American Idol recap: Motown plus Madonna

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March 28, 2013 by Susan Miller

This week, Idol celebrated the great Smokey Robinson by singing “music from Detroit.”  In years past, this has just been known as Motown night, but this year they expanded it slightly so they could include a Madonna song.  All the contestants chose Motown numbers for their individual performances, so I don’t know if it was a late change, or the contestants couldn’t figure it out or what.  Just goes to show that Smokey and Motown never go out of style.  He got a lot of love during the show tonight, and for good reason.  He seems like a sweetie.

Judges update: When the doors opened and the judges walked on stage, it was revealed that Nicki and Mariah were wearing the exact same color of dress.  Knowing what we know about how much these two dislike each other, it was an ominous start.  Mariah had some sort of wand that she kept interrupting Ryan with and then there was talk of it being her birthday or anniversary or something later in the show.  She kept trying to upstage Nicki and couldn’t compete.  It really is a shame that Randy has rubbed off on her.  This is going to get a whole lot uglier in the next 8 weeks.

But enough about them.  Let’s get back to the actual singers.

Candice Glover, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” – Candice got to start the show tonight and apparently she was ner-vous.  I would be too, if I knew Smokey Robinson was in the audience.  This is one of those songs that’s been done to death on Idol, but Candice proved yet again that she can bring a new spin to old Idol standards.  It was flawless and fun and funky and made me long for the days when Christina Aguilera sang old standards.  (Sidenote: the movie Burlesque is very silly, but Christina gets the opportunity to sing real songs instead of her normal pop sludge and she’s terrific.  It’s simultaneously thrilling and depressing, not unlike an episode of Idol.  Check it out.)

Lazaro Arbos, “For Once In My Life – Lazaro sang the first of three Stevie Wonder songs tonight and did much, much better than last week.  His secret to success is picking a song he likes.  Huh.  Seems odd that it took him so long to figure that out.  Keith was right when he pointed out that he had a little trouble with the rhythm of the song, but at least the key was in Lazaro’s range for a change.  The sweet spots of the song were very nice and you could tell that he was starting to settle in a bit.  I feel bad for Lazaro, because he knows, very clearly, that he’s still in the competition based on sympathy votes and not talent.  I’m not sure how you motivate yourself to get through the Idol grind when that happens, so I think it would be the greatest blessing to all involved if this was his last week on the Idol stage.  Go out on a win and all that.

Janelle Arthur, “You Keep Me Hanging On” – Janelle played her guitar tonight!  On Motown night!  To a Supremes song! It was strange, but apparently it was something she put together when she was 14, so that made me feel a lot better about her chances for success.  It seems to me like Janelle has a very narrow range and comfort zone, and when she has to stray from it, everything falls apart immediately.  But if she can get through the next few weeks on songs that she learned 5 years ago, then we’ll get nice, sweet, easy on the ears performances from Janelle.  I liked it but I didn’t love it.  Eh.  She seems like a sweet kid and has personality for days.  She’ll be sticking around.

Devin Velez, “The Tracks of My Tears” – Devin was a revelation for me tonight and I feel bad that they didn’t give him the pimp spot tonight after being in the bottom two the last two weeks.  He and Burnell really have a great tone and choose good songs for their voice and are consummate professionals.  They don’t seem to have some of the growing pains that the girls do and I appreciate that consistency.  However, I can see that Devin may have a very niche audience.  Personally, Devin was my favorite tonight, and this will be the first Idol single that I buy this year.  His take was just so bouncy and fun with some soul and that smooth tone.  I know that sounds like a strange way to sing this song, but somehow it just worked.  I guess I like my sad songs with a side of shimmy.  It’ll sound great in headphones.  It may not be the big Idol ballad that the show is famous for, but it’s a great song with a great melody and Devin brought it to life.  A+

Burnell Taylor, “My Cherie Amour” – Oh Burnell.  This song choice really worries me.  It sounded lovely, but the song is super dated and impossible to do without coming off like a lounge singer.  I mean, there was a guy playing a flute or piccolo or something.  Add to that his all white suit and the disco lighting and it was all very cheesy.  Again, that tone of his is perfection, but I didn’t feel like this was a performance that would earn him a lot of new votes or fans.  I really want to see Burnell do something current, or get back in the lane of India.Arie and John Legend.  It’s just a little too Easy Listening FM right now.

Angie Miller, “Shop Around” – Angie is at that point in the competition where she realizes how lame it is to be the early frontrunner because then everyone nitpicks you to death every week and so you eventually act out with an upbeat stinker like “Shop Around.”  I thought she was flawless last week, but most of the internet disagreed with me which led to this week’s new uptempo, sexy, “I just want to have fun!” Angie.  It was a mess.  She was forcing her voice, trying to make moments out of nothing, over thinking every word and movement and generally stripping all the fun and carefree attitude out of the original.  The worst part of all of it is that she didn’t seem to understand how wrong the song choice was.  There are tons of great Motown songs that she could’ve had a great moment with, but she chose this one?  Why?  She just doesn’t seem to be stretching herself vocally to take chances and sing big songs and try to show off her voice.  However, I think most of that problem probably stems from having too many people tell her what she should be doing, so I’ll just leave it at that.  Go back to the piano next week, Ang.  You’ve had your rebellion and now you need a reboot.

Amber Holcomb, “Lately” – I think I’m missing something with Amber.  The judges all went crazy for this performance and I just thought it was so-so.  Amber never seems all that invested in the song or the performance.  To me, she just sounds like a really good singer, but like someone singing a solo at a choir competition or a karaoke bar or a wedding.  Maybe the trouble is that she’s picking really old songs and not changing them up at all.  I think I might believe her a little bit more if she sang a Beyonce or Adele ballad.  There’s just some weird sort of disconnect between this young, carefree, fun-loving Texas girl and these big hair, red-lipsticked old diva ballads that she keeps singing.  She can sing the snot out of them, sure, but would I buy that album or turn up the song when it came on the radio?  Probably not.  Maybe that’s how Christina Aguilera ended up where she did.  Mariah had a wonderfully awkward moment after this performance where she declared it a “tour de force” and no one clapped or screamed or agreed with her.  Keith tried to save her a couple of times, but she just kept blundering on.  It wasn’t a good night for Mariah.

Kree Harrison, “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” – Again, am I missing something?  I thought this was fantastic, and the best of the girl’s solos this evening and yet all the judges were lukewarm about it.  I’m glad that Kree made it sound like a really catchy Kree song instead of a bad copy of an Aretha song.  This version is 100% the kind of song that I would turn up when it came on the radio.  Oh no.  Are my musical tastes finally aging me out of this show?  Imagine what I could do with all that free time…

There were also group performances tonight, but the only one worth talking about was the trio of Amber, Candice and Angie singing The Supremes hit “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”.  They looked great, they had fun choreography, they sang in harmony and each sounded wonderful on their solo bits.  And that final note?  Sublime.

Motown night was the best the boys have been in weeks and I fear that we may end up with two girls in the bottom three.  My picks for top three would be Devin, Kree and Candice.  Bottom three would be Lazaro, Angie and probably Burnell, just because of that song choice.  Lazaro should absolutely go, but I doubt he will.  If Devin goes out this week it will be really disappointing, but the judges can’t possibly use their save on him with Angie still wobbling around trying to figure things out.  Prepare yourselves… this could be the week it gets interesting.

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