Wednesday was Lennon/McCartney night on American Idol, with the Top 9 hopefuls choosing songs from the Beatles' songbook to perform. Aside from making us feel like dinosaurs because several of the singers had never heard the songs they were performing before (Kids these days!!), the theme night gave the contestants the difficult task of putting their own spin on songs many viewers (of a certain age) hold near and dear to their hearts.
But before that, host Ryan Seacrest announced the results of last week's sing-off between Charlie Askew and Aubrey Cleland for the final spot on the Idol summer tour. The "fan save" slot went to Aubrey. Fortunately Charlie held it together this time and seemed to take his loss in stride.
Thankfully, the show also decided to — finally! — change up the order of the judges' feedback during the performances. Who knew Mariah Carey had more things to say than "I completely agree with everything that's been said."?!
As the competition heats up, however, the pressure seemed to be getting to one contestant, Lazaro Arbos. After a wince-worthy performance of "In My Life" — his second lackluster song in a row after last week's take on Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" — Nicki Minaj noted that Lazaro had a sense of nervousness about him that he hadn't demonstrated in the early rounds. "You are not back to the Lazaro that I remember," Minaj told him afterwards. "Something is bothering you, babe. I need you back."
She might have a point. Lazaro looked visibly upset during the judges' feedback (see below) and struggled to fight back tears as Seacrest comforted him with pats on the back. Is it just the heightened level of competition, or is something else going on? It wasn't a Charlie Askew-level meltdown, but still cause for concern.
To the performances!
Kree Harrison — "With a Little Help From My Friends": What a way to kick off the night! Kree proved that her spot in the Top 3 is so well-deserved with a blistering take on the Beatles' classic. The song started softly and slowly, but eventually soared to a crescendo that blew the judges and the audience away -- quite literally in the case of Keith Urban, who leaned back so far in his chair at one point that he nearly fell out of it. "I thought it was fan-freakin-tastic," Carey told her afterwards. Minaj complimented Kree's newfound sense of fashion and confidence, telling her, "You just have started to become this superstar before our eyes." Grade: A+
Burnell Taylor — "Let It Be": Can we pause for a moment and address the fact that Burnell told Jimmy Iovine he was completely unfamiliar with this number? Okay. With that out of the way, Burnell gave a commendable performance, especially since he didn't know the material. (But seriously — really?!) Still, it was rather snoozy and, perhaps due to his lack of attachment to the song, not nearly as heartfelt or emotional as it could (and should) have been. The judges seemed to be alright with it though, with Minaj praising Burnell for "caressing" the tune and Randy Jackson telling him, "You made it your own. ... This is the mark of a great singer and a great artist." Grade: B-
Amber Holcomb — "She's Leaving Home": Amber was also unfamiliar with the song (hey, at least it's not "Let It Be." Get it together, Burnell!), but that made no difference in her vocal performance. After a slow start, she slayed every note of the ballad with a smooth assurance. Minaj felt otherwise, saying she could tell Amber was mentally questioning the song choice throughout her performance. "Toughen it up and get through it," she advised — along with telling Amber to go back to light-colored lipstick.Urban said it was his favorite Beatles song and, though it had been written 46 years prior, that Amber "made it sound as fresh as if it was just written this week." Grade: B
Lazaro Arbos — "In My Life": Lazaro made the "risky" (according to Iovine) choice to tackle "In My Life," and Iovine's assessment was unfortunately on point. Lazaro struggled with the tempo at times and the performance was, in a word, a little boring at times. Jackson called it Lazaro's "worst performance ever," while Minaj again slammed Iovine's coaching techniques ("I can't take it anymore.") Carey couldn't say much more beyond complimenting Lazaro's "courage" and "bravery" every time he gets on stage, which is Mariah speak for "That sucked." Could the pressure of the competition be getting to him? Grade: C-
Candice Glover — "Come Together": Candice took the sneering attitude of "Come Together" to a whole new level. She's the only performer in the competition who consistently has an absolute command of the stage every time she performs, and that held true on Wednesday. Urban said he was thrilled to see the "rock chick" side of Candice, while Carey compared her to a "prizefighter." Minaj's only advice was for Candice to consistently match the attitude in her face to the sass in her vocals. Grade: A
Paul Jolley — "Eleanor Rigby": This was possibly Paul's best performance in the competition so far, with his breathy vocals at the start of the song giving it an especially haunting quality — but the judges disagreed. Minaj, who looked to be on the verge of a nap during the performance, said flatly that it was "very safe, very bland and forgettable." Jackson told Paul he seemed "disconnected" the whole way through, and Carey suggested he choose a more uptempo pop song at some point. Grade: A-
Angie Miller — "Yesterday": Angie described herself as one of the "theater kids" in high school, and her take on "Yesterday" affirmed that notion, sounding like she was auditioning for Les Miserables with a very theatrical rendition (that was nonetheless powerful and on point musically). Jackson called the performance "stellar," while Carey lauded Miller for offering a "respectful" take on the tune while still making it her own. And the bulk of Minaj's feedback is unknown, since Fox's censors bleeped out her description of Angie's key — though she did say she could see Angie recording Disney soundtracks in her future. Grade: B+
Devin Velez — "The Long and Winding Road": Devin is a great vocalist, but unfortunately this song did nothing to shed his 18-going-on-67 persona, which is getting tiresome. Devin, who landed in the bottom two last week, looks like he'd be more comfortable as a lounge performer on a cruise ship than as a Top 40 singer selling out arenas — and that won't serve him well in this competition. But it did serve him well with the judges panel. "It would be a travesty if you did not go through," Carey told him. "I think Devin is back," Jackson assured. And Minaj once again decided to face off with the Fox censors, making a comment and then taunting, "Ha, ha, ha, you can't bleep that, Fox!" ... which they actually did. The only dissenter was Urban, who addressed Devin's ease (a.k.a. sleepwalking?) during his performances. "Your laid-backness can almost creep into a place of not connecting with me," Urban cautioned. "Your voice carries you a long way, but I need your heart to be in there to engage me as well." Well said! Grade: B-
Janelle Arthur — "I Will": Janelle put a country spin on "I Will" in a flowing white dress and cowboy boots. Jackson called it "one of the best performances of the night," and while we wouldn't go that far, it was still an impressive take. She doesn't have the belting power of Candice or Kree, but Janelle relies more on subtlety and understated vocals. Carey praised the "beautiful, elegant performance" and Minaj apparently finds herself torn between the two country chicks in the competition. "You look like a beautiful swan goddess," she told Janelle. "Can we renew our vows tonight?" Grade: B
So, who will get sent home this week? What's going on with Lazaro? And what do you think Nicki said that got bleeped out? Weigh in below!
American Idol returns Thursday at 8/7c on Fox.