American Idol Season 12 Review “Finalists Compete”

Ah, “American Idol.” What a tangled web you weave. On the heels of the ongoing Nicki Minaj/Mariah feud, reported news that “Idol” is reportedly going to axe all- yes all– of their judges after this season, as well as getting rid of longtime producer Nigel Lythgoe just hit in time for this week’s column. Yikes!

No word on Seacrest yet, but they’d do wise to keep him, so that the overhaul wouldn’t be as radical as it could be. He’s always sort of been the heart to Randy’s soul on the show, anyway. With Randy gone, they’ll need to keep him on-hand to remind longtime viewers of what once was, regardless of what “Idol” becomes. I like Randy, but he’s been on auto-pilot for some time now, and the Nikki/Mariah thing has been a publicity nightmare, siphoning viewers away from the show.

Don’t get me wrong. Keith is likable enough, and occasionally gets in a good comment here and there. And say what you will about Nikki, she will not hesitate to tell someone exactly what she thinks of them, even at the risk of getting booed- she’s the show’s closest thing to a “new” Simon, like it or not, but clearly, many don’t. I appreciate her honesty, personally, not in the least considering that the show would be deathly boring if it wasn’t for her. As someone who has to review it week after week, that counts for something, let me tell you.

I had little problem with most of the changes they tried this season, but I actually agree that they didn’t go far enough. I do think the show needs an overhaul. I’m not sure exactly what that should be, but that’s not up to me. All I know is between all of the subpar and oft-lesser competition and the obvious contender, “The Voice,” which surpassed “Idol” in the ratings for the first time this season, singing shows have reached a saturation level that has made them seem like old hat.

“The Voice” found a new, novel approach to it that works for them- for now- but “Idol,” as I’ve said many time before, is nothing if not a brand. It’s a name that means something, or at least used to. Still does, in terms of sales, and cranking out hit artists, but something nonetheless needs to be done about the approach. What that is will no doubt be left up to a small phalanx of businessmen, who stand to make the most money from it, and who will do whatever they can to “fix” the problem, or sink the show trying.

I think the show will be okay in the long term. My guess is that they’ll go too far in the “fixing what isn’t broke” department, and that things will get worse before they get better. In the end, though, I think they’ll pull out of it, and go back to basics. Think about it: Randy has his fans, and so does Simon. “The X Factor” has already failed to live up to expectations, and was lucky to get a renewal, IMHO. I think the facelift will go too far in the wrong direction, and they’ll eventually go back to the core of what made the show work in the first place.

But first, they have to learn the hard way that when things reach a certain saturation point, people get tired of stuff. Making things more complicated, or trying to find the “perfect” stars to bring things back around isn’t going to accomplish that much in the end. In a show like this, simplicity is actually better, not a bad thing. I like “The Voice,” too, but some of the rules on that and “The X Factor” and so on are needlessly convoluted, and that can confuse viewers and send them reaching for the remote. The best idea about “The Voice” is the central one: if a person can sing, what does it matter what they freaking look like? It should be about the talent.

But when all is said and done, “The Voice” is just as guilty about tending to weed out certain types of contestants as “Idol.” Hence all the rules. We need less rules, more emphasis on talent, for God’s sake. No one really cares about the “IT Factor” as much these days, when quite literally anyone can be a star overnight, thanks to “reality” TV. People like to see ordinary people make it, you know? These singing shows tend to forget that.

Okay, that’s my rant on the recent developments. I’m done now. Obviously, I had to address it, but it’s review time, so let’s get on with it. I’ll be brief. Let’s break it down by the Top 3.

First up, Kree. In terms of back-story alone, she takes the cake. Her dad died when she was just twelve and her mother joined him when Kree was nineteen. Her video package of her trip back home was by far the most touching, and heartbreaking. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to at least like the girl herself, who seems as sweet as the days are long. But this is a singing competition, so let’s look at that.

Kree has been erratic all season, sometimes knocking it out of the park, sometimes falling woefully short of her goals. Note that the people who are most in control of the show chose the material for all three rounds, so the contestants have no say, for better or worse. Since they all clearly think they know best, let’s see how they did as well.

