"American Idol" 2013: Top 4 Performances (AGAIN: 2013/Standards Week)


We’re back to Final 4, Part Deux. Amber, Angie, Candice, and Kree -- a very talented group of contestants, regardless of the alleged producer manipulation. (Ahem, LAZARO.)

There were two themes for the night: songs from 2013, and standards. Harry Connick Jr. was the guest judge. Harry has been a mentor on the show in the past, and he’s actually quite good in the role. I don’t think he’ll ever get added to the judging panel because he’s not a big enough “name,” but he tends to give these kids very good advice. He has also aged very well.

To kick of the 2013 segment Angie Miller picked Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” which she performed while sitting at the piano. I’m not a huge fan of the original (some of that may be my intense dislike of Rihanna as a personality), but Angie made the song something delicate and lovely. The slower, sparse arrangement showcased her voice. Angie does need to watch when she pushes too hard in her upper register, because it can become harsh. It wasn’t the most exciting performance, but she seemed like a star up on the stage. Keith Urban didn’t like the arrangement, which he felt never quite took off. I can see that. It was very one speed. NickiMinaj and her distracting wig did not feel it, calling it “bland” and “lackluster.” Randy Jackson felt that the song didn’t really go anywhere, but he made sure to take the opportunity to sexually harass Angie by commenting on her leather shorts. Why can the universe not swallow him up already? Mariah Carey blathered on and on, with countless tangents, and ended getting into it with Nicki for a hot second, but then said Angie did a wonderful job. I think I speak for America when I say: Whatever, Mariah.

Amber Holcomb went with “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink and Nate Reuss, although she did not know the lyrics in rehearsal. Amber struggled with the low notes in the beginning, and even the chorus wasn’t terrific. I can understand why she picked this; it’s such a catchy song. But it’s also a duet, and the bulk of the melody hits in a part of Amber’s range that is not the strongest. It got better as it went along, but the beginning of it did not work for me. Nicki started off praising Amber’s jeans, which was not a great sign. She felt that Amber was disconnected from the song in parts, and complained that Amber’s just not bringing her natural bubbliness to her performances. Randy said that in this competition, for years now, “something happens” at this stage and the fun stops. Randy, these children are EXHAUSTED and they are tired of jumping through your stupid hoops. He called Amber’s number “not stellar,” and said that it needs to be stellar. Mariah again had nothing of use to contribute. Keith talked about how fantastically talented -- and underrated -- Pink is as a vocalist (true), but he seemed to like Amber on the song.

Candice Glover went with “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars, showing a mature approach to a gender-swapped song. Candice either injected some overly long pauses in the first few lines or she stumbled a bit. Aside from that the vocal was strong, especially on the bridge. Candice has developed into a truly fantastic vocalist over the course of this show, and she connects to the song better than probably any of the other remaining contestants. She had a tricky entrance into the final note, but she got it in the end. Randy blathered and blathered before saying he liked it. Mariah praised Candice’s musicality, which she said separates her from the rest of the competition. Keith said she could have sang “When I Was Your Giraffe” and it wouldn’t have mattered, because it was a winning performance. Nicki led the judges in a delayed standing ovation. She also thought that Candice looked and felt like a current artist.

Kree Harrison said that her spanking at the hands of the judges last week gave her a renewed perspective on the competition. She went with “I Will See You Again” by Carrie Underwood. Kree seemed to wrestle with the rhythms of the song at first, but the melody fit perfectly into her vocal range. In her attempt to connect to the song I think she maybe overplayed her a hand a bit too much. Still, this was a very good contemporary country number and a solid showing from Kree. Mariah felt that Kree was very connected, and appreciated Kree’s authenticity. Keith had an issue with the fact that Kree was singing a power ballad but the staging -- Kree and a guitar player sitting on stools -- was too intimate to make sense. I also picked up on that. Nicki loved it, and Randy also thought it was a great vocal.

For her standard, Angie picked “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The first verse was a total mess. I had no idea what she was singing; the rhythm and melody were totally lost. She got on track eventually, but she still had some major bum notes on the lower parts and then over-sung the bigger sections. The arrangement was dreadful. Keith loved it, however. Nicki said that Angie reminds her of a Disney princess, but said Angie needs to work on getting her beginnings to match up to the endings. Randy had issues with the confusing arrangement, but called it “an amazing vocal.” No, it wasn’t. Mariah tried to make a point -- poorly -- and then she and Nicki started yanking each others’ wigs again. Totally a ratings ploy, you guys.

