American Idol Recap: Reviewing the Top 5

Amber Holcomb conquers Streisand.
Amber Holcomb conquers Streisand.

After watching American Idol last night, it’s beyond evident who should be in the final two. In fact, I’ve felt this way since the Top 10. There are two girls that simply outshine the rest with their voice, stage presence, and exemplary taste in music. No way in heck is America going to follow through with this just course of action, but I thought I’d make it known here who I am rooting for (and have been for quite some time) for the remainder of the season. With that said, it’s time to take the plunge and critique the five women still standing. Whatever happens in the end will outweigh the bad since the new Idol crown will at last be worn by a female. All five girls deserve their placement in the Top 5, and all are winners in my estimation. Okay, enough with the sappy talk — let’s review!

5. Janelle Arthur (“When I Call Your Name” & “Dumb Blond”) — I feel bad jumping aboard the “Janelle hate train” that the judges purchased first class seats on, but my ears don’t lie! Janelle’s cover of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” was sentimental and sweet, but it was a tribute that did nothing for her growth as an artist. This was basically the country equivalent of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” performance for JFK, except of course without the sexual innuendo. I was thoroughly bored and couldn’t wait for the performance to end. I too agree with Keith about the use of the guitar — her strumming on those chords placed invisible weights on my eyelids. We’ve been there, done that before, Janelle. Please don’t let me go on another minute-and-a-half siesta ever again during Idol. Janelle’s second song was even worse. Of all the songs in Dolly Parton’s discography, she opts for the one with the stupidest — no pun intended — title? This was a preschool performance that felt incredibly sloppy and slightly sweaty. It needed a good shower to rinse off that dirty phrasing. Again, Janelle’s personality can beam through the sun…but so what? Like Randy said, imperfect vocals like what Janelle showcased are inexcusable at this stage of the competition. I have to grade her on a curve thanks to Lazaro, but believe me when I say this was the button-nosed, cutie patootie’s worst week of the competition to date. Top 5 is a bad time to botch two out of two performances.

Performance Reviews: “When I Call Your Name” (**½), “Dumb Blond” (**)

4. Angie Miller (“I’ll Stand By You” & “Halo”) — I have to concur with MJ fom MJSBigBlog and Michael Slezak from I simply did not get the love for Angie last night. Her intention was in the right place with the selection of The Pretenders’ megahit track, especially in light of the recent Boston marathon tragedy, but objectively speaking the arrangement was borderline atrocious. It was far too aggressive for such a tender melody, and Angie’s excessive use of vibrato distracted from the genuine emotion that should be unearthed from the song. There were also far too many runs and riffs, and now her piano performances are starting to become clones of each other. Angie improved on her second performance, taking on Beyonce’s earth-shattering ballad “Halo,” but I still saw an immature performer putting on her high heels, pretending to be the diva she’s far from becoming. I will say though, her opening notes were spot-on perfect, but when the song sped up in tempo and kicked into the chorus, her voice didn’t have the power to drown out the band or backup vocalists. I should score Angie lower for her affected delivery of “Halo” but that opening verse won’t leave me alone…and I kind of don’t want it to.

Performance Reviews: “I’ll Stand By You” (**½) and “Halo” (***)

By the way, THIS is how you slay The Pretenders:

3. Kree Harrison (“She Talks to Angels” & “Have You Ever Been in Love”) — Kree is perhaps the most consistent of the bunch, but rarely does she rise to greatness. This was another week where she just fell short of having a “moment.” That said, my newfound love for Kree hasn’t completely subsided. I absolutely agreed with Nicki about her Black Crowes’ performance. The arrangement felt contemporary and even a bit dangerous, in that flirty type of way. Let’s put it this way: It was sexily angelic. Kree’s problem is that the songs she chooses — not to mention the way she performs them — don’t leave a strong imprint in our memory banks. I always remember that Kree is good, but her performances blur together for me and are often on the edge of forgettable. “Have You Ever Been in Love” was Kree’s greatest vocal challenge yet and for the most part she coped well. There were some shrill and not-so-pretty-moments, especially when she went for those squeal notes. However, her soulful timbre added some much needed personality to Celine Dion’s record, and I especially loved the way she finished each verse. Every line had a twist and an emotional tug that couldn’t be fought. Unfortunately, Kree’s vacant expression awkwardly contrasted the angst in her voice. Kree needs to stand in front of a mirror and work on making her eyes come to life. I know she has it in her, since they were ablaze during both performances last week. No matter what, though, Kree’s vocal chops and consistency keep her well ahead of Angie and Janelle.

