Welcome to Week In Review, American Idol edition, where fellow writer Nick Roman and I will give our stance on this week’s performances and results on Idol.
Disagreements? Think something different? Join us in the comments!
Whose chances of going further have improved?
Angie Miller. Of the four, she remains the only contestant who hasn’t appeared in the bottom 3. That makes her the odds-on favorite at this point, if she wasn’t already. She also had a very strong night. While we don’t feel that any of her performances were total knockouts, they were all quite good, in their own way. And also distinct from each other, while still being in Angie’s wheelhouse. It was probably her best night in the competition since semifinals. Like Nicki said Angie Miller was back. She is definitely in the competition.
Whose chances have decreased?
Kree Harrison. The judges/Jimmy have completely broken up with her for some reason. Sure, her song choice occasionally leaves something to be desired, but her vocals are ALWAYS on-point, and Nick doesn’t feel they give her enough credit for imbuing her performances with emotion. I will say however at some times I do feel like her performances may be just a little bit disconnected (the head-bobbing during last week) but that could be chalked up to song choice as well.
So while she was in the top 2 this week, Candice Glover and Amber Holcomb might get slight bumps from their bottom 2 showings, which means Kree could be in trouble. And even if she isn’t, she’s no longer the frontrunner she once was, given the tongue-lashing she’s received from the judges (but more on that later).
Best performance of the week?
Candice’s classy, cool, smooth interpretation of Drake’s “Find Your Love” showed that Candice isn’t just a singer, she’s a fully-formed artist in her own right. Between the arrangement, and her vocal choices (those runs! Her phrasing!), Candice continues to be the contestant in the competition who always has us wondering what she’ll do next. #CANDICEFTW
Worst performance of the week?
The backlash would have been as vitriolic against Amber this week if the judges had just called a spade a spade: “MacArthur Park” was seriously awful. The fact that “The Power of Love” was only slightly better (but still among the bottom 2 performances of the night) made the judges’ subsequent tongue bath all the more perplexing. e get that they want to sign her, and that “current” isn’t so much a style of singing so much as it is an aura in itself. We also get that, within that definition, Amber probably is the most current of the contestants. But you’d never be able to tell from the frizzled, Whitney-esque hairdo she was wearing during her first performance, or the 80s retro chic she’s sported in the past. But again, we realize that being current is more than dressing the part, and she HAS worn some good outfits in recent weeks. But there are other issues at hand. For instance, it would be one thing if her song choices were dated, but she proceeds to do absolutely nothing with the arrangement or the vocal. Why did “MacArthur Park” need the disco arrangement of Donna Summer? Why did “The Power of Love” need the soft rock stylings of Celine Dion’s version? Both songs could have been awesome if she’d just had a single guitarist onstage with her, playing them out as simple, mournful dirges. Or swap out a guitarist for a pianist. Or, at least swap out a pianist with the elegant orchestra surrounding her last week for “What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life.” Just do what you can to separate the arrangement as best you can from the original and let your voice make it sound current, without having to fight against the mothball aroma of a dated arrangement. Amber tried to replicate the bombast of the original artists and failed out loud. Not that the critiques reflected it. But hey, the voting did. So maybe the judges and co. will ease up on the Premature Victory Parade next week, because while we are sure Amber is an unimpeachably sweet girl with a good head on her shoulders, neither of her vocals constituted a top 4 performance. And it’s kind of a shame, since it’s not even like it’s the least bit her fault that it’s become Amber-ican Idol.
Most disappointing performance of the week?
Candice and Angie’s duet on “Stay” should have been one of the performances of the season, yet a combination of the band being far too loud and the girls not blending together all that well meant it ended up coming across as a bit of a mess. Not bad, just not what it should have been. This honestly should have been a performance of epic proportions yet it was anything but that. Nick also hated the soft rock arrangement, as it strips the song of the intimacy that makes it so effective.
How much do the judges’ comments actually matter to voting patterns?
