“American Idol”: MacArthur Snark

“MacArthur Park”! Did Amber find the cake recipe we lost in 1978?


To quote what Ryan Seacrest constantly mutters to himself, nothing is more disappointing than when dreams come true. The American Idol gods blessed us with what seemed like a dreamlike theme, a week devoted to one-hit wonders and “contestant’s choice” tracks, but somehow the night felt like a humdrum hodgepodge of passable performances. Where was Kreedom’s slammin’ rendition of Nu Shooz’ “I Can’t Wait”? Angie Miller’s frisky version of Toni Basil’s “Mickey”? And where the HELL was Amber Holcomb’s sweet-ass performance of Dionne Farris’ “I Know”? WHERE? (I just pictured Lazaro Arbos speed-spitting Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” and I’m crying now.)

This week also marks an aboutface in my rankings, so pardon me as I sort through my feelings, disappointments, and self-doubt right in front of you. To quote the first one-hit wonder I ever loved: I’m cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor.

Tell me what you think about the jumbled rankings, listed worst to best. I’m already torn.

4. Amber Holcomb, “The Power of Love,” “MacArthur Park,” and “Rumour Has It” (with Kree)

As you know, I have been sipping the Amber elixir all season long and rooting for her Doublemint commercial ferocity really hard. She’s a singer who wears tiny jean shorts with the pockets hanging out, and I understand that decision as an artist. It’s called glamor. Because she’s Glamber. And she’s glamazing. And I’m glambling now.

Unfortunately, for all the ballyhoo heaped on Amber last night, which ranged from Nicki Minaj’s strange “You’re the contestant I most want to be friends with!” comment to Keith Urban’s “Summer’s arrived and you’re free as a bird!” quip (not an exact quote, but close– I think?), the girl simply sang the least impressively this week and didn’t redeem it with chicness. “The Power of Love” is precisely a song I hate. I was pissed and wounded when I realized Amber picked it for her “Contestant’s Choice.” Why didn’t she pick something saucy? Why wasn’t she purring Jody Watley’s “Looking For a New Love” while swinging her hoop earrings like lariats? Why wasn’t she killing Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl” while vogueing and duckwalking? Hit me with some Lisa Lisa, my comely teen ingenue! Some “Queen of the Night”-era Whitney! Wear a tiara or something, girl! Live! Kill Angie Miller using the brute strength of your superfly jean jacket! Thrive! Do anything but sing this Boniva jingle for 70-year-olds who wear sheath dresses, Amber. Anything.

Then came “MacArthur Park,” Amber’s “one-hit wonder” that she clearly selected for its Donna Summer cred, not its Richard Harris beginnings. This should’ve ruled. It is without exception the campiest song ever written, and its orgiastic climax is sublime in a Madame Butterfly-meets-Xanadu way. But instead, Amber really seemed to struggle with the song, missing notes, mumbling lyrics, and (most egregiously) lacking the Agnes Moorehead grandeur that “MacArthur Park” requires. Commit, Amber! You need to LEAVE that cake out in the rain. You CANNOT take it, and you will NEVER have that recipe again because Giorgio Moroder SNORTED IT off your torso at Studio 54 next to AN UNCONSCIOUS LARAINE NEWMAN. That’s what I needed from you, Amber. Cocaine cred. Without that, you should’ve stuck with a slower, statelier one-hit wonder like “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Her duet with Kree? Inconsequential. For the first time ever, Amber was the undisputed worst this week, and now I worry that my once-proud princess is melting in the dark.

3. Kree Harrison, “It Hurt So Bad,” “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Rumour Has It” (with Amber)

I’ll grant Kree this: Choosing a Susan Tedeschi jam is super bad-ass, especially since its her second Susan selection of the season. This girl is determined to hurl blueswoman jams at us, like a rad lady gym teacher. At this rate she’ll mock my skinny legs and floor hockey skills, but let me pass with a B-.

Yet for the second or third week in a row, I ended this episode thinking, “What did Kree perform again? Was it ’Blue Bayou’? I know she’s performed ’Blue Bayou’ before. Maybe this week she performed ’Blue Bayou.’ Yes. This is it. This is the night she performed ’Blue Bayou.’ I was present at the television, and Kree performed ’Blue Bayou’ tonight. I know it. I’m unstoppable.” Kree has never performed “Blue Bayou” and last night didn’t change that. Instead she chose “It Hurt So Bad,” in which she did infuse some swagger and sincerity, and “Whiter Shade of Pale,” which was pitch-perfect and — to my eyes — utterly disconnected.

