“American Idol” Recap: Did I St-St-Studdard?

There’ve been complaints that last night’s American Idol, themed around the hits and performances of past Idol winners, was old-fashioned and schmaltzy. Hey, morons: That’s why I watchAmerican Idol. I want ancient, Wayne Newton-y performances from Mormon teenagers in pain. I want the new Rosemary Clooney to woo me in a collared denim dress that her great-grandmother weaved. I want singers who pick songs by Kenny Rogers or Alannah Myles to feel “naughty.” Bring me the home-schooled!

I loved last night’s episode, even when truly awful songs like Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings” threatened to curbstomp us with hopelessness. For me, ranking the top 10 was a cinch — though apparently I disagree with most of you about how interesting Angela Miller is. Guys, her emotions range from “happy” to “happy, but quiet sometimes.” Come on.

One last note before I write another 200 words about Lazaro Arbos that amount to “Good try, Laz!”: To me, the worst judge last night was AGAIN Keith Urban, with his pat compliments and phony conclusions like, “It was great though, I loved it.” No. That’s some Ellen DeGeneres-level nothingness right there. I agree for the most part with this killer article — namely Kara DioGuardi’s high ranking, though I’d have put her at #1 over Simon Cowell’s nonsense biases — but Keith has no intuitive read on any of these performers. He’s baffled by originality and can only purr with approval at Candice Glover’s high notes or Kree Harrison’s bleat. Unnecessary.

Now, on with the old-fashioned schmaltz that we love so dearly/schmearly.

10. Lazaro Arbos, Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway”

First, an important note: Lazaro seriously gets hotter every week. Measurably. To me, he’s a hyperventilating, mall-brand version of Robert Roldan from So You Think You Can Dance, and I once nicknamed that man “Gay Porn Aladdin.” That’s a fine legacy to chase, Lazaro. Let’s try a tiny purple vest next week and an H&M fez. Sweat encouraged.

But God, come on now. “Breakaway”? For one thing, “Breakaway” is not an exciting live song. It’s a radio jam. Secondly, oh, Lazaro. You are not Kelly Clarkson, you’re not a wing-spreader, you’re too petrified to fly, and the only “risk” you take involves the saturated shades of turquoise you pick out from Express For Men. The entire song sounded wobbly and off-key, and I failed to see the defiance behind his hazel eyes. He’s adorable and should’ve stuck to the similarly adorable catalog of, say, Kris Allen. Would’ve killed to hear Lazaro (or Paul) trill Kris’ excellent single “Live Like We’re Dying.” Because now he’s just dying like he’s dying. In front of us, out loud, and with teeth chattering. Choosing Kelly Clarkson can be suicide, which means that Lazaro Arbos? Is more like Diane Arbus. BADABING, celebrity suicide joke.

(P.S. I hope Lazaro lands an H&M commercial where he peers into the camera and coos, “Style. Did I stutter?”)

9. Curtis Finch, Fantasia Barrino’s “I Believe”

I came to enjoy Curtis during his introductory clip package, in which he did not come off like the self-important ghost of Michael Lynche or Jacob Lusk. Too bad his version of Fantasia’s coronation anthem “I Believe” was fraught with, well, self-disbelief. He was nervous and totally off-key, even if he appeared likable to my eyes. Wish there was more to say, but this is how it goes with singers who get ninth or tenth place: Because their failures are nondescript and forgettable, they’re sent packing pretty fast. I imagine that’s the case tonight.

8. Burnell Taylor, Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings”

Worst song of the night for sure. For SURE. “Sorry 2004″ would’ve been a more acceptable Studdard ballad. I’m not kidding. That song was at least distinctly unbearable, unlike the Velveeta/Boniva goopiness of this damn thing. Plus, I can think of a whole bunch of things from 2004 I’m actually sorry for, such as the horrible Sex and the City finale, Gwen Stefani’s dumb cameo as Jean Harlow in The Aviator, or the ubiquity of Hoobastank. Actually, “Sorry 2004″ is downright relevant to my life. Missed opportunity, Burnell.

The judges condemned Devin Velez for being “safe” at the mic, but is any other word is appropriate for Burnell’s choice? This added nothing to our perception of him as a performer, and I was too busy dozing off in that sea of Brigadoon stage smoke to care about how well he vocalized. Also, Dear Keith Urban: There was nothing distinct about Burnell’s “timbre” this week, but thank you for opening up Roget’s so you didn’t have to say “tone” for the 900th time. I’d be OK with Burnell’s dismissal, personally. Cute kid though, one whose jean jackets are endlessly patterned.


7. Paul Jolley, Lonestar’s “Amazed”

Southern troubadour Lasso Minnelli served up another “country style” Bob Evans breakfast of beige toast with beige eggs for us, on a bed of boredomshire sauce. How am I supposed to root for this effete child when he praises Scotty McCreery for “staying true to himself”? Paul, you literally told the judges you wanted to be “the male Taylor Swift, if that’s what you want me to be.” You just achieved the opposite of staying true to yourself. You stay true to pandering.

Paul’s signature wail, the one he plants in every performance to make it sound like he’s paying attention to the lyrics, was very much intact and in tune, so hoo-rah and yee-haw for that expected feat. Mysteriously, Mariah gave the best critique of Paul’s round, noting its his singing style that made Jimmy Iovine want to save him, so maybe Paul should sing what he feels and ignore the other judges’ weird pleas for less “theatricality.” Guys, I maintain that Keith Urban is responding exclusively to Paul’s gayness when he bemoans “theatricality.” Clay Aiken got the same treatment in ’04. Paul’s really got to shake things up if he wants to even think about the Top 5, so here’s to Paul’s gay cowboy renaissance full of Coyote Ugly dance routines and saloon strumpet chaps. Please, God. More Dolly Parton flash and less Lonestar nothingness for this child.

