'American Idol' Recap: The Top 10 Finalists Perform
'American Idol' Recap: The Top 10 Finalists Perform
Bill King
Bill King
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
The top 5 guys and top 5 girls have been set, and now it's time for them to take the stage in classic American Idol fashion, theme and all. This week, that theme is "Music of the American Idols," which means the contestants can choose any song ever recorded by a past Idol winner or any song they performed on the show.

That means they have 11 artists to choose an original work from, or a sneaky loophole to sing basically a song from anyone. Like Carrie Underwood? It's all good. Kelly Clarkson? That's smart, son. Ruben Studdard? Gettin' cluttered. Lee DeWyze? I sympathize.

With only 10 finalists and 10 + 1 Idols, that means at least one of them will get the shaft. My guess is DeWyze. But song choice is going to be crucial, particularly for the singers who need to leave their comfort zone and show some range. And for artists like Candice and Angie, who will have a difficult time "improving" when they've been so steady all along. 

American Idol Recap: Who's in the Top 10?

Will Curtis Finch, Jr., sing Fantasia? Will Kree Harrison rock out again after finally outgrowing her ballad onesy last week? Will Devin find a way to sing in Spanish? Will Lazaro take on Studdard (sorry, I had to!)? Is there any chance Paul Jolley DOESN'T sing Carrie Underwood?

We'll be doing it live all night, so feel free to watch along with us. And keep those comments coming! 

Ryan Seacrest welcomes us back by giving us a peek at the top 10 getting their first tastes of success last week. Then the screen says "The Competition Starts Now," which is awesome, because this is the 18th episode. 

It looks like there are only three judges tonight, and Nicki Minaj is nowhere to be seen. Ryan says, "We're here, live and on time," which means Nicki is running late. She's apparently seven minutes out, and I hope she gets in trouble like I would at my job. And I don't get paid nearly as much. If I was an American Idol judge, I think I'd get there at least a few hours early...

Curtis Finch, Jr., Gets the Forgettable First Spot

Jimmy Iovine met individually with the contestants for the first time, and his advice to Curtis is not be so retro. He's not advocating a rock album, but he thinks a more contemporary song will endear him and his perceived cocky sneer to voters. He's singing Fantasia's "I Believe," which was her winning song. He was inspired then, and he wants to inspire us now.

His jacket looks like the carpeting at a casino, and his first few runs are off. He struggles a bit through the lower-registered verse, but he opens up more and belts out the chorus. It's no Fantasia, for sure, and it doesn't feel particularly inspired, but his last note is huge and perfect. I think it's his least-solid performance so far. Mix that with his spot in the show, and I think he could be in trouble.

Keith Urban LOVED it, though, and he says Curtis always picks the perfect song. His only advice is to manage the adrenaline better and keep things under his control. Randy Jackson thought a couple things were great, but he cautions Curtis to try something a little different. He wants something new. Maria Carey takes the exact opposite stance and was a fan of the choir-style appearance. She wants him to stick with preaching the gospel of Curtis.

Janelle Arthur in the 2 Hole

I was really hoping I could use that heading for Paul Jolley, because he seems like he's a big baseball fan. But Janelle reminds us that with her, what you see is what you get. She's not going to be taking on anything without a country flavor. 

Jimmy wants to know what sets her apart from all the other blond, pretty country stars out there. Her answer is to stay country without going too pop, and she's taking on "Gone" by Montgomery Gentry, as performed by Scotty McCreery. 

It's a bit karaoke for me, and to me, she loses some of her muster as the song moves on. Her voice doesn't stand out from the background singers like I'd want it to, but it's fun and certainly country. She complains that her mouth is dry afterwards, and I don't think she knows exactly what having "cottonmouth" means. 

