American Idol Season 12 Review “Finalists Compete”

Is that classic rock, “American Idol”? Well, turn it up! Yep, it was time to dust off the denim, leather and high heels for some good old-fashioned rock and roll- sort of. As with Beatles week, many of the contestants seemed a bit out of their wheelhouse, leading to some dubious choices and interpretations of the term “classic rock.” All told, though, on the whole, the gang fared better here than on Beatles week, so there’s that.

First up was the most hilariously entertaining misstep, Burnell Taylor, with an amusingly misguided take on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” It’s kind of hard to believe that this song, of all things, was the “only classic rock song” Burnell knew. I mean, I get that he’s not into the genre, that’s fine, but really? That’s the only one you know? Eeesh.

That said, Burnell gave a competent delivery as could be asked for, or even expected. It wasn’t great, but he didn’t embarrass himself, either. Well, okay, maybe a little, what with the karate kick at the end and all. Burnell Lee Roth he ain’t. Most everyone agreed that he was way out of his jurisdiction, but that he gave it the old college try anyway. He did seem to have fun with it at least.

Next up was a collaboration between Lazaro Arbos and Angie Miller, with a less-than-sterling rendition of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Angie was fine, as ever, but she was clearly carrying poor Lazaro, who once again fumbled the lyrics and seemed woefully out of place with the material. He fared much better with a more suitable Queen tune later, but here he just seemed like a lost lamb pretending to be a tiger. When freaking Angie seems fiercer than you, rock is clearly not your thing, Lazaro my friend.

Kree was next, and righted the ship, more or less, with a rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart,” which seems to be the only Joplin song “Idol” contestants know. I would have liked to see her tackle, say, Me and Bobby McGee for instance, and I think it would have been a better choice for her voice and personality. (Ditto Janelle, I might add.) As it stood, her take was fine, but awfully sunny for a song about heartbreak.

Astonishingly enough, no one called her on that, and instead gave her high marks across the board. Don’t get me wrong, it was a solid performance all around, but it was clear that Kree has never had her heart ripped out and kicked down the street or she might have brought a bit more gravitas to the proceedings. If you’ve never suffered, it’s hard to fake that sort of thing, and it was all a bit too upbeat for my tastes, given the subject matter. Just look at Taylor Swift- she’s all but made a career out of it. (Although apparently her hipster rocker sister Orianthi is coming up hot on her heels, so she better watch her back, LOL.)

Burnell fully redeemed himself with the next performance of Joe Cocker’s version of “The Letter,” which he performed alongside the powerhouse Candice Glover. It was a perfect choice for both, and they knocked it out the park. As ever, it proved what the judges love to pound into the contestants’ brains ad nauseam- that it’s all about the song choice. This was one of the best of the night, bar none.

Janelle Arthur followed with a left-of-center song choice in Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” While she did go a long way towards making the song her own, she also completely defanged the content of the lyrics to the point of hilarity. Everyone agreed that the song choice was iffy, but that she went a long way towards making it work in spite of it, thanks to her girl-next-door relate-ability. I’d have to agree, though it probably would have helped her caused if I hadn’t known the song myself. I suspect a lot of younger voters haven’t, either, so she should actually be okay. Either way, unlike Burnell on his solo number, she did adapt the song to better suit her image, so overall, she should be congratulated.

After Nicki commandeered Janelle’s glittery boots and Randy improbably donned her fringe-laden vest as more of a makeshift shawl, the show proceeded to Lazaro, who took on Queen’s monster “We are the Champions.” While much more suited to his particular brand of dramatic theatrics, Freddie Mercury’s are pretty big shoes to fill, and Lazaro is a bit too flamboyant for his own good to do so. Which is saying something, if you think about it, as Mercury wasn’t exactly a wallflower. Let’s just say Lazaro’s brand of colorfulness is a different style than Mercury’s and leave it at that.

The judges’ commentary here was priceless, though, as Nicki dubbed Lazaro her “Hispanic Tease” and his vocals “Crack Juice,” which I think was meant as a compliment. Keith, meanwhile, likened Lazaro to a matador, putting on his best Antonio Banderas-style accent to exclaim: “I am done with this song- go away, song!” LOL. Good times.

Next up was another group number, with Janelle, Kree and Amber Holcomb tackling another Billy Joel tune, “It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me,” which I was slightly less familiar with. I put the captions on and really thought the lyrics were pretty impressive and held up even by today’s standards, but it also exposed how lightweight this take was in the process. Though one can’t help but be impressed that the girls had to learn such a densely-packed song literally overnight, it did seem a bit unconvincing in their hands.

As with Janelle’s selection, this is sort of an angry song, but as it was also celebratory, it worked better with the edges smoothed out than the other Joel tune. Vocally it was fine, with some good blending and a stand-out performance from Amber, who was just getting warmed up. But hats off to the girls for learning all those lyrics in such a short period of time…note to Lazaro: this is how you do it. I also laughed out loud when Nicki called the trio Jem and the Holograms,” which was so right on the money. Well played, Nicki.

Candice took on the classic rock behemoth that is “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” next, and though she sang it competently enough, the song wasn’t as well-suited to her voice as her other choices in the past. Really, there’s just not a lot of range inherent in the vocals, though Candice did her best to interject some where she could. Keith inexplicably called her “otherworldly” and Randy commented positively on her convincing rock growl, but I thought the choice was off. It’s a great song, but unless you’re going to radically rework it, Devo-style, there’s not much more that can be done with it, making this a passable performance at best.

Instead, it was Amber who knocked it out of the park, with arguably the best performance of the night, a soaring take on “What About Love?” which is a song I Heart. (See what I did there?) Loved the unexpected key change and the way she really made this song her own in a big way. Amber has indeed shown a lot of growth over the course of the competition, as noted by Mariah, and this was her best effort to date. She did for this song what Carrie Underwood did for Heart’s “Alone” back in Season Four, I thought, which was to introduce and redefine the song for another generation. Nicely done all around. Consider me “melted” as well.

Last but not least was Angie, who did some redefining of her own with her take on Evanescence’s “Bring Me Back to Life,” which I didn’t realize already classified as “classic rock.” (Help! I’m officially old!) Despite this dubious classification, it was the absolute perfect song choice. The minute I heard what she was doing, after the aforementioned reaction, I immediately knew that she was going to knock this one out of the park. I know the song well, and the combination of a piano-based intro and bombastic finale is brilliantly-suited to our Angie.

Though I get why Mariah wants to see more of the Angie we initially fell for, this is still a competition, and you’ve got to grab the audience however you can, and this song should do just that. Angie played it wonderfully, starting softly and emotionally before bringing the song to an expertly-crafted crescendo and clenching that last note for all it was worth. It was like a really bad-ass rock opera performance, which I loved. If Amber wasn’t my favorite, this definitely was- but it was pretty close.

So predictions are as follows: Amber, Angie, and Kree will be in the top three; with Lazaro, Burnell, and maybe Janelle in the bottom- though no way is Janelle going home yet. I just can’t imagine Candice being in the bottom, subpar performance or not. It’s not like she did a bad job, she just made a bad song choice for her particular talents. It happens. I don’t think she’s going anywhere, but it’s not looking good for the guys, I’m afraid.

What did you think of “American Idol” this week? Was it better than Beatles week? How about Detroit week? What genre would you like to see the gang tackle next? Let me know in the comments!