If anyone felt a sense of déjà vu on Wednesday's American Idol, you weren't alone. Like last week, it was the Top 4 girls performing. But the key difference? Someone's definitely going home this week, as host Ryan Seacrest repeatedly assured viewers throughout the broadcast.
With no more remaining saves, sort-of saves, or other shenanigans that the judges could pull out of their sleeves, the final push for Idol's 12th season began in earnest, with the four finalists each performing two songs, from the themes "Songs from 2013" and "Standards," after coaching from guest mentor Harry Connick, Jr. Here's a critique of the performances:
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-"Diamonds" (Rihanna): After footage of a very endearing mentoring session with Connick, during which Angie improvised lyrics to pretend that she knew more of his current material, Angie went back to her sweet spot at the piano for an inventive, calypso-tinged arrangements of the Rihanna radio staple. Keith Urban applauded Angie's creativity, but said the song's original percussive arrangement got a little shortchanged in her version, and Randy Jackson agreed. Nicki Minaj called the performance "bland" and "lackluster," saying that Angie chose to focus on connecting with the audience more (and then forced Mariah Carey to admit that she agreed with her). Well ... we liked it. Grade: A-
-"Somebody to Watch Over Me": The idea behind having the finalists do classic standards, presumably, is to challenge them to make a song that's decades old sound fresh and current. Unfortunately, Angie did not rise up to that challenge with the Ella Fitzgerald number. Though it was a vocally strong performance, the song itself felt dated. The judges disagreed, however, with Urban calling the performance "beautiful" and Minaj comparing Angie to a Disney princess or Broadway star. Grade: B
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-"Just Give Me a Reason" (Pink): Amber admitted to Connick during rehearsals that she was having trouble memorizing the words, and unfortunately that wasn't her only problem during the performance itself. Perhaps because she was concentrating so much on remembering the lyrics, Amber seemed to be holding back when it came to the delivery, often punctuating the ends of her lines with clunky notes and cutting off runs too early. Average karaoke at best. Minaj said Amber felt disconnected, and Jackson suggested that the pressure may be starting to get to the finalists. "That was not stellar, and it needs to be stellar at this point for me," he told her. Grade: C
-"My Funny Valentine" : Amber "had no idea what the song was about," Connick warned during the lead-up to her performance — but he thankfully gave Amber a heads-up that the song wasn't a lighthearted ditty about a goofy guy, and Amber's discovery of the darker undertones of the song served her well in her performance. Though she missed a few notes, the performance was a step up from her Pink cover, and the judges rewarded it with a standing ovation. Her segment took an uncomfortable turn, however, when Amber started crying after she finished singing, saying she felt "overwhelmed." Based on the judges' critique, they seem to have gotten a reality check that, despite their promotion of her, tonight may be Amber's swan song based on viewer votes. "No matter what happens tomorrow, you have a lifetime ahead of you to make incredible moments in music," Minaj told her. Grade: A-
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-"When I Was Your Man" (Bruno Mars): Connick commended Candice's decision to sing a song from the perspective of the opposite gender. The rendition was fairly snoozy, if vocally impressive, and Candice may have been better served to choose a more upbeat number. But the judges ate it up, giving Candice the same fawning reception they reserved for Amber last week. Jackson called the performance "amazing," while Carey asserted, "Candice knows how to take any song and has the musicality to change it to suit her, and that is what separates [her] from almost everybody else in this competition." When it was Minaj's turn, she led the judges in a belated standing ovation and complimented Candice for breaking out of the "old-fashioned" box Minaj had cautioned against last week. Grade: B
-"You've Changed": Again, not sure how "current" this number felt, but Candice destroyed the vocal, fluttering from gritty indignation to whispered heartbreak in the blink of an eye. She also earned the evening's second unanimous standing ovation from the judges' table (and an "in it to win it" proclamation from Jackson). Carey said she'd download the song immediately. Grade: A
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-"See You Again" (Carrie Underwood): To borrow a phrase from the judges, Kree took the Idol alum's song and made it her own. The performance felt a little subdued only because Kree remained seated with a guitarist the whole time. Urban said the arrangement felt a little lacking though Kree's vocals were "faultless" per usual. But Minaj, Jackson and Carey had nothing but good things to say — and it would appear that Kree's newest, biggest fan is none other than Harry Connick Jr. himself, who came out on stage afterwards to congratulate her. Grade: B
-"Stormy Weather": Kree not only looked stunning in a partially sheer black floor-length gown, but she also sang the heck out of the oft-covered standard. She's definitely the one remaining contestant in the competition whose voice is instantly recognizable and unique, especially when she hits those higher notes. The judges all loved the performance, but said Kree may have been better served to choose a song that would have allowed her to show off her bluesy side. According to Minaj at the end of the night, song choice was a problem for all the finalists this week, and "it means so much, whether you're going to put someone to sleep or whether you're going to give a memorable performance." Connick defended his new protégé, however. When Jackson suggested that Kree should have gone with the Etta James version of the song rather than Lena Horne's, he and Connick proceeded to get into a shouting match that Seacrest said made the banter between Carey and Minaj seem "benign." Grade: A-
To close out the night, all four of the girls got together for a group performance of "Wings" by X Factor UK winner Little Mix. So the broadcast ended on a high note, and one that left voters with a tough decision. This is the strongest Top 4 the show has seen in years, if not ever. Who are you voting for? Who do you think will be sent home tomorrow? Weigh in below!
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7 on Fox.