Keith likes the Womack-ian runs she threw in, while Nicki (welcome back!) calls her King Arthur and thought last week's song suited her better. "You look nice, but I want to hear songs that show the pretty part of your voice." She didn't love the song choice. Randy thought the song was stagnant and didn't go anywhere, but he liked her moving around. Mariah says she had a "star aura," which should naturally be called a staura. It's never great when the all the judges focus on how awesome you look.

Devin Velez takes on Carrie Underwood

Jimmy tells Devin not to limit himself to adult themes, especially because he's like 18. He's singing "Temporary Home," by Carrie Underwood, which he considers a challenge because it's neither a ballad nor in Spanish. 

He starts out soft and controlled, sitting on the stairs. But by the end, he's standing and belting it out more, and I think he just had a mini-moment. It wasn't perfect, but I got goose bumps during parts. I would've liked a steady increase to a huge finish, but I think we have our first definitive safe performer of the night.

Keith thinks it was a bad song choice and not one of Devin's best at all. People don't even boo, which is weird. Nicki says Keith is crazy and she doesn't agree with a single thing he said. Yaay for opposite day! She loved it, thought he looked and sounded great and showed who he is as an artist. Randy calls it way too safe and reminds everyone that this is still a competition. Isn't anyone in it to win it, dawg? Mariah thinks he's getting crap because he has the ability to do so much, and he didn't live up to expectations. Do you agree with me or the non-Nicki judges?

Angie Miller Bats Cleanup

Jimmy loves Angie's vibe and thinks she's believable, but he thinks her look is a bit too beauty pageant-ish. She hilariously says, "What really stuck with me about what he said was," and then she totally forgets what he said. When she is reminded that he thinks she she sings well, moves well and looks good in a bathing suit (and not in a complimentary way), she says she doesn't understand what he means, but will look back at past performances and try to stop. She should try "Doritos." It's what works for me.

Angie is going BIG, tackling Celine Dion's "I Surrender," as sung by Kelly Clarkson. She's also putting her own spin on it, and she thinks that she CAN, in fact, sing it as well as Kelly did. You can't say that and then not get judged based on it. Good luck, Angie. Now you're comparing yourself to two people.

She adds some chains to her leather outfit to un-pageant it, and I will say, she sings it NEARLY as well as Kelly. The biggest notes are spot on, and there's only a couple of hiccups. But she's still a serious front-runner and the first one to slay a song tonight.

Keith loves that Angie can take a song from any era and make it sound current, and calls the highest parts of her register very pleasant to hear. Nicki says she looks like a billion dollars, which is how much money Kelly Clarkson has. She loves the dress and how Angie walks in heels. She personifies perfection for Nicki, who has no critique. No pressure, Angie. 

Randy says the competition starts NOW, which means we wasted 17 episodes AND 45 minutes. He heaps the praise on her, while Mariah has one word: Stellar.

Paul Jolley Shows His Sensitive Side

Jimmy tells Paul that he perpetually over sings like a Broadway performer, which worked just fine for Adam Lambert. And Paul has no idea where it's coming from, because he's never sang Broadway a day in his life. He gets so lost and so excited about the performance that he admits he needs to tone it down, and Jimmy assures him it's the theatrics that will kill him.

Paul is singing "Amazed," by Lonestar, as performed by Scotty McCreery, and we've got our first double Idol alert of the night. I wonder if anyone will lock them doors and turn the lights down low? I always get excited when someone sings a song I know and like, so I hope he can reign things in and keep it sweet. 

It's a good performance (complete with leather-clad violinist), and the theatrics are at a minimum compared to other weeks. It was solid, but I waited the whole time for something to "pop" that just didn't. 

Keith thinks Paul is listening and trying, and it was one of his better performances that allowed his personality to shine through. Nicki says it's the first time Paul has stimulated her sexual appetite, which is such a creepy compliment. Randy thinks it was a great song choice, but wanted more pop like I did. Don't force it, but if you feel it, go for it. Mariah doesn't want the lack of theatrics to mean Paul is holding back. Like I said, it was solid and good, and there's nothing bad to say about it. But it wasn't a WOW moment.

