'American Idol' Recap: The Top 4, Part II
'American Idol' Recap: The Top 4, Part II
Bill King
Bill King
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
If you're wondering why the cover photo looks the same as last week, it's because it's nearly identical, except without as many flailing arms (much to Angie Miller's dramatic disappointment). In its quest to crown the first female champion in five years, American Idol has suffered from a predictability problem in season 12. And all efforts to correct said issue have only succeeded in making it worse.

But as we enter the second week of the top four (a.k.a. the judges' last-ditch effort to convince America to love Amber Holcomb), it is officially out of their hands. Sort of. Because while they can still try and influence voters, they have to realize that all their concerted efforts have backfired so far, evident in the revelation of last week's bottom two.

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In what was easily the low point of the season, the judges LOVED Amber's rendition of "MacArthur Park" during the one-hit wonder round. The song is 1) not a true one-hit wonder because it was famously recorded by Donna Summer, 2) just a really bad song and 3) one of Weird Al Yankovic's most famous covers. And in spite of all that, the judges heaped praise on her despite America's obvious disdain for the performance. It also made Jimmy Iovine look like a genius and the only honest member of the panel, even though his advice has been as biased as the rest at times. 

The unending and undeserved pimping of Amber still landed her in the bottom, while the unnecessary bashing of Kree Harrison seemingly boosted her vote total. That is clear because there is no way that Candice Glover deserved to end up where she did. And she should expect a jump in votes as a result, while Amber needs two top four performances to even have a shot. She needs to win the night, or it will only be shocking if she DOESN'T go home.

So while the first five male eliminations were anything but unexpected, followed by the debacle of the save and the random and completely predicted introduction of a non-elimination week (they should've just used the save on Janelle and at least given her a shot to stick around in the top five), it would appear we've got another easy cut on tap. Sure, performances could change it, but it really needs to be a dramatic turnaround. I expect that presumed-third-place Candice's vote total was much closer to whoever finished second as opposed to the total from what I imagine was last-place Amber, meaning she has deficit to overcome. And if Congress is any indication, America is NOT good at coming together to overcome deficits. 


As for Kree, I'm not sure if it's her look or her unequivocal consistency, but she needs to do something to stand out more. I've said all along that she'll never win the night, but will always have two performances in the top five. And eventually, that will lead to her undoing. While she has never sounded less than great, she has also struggled to really separate from the pack. She seems to lack that real "star quality" that Candice and Angie have flashed at times, even though she may consistently outperform one or the other. I fear that will end in her elimination, whether ultimately deserved or not.

The theme this week is "Then and Now," which breaks down to "songs of 2013" and "standards" (The hotel in New York City where you can watch people have sex from the High Line?). After last week's disastrous song choices for the one-hit wonder round, I can only hope mentor Harry Connick, Jr., (the latest twist in Idol's ever-changing format) can help guide them in the right direction. 
 
In just a quick perusal of the VH1 list of the top 100 all-time one-hit wonders, I see numerous picks in in their top 20 that I would've greatly preferred to what we heard. Can you honestly say that Angie singing an original piano version of A-Ha's "Take On Me" couldn't have won the night? Or even Sinead O'Conner's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Or even an out-there choice like Candice rocking out Deee Lite's "Groove is in the Heart"?? But no, they chose songs dating as far back as 1955. 1955!

I do think I made a mistake last week when I characterized the song choices by saying the problem was that they weren't current. Because there are many ways to make an old song new, so I mistyped there. A better word choice would have been "relevant." There are very few songs from nearly 60 years ago that were the only successful release of a group or singer that stand up today. And all the song choice we got were about as relevant as a driver's license is to a cat. Unless your name is Toonces, so I guess there are always exceptions.

Harry Connick to the Rescue

I love me some HC, but only because of Independence Day. So let's kick the tires and light the fires, big daddy!

Harry promises not to let any of the contestants off the hook in their preparations, and Angie Miller is up first. Who wants to bet that Amber gets the pimp spot tonight?

