Many things set the 12th season of "American Idol" apart from its recent predecessors (namely, ALL DEM GIRLS), but one of the most noticeable changes has to do with the front runner. And by that, I mean that there really isn't one.
Last season, everyone pretty much knew Phillip Phillips was going to win. The year before, Scotty McCreery seemed to have it in the bag. Even before that, though Crystal Bowersox might have been the perceived favorite for awhile, there was always the growing notion in the back of one's mind that Lee Dewyze had a formidable fanbase up his sleeve.
In 2013, the four remaining ladies may not be evenly matched as far as vocal talent goes, but each of them has pros and cons that disallow them from really moving ahead of their peers. Candice Glover may have had the most talked-about performances of the year, particularly with "Lovesong," but Angie Miller has often been right there with her whenever she pulls out a nice piano ballad. Amber Holcomb wasn't necessarily the Chosen One at the beginning, but the judges, especially Nicki Minaj, seem to want you to feel that way at this point, despite pitchy vocals across the board. Kree Harrison has been one of the favorites all season, but she hasn't had any special moments in recent memory that really throws her ahead of the rest.
To some, an evenly-matched crop of contestants can be a good thing, as it levels the playing field and provides far more drama and intrigue on elimination nights. Who's going home? Who really knows? Could be anyone. On the other hand, singers sans those big moments needed to propel them to the top spot and that tend to do the same type of performance every night can wear thin on an audience.
Hey, at least it's not just all ballads anymore.
The top four episode of "Idol" lacked star power and general intrigue. It's very possible that none of the eight solo performances will be remembered come the finale, let alone a few months from now, save perhaps for Angie Miller's pleasant rendition of Jessie J's "Who You Are." But it's OK, because there's the possibility of a do-over. At show's end, Ryan Seacrest promised a twist for tonight's episode, which I'll bet means something akin to the judges' save that was never used. Watch tonight to find out -- you know, if you feel like it.
Here are the contestants ranked, considering both solos and duets of the evening. Rank yours in the comments too, if you'd like. That would be the bomb.com.
1. Angie Miller - "Who You Are," "Cry Me a River," "Stay" (With Candice Glover)
For a few weeks, Angie Miller was left in the dust by a few of her competitors, mired midpack while the boys went home and certain ladies surpassed her with, simply, better weeks. Somewhere, Miller decided it would be best to go back to the piano more often and become the singer a lot of people fell in love with at the beginning of the season. Last night might have completed that metamorphosis, and if it hasn't, it's because she could very well be going even higher in the coming weeks (which could actually mark her as the favorite). Her take on "Who You Are" was the best of the evening, a simple, well-sung, powerful ballad behind the piano that felt fairly current, unlike the song choices of her predecessors in the first round.
The good vibes continued when she performed Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's "Stay" with Candice Glover, matching the big-voiced lady note for note for arguably the night's second best showing (and I tend to not even like the group performances in the live show!). She closed the night with Julie London's "Cry Me a River," which was not as pleasant as her first but still, as Keith Urban put it, "mystical and celestially powerful." She won the night, and one more night like this could actually establish herself as the front runner.
2. Candice Glover - "Find Your Love," "Emotion," "Stay" (With Angie Miller)
Though upstaged by Miller on this fine evening, Candice Glover still showed why, if there's one singer that might have an edge on the rest, she's it. While neither of her solo performances were showstoppers on the level of "Lovesong" or "When You Believe," Glover was on point as usual with her vocal; there wasn't a note missed, which is what puts her ahead of Amber Holcomb from the start. Candice's creative approach to Drake's "Find Your Love" was certainly nice, though sticking to the melody a bit more faithfully would also have been lovely.
Yadda yadda yadda, "Stay" was great, I already said everything in Angie's section, in it to win it, #pow, etc. When Glover took on her one hit wonder of the evening, she chose Samantha Sang's "Emotion," formerly a Bee Gees song that was covered a decade ago by Destiny's Child. While Candice didn't exactly sound like a member of that girl group, she did the song proud, providing smoky vocals that pretty much confirmed she'll be in the running next week, regardless of what happens (see: if they actually eliminate someone or not).
3. Amber Holcomb - "The Power of Love," "MacArthur Park," "Rumour Has It" (With Kree Harrison)
As expected, Amber Holcomb's performance of "The Power of Love" elicited a standing ovation from a few of the judges. Such an occurrence was expected not because it was actually a show-stopping performance, but because it's Amber Holcomb doing a ballad. That seems to be the common trend nowadays. Holcomb could be kind of pitchy (hint: she was) and the judges will still eat it up. Some of the notes were definitely nice and Amber deserves to be here, but her first showing was not exactly worthy of such an ovation, either.
Her duet with Kree Harrison was lacking, too. Aside from little connection between the two (actually, re: connection, there seems to be a common denominator here...), "Rumour Has It" was merely a few big, nice notes and a lack of dramatic delivery that Adele gives the song. And then came "MacArthur Park," which is just such an incredibly cheesy song that I couldn't help but laugh during it, even if Holcomb wasn't, you know, laughably bad or anything. I like her confidence she at least appears to have these days, but she wasn't as much of a vocal powerhouse as Glover or Miller. And I still don't think the audience connection is there.
4. Kree Harrison - "It Hurt So Bad," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "Rumour Has It" (With Amber Holcomb)
I don't know what's happened to Kree Harrison these last few weeks, but I miss her. While the crazy stellar vocals are still there, the entertainment factor is not. Harrison may have been able to get by before now with a technically on-point voice, but when she's doing little to supplement a strong voice, be it with poor song choice or sleepy performances entirely, she starts to slip in favor. "It Hurt So Bad" wasn't awful, but it lacked everything but a good voice. While this is a singing competition, having a strong voice isn't all that matters -- just ask Curtis Finch Jr.
Harrison was actually worse on "Rumour Has It" than Holcomb, but mostly from the standpoint of being just sort of there with little connection or intrigue. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was a better song choice, though it lacked the vocal fireworks she needed tonight to really stand out. You figured that after being in the bottom two with Janelle Arthur last week, Kree would come out swinging so that she wouldn't be down there again. That didn't happen. At all. In fact, she was sleepier than the night she was in the bottom two last week. This may not end well.
Should Go Home: Kree Harrison or Amber Holcomb
Will Go Home: I still think the surprise twist tonight will be that no one's going home, but if someone does, it's still probably going to be either Kree or Amber