Amber went back to the well with “My Funny Valentine,” which was her breakout moment on the show way back in semi-finals. The judges raved about her performance then, but it left me cold. To me it was technically well sung, but soulless. And Harry Connick Jr. got right to it, pulling out the fact that Amber had absolutely no idea what that song was about. His coaching here was CRUCIAL for Amber, and the difference in the performance then and the performance she delivered tonight was stark. She was a little girl pretending in semis. She was a woman interpreting a story tonight. Flawless vocal, and what could very well be Amber’s key to walking into the Final 3. Standing ovation from the judges. During the judges critiques Amber started crying. Nicki implored Amber to believe in herself. Randy said that Amber made new fans tonight, and he picked up that Amber came out a little bit defeated. Interesting. Keith commented on the shitty energy in the room, and how it was skewing all the girls’ performances.

Candice selected Billie Holiday’s “You’ve Changed.” God, she is amazing. What can I say about this? Candice’s voice was so perfect on this song. Buttery. Warm. Like a hot toddy after a long, hard day at work. The storytelling, the tone of the voice -- every single thing was exceptional. I would not have changed a single element of that performance, and I will download that song off iTunes. Standing ovation. Randy used his clichéd “in it to win it” line, and I am so done with him. He is paid millions of dollars and he is such a useless sack of shit. Randy said that it’s about singing what you feel, and told Harry Connick Jr. to essentially suck it. Ooh! Mariah said, “There is no critiquing, the only critique is to download this song ASAP.” Wisdom from Mariah! Goodness!

Kreewrapped things up with “Stormy Weather.” Harry begged her to ditch the vocal affectations and just sing the melody. I think that’s good advice in general, but Kree was getting overplayed by the orchestra here -- she could have used some vocal pyrotechnics to stand out. The balance improved about midway through and Kree’s natural plaintive cry really came out in a lovely way. She also started injecting runs, and I bet Harry Connick Jr. was in the audience just gritting his teeth. Mariah thought she sounded good, but she would have liked Kree to sing something naturally bluesier, like “God Bless the Child.” Nicki seemed to bristle at Harry’s coaching style with the girls this week, but said that Kree (and the others) needed to focus on delivering memorable performances regardless. Randy talked about different versions of the song, and -- listen. Pointless. Critique the performance in front of you. How did THESE GIRLS do with THESE SONGS? Harry basically called out Randy for not having any idea what he was talking about. And Randy wrapped it up by saying, “Kree, just be Kree.” Useless. Even Harry Connick was yelling at him to shut his stupid mouth.

Then, bizarrely, we got a group number with the Final 4 doing Little Mix’s “Wings” -- a great song I’m glad is finally getting airplay here -- with some…back-up dancers, I guess? I don’t even know. There were steam vents at the edge of the stage. It was weird. Amber sounded especially good on this, which makes sense since I can totally see her singing this kind of music. Angie seemed to have absolutely no idea what she was doing, and Kree seemed awkward. (Again, not surprising: this is totally out of Kree’s wheelhouse.)

Recap: Angie sounded worse on “Diamonds” in the playback than I remembered, and “Watch Over Me” had its good and bad moments; Amber really did seem disconnected on “Reason” but was stunning on “Funny Valentine”; Candice was good on the first number and transcendent on the second; Kree was good on Carrie and had a great ending on the second.

Prediction: I feel like even the show was shoving Amber out the door. The judges were basically saying, “You’ve done good, kid, and you should be proud.” But that’s kind of shitty, because she was fine on the first number and great on the second. I think Angie actually had the weakest night overall, with Kree coming in just behind her. And I consider Kree to be the most vulnerable since she got the pity vote last week, and I’m not sure that’ll happen this week. But she does have both the country vote and Vote for the Worst backing her. Consider also that tomorrow’s elimination will be based on last week’s votes AND this week’s. Last week Candice and Amber were Bottom 2. Hopefully that will help Candice. I would be heartbroken if she didn’t make it to the finals.