Wednesday, May 1, 2013

American Idol 12 Recap & Review - Top 4 Encore - The Music of Now & Then

Well, we learned that the performances and voting were all for naught last week, for the Producer's Twist was that no one was going home, something many of us saw in the cards due to the remaining broadcast schedule. But in the lamest of seasons to date, the 'big' news was that the show would adhere to the schedule, and the expected non-elimination would happen. This week they asked the contestants to come up with songs that apply to the theme 'Now & Then', meaning picking a hit song from 2013, as well as a classic song from the Great American Songbook. We will find out if the new performances can change up the voting order, as last week Angie and Kree were the Top 2, while Amber and Candice filled out the Bottom 2. Can the producers and the judges convince the voters to keep the skinny girls around? Only time will tell. After all, they are going to have to send someone home this week, aren't they? Before we find out, the Top 4 will have to sing for survival...

American Idol Season 12 Top 4 photo AmericanIdol-Top4-Hometowns_zps2c5365f2.jpg
Clockwise: Candice Glover; Kree Harrison; Amber Holcomb; and Angie Miller.

The show starts out with a clip of the non-elimination last week, and the emotions it brought out. Judges were hugging contestants, and they were hugging one another. But it means it is time to get down to business, for the performances tonight and next week will decide who is going to the finals. The announcer brings out Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Keith Urban, followed quickly by Crusty, who announces not only will the energy be up this week, but the ladies will be coached by Harry Connick, Jr, and Crusty also tells us the two themes for the night; first the ladies will sing a hit song from 2013, and then will follow that up with a song from yesterday, a classic standard. Connick certainly has a history with both, having gained popularity as a crooner, as well as making music of his own. The performances kick off with Angie Miller singing “Diamonds” by Rihanna. She tells Harry she will be mixing it up, and putting her own spin on it. But first, let's hear Rihanna singing "Diamonds".

Angie and Harry are cutting it up, but it went on a bit too long. For the performance, the production is stripped back, with Angie on the piano to make the judges happy. I am not loving the arrangement, for the song was sluggish enough without adding to it. While she stays in tune for much of the song, toward the end she starts to strain, and falls off key. Keith didn't love the performance, felt it didn't go anywhere. It felt too stripped back for him. Nicki felt it was lackluster, like she was playing more to the cameras than from her heart. Basically, Randy and Mariah agreed, although Mariah refused to say she agreed with Nicki, prompting more articles about the panel, and not the singers, I am sure. Pardon me while I roll my eyes. After the commercial break, we see Amber Holcomb meeting with Harry, telling him she will be singing “Just Give Me A Reason”, originally sung by Pink and Nate Ruess. Amber forgets the words as she was singing for Harry, but he doesn't care, he just loves her voice. This is Pink and Nate Ruess singing "Just Give Me A Reason".

The song starts off in a nice place for her voice, showing some nice support. But the performance overall is a bit hollow, with the chorus being just a bit too staccato, almost sing-song. She did stay on key better than usual, although there were a few notes that strayed. It was fairly dull, and seemed like the wrong choice of songs to sing. Nicki didn't love it either, and felt it was lacking. Randy thought she looked nervous, or maybe preoccupied. She admits to being nervous about the lyrics. Mariah tried to brush off the mediocrity, looking forward to the next song. Keith loves her voice, but didn't love the performance. After what seemed like an endless commercial break, Crusty brought out Candice Glover for her first song of the night. In the video, Candice tells Harry she will be singing “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars. She wants to tell a story, not be the subject of the song. Well, cause she's not a man. Harry is trying really hard to be funny, and seems like he is trying too hard. But soon it is over, so let me share Bruno Mars singing "When I Was Your Man".

She is in exceptional voice, and plans to show that to everyone. The first verse sounds a bit nervous, but that soon disappears, and she delivers the goods. She puts an R&B spin on it, and really is able to soar on it. Randy loved it, and so did Mariah. She thought it was exceptional, and Keith didn't care about the gender bending, she sounded great. Nicki thought they were remiss for not giving her a standing ovation, and so Randy and Keith joined her in one for Candice. After they were done, Mariah stood to flicks some glitter at her, getting her own moment. Frankly, I thought Candice deserved more attention than the judges... Crusty tells us that after the break, it will be time to see Kree Harrison, who will be singing a song that Carrie Underwood sang on that stage just a few weeks ago. In the video clip, Kree tells Harry she will be singing “See You Again”. After she sang it for him, he loved it, and told her not to change a friggin' note. Here is Carrie singing "See You Again".