Angie is singing Rihanna for the second straight week after she and Candice won the week with "Stay," putting her own spin on "Diamonds." And while Harry's whole family loves Angie, he does not. She just doesn't click with him, but she wins him over with her arrangement. As long as she doesn't sing "Shine bright like a diamond" 50 times, I'll be happy too. Then they play SNL's Garth and Kat while she hilariously pretends to know his music. Good times.

It has a uniquely Evanescence-esk sound to it, and her tone is smooth and her notes spot on (except for maybe one screechy note when she tried to go a little out of her own range). I might even prefer this to the original version, because I liked the artistry, even though it stopped a teensie bit short of goose bumps.

Keith Urban loves the song, but he felt her performance lacked "percussive muscular weight." He commends her for doing an original take, but he doesn't think this is the song to mess with. Nicki Minaj was equally unimpressed and felt a disconnect, which she finds odd when Angie is on the piano. She calls it bland and lackluster.

Randy Jackson agrees and doesn't think it went anywhere, but he likes her shorts. Complimentary? Or creepy? Mariah Carey thought she tried to take the song to another place, but she that Angie spent too much time playing to the camera. 

Well, the judges are off to a rousing start. I can't wait until they praise Amber endlessly. 

When Harry Met Amber

Okay, I guess Amber isn't getting the pimp spot, though I think it's equally shady if Candice gets it after she ended up in the bottom 2. I guess someone has to get it, though, and you could argue if Kree gets it, it's to help eliminate Candice.

Amber is singing "Just Give Me a Reason," by P!nk featuring Fun.'s Nate Ruess, but she doesn't know any of the lyric. Harry thought she seemed more comfortable when she didn't care about not knowing the words and just made sounds, but I don't think America will agree if she stumbles. 

Instead, she nails all the words and sounds pretty awesome. I would've liked a tiny bit more of an emotional connection with the song, but overall, she did what she needed to do to have a chance here. 

Nicki starts out with an "I love your jeans," which never ends well. She felt connected to Amber in her rehearsal video, but felt like it was "in and out." Randy says that the contestants always lose their sense of "Fun" (Get it??) around this point, and this is not the same carefree Amber who can sing her face off. It was not stellar. 

Mariah is forgiving of the words issues, but she needs more confidence out of Amber. Keith praises P!nk and says her vocal range is unforgiving, and Amber was exposed by it. 

I'm convinced that the judges all went out drinking last night, and they're all severely hung over. It's why Mariah and Nicky agreed on something, and also why it's the judges who are downtrodden and not having fun, and not the singers. 

When Candice Was Your Man

Anyone else notice how Ryan Seacrest just totally ignored Haley Reinhart in the crowd? Wasn't she his contestant crush that season? It's like when you get drunk and sleep with a co-worker, and then the next time you see her (him), s(he) just walks right by you and acts like s(he) doesn't even know you. Harsh!

Candice is taking on Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man," and Harry wonders about her taking on such a pop song. She sounds great vocally, but if we're sticking with the theme of the other performances so far, it's a bit sleepy. Maybe people are burnt out? Still, easily the best so far. Her range is on display much more than Amber's or Angie's was, and there's nothing really negative to say about it overall. No super memorable performances yet, though.

The judges aren't smiling, and Randy prefaces his negative energy by saying Candice can sing anything. Then he says it was amazing. Mariah says Candice separates herself from the rest of the competition, and Keith thinks she could sing "When I was Your Giraffe" and it would sound great. I would love for that to be her next song. Nicki says the song deserved a standing ovation, and she apologizes for no one giving one. So Randy makes them all stand up for a posthumous ovation. This is weak. Take some 5 Hour Energy or something, judges! Stop overcompensating for your bad choices last week. This isn't butterface redemption.

Kree Soul-Searches Her Way Out of the Bottom 2

Even though she wasn't in the bottom two. The judges took out their pro-Amber frustrations on poor Kree last week, so this time around, she is determined to connect emotionally with the audience and really make it believable. She is singing "See You Again," by Carrie Underwood, and based on her rehearsal, I expect her to kill this harder than Ryan Hardy killed  Joe Carroll (I assume ... I haven't watched the finale yet. Don't ruin it!). 

