April 24, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Contestant's Choice / One Hit Wonders

For those inclined to keep track of these things in terms of gender, this is the second all-female final four that Idol has had, and there's never been an all-male final four. More important, though, it is by a long shot the most talented final four ever, and none of the remaining contestants would be an embarrassing winner. (Which isn't to say that I don't have my favorites, of course.) And with a competition as close as this, there's no room for error.

And since the first round tonight is free choice for the singers, there's not much excuse for it, either. And even the second round -- One Hit Wonders, a new theme for the show -- offers enough choices that no one's being forced into a style that doesn't suit them.

So, theoretically, it should be a good night. Let's see, shall we?

The rundown:

Amber, "The Power of Love" -- The opening verse is weak; when you're the only sound being heard and we still can't tell what you're saying, you're in trouble. But once Amber hits the verse and gets to belt with no subtlety whatsoever (and what could be a better Celine homage than that?), her voice sounds fine. At this point, though, "fine" may not be enough. And the arrangement, which is rather more sluggish than the original, isn't helping.

Candice, "Find Your Love" -- I don't know that Idol has ever had a contestant whose song choices are as consistently unexpected as Candice's, and she has a knack for finding something interesting even in a fairly blah song like this. I think I could set my iPod on Shuffle and give her the first twelve songs that came up, and she'd turn them into a fabulous album.

Kree, "It Hurt So Bad" -- "I get to dance," Kree tells one of the kids at Children's Hospital, and then she plants her feet, never taking more than two steps in any direction. But musically, this is the equivalent of a 2-foot putt for Kree, and it's a strong performance. It never gets the oomph it needs to be a thrilling one, but it's the best we've heard so far. On the other hand, Idol voters do not always respond to obscurities like this one.

Angie, "Who You Are" -- For all the volume and power, that felt easier and more effortless than anything she's done in weeks, and the quiet moments were particularly good. I don't know what the magic is about her and the piano, but she goes from a C+/B- singer on her feet to a B+/A- singer at the keyboard. She could win this thing if she never leaves the piano again.

For Round One: Angie, Kree, Candice, Amber.

Next, a pair of officially non-competitive duets as palate cleanser and time killer:

Kree & Amber, "Rumour Has It" -- There are many songs, y'know, that have been written as duets. So why bother doing this, which isn't really a duet at all? It's another case of singers performing next to, instead of with, each other; I heard only one phrase of five or six notes with any harmony at all. They both sounded OK, but it was a lot of effort with no real point.

Candice & Angie, "Stay" -- At least they seem to realize that they're both on the stage, and there's some attempt at interaction between them. But the song doesn't really suit either of their voices, and their styles are so different that they never find a comfortable blend.

Amber, "MacArthur Park" -- There is no point to doing this song if you don't have the full seven minutes to devote to it. Every time she hits the big long high note, it starts fine and slowly sinks flat. And she doesn't have the skill (or, I suspect, the drug experience) that it would take to sing all the "sweet green icing" stuff as though it actually meant something. A blah moment.

(Were I sort to nitpick about the spirit and the letter of the rules -- oh, hell, you know that's exactly the sort I am -- I might suggest that when the theme is "one-hit wonders," you are at least skirting the spirit of the thing to do what is clearly more of a Donna Summer version than a Richard Harris version.)

Candice, "Emotion" -- Even Candice can't convince us that there's a real song here, and it's a bad fit for her. The appeal of the Samantha Sang version was that airy, ethereal voice, and Candice's voice is too much for the song (at least not without changing the arrangement more drastically than has been done here). It's like trying to pick up a feather with a bulldozer.

Kree, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" -- It was a lovely string of notes, and I continue to marvel at the clarity and force of her upper register. But it was entirely devoid of emotion, and wasn't communicating anything beyond "these are pretty notes." In her defense, I don't think anyone's ever been able to communicate any emotion with these hippy-dippy lyrics, but that's not much of a defense. It's been a round of bad song choices so far.

Angie, "Cry Me a River" -- There's a bit of a mismatch between Angie's vocal, which feels very contemporary, and the arrangement, which is certainly somewhat updated from the 50s, but still feels a bit old-school. Still, it's a reasonably good performance, and comes off maybe even a bit better than it deserves simply because it's a good song in a round of lesser ones.

(If you remember how big Julie London was in the 50s, you might wonder what this song is doing here in a one hit wonder round. But as big as she was, she wasn't successful in a top-40 pop charts way, and this was indeed her only such hit.)

For Round Two: Angie, Amber, Candice, Kree.

For the night: Angie, Kree, Candice, Amber.

For the season: Candice, Angie, Kree, Amber.

Let's send home: As long as it's not Candice, I won't complain too loudly. I'd probably send home Amber, but I think it'll be Kree.

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