“American Idol” is getting down to the wire. All that remains are five ladies, each with the potential in theory to win the competition, given that their respective fanbases can mount enough of a charge. Each remaining contestant has her own style and own spot into which one imagines she’ll fit if she doe break into the music industry. Now, it’s simply a matter of who’s the most popular.
Wednesday night (April 17) gave each singer two great chances to show off their respective talents. The first category of the evening had the ladies singing songs from the year they were born, while the second was all about the divas. The latter is obviously a breeding ground for good material and star turns, especially for the bigger-voiced contestants like Candice Glover, Amber Holcomb and Kree Harrison. The singers’ comfort with both categories showed; there wasn’t a poor performance in sight, at least not on the level of Lazaro Arbos in recent weeks.
With just a month to go, I think it makes more sense at this point to change up the recap ever-so-slightly. Rather than looking at and ranking each performance individually, let’s take a look at each singer as a whole, combining both songs into an overall ranking that shows who really won the night, either with consistency or simply being better than the rest. Be sure to comment with your rankings, as well.
1. Angie Miller – “I’ll Stand By You” & “Halo”
Angie Miller was one of the show’s early frontrunners, capped off by her masterful showing in Hollywood with her original song, “You Set Me Free.” In subsequent weeks, Miller looked as though she was trying to recapture that former glory, and while she was never so bad that she was in danger of going home, she quickly became one of the singers one expected to move through the competition with relative ease, but when it came to some of the other ladies, she would potentially have a problem. But in the last few weeks, Angie has mounted a comeback, culminating thus far last night, when she put up her best results of the season. She started off with a fitting tribute to Boston with The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” taking a familiar seat behind the piano, a place at which she’s usually her best. Perhaps it was the dedication to the embattled city, which was rocked by bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this week, but Miller was chill-inducing, her voice the best it’s been all season.
But Miller wasn’t done yet. In the past, the judges have come down on her a little harder when she’s without the piano, saying that she tends to do her best work with the instrument. While that might still hold true, “Halo” was the first time all season that Angie was really on point with only her vocal to worry about. While Amber Holcomb seemed to be attempting a Beyonce sound-alike showing last week, Miller made the song her own a little more, which I think will be overall beneficial on her part. It may only be a small victory in the long run, but Angie really established herself as a contender Wednesday, more so than before. Just in the nick of time.
2. Candice Glover – “Straight Up” & “When You Believe”
It’s hard to follow up such a masterful week as Candice Glover had last week, particularly with her performance of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” but Glover did admirably, even if she didn’t necessarily reach those heights or even beat Angie Miller overall. That said, Candice did have without a doubt the best single showing of the night, taking on both Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston on “When You Believe.” As with many Candice performances, she knows precisely when to hit the sweet spot of a song, building up to that point with masterful restraint. Once she hits that point, usually some sort of higher, held note, it’s all over. It’s the kind of performance that keeps Candice Glover one of the frontrunners in the competition.
Same can’t exactly be said for “Straight Up,” but perhaps it was also part of Candice’s plan, to keep things low-key before that fantastic finish on her second tune. Probably not. But while Glover wasn’t bad on the Paula Abdul song — really, is she ever? — it was fairly underwhelming in comparison to most of her other songs, mainly due to the song’s range, which is not enough to really show off her voice. The arrangement was nice, though hearing her perform the song actually made me miss Andrew Garcia from a few seasons ago.
3. Amber Holcomb – “Without You” & “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life”
As usual, Amber Holcomb was fairly uneven Wednesday night. On one hand, her first performance of Badfinger’s “Without You” (famously done by Mariah Carey — what was with all these contestants doing songs by their judge last night?!) could have been great, but Holcomb just could not hit a lot of the notes right on the head, especially during the higher parts of the vocal, which were just… not very good, even if Mariah was digging them.
Conversely, her second song was a lot better, so good that the producers decided to stick it at the end of the night. Compared to last week’s finale, it wasn’t nearly up to the standards we tend to expect from such a song, but it was good enough to absolve Amber of her simply OK first song. Even though everyone always talks about being current and, sometimes, singing more current tunes, the old-fashioned vibe actually works quite well for Amber; in fact, she’s at her best when she’s in that moment. That may not be good for the voting public or for Holcomb’s relevancy moving forward, but one certainly can’t take that strength from her.
NEXT PAGE: Kree and Janelle >>
4. Kree Harrison – “She Talks to Angels” & “Have You Ever Been in Love”
Ew, it’s the two country ladies at the bottom tonight. It pains me to put Kree in the next-to-last spot, though I guess that’s bound to happen at this point in the season. But Harrison wasn’t bad! Like, at all! In terms of show-stopping performances? Well, while Glover, Miller and Holcomb all had their own, there wasn’t really any performance Wednesday night that will be super memorable in the long run on Kree’s side. Her “She Talks to Angels” was a really nice cover, but pretty much only that. It’s the general thing about Kree (her Kreed? Oh god, sorry for maybe making you think of Kree doing a Creed song. I’M SO SORRY): she’s always pretty good, with a vocal that rarely — if ever — has any major faults. It’s all about how compelling her performances are in terms of song choice and entertainment quality, and “She Talks to Angels” didn’t really do too much in those regards.
“Have You Ever Been in Love” was a little better, but I was actually having some trouble remembering it before watching back. It was certainly a nice showing, a continued look at what Harrison’s career could be like in the country vein, but it’s not the performance anyone will be talking about at the end of the season. Tonight probably won’t hurt Harrison due to her past showings, but all in all, it all felt a little too safe, which is not something you can necessarily do when it’s down to the top five.
5. Janelle Arthur – “When I Call Your Name” & “Dumb Blonde”
Poor Janelle Arthur. As a performer, she’s really grown these last few weeks, going from a contestant that barely made it through to the voting rounds to a country gal we can count on to give some solid performances, or at least be fairly charismatic while doing it. Wednesday night, however, really separated the contenders from the also-rans, and I’m not sure Arthur may actually have a victory in her. She needed a big moment but couldn’t quite reach the heights her fellow contestants either obtained Wednesday or have obtained at other points in the season. I actually really loved “When I Call Your Name,” especially with its old-fashioned country vibe and her take with an acoustic guitar, but I also realize it wasn’t incredibly star-making in comparison to the other ladies. Kind of like my love affair with Paul McDonald two years back.
“Dumb Blonde,” on the other hand, didn’t really do much for me, nor do I think it’s going to change many opinions about her. For one, the Dolly Parton song isn’t incredibly well-known, which may not do her any favors. Plus, while it was completely adequate on a country level, I don’t think it would necessarily do much for non-country fans. So really, it’s a matter of how large such a fanbase is in terms of watching “Idol.” Arthur could get through if there are enough country fans watching and voting, but if there aren’t, she might be out of luck.
Should Go Home: Janelle Arthur
Will Go Home: Janelle Arthur or Amber Holcomb. Arthur didn’t have the star-making night she needed, and Holcomb’s inclusion in the bottom vote-getters still causes concern.