Before we jump into the parent-approved ROCK POWER of Top 7 week, a word about the group performances that I omit in my recaps: They are just so terrible. Thank God we have a fluorescent-haired watchdog like Nicki Minaj to look Kree Harrison and Janelle Arthur in their buttermilk-sweet eyes and howl, “CHEESY, please STOP IT.” Ultimately, the group performances don’t really factor into the home vote, so it’s safer to evaluate each remaining singer based on what they achieve in solo performances. Because what they usually achieve is “being better than Lazaro,” which I consider the unofficial theme every single week.
Anyway, here we go, #7-1. I give these kids credit for belting out old rock anthems, because the playlist looks like a gym teacher’s iPod. Ride that power chord, little Lazaro!
7. Lazaro Arbos, “We Are the Champions”
Lazaro clearly wants my vote, because 1) he wasn’t awful this week, and 2) he was sweaty. Real sweaty. He was Whitney-Houston-having-sex-with-Zero-Mostel sweaty. Ow, ow. Hell-to-the-yes. Anytime Lazaro exhibits more “porny” than “corny,” I sign on. He looked especially like the lovechild of Enrique Iglesias and Nick Jonas this week, which means Idol producers have been reading my slashfic.
There was nothing particularly standout or ferocious about LazBos’ take on “We Are the Champions,” but it didn’t remind me of a novice H&M cashier having a nervous breakdown at register two, which is a big step up for Lazaro. He even sang out on a few notes in an anthemic fashion. Cool! But seriously, Laz, get seventh place already so we can introduce you to shirtless photo shoots and steamy guest spots on DTLA. It’s your time.
6. Burnell Taylor, “You Give Love a Bad Name”
After an intro package where Burnell’s fellow contestants mocked his mumbling, stage gestures, and horrifying funhouse laugh, I was prepared to defend the guy against any of Keith Urban’s meek, roundabout criticisms or Randy’s dawg-heavy disapproval. But then I watched his performance. I’m sorry, but what is the point of being on American Idol if you’re going to smirk at theme weeks that don’t suit you and mimic the vocals from an original recording you don’t particularly care about? I dug Burnell’s smooth, Kona-percolating rasp once he hit the choruses of “You Give Love a Bad Name,” but the rest of his performance was a sluggish, begrudged karaoke rendition of a song I never needed to hear again. Dear Burnell: MATTER. You’d think the smooth, rasp-heavy grit of “Wanted Dead or Alive” would’ve been his obvious selection. Or a rock torch song like “November Rain.” Or maybe artist-in-residence Orianthi could’ve whipped something up with a snarly verse. I’d have taken the umpteenth version of “It’s My Life,” actually. But no. This was uninspired, and during a week when Burnell needed to register some real urgency. Eject.
5. Kree Harrison, “Piece of My Heart”
I’ll give Mariah Carey some credit, even though her hair and skin are same shade of weird beige: Kree is, indeed, the master of song choice. I’m still not over when she chose an effing Susan Tedeschi song for the Top 10 announcement show like she was the new Lucinda Williams. American Idol is not allowed to be that cool. Hell, Susan Tedeschi isn’t allowed to be that cool. That’s why “Piece of My Heart” felt like a step down to me right out of the gate — among rock songs for women, it’s the obvious go-to. A raucous, but anesthetized screamer that deadened the intimacy of Kree’s voice and forced her into pageantry. I’d have much rather watched her sing “Mercedes Benz” or “Me and Bobby McGee,” the Janis songs where the raw vocal draws attention to the lyrics, and not just arena-decimating grit. Because let’s face it, Kree has no grit. She’s never going to stomp around to “Rock and Roll, Part 2″ and rev us up for the Stanley Cup finals. She should be singing “Coat of Many Colors” and wooing us with the sweet, comforting pomade of her bleat. With a talent as distinct as Kree’s, I never want to respond to her performance with a dismissive, “Good, but not as good as Crystal Bowersox,” but that’s exactly what I feel like doing.
