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‘American Idol’ Top 5 Night: Who You Calling a Diva?

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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photo: Ray Mickshaw/Fox

Now with all those pesky boys out of the way, "American Idol" continued apace this week with the final five girls (the first all-female top five in "Idol" history), and so of course there was a "Divas" theme. But none of the girls really brought Mariah-style divaliciousness to the show, contrary to what the ridiculous amount of overpraise from the judges might have had viewers believe. (Seriously, these girls were getting more standing ovations than Joshua Ledet on a good night. I practically had flashbacks to the nicey-nice Steven Tyler/Jennifer Lopez "Idol" years.) However, during the episode--the first half of which featured a "Song From the Year You Were Born" theme, before moving on to diva songs in the second hour--there were a couple memorable moments that separated the women from the girls.

Here's how everyone did:

CANDICE GLOVER

It seems longtime "Idol" viewers are missing the classic judging lineup featuring Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul; even show producer Nigel Lythgoe has admitted that the current panel doesn't share the chemistry of past casts. So maybe it was Candice's way of evoking a bit of early-"Idol" nostalgia, even on a subconscious level, by covering Paula's "Straight Up" for her birth-year song. Smart move. But of course, Candice didn't just do a straight-up cover version; she made it current. Just as she completely retooled the Cure's "Lovesong" last week, she once again proved she's a true song stylist--as much so as previous guitar-slinging boys like Phillip Phillips or David Cook--with this bossa nova-inflected performance. (Hey, you don't have to strap on a six-string or sit at a piano to be a real "artist," you know!) Candice just always impresses with her creative choices. Keith Urban was certainly impressed, saying, "Baby, that was so good, such a great version of that song. I never realized that was such a great song!" Said Nicki, "You showed you're the boss." Randy Jackson raved, "You're so in the zone. Can't nothing go wrong for you right now." Mariah called Candice a "genius" and said, "Nobody can do what you do." This performance was not on par with last week's "Lovesong," which was declared one of the greatest "Idol" performances ever by the judges, but it was a solid start to the show.

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For her diva song, Candice tried to go all double-diva, taking on both parts of the Prince of Egypt duet Mariah did with the late, great Whitney Houston, "When You Believe." Meh. This was dull. While Candice sang the ballad with ease, resisting the temptation so many other contestants would've had to pack the performance with a ton of superfluous runs, this effort didn't quite have the wow factor for me. The judges were wowed, however. "That is how you do a Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey song!" declared Nicki, before going off on some weird speech about how she used to lock herself in a room and listen to this song over and over when she was a little girl. (I couldn't tell if she was complimenting or insulting Mariah with this tale, and judging by the blank expression on Mariah's face, I don't think Mariah could tell, either.) Said Mariah, "Rest in peace to the late Whitney Houston. I think you did her justice." Keith declared, "Jimmy Iovine said you had to pull out all the stops. Well, you just ripped them out and annihilated them." And Randy went into his usual howling hyperbole and shouted, "Best vocal of the night! You got one of the best voices in the known world!" Sheesh. I thought this was good--but not THAT good. But, as I mentioned, over-the-top praise was a recurring theme this Wednesday, and Candice was far from the only contestant who received such lavish treatment.

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JANELLE ARTHUR

Oh, poor Janelle. Her busing began last week (no more adoring "little marshmallow" comments from Nicki) and continued this Wednesday, when she was the only contestant that wasn't declared the Second Coming of Clarkson after each of her performances. Not that Janelle necessarily deserved that sort of praise--her two performances were far from amazing--but the way she was singled out was still obvious and jarring. Janelle's understated, old-school first performance, of Vince Gill's "When I Call Your Name," was actually really nice, warm and heartfelt, and it was clear that the song meant a lot to her. (Her parents used to play it to calm her down when she was a baby.) Three of the judges were kind: Nicki said Janelle's vocals were "pretty and angelic," Randy said Janelle was "back where she belongs," and Mariah said, "You were singing with your whole heart for us tonight. It was so raw and real." But then Keith, the country expert on the show, was very hard on Janelle, and he basically negated anything the other judges had said. "I am going to be the lone guy on this panel; apparently I heard a different song," he said. "When Vince sings it, you feel it. He lets every note breathe, and it's pure emotion. You hit all the notes, but I didn't feel it." I disagreed with Keith--I felt it--but I imagine most country fans in America will listen to what he said, so this was an unfortunate development for Janelle.