Kree and the hatless-Tom Brady lookalike are along on stage sitting on stools in this acoustic performance that also has a full band, and it has a very Unplugged vibe to it. Oh, and there's also a keyboard dude off in the corner playing Marla Hooch for the night. 

This is the first performance I'm actually enthusiastic about loving. One of her best, despite one particularly bad note. Now the guitarist should throw a pass to the keyboardist, who will probably drop it because we all know Marla's strength is hitting.

Mariah thought it was a connected performance, and she enjoyed its authenticity. And she did it all in the most unenthusiastic tone imaginable. Keith didn't get quite connected because he thinks of it as more of a power ballad, and he only saw her and the guitarist, which confused his thoughts and his eyes. 

Nicki loved it, and then she falls asleep while talking about how much she loved it. Randy says that Kree is in it to win it. Without an exclamation point at the end. For the first time. Ever. 

Y.

A.

W.

N.

Idol snoozefest up in here. Harry Connick, Jr., just made a bad flight decision while escaping the aliens, even though Captain Hiller told him not to take his mask off. Now he crashed and burned before he had time to eject. That poor victory cigar never got smoked...

Angie's Standard is Hopefully Less Standard 

Angie and Harry have an almost creepy flirty thing going on, even though he repeats that he just doesn't like her. Much like I didn't like Meaghan Netherby or Sam Beisel in grade school, so I was mean to them (No, I was just super nice and got shot down, but whatever). Harry advises her to tone it down and not oversing, and it appears that she listens for the first time all season. 

She's picked "Someone to Watch Over Me," from the musical "Oh, Kay!" by the Gershwins and originally sung by Gertrude Lawrence, because her mom loves it. It's subdued and classy, and I never realized Angie had a whole sh*t ton of words tattooed down the right side of her body. It's all very Miley. Still, I loved the performance. Although the word "sleepy" could apply to it. Great vocals though. 

Keith asks why she picked the song, because he doesn't understand why "then" had to be so "then." But he thought she sounded beautiful. Nicki calls her a Disney princess and says she should sing on Broadway. Randy found it old fashioned and gives props to the guitar player. He found the arrangement confusing, but says she can sing anything. Mariah finally has something in common with Angie, because both of their moms love the song. 

The judges are seriously acting the way a group of regular people who don't make millions of dollars act when they get a bad performance review and a talking to from their boss. I've never seen such a lackluster effort on their parts. And that includes the time Nicki Minaj was 20 minutes late for a live show.

Harry Schools Amber

Amber is singing "My Funny Valentine," from the musical "Babes in Arms," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It has been recorded by Mitzi Green, Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Hulk Hogan, ALF, Mark Cuban and that guy who used to own "Girls Gone Wild" before they went bankrupt (okay, some of those are guesses). And Harry Connick points out that Amber has no idea what it's about. He walks her through the lyrics in an effort to forge an emotional connection, and I think he actually helps her ... some.

She sounds great, except for one big note she misses, but I don't know. It's just all iffy for me. Not one of the best of the night for me, even with a great final note.

Nicki calls her a red rose and says it was beautiful, then she almost starts crying because Amber is crying. She tells Amber to stop thinking about votes because Amber is a superstar. Yes, if there's anywhere that votes don't matter, it's on this show. 

Randy says she made a believer out of a lot of people who were on the fence and that she slayed it. It's almost like he's walking her to the grave. It's a bit disturbing.

Mariah thought Amber brought bigger and better spirit than the last time she sang this song, while Keith doesn't understand why there's no energy in the studio tonight (Hint: It's the judges). Ryan says her crying should be "tears of accomplishment," because all the girls have come so far. Which is exactly what you tell someone who is guaranteed to move on...

Anyway. 

Going back to my previous thoughts about being relevant, I'm not saying these were bad "standard" song choices. But we've just heard back to back songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Yes, they are classics, but are there songs that could better showcase these ladies' individual strengths? I think so. 