6. Janelle Arthur, Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone”

Am I wrong, or is Janelle Arthur suddenly amplifying the twang in her voice? During her interview with Seacrest, I swore she’d gotten something stuck in her throat — like a banjo or Holly Hunter.

Uh, look: Janelle is definitely way less interesting than we thought she was going to be. Not that nervy, not that thunderous. Plus, she’s yet another contestant who idolizes Scott McCreery, so that means she treated us to a stompy, vivacious take on Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” which Scotty once performed with the bravado of a WCW upstart. (Scotty’s serial-killer stare is also traumatizing, and I prefer never to bring him up again). Props to Janelle for delivering some energy and a cute vocal, but I’m sorry. I just hate these “feisty” country songs. There is nothing bad-ass about invoking train-track imagery to make yourself seem like a bona fide bumpkin. It’s a hostile maneuver, actually. I assume either Paul or Janelle is in the bottom three, and I’m sort of stoked to see who gets the axe. Could be telling for the rest of the season.

5. Angie Miller, Celine Dion’s “I Surrender”

So, this is why I’m nominating myself to be a judge on American Idol: I know that Kelly Clarkson’s season-one performance of “I Surrender” was successful not only because she sang it perfectly, but because in 2002, the world wasn’t sick of Idol amateurs belting the old-farty ballads of Celine Dion and Neil Sedaka and Barry Manilow and the rest of Leiber & Stoller’s key party rolodex. Eleven years later, you cannot approach a Celine ballad and expect me to find you relevant on this mothball-protected stage. We already had Clay Aiken. We had Jennifer Hudson. Hell, we had Vonzell Solomon, Pia Toscano, Lauren Alaina, and Jessica Sanchez too. I simply don’t need to hear a song like “I Surrender” on the Idol stage again, even coming from the perfectly dependable larynx of Angie Miller. This performance didn’t feature a shred of individuality, even if Angie stalked the stage in sizable pumps that Nicki Minaj coveted. I would’ve loved a cannier song choice here, like Bo Bice’s “In a Dream” or Katharine McPhee’s “Terrified” (written by Kara DioGuardi, of course). I needed Angie to use her so-called “artistry” to sniff out an Idol classic ready for her re-branding, and she failed. Come on, girl. Do more than sing well. Woo us.

4. Devin Velez, Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home”

Groan: Devin called Carrie Underwood “as original as it gets.” Right, because what could be more original than a gorgeous blonde who gets famous for singing whatever song falls in her lap? I feared my own homicidal reaction to Devin at that moment. But believe it or not, I was actually enchanted with his performance, which — among the slow-ass ballads we heard tonight — struck me as sincere, subtle, and intimate. Honestly, wouldn’t you hate Devin if he sang bombastic Univision anthems every week in English and Spanish? I was worried he was a voter-baiting chump for a second, but this performance proved he’s relying on a backbone of personal inspiration to propel him through the competition. Also: I’d date him. I’ll message him on Twitter and get back to you guys on this. Don’t worry, I have more followers than he does, so he should be intimidated into compliance.


3. Kree Harrison, Roy Orbison’s “Crying”

Saaaaaaaang. Kree can saaaaaaang. I’m still torqued from her performance last Thursday when she whipped out the amazing Susan Tedeschi’s “Evidence” for the Idol viewing public’s Aspartame-numbed tastes, but I’m equally pleased with her choice of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” which is a pretty-effing-sophisticated song. Vulnerability is Kree’s expertise, and I thought she nailed the choruses on this with the precision and care of, say, Bonnie Raitt — with a completely different tone, mind you. I still think there’s room for Kree to look more connected to what she’s singing, but vocally she’s a stunner every single week.

2. Amber Holcomb, Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”

Look, I ain’t dumb. I can see that Amber’s track record of song choices is a little bit grim. “I Believe In You And Me”? “I’m Every Woman”? “My Funny Valentine”? And now this Hellman’s Lite spread of tepid balladry. But I’ve got to tell you, Amber compensates for underwhelming taste with what appears to be the anomaly of season 12 — actual joy. Look at the ferocious pop vixen beam like a Billboard empress. Watch as she takes to the silliness of a wind machine with fun flair. She can vamp and vocalize, and every successful pop star is capable of both those activities. Let’s hope she veers away from Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful days and tries something in the Kelis vein soon. I want this girl stepping on my neck and howling “Bossy” at me.

1. Candice Glover, Shirley Bassey’s “I (Who Have Nothing)”

Well, that was yet another ace for Candice, who is so flawless that I can only guess how terrified she must be at the thought of seeming inhuman to voters. From note one, the girl howled and cooed and shrieked and twisted and writhed and virtually out-stanked Jordin Sparks’ famous rendition from season six, and that’s hard for me to admit as a fan of the unbelievably weird Sparkle. Candice’s undeniable maturity is also “stellar” (quoth Carey), and I only hope she gains a little but of visible jubilation in the coming weeks. Indeed, she may appear too studied and staid for voters, and I think she’s too cool for that dismissal. Amber may be my choice in finger-wagging sisters, but Candice is still my pick for the next American Idol.

What’d you think? Goopy night of goop? Or a winning night of win?