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For her diva song, Janelle switched up the mood and got playful, taking on Dolly Parton. I loved the artist choice (Dolly rules), and I did appreciate that Janelle wanted to showcase her fun, upbeat side that we saw a couple weeks ago when she covered Billy Joel's "You May Be Right." But Dolly's relatively unfamiliar "Dumb Blonde" may have been a dumb song choice. The staging was kind of dumb, too: Janelle sacrificed vocal power by running all over the place, slapping audience members' hands, and the performance felt hokey and desperate. She should have just stood at a mic with her guitar and tenderly sang "Jolene" or "Here You Come Again." That would have worked so much better. Keith said this was "not the ultimate Dolly song" to let Janelle shine. "This was a fun song for you, but vocally it didn't show anything different. There was more performance than a vocal kind of thing," shrugged Randy. Nicki gave Janelle props for her sunshiny, smiley attitude, and said she believed Janelle could be a huge recording artist in the real world--but said she thought Janelle would be in jeopardy this week. Nicki was probably right, on both counts.

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KREE HARRISON

Kree is an amazing singer, but my one complaint about her has been her lack of onstage fire. Maybe her years as an industry demo/backup singer have trained to her to hold back too much. And never before had this fault of hers been more apparent than when she took on the Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels" this week for her birth-year song. Anyone who's ever seen a concert by the Crowes' Chris Robinson, one of the greatest rock frontmen of the past two decades, knows that Kree did not bring nearly enough intensity to this performance. Where was the heartache, the soul, the storytelling angst? She could have dug so much deeper--but Kree never seems to allow herself to really go there. However, Randy actually thought Kree was emotional, and said, "What I love about you is all the naturalness in your spirit and in your voice. You've got a natural blues, soulful thing." Nicki thought this was the best performance of the night so far. Mariah and Keith disagreed with Randy and Nicki, though, with Mariah specifically pointing out that Kree didn't lose herself enough in the song. That's when Nicki and Mariah got into some silly disagreement, and Her Minajesty threw the kind of shade usually only seen on "RuPaul's Drag Race: Untucked." (NICKI CALLED MARIAH "SIR." She actually told Mariah, "Simmer down, sir." Sir!!! Whoa.) "Just another episode of the family getting along," snarked Ryan Seacrest. Well, that was one way to bring fire and intensity to the show, I guess…

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For her second number, Kree "tapped into her inner diva" with a Celine Dion song, "Have You Ever Been in Love." It was a gentle tapping, of course, but this time, it worked--Celine always oversings anyway, so Kree's restraint was actually welcome in this case. She made the song sound warm and sweet and intimate, and she drew the listener in with her quiet strength. "Once again you've showed us your versatility, and that's something that cannot be faked. Keep doing that, and you're going to stay here a long time," said Mariah. "You're not country--you're worldly. You are iconic. You are one of those divas we can watch when they are 20 or 50. You elevated everything," said Nicki. "You can sing anything," agreed Randy. Keith loved the song choice and Kree's effortlessness. I still wish Kree would let loose a little bit more, but there was no denying that her voice and vibe were beautiful here.

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ANGIE MILLER

In the interview video that ran before her birth-year performance, Angie revealed that the first song she wrote as a child was titled "Little Little Sparkle Dress." If Angie wins Season 12--and she very well could--then that needs to be her coronation song. Surely she'd sing it with more feeling than she did "I'll Stand by You." When I found out that Angie, a Massachusetts native, was planning to dedicate the Pretenders' poignant ballad to victims of Monday's horrific Boston Marathon bombing, I was expecting to be moved--I had a Kleenex box at the ready, just in case. And yet, I wasn't that moved. As usual, Angie didn't seem authentic…even in this special situation, when she must have had some real emotion to draw from. Yes, Angie can sing well, and she can play piano well, but she's no Chrissie Hynde; something about her performances just always rings hollow to me. And so, those Kleenex tissues stayed in the box. The judges refused to criticize this performance, however--maybe because they didn't want to seem insensitive or bash Angie's good intentions. "That was a beautiful dedication. Thank you for that. Such a beautiful thing to do," Mariah said nicely. "We're all feeling a little heavy about [Boston] tonight," Randy agreed. Keith said Angie's voice made him want to cry. And Nicki said the dedication was a "smart choice"--which may or may not have been a sneaky way of saying that she thought Angie's Boston dedication was a ploy to get votes. If that's what Nicki meant, then that was the closest thing Angie got to a negative critique.

