tie Candice on the evening in my mind is quite a feat. If not for her spot singing last and a very strong night, Amber would have been at the most risk of getting the least votes. She was probably placed in the spot she was for a reason. Due to those factors, I think she is probably going to survive next week.

Candice will probably get enough votes to make it as well, in addition to Angie, who has a lot of fans, and will garner extra votes this week for her Boston shout out.

That leaves the two country singers, Kree and Janelle, both of whom I feel have had better weeks. Kree definitely deserves to stick around though, and while Janelle is likable and talented, I think, if all things are fair, this will be her time to go. My prediction is that she will be at the bottom of the voting.

If the save is still in play though, all this is for naught, and the judges will almost certainly feel the need to save someone and allow their much ballyhooed Top 5 another week of competition. Nonetheless, if Janelle is at the bottom of the votes, the fair thing would be to say goodbye to her, because the other four ladies did manage to outdo her, in song choice and execution this evening.