Performance Reviews: “She Talks to Angels” (***); “Have You Ever Been in Love” (***)

2. Amber Holcomb (“Without You” and “What Are You Doing the Rest Of Your Life?”) — Now we’ve reached the best of the best on this season of Idol. Yes, I will readily admit that Holcomb’s version of “Without You” was the worst performance she’s ever given us, but 60% of the song still made more of an impression on me than 80% of Janelle and Angie’s combined Idol resume. Amber’s issue in the first half was that she wasn’t putting any muscle on her low notes. They were hit correctly but delivered in an unfeeling, robotic manner. Maybe it was nerves or maybe Amber just didn’t understand the dynamism the first half of that song can have if tweaked correctly. Nevertheless, her high notes were splendid if a bit emotionally vacant. Amber redeemed herself at the end with a mesmerizing glory note that jumped from one intergalactic quadrant to the next. Divas are known for their powerful finishing moves, and Amber’s conclusion was right in line with that trademark, fully atoning the disappointing first section. Now I have to tell you the story of when Amber Holcomb met Barbra Streisand. It’s long-winded but to summarize, it began with a conversation, rose to two divas sparring in a vocal duel of the century, and ended with Barbra Streisand bowing down to her challenger in defeat. Okay, that’s extreme, but Amber did tackle a song with the highest degree of difficulty in all twelve seasons of Idol and executed it with effortless aplomb. Every one of Amber’s notes had a 4.0 GPA, but she added an extracurricular near the end that bumped it up to a 4.6667. I’m not sure we’ve borne witness to such technical precision on Idol before, but I felt thoroughly educated after Amber’s performance. With “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” Amber conducted a senior seminar on how to SANG. Amber’s connectivity has never been stronger, and I truly believe this is her at her most musically genuine. Jazzy, sophisticated, youthful and current: Miss Amber Flippin’ Holcomb.

Performance Reviews: “Without You” (***), “What Are You Doing the Rest Of Your Life?” (****)

1. Candice Glover (“Straight Up” and “When You Believe”) — Although Amber delivered the best vocal of the evening — and the second-best of the season — Candice Glover still reigned supreme with two straight-up, unbelievable song choices (see what I did there?) that played to her strengths, of which she has many. Her funky and playful version of “Straight Up” actually grated out the cheesier elements contained in the original song. Candice’s creativity never ceases to amaze me, and this was probably my favorite upbeat performance of hers thus far. Candice is so comfortable in her own skin on that stage that it’s crazy to think she isn’t already a national icon. Candice is the only contestant this season who always espouses believable emotion, unlimited originality, and incredible range. If Candice isn’t the next big thing in the world after the show is over, America seriously has a deficiency when it comes to spotting talent. I can see Candice winning an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy, an Emmy, you name it. There’s nothing tall enough in this world that Candice’s talent can’t high-jump over. Candice’s second performance of “When You Believe” paid respect to the original writer’s melody but once again the girl was unafraid to make some wise adjustments. You all know how much I adore ‘The Prince of Egypt,’  but its Oscar-winning song “When You Believe” was never a favorite of mine…until last night that is. Candice transcended the song’s universal message of faith and hope, but her contemporary spin kept it from sounding hokey or boring like it usually does. If Amber Holcomb is the Whitney Houston of Season 12, Candice Glover is the Mariah Carey. She knows how to emote but still finds ways to impress with gorgeous vocal nuance. My only issue with Candice’s rendition of “When You Believe” was her diction. She almost never has a problem in that area, but I think performing Mariah’s own song in front of her might have rattled Candice’s confidence a bit. Candice didn’t enunciate her words with the clarity I’m accustomed to hearing from her. It’s a minor issue overall since the sum of both performances outweighed all that we saw from Candice’s other four competitors. America, once again you’d be crazy not to put Candice in the finale after two weeks of four back-to-back magnificent performances.

Performance Reviews: “Straight Up” (***½) and “When You Believe” (***½)

Bottom Two Prediction: Kree Harrison and Janelle Arthur

Going Home: Janelle Arthur

Well, that’s it for my Idol recap! Sound off below in the comments and please tell me who your Top 2 of the competition are. Am I being too hard on Janelle and Angie? Too ignorant of Kree’s talent? I can take the heat, so please don’t hesitate to vocalize your opinions!

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Written by Joseph Braverman

My name is Joseph Braverman. I am 31 years old and a graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. I love watching and analyzing films and television shows. I live in Los Angeles, CA, enmeshing myself in the movie industry scene in any way possible. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @JBAwardsCircuit.


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Very nice article, Joseph. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the videos and reading what you wrote. Keep it coming!

O Jay

After watching that night’s episode, 3 things became very obvious: 1. Janelle was going home. She basically threw in the towel when she sang those two songs, which did nothing for her vocally. She should have sang Jolene, Coat of Many Colors, or even Parton’s version of I Will Always Love You (which I love). I did enjoy her save song (where she sounded more alive than ever) and was hoping for the save. Then the next week two would go home, which would allow her and Amber to go home due to vote splitting (please refer to #3). 2.… Read more »



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