Wednesday night's "American Idol" Top 4 performance show -- in which Amber Holcomb, Candice Glover, Kree Harrison and Angie Miller sang two solos apiece (one song of their choosing, one "one-hit wonder") and also paired up for duets – proved this season's crown is still anyone's for the taking.
"Any of us can win right now," Harrison said in the show's opening moments.
"America has the hardest choice," Miller added.
By now, of course, we all have our favorites. Certainly the judges have theirs. If Holcomb and Miller don't rake in the votes this week, it won't be for lack of effort or enthusiasm on the judges' part. Randy Jackson, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj couldn't hop to their feet fast enough whenever either of those two singers opened their mouths. Mariah Carey would have stood, she explained, except her dress train was caught on the bottom of her chair. (Ah, the travails of the well-dressed diva.)
Personally, I'm a much bigger fan of Glover and Harrison, about whom the judges blow hot and cold (sometimes very cold). Still, even I have to concede that Glover and Harrison were not completely on their game Wednesday, whereas Miller had her best night in weeks.
Holcomb took the stage first with a powerful "The Power of Love" (Celine Dion, not Huey Lewis). Curly-haired and clad in a sleeveless, belted white-and-black jumpsuit, she looked great and let the song build, prompting Urban, Jackson and Minaj to give her her first standing ovation of the night.
Then they tumbled all over themselves to heap praise. Urban called the song choice "perfect" and Holcomb's range "crazy and effortless," and commended her for her "poise and confidence." Minaj thought Holcomb looked like a "big sexy glass of milk" and called her "so current" and "so ready" that she felt like she was at her show watching her. Jackson quibbled with Minaj's simile, saying Holcomb looked more like a black-and-white cookie to him, and then said she was the contestant who'd grown the most during the competition. And Carey said Holcomb had taken a classic song and gave it "flavor" to make it current. "Hashtag pow," she added. Jimmy Iovine, backstage, said the song would be hard to beat.
For her round-two song, "MacArthur Park" (a one-off pop hit for Richard Harris, later sung by Donna Summer), Holcomb appeared in a clingy orange dress and orange lipstick (maybe to evoke a colorfully frosted cake left out in the rain?) as well as high silver gladiator sandals. She held some loooong notes. The judges loved everything -- except, in Minaj's case, Holcomb's outfit -- comparing her to summer sunshine and a "blooming flower." Minaj said that out of the remaining women in the competition, Holcomb was the one she'd most like to be friends with.
The judges' Holcomb lovefest went on and on, which made it especially startling when, moments later, Iovine came out to say he completely disagreed. The song was as corny as it gets, he sniffed, and even Holcomb hadn't been able to pull it off.
The judges, apparently shocked to have their opinion called into question, interrupted their critique of Glover's round-two performance to defend themselves. They hadn't been talking about the song, they objected, but rather about the singing. That might have been an acceptable defense if they hadn't kept saying all night long that they weren't going to talk about the singing and were instead going to focus on things such as song choice and style. Sigh.
Glover's round-one performance, Drake's "Find Your Love," may not have been her best, but there's something about the warmth of her tone and the way she sinks into a song that carries her through no matter what she sings. I am able to relax into her performances in a way I never quite can with Holcomb -- or Miller, for that matter. So it was frustrating to hear Minaj refuse to discuss her vocals and instead give Glover a lecture on getting lost in an "old-fashioned bracket" and Jackson characterize her as a "church" girl.
At least Carey and Urban seemed to enjoy Glover's performance. Carey dubbed it "risky" but worthwhile and Urban liked Glover's consistent "authenticity."
Iovine, meanwhile, called Glover's take on Drake the "second best performance of the night." It had been only the second performance of the night.
During her duet with Miller, and then later in her round-two performance, Samantha Sang's "Emotion," the judges allowed that Glover had redeemed herself. But then they hijacked their favorable critique to return to the discussion of Holcomb's performance! Finally, Iovine came out to talk some sense into them. "Candice was better than Amber" in the second round, he said. Oddly enough, they agreed. "Well, then say it!" Iovine chided.