Candice Glover Channels an Unknown Love

Candice's family flew for the first time to get to the show, and her dad was nervous on the plane. Ryan jokes the plane should've been nervous of him, which is accurate because the guy looks like Hightower from the Police Academy movies. 

Jimmy tells Candice she is a great singer, but he wants to know what's she's thinking about when she's performing. She says she's trying to tell a story, and she wants to surprise America by delivering something we don't expect..

She's singing "I Have Nothing," by Ben E. King, because it was her favorite Jordin Sparks performance, but she doesn't have a particular guy in mind to motivate her. The arrangement is a bit unique, as she is trying to make it her own to some degree. The performance is literally perfect, and I feel like I'm listening to Jennifer Hudson, even though Candice isn't allowed to sing her cause she didn't win her season. Goose bumps for me, fist bumps from Randy and a standing ovation from the judges. It's her and Angie at this point. No one else is close.

Keith wishes there was more time to stand and clap, and he calls her command effortless. He loves that she doesn't let the audience pull her out of her zone. Nicki says it would be in everyone's best interest to never sing that song again, and it was her favorite Candice performance so far. Randy calls it one of the best of season 12, and Mariah is transfixed and mesmerized every time Candice performs, because she can tackle anything. I feel bad for whoever goes next.

Lazaro Arbos Pay Homage to Kelly Clarkson

Jimmy compliments Lazaro for his following, but he questions some of the song choices and that little SNAFU last week where Laz (why does no one call him that?) had to go over a note he didn't know with one of the musicians. Jimmy tells him to LEARN THE SONG (seems like sound advice) and that he can't practice enough. Maybe Lazaro just thought he was going to lose his spot to Nick Boddington. And I know, I have to get over it.

Lazaro is paying homage to Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," which means at least three Idols will go unrepresented. I don't know if it's his accent, the register or just the nature of the song, but I have a hard time understanding the lyrics on the verse. He's also dressed like a 1930s gangster. 

There's some bright spots in the chorus, but unlike the lyrics, he is neither taking a chance nor breaking away. Just so-so for me, and I'm still distracted by how much he sweats. 

Keith questions the song choice, and Lazaro says he chose it because he relates to it and the situation he came from. But Keith doesn't think it was in his wheelhouse. Nicki says in Spanish that she didn't like it, then calls it her least favorite from him (in English). But she urges him not to let anyone affect his confidence, because she thinks nerves got to him. Randy calls it pitchy and says the song was too big (calling all boo birds!), while Mariah talks about his courage and inspiring story.

On a side note, they need to limit the live interaction with him in the future. The stutter makes it uncomfortable to watch, though it's not quite on the Charlie Askew level. Not being critical or anything, because it doesn't change my opinion of him at all. I just mean for his sake.

Kree Harrison Hangs Out in Her Wheelhouse

Kree finally came out of her emotional ballad comfort zone last week and really surprised me with her rocker song. It always appears effortless when she sings, but she'll really have to bring it to compete with Angie and Candice. Jimmy loves her tone, confidence and chances of winning, but he warns her not to over sing. He says restraint is sexy.

Kree is singing Roy Orbison's "Crying," as sung by Carrie Underwood, which she says has one of the prettiest melodies she's ever heard. We already know this is in Kree's zone, so my expectations are high, and she doesn't let us down. It's spot on, but still a touch boring for me. I felt like it just met my expectations, without exceeding them, which probably isn't her fault.

Keith says that she can sing the phone book, which I hope isn't a theme this season (Remember when they did that? Was it last season?), and he would buy her record today. Everyone gets confused when Nicki calls Kree "Harry," then goes on a tangent about toasted buttermilk waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup that she warms up in the microwave for a few seconds. And that was this performance. Just enjoyable and delicious, even if she's home by herself. Ooooookay. Randy loves Kree and her voice and is "in" from note one, which is basically a dulled-down way of repeating Nicki. Mariah loves the song choice and the fact that Kree can't help but emote when she performs (ballads). 

