It’s been said a hundred times by a hundred different people, but the ladies of “American Idol” are certainly the season’s strongest, laying down the gauntlet each and every week for a fairly unspectacular — aside from Burnell Taylor, of course — group of boys.
Unsurprisingly, nothing changed once the finalists made it to the top 10.
The girls dominated Wednesday night, many bringing powerhouse performances and at times stunning vocals that screamed “artist!” from the get-go. Meanwhile, the collective guys could rarely rise above the din their counterparts made. Sure, much will be said of Taylor’s turn at the mic, but even two weeks down the road, it’s unlikely we’ll remember much of anything of what they did.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily matter. Don’t forget that we’re in the fan voting stages of the show now. It’s not about who gets rave reviews from the judges or some lowly Internet reviewer. It’s who the fans, with their many criteria, believes should move on. Despite another underwhelming effort Wednesday, maybe you just heart Lazaro Arbos to death. You probably do. In that case, who is actually safe? Who has a fanbase strong enough to keep them going long in the competition?
It’s tough to tell for sure at this moment, though possibilities exist. The clear front runners, major voting backing and all, will become clearer as we move along. For now, let’s take a look at the top 10 performances — all songs done by former “Idol” winners, either on the show or as part of subsequent albums. I ranked them from my favorite to least favorite, and I want you to do so too in the comments. This is your assignment today, and I need it on my desk by 5 p.m.
1. Candice Glover – “I (Who Have Nothing)”
Best performance of the season so far? Yeah, probably. But is it possible Glover peaked too early and/or came out of the gate too strong? My dad posed this question immediately after she finished, and I think it’s tough to say, because while Candice needed to go hard rather than play it safe (as did some of her peers), she now may become Angie Miller, where we’re always comparing each showing to an immaculate past offering. Regardless, it’s probably clear as to why this was the best. Glover did the Tom Jones tune with intense command and compassion, and was able to make an older song sound fairly current, which is something I’ve worried about with her — being relevant in today’s industry. She showed she can do that — and then some.
2. Burnell Taylor – “Flying Without Wings”
Let’s keep in mind that whenever I’m raving about how much better the gals are than the guys, Burnell Taylor is almost always excluded. While certainly not his best (did you hear that “Ready for Love” last week?!), Taylor’s constantly showing he has the potential to break into the limelight with a very Frank Ocean-esque style of singing. His take on Ruben Studdard actually brought something new to the song; less of a big vocal, more intimate. The kind you need to survive at least the top 10. I just worry, as indicated Jimmy Iovine, that he’s going to do too many ballads. Mix it up a bit, dude!
3. Amber Holcomb – “A Moment Like This”
Well, someone had to do the song, right? Wasn’t like we were going to hear Taylor Hicks’s coronation song… I think. Anyway, Holcomb got the pimp spot of the evening and did it proud, doing the Kelly Clarkson song with more underlying drive than you probably remembered (but then again, the radio version of that song is so slow and steady). Incredibly effortless and did Clarkson justice. Ballad-types are totally in her wheelhouse and she rarely disappoints in that regard.
4. Kree Harrison – “Crying”
Harrison, as she tends to, turned in another solid performance that didn’t do a whole lot but showed the absolute ease she has as a singer. Plus, I gotta say, this is the first time I REALLY believed her as a country girl. She’s been touted as a performer more within the country genre, but like Paul Jolley, she was always teetering on the edge. Her take on “Crying” got her there for me. Watch this for the song, stay for Nicki Minaj’s bit about waffles after the performance.
5. Angie Miller – “I Surrender”
What Miller did Wednesday tonight is what Miller tends to do most nights these days: turn in a good vocal that isn’t as great as her original song but is enough to keep her going in the competition. I think I always enjoy Angie more when she’s behind the piano rather than in front of it, but what I mostly needed was a bigger chorus; she seemed like she was struggling to really rise above the backing band to deliver a knockout. Didn’t live up to Kelly Clarkson, but that’s going to be hard anyway.
6. Paul Jolley – “Amazed”
This was the first time all year I thought Jolley did something that REALLY fit him as a singer. Yeah, it’s another country song and I’m still not totally sold on him as a country guy, but Paul turned in a nice, totally not weepy turn on the Lonestar song. It was an average “American Idol” performance (i.e. not as good as original, kind of glorified karaoke), but it was still a lot better than he’s been lately.
7. Curtis Finch Jr. – “I Believe”
While I’ve rarely thought of Finch as a major player on the show, I did consider him one of the boys’ biggest hopes in the show. His version of Fantasia’s coronation song, though? Oh, no. No, no, no, no. It wasn’t a bad vocal per se, but Finch wasn’t quite able to channel some of that crazy gospel energy he’s had in the past to really bring the performance alive. Instead, it was a very, very safe showing by his standards, with a few notes that were just blatantly off. His final falsetto may keep him around, though.
8. Devin Velez – “Temporary Home”
Sometimes singers want to change it up a bit from the status quo, and the judges (and Jimmy Iovine) certainly have recommended that to certain artists in the past. Velez didn’t want to be seen as the guy who sings in Spanish sometimes, so he went with no Spanish and a pop version of a Carrie Underwoood song. He was a potential dark horse, but this did him no favors. Bland, and I’d say uninspired, but apparently it actually was inspired, judging by Velez’s explanation of why he chose it. Nothing remotely memorable — possibly the least memorable of the evening.
9. Janelle Arthur – “Gone”
You’d think Arthur would rise to the challenge after being put into the top 10 last week following some very dull performances. Yeah, about that. “Gone” wasn’t bad at all, but her vocal wasn’t strong enough to really rise above the backing music, nor was it commanding — which it really needs to be on the song’s chorus. She has what Kree Harrison doesn’t have in terms of being a fairly electric performer, but that’s about the best I can say.
10. Lazaro Arbos – “Breakaway”
I’m beginning to wonder if Arbos is this year’s Heejun Han — likable, but sans a super great vocal pretty much every week. He tried Kelly’s “Breakaway” and it wasn’t god-awful, but it needed more of a punch than he was able to give this week and possibly ever. I think he’s more suited for intimate, toned down songs and arrangements. If he’s around next week, I’d like to see more of that, because that’s where he actually shines.
Should Go Home: Lazaro Arbos, Janelle Arthur or Devin Velez
Will Go Home: Velez, Curtis Finch Jr. or Arthur (because let’s be honest, Lazaro isn’t going to be out just yet)