4. Janelle Arthur, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right”
Look. Janelle Arthur is basically Miranda Lambert’s niece who teaches preschool and can’t stop whipping up batches of her favorite food, which is definitely Rice Krispy Treats. Are we done here? Every week you’re going to get the same homespun, knockaround smiley-ness from Janelle, and that’s enjoyable enough (for people who’ve already forgotten Skylar Laine). Some weeks it’s a more exciting affability than others, and with “You May Be Right,” she transcended a couple of bum notes to sell me on an energized, aw-shucksy performance. It was fun! Squirrely! Cute. Sassy Jr. And the opening was the best, when she trotted down those steps and burst with bubbly twang. Adored her spunk! She’s still not a superstar, but she’s giving us Gretchen Wilson’s Perky Understudy realness. Only a decade to go before her rambunctiousness will amount to actual rock ’n’ roll power. Also: Her fringed bolero jacket? Branson brick-a-brack nuclear war. Scary, no matter what Randy “Balenciaga” Jackson thinks.
3. Angie Miller, “Bring Me To Life”
To me, Evanescence is the moodiest, lamest, most teenage music in history. Whimpers paired with Korn guitars. Ugly music videos with swampy blue cinematography. The Twilight movies are basically a nine-hour Evanescence video. But of course, pitch-perfect Angie’s sweet, commanding energy is a good fit for Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” since it highlights her piercing vocal strength and teenage flair. If Mariah wanted to be awesome, she would’ve criticized Angie’s nervous shirt-pulling as that wind machine all but knocked her clothes off like Charlie Brown fielding a line drive. It was an appropriate performance (trumped up with enough theatrics to fill 100 high school performances of Les Miserables), and one sure to cement her place in the Top 6.
2. Candice Glover, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Now, “Satisfaction” is ultimately one of the worst song choices Candice could’ve made, because what’s she going to do? Sex up the tightest rock melody ever with unnecessary trilling and wailing and hoo-hoooooing? Borrow the antsy Mick shuffle from the “Moves Like Jagger” video? Hump Orianthi like she’s Jerry Hall? I didn’t see much potential for Candice to roll out her own red carpet and proclaim herself the queen of season 12, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself bummed by her performance. Yep, she sure sang well. Perfectly, in fact. She sure appropriated Bessie Smith’s stank grimace and growled like Big Mama Thornton. She sure knew the words. Strutted a bit too, even when her broken toe threatened to fell her. But I just feel like this performance was as good as you could expect it to be — which is pretty damn good — but there was no place for Candice to vamp, pout, and proclaim like an Egyptian panther goddess. Would’ve loved to see her try on the Stones’ “Play With Fire” and re-expose its sinister, creepy message. (Thank you Didi Benami for achieving this in season 10.)
1. Amber Holcomb, “What About Love”
Three weeks at #1 for Holy Holcomb, plebes. And speaking of panther goddesses: The only thing that could’ve improved flawless-saucy-Mentadent-grin Amber’s performance would’ve been some real, hardcore, Grace Jones-style strutting. I wanted her growling on all fours down a staircase. Vaulting down a catwalk while Herb Ritts snapped glossies. I craved sexy rock edge here, even if Amber wore what the judges exhaustively described as a sexy outfit. Not quite the same thing. Frankly, the outfit could’ve been sexier! Even if she showed less skin! Give me Amber in Shania Twain’s head-to-toe leopard ensemble from the video for “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” which remains the only “country” song I’m positive was written for me. Give me jaw-dropping, craycray sexiness. Not just cute-sexiness sponsored by Charlotte Russe. No, no.
All that said, “What About Love” was a pretty slick song choice for Amber, though I distinctly remember Top 24 chanteuse Janell Wheeler (2010?) getting eliminated for it. I loved the key change and the airy quality of her high notes halfway through the jam. The fight in her voice. The glamor, of course. We need to applaud glamor, people. Though Candice has the superior voice, Angie has the superior reason to be on the stage: feisty, delicious charisma. I have a funny feeling Amber won’t make the Top 5, but I still think she resembles that term the judges use to describe someone we’d actually want to watch at the Grammys — “the full package.”