In round one, Jimmy Iovine called the shots. For Kree, he picked Pink’s “Fuc…”– excuse me, “Perfect.” As you might have expected from pairing such an unwieldy artist as Pink with someone who’s just about her polar opposite, the results were decidedly mixed. I liked the country lilt she brought to the main verse- Kree really made the song her own at first, and it seemed like a winner. But the chorus just didn’t work for her, and since the songs seemed shorter than usual, that was where it ended, and not on a good note, I’m afraid.

Thankfully, the judges nailed it on round two, giving her an actual country song in Rascal Flatts’ “Here Comes Goodbye,” though that title may be prophetic, I’m afraid. I disagree with the judges’ insistence that she be a country artist, though. I think she should be whatever she damn well pleases, and hope she does after this insanity is over. Hell, the girl actually deserves it after all she’s been through, and it’s not as if Kree is without talent. Pair her with the right material and she’ll be good to go. Not all of the big “Idol” success won, after all.

I actually liked her third song, The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two.” It was not a song I was familiar with, but I thought she rocked it. But the judges were also right- the song wasn’t big enough for her to go out with a bang, and she needed a big bang to go out on. Oh, well.

Next, we have Candice. Candice is a three-time auditioner for whom the third time was actually the charm. Now she’s an almost certain shoe-in for the Top Two. Her take in round one of U2’s “One,” by way of Mary J. Blige, should have been a knock-out, but, as she said, she didn’t know the song at all (What??! I may need to see your diva card if you don’t know Mary! That is UNACCEPTABLE.)

Personally, I think she would have if it hadn’t been for the drastically-shortened take on the song. Just when she was starting to get there, it was over. She sounded unsure of herself throughout, and even though she gave it a good solid try, it just didn’t quite get there.

Song number two was a take on Emeli Sandé’s “Next to Me,” another song I didn’t know, but she’s been getting an awful lot of press lately, and her music seems to be cropping up everywhere, so at least it’s current. (I did not care for her take on Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” but I seem to be in the minority there.) Anyway, this song did nothing whatsoever for me. It was pretty enough, but kind of a snooze, frankly. Everyone else loved it, though, so what do I know?

Song number three was a game changer, however. When I first heard the words “West Side Story,” I was like: are they high, giving her something that old-fashioned? But then she sang the ever-loving hell out of it, and that shut me up, let me tell you. She may not have been the best overall, but that was certainly the best of the bunch, performance-wise.

Last but not at all least was Angie. Angie handily won the night for me for one reason, and one reason alone. She’s consistent. When she sticks to her wheelhouse, she gets it done. Granted, I was skeptical at first. When they threw what should have been an easy lob- Elton John- her way, she opted not to play piano on it, smartly citing that she didn’t have enough learning time to do it justice, instead concentrating on the vocals and getting the admittedly complicated lyrics straight. This proved a wise move, as she aced it, emotionally and otherwise. Round one was all Angie’s, by far.

Round two was a much bigger risk, but one that paid off. Turns out the second time was the charm for a Pink song, this time, “Try,” a song much better suited to Angie than Kree’s was to her, even though it’s still not quite her ballpark. She handily made it her own, though, which bodes well for her musical future. As evidenced by her more hit-and-miss rocker side- and there is one- give her the right song and she’ll do it justice, as we saw with her stellar take on Evanescence’s “Bring Me Back To Life.” The same held true for this Pink track, as she did more than right by it.

We ended with another repeat performer, the aforementioned Emeli Sandé. (Really, “Idol”? And you wonder why people think the show’s going stale…) I didn’t know her other song, either, but Angie behind the piano can do no wrong, and she was smart enough to know to end on her strong suit, even when she could have begun with it as well. I think it was a wise decision, and shows her range as a performer. She should be fine.

So, I see the Top Two being Angie and Candice. Kree is a dark horse, and that back-story could win her some votes, but she doesn’t have the double-vote thing to fall back on like she did last week. Yes, Candice has been in the bottom, but so has she, and that “West Side Story” thing was pretty undeniable. I think Kree’s going home, most likely, but I’ve been wrong before. We shall see- those of us that are left, that is, LOL.

What do you think? Who will win “American Idol” this year? Who will go home? Do you care? How do you think they could improve the show’s ratings? (Maybe they could borrow that boxing ring-style stage from “The Voice” and let Nikki and Mariah just have it out once and for all- now that would probably do it!)

Sound off in the comments section, if you’re still out there!