It's probably not too much of a surprise that American Idol is causing Nicki Minaj to chafe a bit. The brightly hued MC came up throwing elbows and dropping sex-charged verses to put herself at the head of the Young Money boys' club; while the prospect of being on TV every week and shaping a future star probably lured her into the Idolverse, watching as twentysomethings hoarily cover songs twice their age has to be a bit... disappointing.
So far most of her acting out has been in the form of talking a lot—shouting out her Barbz, sniping at Mariah Carey, talking over Keith Urban, getting into vociferous disagreements with Randy Jackson. But last night she got a little saucy; when critiquing Angie Miller's yelly, oversung performance of "Yesterday" she warned the censors before saying "pussy," which I think was a shot at other singers who might have taken their arrangements down a key and not hit as many big notes. Then, when talking to Devin after his decent "The Long And Winding Road," she got bleeped again, this time while complimenting the piano player. (Say "pianist" out loud. Get it??) Who knows if she'll get a slap on the wrist or be encouraged to engage in wordplay that's more in line with the fast-talking innuendo she commits to records as a result of all this, although Mariah's nod to her Lambz last night makes me wonder if there's going to be some sort of fan showdown on a results episode in the coming weeks.
Perhaps it was fitting that these small acts of defiance came during Idol's Beatles-themed week, which when it first happened seemed like a big deal but which has had severely diminishing returns since. As Keith (whose running joke that every song performed was his "favorite" Beatles cut was cute) noted, the songs are 40-plus years old, and the arrangements of some of them by the Idol band made them seem even moreso. (Kudos to Sir George Martin.) And the overreliance on ballads not just last night, but this year, has made this year's Idol crop seem a lot older than they all are—Devin Velez, the most Lite-FM-ready of all the singers, is only 18! Technically, two of the selections last night weren't ballads ("Come Together" and "With A Little Help From My Friends"), although one was performed in power-ballad form. If only Charlie Askew (who, we learned last night, lost the tour spot to Aubrey Cleland) was still around! He probably would have done a super-fun version of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or forced the band to perform the Breeders cover of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun." Oh well.
Last night, from best to not:
1. Candice Glover. The Barbz love Candice. The audience loves Candice. Hell, I would have loved Candice solely for picking "Come Together" instead of one of the Fab Four's slower songs. But she also completely owned it; she strutted up and down the stage, hit every note, and acted like a star. This year is hers to lose, unless the Lazaro Sympathy Vote gets way too carried away. I was sorta worried that we were going to have another Steven Tyler run-in, what with Aerosmith's history of swaggering through the track, but I guess the producers only want him to show up if he's in drag.
2. Burnell Taylor. The package preceding Burnell's performance of "Let It Be" legitimately worried me, with Jimmy Iovine freaking out over how he'd never heard the song and had to learn it from scratch in a week. But his take on the song was gorgeous, with his voice opening up on the lines about Mother Mary in a stunning, reverent way.
3. Kree Harrison. Kree started off the night with "With A Little Help From My Friends," a song that in the Idol context can only give me flashbacks to Lee DeWyze singing "What would you do if I sang out of tune?" out of tune during the Season Nine finale. (Love you, Crystal Bowersox.) Kree's version, however, was exactly on point, powerful yet restrained enough to build; that she went at the beginning of the show set a good tone for the evening, although I hope it didn't make her recede in the minds of voters. And the stylists freed her from blazer purgatory, hooray!
4. Devin Velez. The military-school alum (!) performed "The Long And Winding Road" and used it to show off the lovely grain in his voice. It wasn't world-changing, but it was
5. Paul Jolley. Apparently I am in the minority for enjoying Paul's sorta-Broadwayish take on "Eleanor Rigby." It seems like he took a couple of phrasing cues from David Cook, although that could be my vision of him as this year's White Guy With Guitar Stand-In talking. But I think he's charming and cute and the judges' disdain for him was oddly placed.
6. Janelle Arthur. A totally passable countrified take on "I Will" that would not have been out of place on a '70s variety show.
7. Amber Holcomb. Ooh, I did not like her version of "She's Leaving Home" one bit—the backup singers, the big notes, the arrangement, it all felt off to me, making a sweet, mournful song way bigger than it should have been. This might be the problem with taking on such ingrained-in-the-memory songs as the ones by the Beatles, though; each imperfection will only make the comparisons with the original come up more short. But I'm wondering: Who picked the song for her? Nicki let it slip that Amber wasn't in charge of her song selection during the judging. If whoever is pulling the strings is reading this, PLEASE STOP WITH THE BALLADS, IT IS SO BORING. THANK YOU.
8. Angie Miller. I don't know what it is about the evolution of The Former Angela, but she's become more pageanty as the weeks have gone on, and the charm that she had when she was behind the piano has receded. Who's whispering all this bad advice in her ear? Her histrionic version of "Yesterday" stripped that well-worn song of its charm and hit my ear like a freshly sharpened pencil. Angie: We get that you can hit the high notes, but that's not what made you get this far, and your charm is slipping away.
9. Lazaro Arbos. "In My Life" is one of the Beatles' toughest songs to recreate; it's as delicate as a piece of antique lace, with the acoustic guitar threading the harmonies. Which means that it is definitely the wrong song for the overblown world of American Idol unless you're one of those singers who can overrule the music director and come up with your own arrangement. Lazaro is not that contestant, and worse, he was just completely unsuited for this song; his phrasing was awkward, his high notes forced. Although perhaps there were shenanigans afoot: After his critiques—which were nice in that "uh, well, we don't want to be too mean" way until Randy came out swinging—he tearfully told Ryan that he'd changed his song not 24 hours earlier.
HOW I VOTED: 18 for Burnell, 12 for Candice, 12 for Kree, 8 for Paul (I know, I know, but see below).
WHO'S PROBABLY GOING TO GO HOME: If the audience has any real compassion it'll be Lazaro, but I worry that the harsh judging and his reaction to it afterward will fire up the sympathy votes. So maybe Paul or Janelle.
Tonight: Ne-Yo and Jessica Sanchez debut their remake of "Give Me Everything," the song the fedora'd R&B singer helped make ubiquitous on the charts for a good chunk of 2011 and 2012! Casey Abrams returns! And someone goes home.