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For her diva number, Angie did Beyoncé's "Halo," and again, I felt it lacked authenticity. Where was the passion? This was better than "I'll Stand by You," because it let Angie's irrepressible theatricality come through, but I still didn't feel like she was singing it to the love of her life. It didn't feel like a love song. The judges loved it, though. Keith told her she was "definitely top three material." Nicki raved, "You just did that song justice, like a queen could." Randy said Angie was "in it to win it." Angie may still win this season, but if she does, I hope she brings more true grit than this to her debut Interscope album.

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AMBER HOLCOMB

Amber has been in the bottom two before, despite the judges desperately begging America to vote for her; they know that she is one of this season's most marketable and contemporary contestants, the kind of girl who can sell records once the show is over, so they don't quite understand why America isn't buying what's she's selling right now. I don't understand it, either, really. Sure, Amber was not flawless singing her birth-year song, Mariah Carey's version of "Without You." (Side note: Either Amber was born in 1970, or she thinks Mariah originally recorded "Without You." Second side note: Mariah Carey apparently thinks Harry Nilsson, not Badfinger's Pete Ham and Tom Evans, wrote "Without You." Third side note: TOTAL FACEPALM.) Sure, Amber did struggle in her lower register, and she only excelled when she got to hit the big power notes. But she was one of the few contestants who really emotionally connected with her material tonight, and at least I believed what she was singing. "It wasn't perfect, but I give you mad props, because I don't know if anyone else could have done this, singing that in front of this legend," said Randy, referring to the fact that the song was a massive hit for Mariah. Keith made a lame "Amber alert" joke (speaking of facepalms), immediately regretted it, then said, "Your singing has grown in leaps and bounds for me. It was beautiful, baby." Only Nicki didn't like this performance, and she took the opportunity to unexpectedly rave about how much better Mariah's 1994 version was. Was all this sudden Mariah-love Nicki's way of overcompensating for the diva fight they'd had earlier? I don't know, but it seemed about as insincere as some of the judges' sycophantic critiques this evening. Simmer down, sir, indeed.

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For the final number of the night, Amber did Barbra Streisand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" (originally recorded by Michael Dees in 1969). Wow, taking on Mariah and Babs in a single episode--Amber's got guts, I'll give her that much. I'll give her more than that, actually: Although I don't think such an old-fashioned song choice was the best move at this crucial stage in the game (another Beyoncé song, like Amber sang last week, would've made more sense), she did do an admirable job of turning the song into something somewhat current. I just didn't quite understand why the judges went so nuts for this. Amber received a standing ovation, and Nicki called Amber a "young Whitney Houston" and gushed, "Simply perfection! I really, really hope America gets to see inside this beautiful human being that stands before me, because you don't get the credit you deserve." Randy described Amber as being like Rihanna--if Rihanna had a "giant voice," that is--and said, "You sang the I-don't-know-what out of that. This girl does not belong in the bottom!" Raved Mariah, "Classic, beautiful, elegant. AMERICA, PLEASE VOTE FOR AMBER!" Will America listen? We shall see.

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Actually, that brings me to my prediction, and I do think the combination of Amber's crazy praise and pimp spot will keep her safe for another week. The obvious at-risk contestant is Janelle, and if Janelle is in the bottom this Thursday, I think the judges will let her go. (Contrary to previous conflicting reports, it turns out the Judges' Save can be used in the top five week.) If any of the girls other than Janelle are up for elimination, however, I think the judges will use the Save rather than lose it--and then we'll be in for a top five redux next week. Tune in Thursday to find out what happens, and until then…Parker out.

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