Warning, Nick’s rant ahead:
In the past, I felt as though America paid far more attention to the judges than they do now. A word of compliment from Simon could have America buying into a contestant as a future superstar. (Although Lee DeWyze would probably tell you otherwise) Meanwhile, a word of rebuke could send the fans of the dissed contestant to the phone lines to dial furiously to save their favorite. The opinions didn’t always result in America following the judges’ lead, but you at least got the sense that the opinions mattered. However, that’s not really the case anymore, as I’ve noticed a trend over the last three seasons (honestly, probably since season 9, actually) where fans seem inherently less trustful of the judges. It wasn’t necessarily that people felt they didn’t know what they were talking about (though there was much of that too), but instead that the judges have grown somewhat soft. They were becoming too easily impressed. In the age of standing ovations, audiences have sort of grown accustomed to the effusive praise of certain contestants, the anointed chosen ones, to the point where it has little, if any, meaning at all. The only time the judges’ opinions seem to matter is when the transparency of their agenda shines through. Look, Idol has always been a manipulative show. The producers have always had their favorites, and they’ve always done what they could to keep the ones they like while bussing the ones they don’t. But I don’t think they’ve ever been this blatant about it. In fact, I’d argue it’s a fair share of why ratings have been on a steady downward trend.
If not necessarily unfair, Idol simply comes across as a dishonest show these days. In the past, the best contestants might not always have won, but they at least had a shot in front of America. Would I have liked to have seen Katelyn Epperly, Lily Scott and Alex Lambert make the top 12 in season 9? Absolutely. But America didn’t get behind them, and we were left with what we got. And that’s fair, because they had an opportunity to get there, and the show wasn’t so scared at the prospect of another male winner that they didn’t stack the odds to try to prevent it from happening. Yet I don’t know that any of the males they put through to voting rounds had a viable chance at the win. I seriously can’t imagine a scenario where any of the top 20 guys would have won this show, or even have had much of a chance against these girls. Maybe it’s an indictment against the guys they cast, or praise of the girls they found. But outside of the occasional burst of realness from Nicki or wisdom from Keith, the judges’ opinions have been totally co-opted by the producers, to where they simply come across as little more than a sounding board for the narrative they’re trying to tell. If you like Amber, there’s nothing stopping you from signing her after she’s voted off. But if you keep shoving her down America’s throat, then you might find she’ll be less profitable for you as a winner or runner-up than she would have been as, say, a sixth-place finisher.
But back to the question at hand: no, I don’t think the judges’ opinions matter anymore. At least not to America, unless it’s to rebel against the narrative they’re trying to sell. I suppose it matters to the contestants, but because these are judges and not coaches, the advice is always really vague, like “pick better songs” or “connect more”. They can’t really shape these contestants because they’re supposed to be objective arbiters of taste. Yet, looking at an episode like Wednesday night’s performance show, there’s almost no way for most of America to take them seriously anymore. I understand that judges will always be around in singing competitions, but I wonder if a Voice model might not be better for the show, where the judges take an active role in mentoring all the contestants. No teams necessarily, just the contestants getting the chance to meet with each judge every week. Sure, it wouldn’t allow Nigel to use the judges to force a narrative onto the competition, but I’m of the opinion that it would make for much better television.
Song suggestions for Now and Then (One Standard and One Song From 2013):
Kree: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland or “Crazy” by Patsy Cline for Then, and “Catch My Breath” by Kelly Clarkson or “Wanted You More” by Lady Antebellum for Now.. Although Nick said he thinks he’d lose my mind if she did “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran (#16 on Billboard Hot 100 in 2013).
Candice: “At Last” by Etta James or “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole for Then, and for Now? It would be great if she could find a way to do “If I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars and just say “to hell” with the gender discrepancy. She could also slay “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake, but we can’t remember anytime his songs were on Idol – so they may not be cleared.
Amber: “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles or “Who Can I Turn To?” by Shirley Bassey for Then, and “Next to Me” by Emeli Sande or “Diamonds” by Rihanna (released in 2012 but charting at #2 in 2013) for Now.
Angie: “Moon River” or “Someone to Watch Over Me” for Then, and “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift or “Try” by Pink for Now.