April 17, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Songs from birth years / Divas

With Lazaro's departure, we're guaranteed the first female winner since Jordin Sparks in season six, and the first all-female finale since season three (Fantasia Barrino over Diana DeGarmo). The themes tonight are a mix of old and new -- the perennial favorite "song from the year I was born" and the first appearance of "divas" as a theme. Hard to do that one with men still in the field, I suppose.

Even more important than gender, though, this is the most talented final five the show's ever had. While I think that Candice and Kree are the favorites, one never knows what to expect from Idol voters, and it should be an entertaining season from here on out.

The rundown:

Candice, "Straight Up" -- Not a song choice I'd have expected from Candice, and not a song I would have thought worth bothering with, but she gives it a serious re-imagining, treating it as a jazzy nightclub number with a Latin flair. It's light, breezy, and surprisingly charming. A delightful surprise.

Janelle, "When I Call Your Name" -- A nice performance, I suppose, though some of the lyrics are too breathy to be understood. She's not going to be our winner, but Janelle has a fine career ahead of her as the opening act for some semi-retired country singer in Branson.

Kree, "She Talks to Angels" -- One of those tedious rock songs that confuses cryptic lyrics for profundity, and things aren't helped by Kree's uncharacteristically mushy enunciation. One of her worse performances.

Angie, "I'll Stand By You" -- Mentioning her connection to Boston comes off as a cheap bit of begging for pity votes, and it wasn't necessary, because the performance is strong. I always like her better at the piano, and she's in fine voice tonight, delivering an emotional performance that is her best of the season.

Amber, "Without You" -- This theme always brings at least one cheat, so here's Amber (born in 1994) singing a song from 1970, theoretically justified by the Mariah Carey remake. And it's not working; the low notes are too low for her, some of them so much so that she's re-writing the melody to avoid them. She sounds fine once she gets to take the chorus up the octave and belt the high notes, but for this song to work, you have to sing the entire range of it well, and she doesn't.

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

Candice, "When You Believe" -- There's an interesting paradox at work here. The Mariah/Whitney school of diva singing is built, in large part, around the slightly exhausting athleticism of the performance -- the runs, the flourishes, the high notes, the frills -- and the "how did they do that?!?" awe it inspires. Candice does all of that stuff, and does it very well, but it sounds so easy that some of the thrill of seeing it done is lacking. The fact that there's so little apparent effort disguises to some extent just how good she is.

Janelle, "Dumb Blonde" -- Where's the playfulness, the fun, the joy that Dolly would bring to a song like this? Janelle's giving us no subtlety, and her vocal has a harsh edge to it that is odd for her. A bad stumble.

Kree, "Have You Ever Been In Love" -- The big high notes are lovely as ever, but the rest of it is tapioca-bland, and her face looks pained and uncomfortable. She's having such a bad night that I'm wondering if that pinched nerve from a while back is still bothering her.

Angie, "Halo" -- One of the things I'm realizing as this round goes on is just how boring contemporary diva singing really is, and here's a fine example. It's well done -- the notes are in tune, the runs properly placed, the big belty notes big and belty -- but it doesn't go any deeper than the technique. It's the triumph of style over substance.

Amber, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" -- She's at her best with songs like this; she brings to them an elegant refinement that shows off her voice very well. Unfortunately for her, the world of current pop music doesn't have much use for elegant refinement.

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

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

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

Let's send home: Tough call. Candice is the only singer who had two good performances, and she only solidified her lead over the pack. Amber and Angie had one strong performance each, and on a weak night overall, that should be enough to keep them around. I'd expect Kree and Janelle to be the bottom two, and while Janelle has certainly been the weaker of the two overall, Kree had a very bad night, and I won't be surprised if she gets the boot. As for the save, my bet is that the judges use it to save Kree, but not to save Janelle.

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