“American Idol”: Viva La Diva

The remaining five princesses take on the hits of their favorite divas.
Whitney is somewhere sweating with pride.

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Well, isn’t this something? Five actual competitors who might actually win American Idol. I’m thunderstruck! We’ve spent so much time waiting for Jimmy Iovine to castrate the five gentlemen applicants with a hot tuning fork that I’d forgotten about the stakes at hand. One of these five dames, in all her bright-eyed, mostly antiquated glory, is going to be the twelfth American Idol and probably land a song or two on the radio. A girl! On the radio! I get it!

This week’s themes: “Year You Were Born” for song one and “Divas” for song two. If American Idol really ruled, the producers would have forced the Top 10 to perform a tribute to divas instead of just the distaff Top 5. Paul Jolley could’ve spun his glittery lariat and performed as his alter-ego Lasso Minnelli! Ugh!

The “Year You Were Born” shtick is an old Idol standard, but one I love. I’d perform a bad-ass “West End Girls”/”Nasty (Boys)” medley and make you all fall in love with 1986 again. But let’s see how the shrieking chanteuses did — here they are, ranked #5-#1.

5. Janelle Arthur, Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” and Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde”

It’s definitely a shame that Janelle picked a song called “Dumb Blonde” the week she giggled and cooed to the camera, “If anybody’s sad out there, [I hope this song] will make them stop cryin’ too!” Oh, honey. Scathingly stupid.

It’s an even bigger shame that Janelle is picking songs from artists right in her comfort zone and striking out on making a big connection with their material. Her take on Vince Gill‘s “When I Call Your Name” certainly had the bleat and misery and buttermilky melancholy of most country standards, but even with her damn guitar, she couldn’t turn the song into a bigtime hootenanny or a cracker barrel fulla fresh hay or whatever the country term for “a success” is. Worse was her take on Dolly Parton’s largely unknown track “Dumb Blonde,” which featured aimless stage choreography and very little Dolly charisma. She SO should’ve chosen “Nine to Five.” Janelle works best on feistier songs, and I’d love to hear her ratatat twang on lines like, “The tide’s gonna turn and it’s all gonna roll you away!” Hell, I’d have loved to see her wear some of Dolly’s 1980 executive realness. Fluff out that limp hair and tie on an ascot, girl! You’re gonna need SPUNK if you plan on tying Dabney Coleman to the ceiling.

4. Angie Miller, The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” and Beyonce’s “Halo”

Look at these two song choices. She is begging to be called unimportant.

Like any homosexual who appreciates the working class swagger of Akron, OH, I adore Chrissie Hynde, but Idol performances of her torchiest jam are always so bland. And so un-Chrissie. Angie’s take on “I’ll Stand By You” was as wide-eyed and effortlessly soulless as you imagine. It appears that Angie’s fans enjoy her strong voice and youthful glow (which is easily my least favorite phrase in existence), but I have big questions about her taste level — including the stench of Christianity that permeates her work like incense in Colton Dixon’s basement — and her originality. Her work on “Halo,” which is (and I swear I’m not making this up just because I’m in the middle of a fierce diatribe) the lamest Beyonce song, was once again well-sung and a step above forgettability. But it also says nothing about her, and I’m forced to throw the word “pageantry” at this performance like my favorite Pacific Sunwear shift manager, Keith Urban.

3. Kree Harrison, The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” and Celine Dion’s “Have You Ever Been in Love”

I have championed Kree’s knack for song choice and her lilting, china-smooth vocals for awhile. I’ve been real nice about it. And now I’m ornery, because Kree was lacking in both of those departments tonight. The bottom line is you can’t take anything away from Kree’s tonal singularity and unadorned stage presence. They’re just there, gently schooling the hell out of Janelle Arthur every week. Janelle has to hate Kree. The judges are like, “Kree, you show up, open your big dark eyes like a Zoloft snowman and make us love you! Every week! YOU melt US.” Janelle goes up and Randy’s like, “You have good yellow hair but at the end of the day, no1curr.”

The problem with designating Janelle as the “worse” country performer and Kree has the “superior” performer is the latter singer is never criticized enough. And this week? Both of Kree’s song choices were Bay Of Pigs-level shameful. “She Talks to Angels” makes me hate 1990, and you know I live for “Vogue,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Hold On,” and MC Skat Kat’s serious moves. Kree was given a fab opportunity to expand her impressive, but stylistically limited songbook, and she opted for yet another track that makes you half-heartedly raise a Zippo lighter in the air, if only to set Janelle Arthur on fire.

A fine vocal on it, though. Not notable for Kree. Same goes for her Celine track, which is — I’m calling it now — the dorkiest song choice of the season. We’re nearing the dorky heights of Scott McEntyre‘s season-eight work on “Mandolin Rain,” which was so staggering in its schmaltziness, I expect Angie Miller to cover at any minute.

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2. Amber Holcomb, Badfinger’s “Without You” and Barbra Streisand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” 

Now, I ain’t deaf. There was a wonky note or two on “Without You,” and my glamor girl Amber “Va-Va-Vamber” Holcomb looked slightly uncomfortable as she chased after the notes on one of Mariah Carey’s most vaunted covers. I give her credit for picking a (still stodgy) tune with more urgency and command than Kree and Janelle’s songs, but I just didn’t think this version was an utter victory for Amber like “Lately” or “She’s Leaving Home.” Fortunately, she compensated like effing gangbusters with a Carnegie Hall-ready take on Barbra Streisand‘s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” First of all: Amber’s statuesque grace. Second of all: Amber’s spellbinding stage presence. Third of all: AMBER, Y’ALL. Amber was belting, cooing, emoting, and daring pins to drop in that auditorium. Best of all, she was the last performer of the night, so she’s almost guaranteed not to go home tomorrow. Thank God the Idol audience is full of preteens who suffer from catastrophic short-term memory less! Because of our national intelligence crisis, Amber will remain in contention.

1. Candice Glover, Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” and Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe”

I’d love to hear an argument against Candice as the night’s greatest performer, because she is the only contestant who chose (at least one) unexpected song, flawlessly sang both of her songs, worked the camera on both occasions (Good going, dame!), and may have matched the sheer LEGENDANZA of the divas she covered. Her cover of “When You Believe” sparked strange and suspiciously on-the-nose Mariah praise from Nicki Minaj, but I admit that Candice matched the vocal of Whitney in a big way.

The real story here is Candice’s cover of “Straight Up,” which adds a wonderful piece to Candice’s credibility as an artist. If you told any of the Idol judges ahead of time that Candice would be performing Paula Abdul‘s skittish, charming hit, they’d have declared the song too light for her talent, but Candice proved something amazing with her jazzy, booming, pitch-fricking-perfect take on the song: She knows herself better than the judges do. She knows herself better than we do. For me, that revelation makes Candice a substantially more thrilling performer than Kree, and almost as effervescent a performer as Amber.

While Andrew Garcia covered “Straight Up” in season 10 and scored unanimous kudos for it, Candice elevated the song to a scorching blues anthem and proved that she can own any song in almost any genre. Randy was wrong to condemn the song’s airiness, but Randy’s been a pretty incisive judge this season, so I won’t stab him. My suggestion? Here’s hoping Paula shows up at the finale and to perform an insane LGBT duet with Candice of “Rush, Rush.” Candice is good enough that a cameo from “Rush, Rush” thespian Keanu Reeves would also be in order. Hurry, lover, come to me!

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