I will never fault this sweet chanticleer’s vocals, but I feel like Kree disappears before our eyes every single week. She keeps shilling the same balladeer hurt, the same delicate wail and wide-eyed frailty. I have a hard time processing the same tearless tearjerking performances again and again when for all of her talent, Kree is aloof. That’s a mysterious problem for a vocalist whose genre of choice hinges on vulnerability. Imagine Bonnie Raitt sleepwalking through “Have A Heart” and doing her best to make “I Can’t Make You Love Me” sound pretty.  That’s what I keep getting from Kree. The promise of depth and experience delivered by a somnambulist.

2. Angie Miller, “Who You Are,” “Cry Me a River,” and “Stay” (with Candice) 

I usually trash Angie Miller’s middle-school tastes, but I’ll allow her this: For me, she and Candice were very competitive for the night’s top spot, and if you forced me to bequeath her #1, I wouldn’t be mad. That’s saying something, because I believe this girl will inundate us with Christian albums for the next 40 years. She basically threatened it already. She was like, “I’m the next Colton Dixon, except without the frightening Tom Cruise sexuality. Fun, right?” Ugh, no. On the bright side, this girl could be the Aubrey O’Day of a funky Catholic girl group called the B*Attitudes. First single: “Blessed Are The Meek (For They Shall Inherit The Beat).”

This is the hard part where I note that Angie’s song choices were (sigh) uniformly brilliant last night. The Jessie J track “Who You Are” was a great match for the confessional candor Angie brings to her piano performances. I listened to and heard every word, and that’s a description I usually reserve for Edward Albee plays and Jane Fonda monologues. In fact, that was definitely her best performance of the season. And f*ck me with a chainsaw, but Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” was a thrilling, killing, smack-dab perfect track to choose as a one-hit wonder. A cool, mature song and performance. Yes, cool and mature. Even for a girl whose greatest thrill in life up until now was choosing “Bernadette” as a confirmation name, probably.

Now: The duet with Candice of “Stay,” that languid Rihanna ballad we’re still hearing 20 times a day? Enjoyable and dynamic! Those girls were an unexpected power duo. Props to Angie, who has the natural talent to turn out very good Idol performances, even if I think her potential is mostly limited to this dorky, pageant-sized stage.

1. Candice Glover, “Find Your Love,” “Emotion,” and “Stay” (with Angie)

This may surprise you, but I don’t really believe in American Idol producer/judge conspiracies. Several other Idol bloggers are complaining that Angie and Amber are the producer-anointed Top 2, but my question is, why would Nigel Lythgoe pick those two? I’d say all four girls have equal potential for Top 40 (or country) radio, and if Amber is a predestined Top 2 selection, it’s pretty weird that she’s ended up in the Bottom 2 (or 3) several more times than Candice. Maybe this is a simplistic way to comprehend the judges’ wonky criticisms, but I honestly think Idol performances come off differently in person than they do on TV. I’ll never forget when my ex-roommate came back from seeing the Season 9 finale at the Staples Center, and when I asked about how much Crystal Bowersox kicked Lee DeWyze’s ass, he deadpanned, “Lee’s voice carried so much better in person than Crystal’s.”  WOAH, right? I am a human being who believes Lee DeWyze was terrible and Crystal Bowersox was a saint. So that shook me. And stayed with me. Just like Aaron Kelly’s creepy fetal tremors whenever he performed. Did I mention I could talk about the weirdness of Season 9 all day? Try me.

But OK, my objections to paranoia aside: How do the judges get off praising Amber’s “flavor”-ful performance of “The Power of Love” while dismissing Candice’s “Emotion” for being old and dated? Hey, Keith Urban: Guess which of those two songs was a hit cover for Destiny’s Child, that not-too-dated trio featuring that somewhat-celebrated cyborg priestess Beyonce? Not “The Power of Love,” Keith. That’s for sure. If there is a scheme going on here, I really don’t get why. But then again, I don’t know why Keith Urban looks like a PacSun shift manager. Onward.

Candice received little credit for her rendition of “Find Your Love,” and I thought it was perfectly salable. A little loungier in melody than the radio version, but a smokin’ vocal and a dynamite song selection. Then came “Emotion,” which I effing loved. Of all the contestants in the competition, Candice is the only one who can sell a line like, “Tied up in sorrow / Lost in my soul.” (I always thought it was “Lost in the song,” which I like better, but anyway.) In fact, Candice is the only contestant of the past three years who could sell that line. Even Haley Reinhart — who was like a baller version of Angie Miller who smoked pot and could change a tire — didn’t emote with the lived-in, articulate, damnation-spewing verve of Candice Glover. Like my favorite contestant of all time Melinda Doolittle, Candice’s commitment to her otherworldly talent prevents her from even considering pandering to Idol home viewers’ lame tastes. She is just exceptional, unwilling to betray herself, and a lady. She doesn’t shop at Charlotte Russe either, and you know Angie is all about that.