She begins the song with a sweet and warm tone to her voice, and it stays there. She sounds fantastic, and the song reacts well to her sparse arrangement. This allows her voice to be front and center, and she sounds amazing. I thought she was brilliant, and put Kree and Candice in a dead heat after the first round. Mariah loved it, and felt she was magnificent, and sounded so authentic. Keith didn't agree, and felt there was a disconnect between the song and the performance. Nicki thought Kree was totally connected to the song, and she loved it. Randy agreed, and thought her voice was flawless. Even Harry Connick, Jr, had to come out to say how much he loved the performance. As he was announcing the numbers, Crusty called her Kreedom, as if Nicki was now giving them all new names... If the first four performances featured the music of 'now', the next four will feature the music of 'then', as the contestants picked a classic standard from the Great American Songbook, just so we don't get to thinking they can seem current the whole show. As we start the rotation again, Angie is back with Harry, and tells him she will sing “Someone To Watch Over Me”. It was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin from the 1926 musical 'Oh, Kay!', where it was introduced by Gertrude Lawrence. This is a recording by Sarah Vaughan from 1958.

Angie dedicates it to her Mom, who used to sing it around the house. She does a simple arrangement, soft and sweet. She begins nicely, but soon the slowed tempo of the song reveals her voice to be a bit uneven, and at times get covered by the band, while at other moments strains too be over the top. There were times her vibrato got a little abrasive, battering. Keith loved it, even if it did feel so old fashioned. Nicki thought she was like a Disney Princess, and how she only seemed engaged during the high end of her voice. Randy loved her vocals, even if he hated the arrangement. Mariah tried to disagree with Nicki, and lost the singer in the mix. After a break, Crusty reminds us the votes from last week are being added to those of last week for the results tomorrow night. In the video clip, Amber tells Harry she is singing “My Funny Valentine”, first recorded by Mitzi Green in the MGM Musical 'Babes In Arms'. It was written for the 1937 Broadway show by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. When she starts singing, Harry recognizes she doesn't understand the song at all, so he explains it to her. Connick thinks she has a beautiful voice, and hopes she connects with (and understands) the song in performance. But before that, give a listen to this recording by Ella Fitzgerald from 1956.

As she starts singing, I don't really see a difference. She has plenty of vocal tricks, but again they seem more like a crutch than an expression. It was very paint by numbers, but I didn't feel it coming from her heart. It was fairly hollow. Of course, the judges greeted her with a standing ovation, and they loved it. They thought it was great the first time she sang it (with no understanding of the lyrics whatsoever), and even better now (after Harry explained it to her). She cries a little, and they try to lift her up. But they do seems to have come to the realization she was the weakest of the night, and stands a good shot at going home. Crusty chats with Harry in the audience, and he disagrees with the judges, and felt the run at the end of Amber's performance distracted from the song. Soon we see Candice going to see Harry again, telling him she will be singing “You’ve Changed”, originally written by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer in 1941. It was first released by Harry James's band with vocals by Dick Haymes. Harry helps her to simplify her performance, to mean what she is singing. Listen to this amazing version of the song recorded by Billie Holiday in 1958.

She comes out in perfect voice, and connects with the lyrics. She is singing from the heart, and her emotions are on her sleeve. There is an ebb and flow to the performance, and it was fantastic. Even when she brought some runs in the end, they were tied to emotion, not acrobatics. Randy loved it, and took the moment to tell Harry he is wrong (when he wasn't), and doesn't know what he is talking about (even if Connick was brought in as the expert mentor). Mariah thought it was brilliant, so touching and textured. Keith loved it, and Nicki thought no more was needed, and tossed it to Crusty. He reminded us that we still have Kree to sing tonight. In her clip with Harry, Kree tells him she will be singing “Stormy Weather”, a song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Ethel Waters first sang it at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem in 1933 and recorded it that year. He tells her to cut the pyrotechnics, and sing the damn song. The song became a signature song for great Lena Horne after she sang it in the 1943 film of the same name, so enjoy her performance here.

She comes out looking beautiful, and sounded fantastic. Her tone is so crisp and so clear, and she sticks to the melody for most of the song. She puts in some embellishments toward the end, and gave it a Country feel to it. I thought it was stunning. Mariah is unsure it was the right song, going for something more bluesy. Keith thinks it was the wrong song as well. Nicki has a problem with Harry, and with song choice. Randy basically says Harry was wrong and taking them in a wrong direction, and she must be herself. And that means doing the Etta James version of the song. Harry gets hilarity of that statement, and even Nicki does, but it still seems lost on Randy. I am not sure, but I think Harry just nailed his audition to be a judge for American Idol Season 13. After all was said and done, they talked Kree down, while telling her her vocals were stellar. After a break, the ladies came down the aisles with their own dancers in two, and they were singing “Wings” by Little Mix.

This was nice, but sure sounded not live. It had a very 'Up With People' feeling, and not really connected to the rest of the show. It is time to recap, it comes down to the fact that Candice and Kree were the two best for the night for me. It wasn't close. There is a big gap, and then Angie's performances. At the bottom is Amber, who I suspect will be leaving tomorrow night. No amount of blowing smoke is going to make it sound any different to me. Of course, one never knows until the results are read on Thursday night, at 8PM. Well, to be honest, at 8:55PM on your local Fox station.


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