Last night American Idol moved into the live-performance portion of its season, with the 10 remaining female contestants singing for spots in the final in Las Vegas. (Which Ryan kept pronouncing as "Los Vegas," a distraction every time it happened.)
Randy Jackson started off the night with a spiel that this year, unlike previous ones, was one where the female contestants have been hotly tipped. Never mind that he's been saying this since the pre-DeWyze era; American Idol is a place where history is utterly mutable, particularly in the minds of one of the two on-camera personalities with any sort of institutional history. The contestants tonight were okay, for the most part, although they relied way too heavily on balladry in order to make their case. Would it have killed one singer to go uptempo? Sure, it might have required the removal of some Big Notes, but it might have also allowed weaker vocalists like Breanna Steer and Adriana Latonio the chance to show off how they fit into the current pop landscape, instead of the Idol talent-show paradigm.
Despite that, though, it's going to be difficult cutting this group down to five, as dictated by Idol's Parity Mandate. Candice Glover and Kree Harrison were clearly the best and will likely get through because of their placement later in the episode; the other three spots are up for grabs, although one will likely go to Angela "Is America Ready For A Pop Star Named Angie" Miller. Which only leaves two spots for at least four very qualified singers. Or does it? After Candice's performance Randy said something to the effect of, "We might have to have a Wild Card," which would seem to indicate that the judges are going to override any big mistakes made by the viewing public.
The performances, ranked from best to worst:
1. KREE HARRISON. The second singer of the night to take on Faith Hill, Kree tackled "Stronger" and nailed it, receiving hosannas from the judges and a rapturous response from the crowd. Nicki Minaj pointed out her sexiness, which made me so thrilled, as she's not your typical pin-up; Randy trotted out the old "in it to win it" chesnut, which, sigh. As if I couldn't love this big-voiced singer any more, last night a friend of mine told me that she worked at Santa's Pub, which he described as "a triple-wide trailer decorated for Christmas year-round."
2. CANDICE GLOVER. Her transformative performance of John Legend's "Ordinary People" closed out the night—a friend of mine noted that she basically turned the song into something by queen of sumptuous soul Anita Baker—and it just showed how she and Kree are operating on a completely different plane than the rest of the contestants. If she doesn't get into the Top Ten, I'm calling shenanigans.
3. ANGELA (ANGIE?) MILLER. Ooh, stealth Christian singer alert? She took on "Never Gone" by Season 11 heartthrob-for-Jesus Colton Dixon and sent the judges into overdrive, because of course it was proof that Idol Can Mint Serious Artists. Her performance was quite stirring—definitely the best of the first half—but let's hold back on any artistry claims until somebody takes on a track from that last Adam Lambert claim, OK?
4. AMBER HOLCOMB. Taking on Whitney on Idol is always a risk, but Amber acquitted herself nicely on "I Believe In You And Me," showing off her Houston-esque tone on some of the lower notes.
5. TENNA TORRES. Tenna's R&B remake of Faith Hill's "Lost" was a bit overshadowed by Nicki complimenting her cleavage (a shout-out that was foreshadowed by Ryan saying Tenna would "show off her softer side" in her performance), but I liked how it showed her willingness to step outside her comfort zone. Of the "marketable" (read: conventionally attractive) contestants, she's certainly the best.
6. JANELLE ARTHUR. Season 12's other country hope stumbled with a sleepy performance of Elvis Presley's "If I Can Dream," Also, for real, what was she chewing during her judging? Did she have some gum stuck behind her molar the whole time?
7. BREANNA STEER. Her rubber-bandy voice was ill-suited to Beyoncé's "Flaws And All"; her performance showed off just how weak her vocals actually are. Then again, I didn't much care for her "Bust Your Windows" last week, either, but people seemed to go nuts for that.
8. AUBREY CLELAND. She sang "Big Girls Don't Cry," and the judges inexplicably praised her "multiplatinum potential." Listen, judges, if having Rihanna's lack of a range made every attractive woman a gangbusters seller, the music business would be a very different place right now.
9. ZOANETTE JOHNSON. Oh, Zoanette. In her intro package she promised to hold it down for the weirdos, and then she did a terrible job on "What's Love Got To Do With It"—botching the lyrics on the first verse, being all over the map pitch-wise, and throwing the oddness that made her so compelling initially out the window.
10. ADRIANA LATONIO. She sang Destiny's Child's slightly hoary "Stand Up For Love," aged herself by wearing what looked to be a ballgown from 1987, talked about Alaska in her intro to the point where I was wondering if she was cribbing Jewel's interviews from 1996, and was just sort of boring. Being sandwiched between Kree and Candice didn't do her any favors, either, and when Nicki told her to "come back next year," I winced. But was that comment actually a way to galvanize her fanbase into calling and texting and Facebook-voting for her? We'll see Thursday!
HOW I VOTED: I used the fancy new Idol app because I am into technology and also lazy—casting 50 votes with a couple of clicks instead of a bunch of calls and texts is so easy! I posted my ballot as soon as my votes went through: 25 votes for Kree; 10 votes each for Candice and Angie; five for Amber.
WHO'S PROBABLY GOING TO GO THROUGH: Kree, Angie, Candice, Amber. And Adriana probably will, as well; don't underestimate the Pinoy Power as far as Idol goes. It's probably worth noting, too, that Zoanette is the Vote For The Worst pick.
WHO WILL GET ROBBED: Janelle, probably; she's strong but her performance last night was pretty off. Not Amber, I hope! But the judges might just select two women to go through as wild cards, since this is The Year Of The Lady and all.
TONIGHT: Ten people who the producers want to see lose perform—that's right, it's the male contestants' turn!