American Idol Season 12 Review “Finalists Compete”

On the latest episode of “American Idol,” it was time to get down to the nitty gritty, finally. With only five contestants left and the lesser contenders fully jettisoned, the remainder were ready to rumble, and bring it they did, in a diva-tastic showdown. The show was split into two rounds, with the first round a run-through of songs from the performers’ birth years- or, as I like to call it, the “get ready to feel old round!”- and a second round devoted to everyone’s favorite divas of choice, the results of which were more surprising than one might think.

Candice did the honors for both rounds, opening up the show with a nifty take on former judge Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” that I would totally buy tomorrow if I wasn’t so flat busted. It was slowed-down to a crawl and jazzified, not unlike something Casey Abrams would do, but sexier (with apologies to Casey fans who think that he is sexy…whatever floats your boat, I guess.)

I think the judges were slightly more underwhelmed than they wanted to admit, but that’s likely more because they feel that now maybe isn’t the time to be getting all subtle and experimental, what with it being so close to the end. I thought it was a somewhat risky move that paid off, and actually would consider it one of my favorite performances of hers overall.

That could admittedly just be me, though. It’s not as if I’m some big jazzbo or whatever, I just thought it was a neat rendition of a familiar song. For me, a good portion of my fandom of anyone on this show is going to include a healthy dose of creativity, and Candice has shown that throughout the competition IMHO.

Janelle stuck close to her country roots for both of her performances, starting with a cover of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” which was solid if a bit sleepy. Given that she used to literally go to sleep listening to Gill’s music, I guess that’s appropriate enough, but maybe not the sort of thing that’s going to win people over this close to the finish line. It was clearly heartfelt and sweetly-intended, though, and if nothing else, pretty to listen to.

Kree was next and did a fab take on The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels,” which is a song I loved back in the day. Her version was relatively straight-forward, but Kree’s a much stronger singer than Chris Robinson, which is not a dig, just a simple fact. Robinson is a great classic rock-style singer, but Kree’s got a far greater range, so she knocked this one out of the park. Definitely her strongest of the night, I thought, though the judges would disagree, I suspect.

Angela dedicated her first performance to Boston, which made sense as she’s from Massachusetts, and it was an appropriately heartfelt and genuinely touching version of the Pretenders’ classic “I’ll Stand by You.” I thought she said more with that performance than any amount of commentary from anyone else I’ve heard during this trying time. It was a beautiful moment, and completely played to her strengths, as it was rearranged to highlight her piano skills, always her best approach.

I love me some Chrissie Hynde, and was impressed by Mariah’s take on her, which I must admit, gave me a newfound respect for her. I wouldn’t have thought she’d be into something like that at all. Indeed, her passive aggressiveness seemed to have escaped her and shot into Nicki, along with her customarily eye-popping attire, I might add…I see you brought your friends, Ms. Minaj! Would you be kind enough to introduce us? That’s Rikki on the left and Tikki on the right, you say? Hello, pleased to meet you both! And I see Tavi bringing up the rear there! Can’t forget her! Goodness gracious. Does the show come with a warning label for those with a weak heart?

Speaking of Mariah, Amber tackled the Queen herself, with a cover of Harry Nilsson’s soft-pop cheese classic “Without You,” which MC covered back in 1994 with much success. I’m not a huge fan of the song, but Amber sang it well for the most part, after a shaky start that was somewhat crippled by being in a lower register than she’s used to. Amber pulled out the stops on the back end, though, which is where it counts in this song, so it was relatively solid overall.

Round 2 continued the Mariah love, this time with added Whitney! I was not aware of this collaboration before tonight, but it definitely sounded like the sort of thing you’d hear over the end credits of a Disney movie. What’s that? It was actually a DreamWorks’ production? Oh, that’s why I’ve never heard it! I kid. I saw “Shrek” like everyone else, but sorry, missed “Prince of Egypt.”

The judges were over the moon for it, though, and what’s this: Nicki getting in on the Mariah love again, for the second time tonight? Alright, someone slipped something in her Coke cup- MC…looking your way! Actually, all kidding aside, Nicki actually seemed truthful in her declaration of love for the song in her youth, and how she watched the Oscar performance over and over as a kid- and she didn’t even get in the obvious dig at MC’s age in the process. Could there still be hope for these two rivals? Probably not, but she really did seem sincere- careful about meeting your idols in real life, kids…it rarely turns out the way you hope it will.

Janelle picked the obvious choice for her wheelhouse, Dolly Parton, and the perfect song for her, the tongue-in-cheek “Dumb Blonde.” Too bad most of the panel didn’t know the song, save Keith. True, she could have picked a better-known Dolly song, but come on- it fit her like a glove, that song.

She looked like she was having a ball, and it was arguably the most energetic thing she’s ever done on the show on her own, save maybe that Billy Joel thing and this was much better-suited to her particular persona. The judges think she might be going home, but I think the judges underestimate America’s unfortunate ambivalence towards Amber. (For the record, I do not share this- I like Amber just fine.)

What I didn’t get was why in the world Kree would take on Celine Dion, of all things. I mean, I get that Dion has her fans and she certainly qualifies as a diva, but of all things I would have thought Kree would pick, this wasn’t anywhere near the mark. I thought it was a shaky performance all around, like even Kree was unsure of her own choice. Yes, it got better as it went along, much like Amber’s first performance, but it was not one of her better picks, even if it did show a certain amount of versatility on her part, as the judges rightfully pointed out. Just because you can sing anything doesn’t mean you should though. Pass.

Angela continued her winning streak with a bold move, covering no less a diva than Beyoncé, and not just any of her songs, arguably her signature power ballad, “Halo.” It was a risky maneuver and not one I would have thought she could handle, and she’s my favorite in the competition, as my loyal readers know. But damned if she didn’t pull it off with flying colors, doing the diva proud- I can’t imagine Beyoncé being upset with it, especially since Angie really made it her own, and her love for the song was readily apparent in the performance. After MC’s name-dropping, maybe we’ll get to find out, as we did with Aretha before, thanks to Smokey Robinson. Make it so, Mariah!

After that, maybe subtle wasn’t the way to go, but these girls undoubtedly have no power over the singing order, I imagine. Either way, if Angie picking Beyoncé was a surprise and Kree picking Celine was a head-scratcher, then Amber picking freaking Barbara Streisand was a complete shocker. What is this, “Glee”? (Oh, right, that’s tomorrow night.) I mean, don’t get me wrong, Amber’s performance was literally flawless- not a bad note in earshot, and though BS may not be my thing, no one’s denying she can sing.

The question is, can Amber afford to pick something so old-fashioned this late in the game? Twice? I suspect she may come to regret those song choices, even though her performances were actually better than Janelle’s by a long shot, and honestly, better than Kree’s, too. (Or at least Kree’s second song.) The thing is, Kree has a strong following and Amber does not, having already landed in the bottom three before, and that was when her song choices were on the money. The Streisand song might have been okay if there was a big finish, a la Candice’s second song, but this choice was way too underwhelming.

So, my predictions are as follows: Angie, Candice, and Kree top three; Janelle firmly in the middle, as per usual; and Amber setting sail into the sunset, until the tour- or at least the big finale, as the case probably will be. That’s too bad, because she shoulda been a contender.

What did you think of “American Idol” tonight? Agree or disagree with my assessments? How about the judges’ takes? Let me know in the comments!