Burnell Taylor Wins Me Over (A Little)

Fresh Prince Urkel Burnell Taylor is up next, and I still don't know what to make of his look. I don't know if I find the jean jacket, backwards flowered cap and Coke-bottle glasses appealing yet. Isn't Boyz II Men down a member? Even they stopped dressing like that before the turn of the century. 

Jimmy wants to know what type of artist Burnell sees himself as, and he wants to stick with R&B. He's bringing Ruben Studdard into the house, choosing "Fly Without Wings." Jimmy urges him NOT to pick 10 R&B ballads, and while Burnell gets that, he doesn't want to confuse America about who he is. 

I've been on the fence about Burnell since the beginning, so I hope he shows me something. He's alone on a podium at center stage with the fog machine at full blast. His voice is great, but I still feel like I've seen this exact performance from Burnell at least four times. I love his high note near the end, and he's easily turns in the top guy performance of the night. But he needs to blow one out to keep me in. And the fog made it cheesier and over the top.

Keith compliments his magnetic eccentricity, and while Nicki loves the song choice and thinks he's on his way, it wasn't her favorite. Randy says it was "very nice," and he thinks Burnell pulled out of the lull he's been stuck in. Mariah wants to keep it simple, just adding that she loves his melody. But none of the judges are very enthusiastic in their praise. They've been heaping it on him, and it's clear they don't want to alter that, but they're not blown away like they were with Candice.

Amber Holcomb Looks for Her Moment

Amber, she of little exposure before Las Vegas, nabs the final performance slot and looks to hit a home run. We all saw how Vincent Powell made history last week with his pimp-spot elimination, and she has to be thinking about that. She's singing Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This," because she can relate to it and wants her own moment. Jimmy's only real comment to her is that she's beautiful, and that he likes when she sings upbeat. 

She does speed up the tempo a bit, which doesn't sound right. It's gotta be either normal or faster, but it doesn't work in between and forces her to rush. Her voice is absolutely beautiful, but she's constantly chasing the high notes that she doesn't have time to hold before she has to move on to the next one. Luckily for her, she can carry the last note for awhile, and it's more warmed-up waffles.

Keith praises her effortlessness, and I think he's run out of things to say. Nicki calls it the best performance of the night, which is just a flat out lie, and compares it to Whitney Houston's first album. She thinks Amber is on another level, which I agree with vocally, but the overall performance was NOT on another level for me. 

Randy loves her (because all the judges love everyone, we get it) and thinks she blew it out of the box tonight. All Mariah says is "Hashtag Pow," which I don't think has any chance of catching on unless soldiers in jail are allowed to tweet. 

I hate when the judges make their preferences so transparent, muting their tones but still praising their favorites who didn't live up to the hype, then harshly criticizing people they don't see winning. 

Anyway, Idols getting the shaft included Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, Taylor Hicks and David Cook, while all four of the winning ladies were represented (two multiple times). That means only Ruben Studdard and Scotty McCreery had their songs chosen on the guys' side, which seems a bit weird.

I don't think there's much discussion regarding the top 2 (Candice and Angie), and I think three additional singers (Kree, Amber and Burnell) put some distance between themselves and the rest. Lazaro probably should go home, but I think Janelle and Curtis are most at risk. 

Who did you love? Who do you think came up short? Do you think Amber is in danger of falling victim to what I have decided to call the Vincent Price Powell curse? (Answer: No) Whose Idol journey do you think is coming to an end?

Tune in Thursday for the results show (while I'll also be blogging live), when we find out who is eliminated. But not before performances from Bon Jovi and Phillip Phillips, as well as our first (Ford) group number of the season. It's the wackiness only an hour-long show of filler can provide. See you then!

You can watch American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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