Last night on American Idol, the Top 7 tackled one hell of a great theme: Rock Week/No Ballads. It was rumored that the contestants could only choose classic rock songs to sing, but the last performance of the night obviously stated otherwise. I love all different genres of music, but rock is where my heart is at, especially classic rock. My dad was a hippie of sorts in the 1960s, so growing up the discography in my household consisted of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. Those bands and other rock legends not mentioned are musical education at its finest, so thank you, dad, for instilling in me the greatest music known to mankind. I don’t expect the Idols to instantly transform into the next Bon Jovi or Freddie Mercury; all I want is for them to live inside the song and embrace the anthemic, hardcore melodies while simultaneously transcending that same raw emotion. Only two brought it home on Rock Week, but it was still a good show nonetheless. Let’s recap…
7. Burnell Taylor, “You Give Love a Bad Name” — First off, no Idol contestant should ever select this song since Blake Lewis slayed it with a killer beatboxing arrangement back in Season Six. Burnell chucked his infectious personality and mannerisms out the window on this ill-suited track, and instead delivered the most sober karaoke performance to date. He was constantly behind the beat and his normally dynamic instrument remained tritely one-note for the song’s entire duration. Maybe Burnell heard the Bon Jovi smash one time and fell in love with it, but it’s become clear to me that the kid’s lack of musical knowledge severely limits himself on this show. Furthermore, Burnell looks uncomfortable when changing to a faster tempo, which ultimately means he’ll have a difficult time topping the charts in a post-Idol world. People aren’t going to turn on the radio and listen to ballad, after ballad, after ballad like we do every week on Idol. Uptempo tracks are what sell, so Burnell has to first adapt to the current music scene before he can sell tickets to his future concert.
Performance Review: (**)
6. Lazaro Arbos, “We Are the Champions” — It’s crazy to admit that Lazaro’s performance was stronger than Burnell’s, but like Randy said…it’s hard to argue with the evidence presented. Lazaro’s voice was still drowned out by the backup vocalists, especially on the choruses, but he remembered the words and for once I felt him connect with his lyrics. So often people cover Freddie Mercury and foolishly try and emulate his one-of-a-kind register, forgetting to emote in the process. Lazaro’s verses had some dramatic flair to them that I really enjoyed, but he could have upped the performance a notch by singing them in Spanish. As the judges stated, that particular Queen track is universal in nature so to tap into a market that he can resonate with would’ve made the number so much stronger. Lazaro’s professionalism is still far below satisfactory, and I was mildly irritated when he broke off the final note to jump in the air and behave a fool. Still, Lazaro hasn’t sounded this good since Hollywood Week so I can’t exactly call last night’s performance a disaster.
Performance Review: (**½)
5. Candice Glover, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” — What a difference an injury makes. As opposed to her spectacular duet with Burnell on “The Letter,” Candice came into this solo performance looking defeated. It’s unfortunate that she’s in pain, but she has to work through the bruises and pretend like she’s queen bee of the competition. While vocally respectable, Candice’s severe lack of energy had me tuning out of the performance more than I care to admit. The creative twists she normally applies weren’t visible this go around, and her safe delivery gravely contrasted the dynamic showstopper I know Candice to be. Without question, this was Candice’s worst performance to date even if she “technically” didn’t miss a step. I suspect a Bottom Three appearance is coming tonight, but I do hope I’m wrong about that.
Performance Review: (***)
4. Janelle Arthur, “You May Be Right” — Look, I get that Janelle has had a great two weeks, but let’s not forget that this is still very much a singing competition. I wasn’t a fan of her song choice, because it’s one of the few Billy Joel tracks I’m sure a lot of viewers at home aren’t familiar with (including this one — shocker!), but her inconsistent vocals are what have me foaming at the mouth like an angry Boston terrier. One second she’s opening up her voice and letting it flood the room with its magnificence, and the next she’s pulling out her “Casual Friday” Hawaiian shirt. From the time the song begins and ends, I expect a vocal to be consistently splendid; to break form — even if you’re holding hands with stage-clinging fans — is unacceptable to me. So no matter how confident Janelle looks or how endearing her twang is, I’m always going to give her grief if her voice isn’t up to par. Last night, she was again vocally shaky in parts where rehearsals should have fixed that. Last week was a defining moment for America’s sweet lil’ marshmallow, but this decent yet unmemorable vocal roller coaster of a performance was undeniably inferior.
