American Idol: Top 5 - April 17, 2013

Top 5 - Year You Were Born & Divas - April 17, 2013 (UPDATED)

I'm trying something a little different this week - I'm just going to post about the first round of performances for now ("Year You Were Born") and then update later with the second half ("Divas").

1. Candice Glover - "Straight Up" (1989) A/A-

This was an effortlessly cool performance. Candice made this song seem very modern and current. She actually brought out the meaning in the lyric and gave it an attitude. (I can NOT be the only one who misses Paul Abdul on my singing reality competitions.) Mariah was right when she said it was an unpredictable song choice - it was fun and had a jazzy energy to it which started off the show on the right foot.

2. Janelle Arthur - "When I Call Your Name" (1989) A

I am honestly trying to figure out how this song could stop anyone from crying. It is absolutely heartwrenching and devastating. This might just be Janelle's best performance on the show to date I think! While she hasn't put as much true emotion into past performances as she could have, I really felt the emotion from her in this song, so I'd have to disagree with Keith on this one. (Then again, I maybe benefited from not having the original Vince Gill version to compare it to, as I've never heard this song before tonight.) It was a vast improvement from her cover of Garth Brooks' "The Dance" last week. I loved the soft, beautiful way she ended the song.

3. Kree Harrison - "She Talks To Angels" (1990) B

The arrangement was pretty sleepy for a rock song; it was a dentist's office sort of version of a song with a lot of grit and blues to it. That really brought the overall enjoyment of the song down for me. I loved the simple, acoustic way she started the song with just the one sexy guitar player. I would have loved if she had stayed that way and really let her vocals shine. The arrangement did not allow her voice to soar at all and seemed very amateur and boring to me. Overall, it wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I do applaud Kree picking a unique song choice,

4. Angie Miller - "I'll Stand By You" (1994) A-

Angie has been criticized by some (not usually the judges) for being too polished and dramatic in her delivery, performances, enunciation, and just overall demeanor. This song showcased a much more raw tone in her voice. Especially towards the end of the song, it was more of a rock vocal than we've heard from her in the past. It may have been her getting lost in the emotion, which contributed to her stumbling on her words (but recovering almost immediately) in a few places. I would honestly much rather see that from her, or really any singer, than a performance that comes off as hollow and affected. Music is about feeling and passion at its core

5. Amber Holcomb - "Without You" (1994) C

4 years ago, I wrote a blog post about this song. It's an intensely powerful song with the sort of desperate lyrics that don't get written anymore. It's visceral and if sung correctly, should leave you with a feeling in the pit of your stomach. The lyrics are literally "I can't live, if living is without you", that untold despair of the hopelessness of lost love.

Amber's version was very soulless and sleepy in comparison to the best versions I've heard of this song. She did not evoke any of the passion of the song, and it even came off a bit tired and lazy in the beginning of the performance. It wasn't that she didn't hit the notes properly I suppose, but I couldn't believe Keith could critique Janelle for not showing any emotion in her performance when Amber's lack of passion was much more egregious. I was really overall disappointed.

Below I've embedded the unbelievable Kelly Clarkson version from the first season of American Idol. Don't even bother trying to find Amber's version. Seriously.

Best of the 1st Round Janelle
Worst of the 1st Round: Amber

6. Candice Glover - "When You Believe" B+

I must admit, the first time I listened to this performance (the live show airing) I gave it a B-/C+. I felt like it was Candice's worst performance on the show - and while I still stand by that assessment, it must come with a caveat. Candice's "worst" performance is still the kind of performance all Idol contestants can only hope to aspire to. This song has a high degree of difficulty as evidenced by the fact that two of the greatest vocalists of our modern era - Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey - sang it originally. But as for the Idol performance, I think the arrangement is pretty awful and dinky sounding. It literally sounds like a xylophone. On second listen, Candice's voice is a master class in perfection. She really caresses the song and just sounds absolutely gorgeous. I think with a better arrangement, this performance could have been "A" level.

7. Janelle Arthur - "Dumb Blonde" B-

Janelle is a true performer - I can see her playing arenas. Unlike many of the other contestants, Janelle moves around on stage, tries uptempo songs, and actually appears to be having fun. Unfortunately, she was off the pitch at parts throughout the song. I loved her delivery and attitude; the song choice was pretty ballsy as it's a lesser-known song to most of the audience. It looked like she had a lot of fun performing a song she really loved; I just wish her vocals had been more on point.

8. Kree Harrison - "Have You Ever Been In Love" A

Kree was smart to pick a song by Celine Dion that isn't as omnipresent as "My Heart Will Go On" or "Because You Loved Me" - it still gave her the ability to soar vocally without drawing a direct comparison to The Best Singer In The World. One thing I really like about Kree is the fact she sings a wide variety of genres of song, but always gives a slightly country spin to it. This was gorgeous - I really stopped and listened, put down my pen and paper, and felt the emotion in the song she was singing.

9. Angie Miller - "Halo" A-

She started the song very breathy and low, slowly building to the intensity. The second half of the song, where she could really belt the words, was significantly better than the first. I absolutely adored her dress, and generally all of the fashion she's worn on the show. Her tendency to overenunicate EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. is off-putting after a while and I hope that she works on this affect. This was a very powerful performance - she had much more intensity tonight than in the past - and I loved how her performances took on more of a rock edge.

10. Amber Holcomb - "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life" A

The show is trying VERY, VERY hard to give Amber an "Idol Moment TM". Maybe they feel that she can be a viable successor to Rihanna - with an actual singing voice. This was an absolutely gorgeous performance. The staging was perfect (although very very old fashioned for a girl born in 1994 - it reminded me of something out of the Lost Generation, 1920's era...although coming from me, that's a compliment). Amber's voice sounded honey-smooth and thick, extremely beautiful. I think it was a smart move by Amber to choose a song that a lot of the audience may be unfamiliar with. It's difficult to pick songs with a theme like "Divas". Like I mentioned with Kree, if the contestant does a note-for-note carbon copy version, they better be on point or risk coming up short. But with this song, Amber could really make the song her own and shine.

Best of the 2nd round: Amber
Worst of the 2nd round: Janelle