Angie Miller performs on "American Idol" (Ray Mickshaw / Fox )
If "American Idol" doesn't crown a female winner this year, it'll be a full-on crime. The women in the running are just so much better than the men. That couldn't have been clearer on Wednesday night, when the top 10 paid homage to past "Idol" winners by singing songs at some point sung by the former champs.
It was a theme guaranteed to feel derivative -- and to show off comparative flaws -- but what are you going to do? Clearly, "Idol" is doing what it can to remind us of our long history together: Even though Nicki Minaj can't be bothered to show up on time (stuck in traffic, she said; unprofessional, I say), clearly irritating the other judges, the producers would like us to keep coming back. And, of course, they also want to up the emotional quotient by reminding us of the stakes -- that the show can mint superstars with staying power (lots of Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson songs) -- or ... not (Lee DeWyze's accomplishments, whatever they are, went unhonored).
Here are the performances -- the good, the really good and the yawn-worthy:
Curtis Finch Jr.: Stepping out in a bright, shiny paisley jacket, the gospel-infused R&B vocalist took on Fantasia's "I Believe," and the three judges who were on hand to comment differed in their responses. Keith Urban and Mariah Carey liked that he'd stayed in his comfort zone. "You always pick the right songs," Urban said, though he contended that Finch wasn't sitting on the notes quite right. But Randy Jackson was looking for something a little different from Finch, a few new tricks.
Janelle Arthur: Ever adorable and charming, the country singer tackled "Gone," a Montgomery Gentry song that Scotty McCreery had made a mark with two seasons ago. Urban dug her "Lee Ann Womacky" runs, and Carey thought her performance had a star quality. But Minaj and Jackson were less impressed. Minaj said she wanted to hear something that showed the "pretty part" of Arthur's voice, and Jackson thought the song went nowhere.
Devin Velez: Velez, who faced a singular challenge in picking a song from past winners that suited his voice and style, chose to sing Underwood's "Temporary Home," to which he said he felt a personal connection. The song didn't do much to show off his supple, spot-on vocals. Only Minaj really seemed to like it, telling Velez that it seemed like he was in his "comfort zone," and Urban that he was "crazy" to find fault with the performance. "You're calling me crazy?" Urban said, aghast. Yeah, Minaj definitely didn't earn any points with her co-judges by not bothering to show up on time.
Angie Miller: Jimmy Iovine may think Miller comes across as pageanty during some performances, whatever that means, but the judges said she looked and sounded perfect on Celine Dion's "I Surrender," which Clarkson had tackled during her "Idol" run. Urban said he thought she "knocked it out of the park." Minaj went on about Miller's leather dress, her legs and the way she walked in heels, calling her "flawless." Jackson unleashed a flurry of his favorite empty expressions: "The competition starts now ... in it to win it ... that's how you do it." And Carey offered just one well-chosen word: "Stellar."
Paul Jolley: Following Iovine's advice not to over-sing, Jolley dialed back his crazy-eyed style as he delivered Lonestar's "Amazed," which McCreery apparently sung at some point on "Idol." The judges seemed to think it was among his better performances, and Minaj even told Jolley that he'd stimulated her sexual appetite. I still don't get a lot of sex appeal from Jolley, but can see that, when he's very, very still, he's good-looking enough to possibly please a certain faction of the "Idol" voting public.
Candice Glover: For me, Glover gave the hands-down best performance of the night, singing "I (Who Have Nothing)," which she said was her favorite of Jordin Sparks' "Idol" performances. Her pitch-perfect (emotionally too) rendition nabbed her a standing ovation from the judges -- except Carey, who said she would have stood if her dress hadn't been so tight. "Gosh, I love you so much," Urban told her, commending her for never letting the audience pull her out of her "zone." Minaj said no one should ever be allowed to sing that song again because she'd "destroyed and annihilated" it in her own "fresh and new and crispy" style. Jackson said it was "one of the greatest performances on the show this Season 12 of 'Idol,'" which actually isn't saying much, at this point. And Carey said that every time Glover has stepped out on the stage to sing, she's "mesmerized ... transfixed" watching her.