Performance Review: (***)
3. Kree Harrison, “Piece of My Heart” — I think I just need to man up and admit that I don’t understand the appeal of Kree Harrison. Watching her perform is like watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception all over again: I’m confused and wonder what all the fuss is about. Is there something wrong with me? Should I go see a doctor? Psychologist, perhaps? I will give Kree this: Nicki was absolutely correct when she said Kree always infuses her own soulful self into each song. Since Kree’s voice and laid back style aren’t really my thing, can you blame me for being critical of Kree when all of her performances sound roughly the same? With Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” there wasn’t an ounce of creativity or danger, and I missed the rasp that made the original such a wicked delight. Unlike Candice, however, Kree worked through her pain and nailed every technical portion of the timeless hit. Sure, the ending was a bit shaky but Kree’s soulfulness shone through and her booming range sat rather comfortably on the track. I’m still missing the passion and the hunger to win, and if she doesn’t get her creative juices flowing she’ll be one of the most boring Idol frontrunners in years. Like I said at the beginning, I’ll never truly “get” Kree but I also can’t deny that her voice was the third strongest of the evening. I’m not sure if the light bulb will ever come on for me in regards to Kree, so maybe I just need a Kree hug.
Performance Review: (***)
2. Angie Miller, “Bring Me to Life” — I’m a pretty big Evanescence fan, so I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Angie was performing the band’s most successful single. Angie’s piano introduction was as haunting and dramatically superfluous as I expected it to be. I’m a guy who appreciates the edgy, wild and obscure, so for me Angie is a contestant I’m always excited about even if the results don’t quite live up to my expectations. When Angie stepped away from the piano, her notes on the verses were a bit wonky and anemic but she recovered beautifully during the choruses, especially the concluding one. Ultimately it was the song choice that separated Angie from the rest of the pack, as the track more closely resembles the rock scene of 2013 than the classic but ultimately dated tracks the other contestants were selecting. Angie continues to prove her relevancy, and I was happy her penchant for drama was put to appropriate use for once. She needs to be careful not to over-embellish her expressions when staring into the camera — it’s inauthentic and distracts from the intimacy of the song. Other than that, Angie’s well on her way to winning the whole shebang.
Performance Review: (***½)
1. Amber Holcomb, “What About Love” — While nearly everyone struggled with this week’s theme, Amber once again made no excuses and effortlessly sung her big ol’ heart out. Vocally, I’m not sure we’ve ever heard Amber sound this dynamic before. Her opening verse was so intimate and emotionally crispy that I was clapping feverishly, ready to give her a standing ovation before the performance even got underway. Then when it finally picked up tempo, my eyes turned into saucers because I couldn’t believe how full-on high her voice became. The key change midway through the song was a wise move because you could hear the angst and desperation in Amber’s instrument, really pleading “WHAT ABOUT LOVE?!” instead of nonchalantly asking it. This girl totally understood every nuance of Heart’s blistering rock anthem, delivering it with maturity and emotional precision. For all those who didn’t think Amber could rock out or slay an uptempo track, shame on you! You obviously don’t know what this vocal masterclass performer is capable of. Also, who doesn’t love Amber’s quintessential “Whitney-isms,” which made an even bigger impression this week! Amber’s R&B/pop inflections add a whole different experience to every song, no matter the genre or time period. Once again, Amber stuns and finds herself the deserving recipient of a standing ovation from the judging panel.
Performance Review: (****)
Lazaro & Angie, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”: (*½)
Burnell & Candice, “The Letter”: (***½)
Kree, Janelle & Amber, “It’s Still Rock n Roll to Me”: (**½)
Predicted Bottom Three: Burnell Taylor, Lazaro Arbos, and Candice Glover
*side note* don’t be surprised if America is racially ignorant and decides to place Amber, Candice, and Burnell in the Bottom 3 a la Idol Season Three when Jennifer Hudson, Latoya London, and Fantasia Barrino found themselves in the bottom of the votes (also in Top 7 week)
Going Home: Burnell Taylor
That’s it for my Idol recap! Who were your favorites, and do you agree that Amber Holcomb deserves more love from America besides yours truly? I look forward to your opinions, so please share them in the comments section below!