“American Idol” Recap: The Boys In The Bland

Look at these dudes. Three pleasant, symmetrical rascals with gay posture who just wanted to impress mentor Smokey Robinson with their dotty croquet uniforms, conjure some soul on Motown/Detroit night, and look like they belong on American Idol. Did they succeed? Ahahaha. If the goal was to deepen the tracks of Smokey Robinson’s tears by making him WEEP UNCONTROLLABLY, then yes. Otherwise, they don’t fare so well in this week’s rankings.

Here they are, the eight remaining Idol contestants’ performances from Motown Night ranked #8-1.

8. Lazaro Arbos, “For Once In My Life”

At least Lazaro knows I’m mad at him, otherwise why would he wear greaser attire and slick his hair like the hot prostitute from A Single Man? I’m drawing a blank. Meet me in the parking lot, buddy!

On the same token, Lazaro intentionally peeved me this week by choosing Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life,” which is not only my favorite Stevie track but the same song Melinda Doolittle picked for her unmatched season 6 audition. Dear Lazaro: You are not Melinda Doolitte. You are more like Melinda from The Real World: Austin. Memorably good-looking, but your only chance at a legacy is if you marry a fellow castmate whose most admirable quality is smiling well. Paul Jolley, please pick up your calling card.

This performance was terrible. Theory: Lazaro’s performances will continue being terrible as long as he 1) is afraid of every song and 2) can’t sing. The judges pretended he rebounded from last week, but he mostly just sang quieter. Which I guess is a step in the right direction, come to think of it. “For Once In My Life” has such tremendous verve and defiance about it, and his read of the song felt tremulous and meek. He’s letting sorrow hurt him! Much like it’s hurt him before! Don’t sing a song if you’re not going to subscribe to its lyrics, Lazzy Star.

7. Angie Miller, “Shop Around”

I guess it’s considered blasphemous to note that Angie Miller is clearly having the worst identity crisis of season 12, as she’s now careened from dopey Celine balladry to ridiculous, almost unrecognizable versions of “Yesterday” and now “Shop Around.” What are we rooting for, again? Her sheath dresses and good hair? We have Amber for that. And Aubrey Cleland is filling out the forms to be her understudy. Hell, so is Charlie Askew. (He just wants to be included, guys.)

Here’s something Angie taught me: “Shop Around” is apparently the single whitest pop song in history. With all her put-on swagger and sorry flirtation with the band, Angie’s version of Motown “flair” conjured all the “sass” of a Kidz Bop rendition of “White Christmas.” Face it, she’s the girl who performs “Jingle Bell Rock” at the school talent show, but she’ll never have the booty-up skills to match Regina George. She’s a second banana like Gretchen Weiners with the confidence of Cady Heron. A lethally comatose combo.

6. Devin Velez, “The Tracks of My Tears”

As far as I can tell, Tintin here is the only competitor left who is guaranteed an elimination in the next two weeks. If my calculations are correct, he’ll be gone tomorrow, and that’s kind of a shame given that Devin is a stately performer who occasionally bothers with vulnerability and command. This week he played it pretty stoic, conveying none of the palpable anguish of Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Tracks of My Tears” or even the contemplative sensitivity of Adam Lambert’s season-eight attempt. He’s adorable — even when he’s dressed in a weird black blazer with giant lapels (see above) like Vincent Price on an average episode of Masterpiece Theatre from 1987 — and he’s spent the past two weeks refusing to be memorable. I want to root for him, but as Tim Gunn says, I can’t want his success more than he does. Tim Gunn would probably also root against that red jacket, as Devin is not bad-ass enough to play the singing telegram girl in Clue.


5. Burnell Taylor, “My Cherie Amour”

Pardon me: I am still recovering from the way Burnell all but blunderbussed Lazaro after their disastrous rendition (with Devin) of “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).” He muttered to Seacrest, “I remembered my part… not to throw anyone under the bus!” He may as well have added, “The stuttering dandy f*cked us over, Ryan.”

As expected, Burnell’s version of “My Cherie Amour” was aided by his natural charisma and smooth tone. And both charisma and smoothness were essential in helping me forget that he added an “mmm” sound to every line of the damn song. Seriously, that boy crooned, “My Cher-EEM AmORM” again and again. Is that some trick? Is this something professional singers do? It was hugely distracting and comical, and it had a cockney quality.

4. Janelle Arthur, “You Keep Me Hanging On”

Sweet, butterscotch-tressed Janelle tried earning my love early in the episode with a duet on “Like a Prayer” with Kree, and she sort of worked it. Sort of. Not worthy of a glorious field of burning crosses or anything, but fine. Then she hit us with a revamped, acoustic take on “You Keep Me Hanging On,” and unlike the judges, I found the new version lacking in musicality and angst. It was more pretty than poignant, but Janelle can rest easy knowing she gave her finest vocal performance of the season (if you’re into that sort of thing — I literally find Dannii Minogue more compelling than Janelle, and Dannii’s vocals amount to a fresh wad of Bubblelicious.) Again, the problem with Janelle is she refuses to be truly novel or individual, as she lacks the inventiveness to market herself as anything other than a cuddly ball of twang. We’ve seen this happen before. Look! The ghost of Skylar Laine hops the Idol stadium in her ATV, waving a flag that reads, “Honey, yer gonna get fifth place, I swurr!”

3. Kree Harrison, “Don’t Play That Song”

Phew. Kree finally didn’t look bored during a performance, as her meeting with Smokey Robinson apparently filled her with the sauciness of a thousand stiletto heels and a dozen index finger-wags. Kree’s strong suit (aside from that admittedly flawless voice) is song choice, and I really loved that she chose this meaningful, Aretha-anointed track. Now, did I say that her voice is flawless? It is, except… it also had its sharp moments this week? That’s a very weird trip-up for Kree. I continue to believe that she’s going to earn a surprise trip to the bottom three soon (at which point the judges will save her if she lands in last place, of course), but I found this Motown trip a sensitive, if slightly under-par performance for the mechanically unbeatable Kree.


2. Candice Glover, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Candice is the only contestant whose voice alone can make me pay attention. She knows that American Idol is combat, and thus her performances always feature some fighting spirit and bossy conviction. She needed those two things on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a very familiar song to Idol viewers, but from start to finish she unleashed a medley of coos, grunts, purrs, and pouts that made the song sound strangely current to me. Usually the most “current” thing about American Idol is Burnell’s burgundy Zara pants, so that’s a profound step. I won’t call this my favorite Candice performance by a long shot, but I will say it’s enough to prove that Candice can remain viable and cool on even the most overplayed songs.

1. Amber Holcomb, “Lately”

Was it the best vocal of the night? Probably not. Was it the most novel song choice of the night? I’d say no. But Amber, to me, is just the most fabulous contestant of the season, an incessantly saucy performer whose sad songs pack a mournful bleat and whose stage energy always feels alive and cool. During this elegaic take on “Lately,” she seemed to be both transcendent and melancholic, and that creates a dichotomy that none of the other contestants have. Candice always picks “soulful.” Kree picks “straightforward angst.” Devin is tasteful, Burnell is sweet, Janelle is pretty. But Amber, even in her relatively staid song choices (seriously, let’s move away from ballads soon, girl), always delivers an organic, logical projection of her own un-cloying earnestness and charm. While I think her version of “She’s Leaving Home” is still tops, this was yet another stunner and a beautifully stark rendition. Though I will say: Time to enunciate a bit more, glamor girl. Soon she’ll start borrowing unnecessary “mmms” from Burnell’s trick bag.