Harry criticizes Amber for tossing a high-note run at the end, and he doesn't understand why all the girls are trying to show off their voices instead of lingering on the melody and emotion.

Candice Needs to Connect

It's the same advice from Harry to Candice, who is singing "You've Changed" by Billie Holiday.  He says the hardest thing in a relationship is when you realize the other person is drifting away, and Candice needs to stop trying to make the song something it's not. When he actually gives her a lyric "reading," packed full of emotion, I got goose bumps. She really needs to capture that energy and sing the melody, and she could have a decent moment. Of course, it's a sleepy song by nature, so the overall mood of the night might negatively impact all this.

Like everyone else, she sounds ah-mazing. But I'm not getting her vibe at all. She's waving her hands around while she is singing about someone getting bored with her. I want her to be crying because she's really feeling this, but she's not and I'm not. But vocally, it's nearly perfect. How confusing. As is the standing ovation. 

Randy halfheartedly musters up that exclamation point to say she's in it to win it, and he also says Harry is full of it in saying it's about runs (even though Harry specifically said that while he loves runs, these songs are about the melody). Mariah sarcastically says she hated every second of it, because that's the only way to praise someone while still being as blase as possible. Keith also thought it was perfect, and Nicki has nothing to add. Literally. So she just calls Ryan back on stage. 

SAME ADVICE FOR KREE

All in caps because no one is really listening. Kree is singing "Stormy Weather," mostly based on the Etta James and Lena Horne versions, and Harry once again urges her to stick to the melody and UNDERSTAND what she's singing about. This song is about being in the throes of depression! Harry gives me goose bumps for the second time with a quick lyric reading, and she'd better live up to that.

I think she's the first one to really get what he's saying, and she really tries to keep things reined in. It's very good vocally, and the most emotionally-connected of the night. I'm honestly trying to figure out if it's the best of the night, because it's not as good vocally as Candice's was.

Mariah didn't like the song choice and wanted something more bluesy and gritty, while Keith also wanted more melody than runs (even though that's what she did). He would've just picked a different song. Nicki urges Kree not to listen to anyone and just follow her instincts and wishes all the girls would've put more thought into their song choice so as to not put everyone to sleep. Randy thinks the disconnect was based on Kree picking the wrong rendition of the song, as she should've chosen the Etta version over the Lena version.

Idol has a lot of time to fill, so they pull Harry up to the judges panel, and he puts Randy in his place. "You were talking about individuality and singing it your way, and you just said you should've chosen the Etta James version," he says. The judges have really stunk it up tonight, and Harry should be back every damn week. He is the only one who seems to still understand music at this point. 

One More Special Performance?

With so much time left, Ryan promises us one last performance, this one is a group number with a bunch of awesomely hot and happily distracting background dancers. The top 4 are singing "Wings" by Little Mix, and it's BY FAR the most upbeat and therefore entertaining performance of the night. It's the only thing that woke anyone up. It's like the alarm clock to remind everyone in the audience that it's time to go home. I would've taken one song like this and put it at the top of any rankings. Or at least the bare midriffs of the backup dancers. 

That's it for Top 4, Part II, and it was a bit of a ho-hum night. While I agree almost all the song choices were rather boring ballads, it would appear the judges thought the best way to give Amber a chance to stick around was to bring everyone down to the same level and hope America is so turned off that no one will vote for anyone. Except, of course, the people who realize Amber needs saving. And I don't think it will work. But if it does, the judges can just point to the lackluster performances. Man, these rankings are going to be tough. How do you discern the undiscernible? 

Are you as cynical as I am after tonight? Do you think anyone really stood out head and shoulders above the rest? Who came up short? Do you think this is the week Amber goes home? If not, who? 

Tune in Thursday to find out, when we'll also be treated to emotionally-connected music from Harry Connick, Jr. (What, another non-Idol?? Shocking!), and former Idol David Cook. That's seven winners down and only four to go. Can you name the rest? WITHOUT cheating! 

You can watch American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday at 8 pm on FOX.

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(Image courtesy of FOX)

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