Burnell Taylor performs on "American Idol." (Michael Becker / Fox )
The nine remaining "American Idol" contestants tackled the music of the Beatles Wednesday night, despite the fact that -- honestly, what is the world coming to? -- some of them had never heard the songs they'd sung before.
That's right. Burnell Taylor had never heard "Let It Be" -- or any tune by the Fab Four. (He'd heard of them, he said.) Amber Holcomb didn't know "She's Leaving Home," which would have been startling enough even if Mariah Carey -- Mariah freaking Carey -- hadn't also admitted that she'd never heard the song before either.
Despite the occasional lack of familiarity with the material, however, we still got some good performances. We also got word that, thanks to the "Idol" voters, Aubrey Cleland had beaten out Charlie Askew for the 11th slot on the "American Idol" tour. Sorry, Charlie. And sorry, awkward turtles. Ryan Seacrest gave him a sweet send-off: "We will never forget you, Charlie," he said.
Back to the performances:
Kree Harrison: After reminding us that, heartrendingly, she'd lost her father when she was 12 and her mother when she was 19, Harrison said that, though she'd never performed a Beatles song, the band had been one of her dad's favorites. She sang "A Little Help From My Friends," and was every bit as good as Jimmy Iovine had promised us she'd be, showing off her lush, open tone. Keith Urban said she sounded like herself -- like all the cool things about country -- no matter what she sang. Nicki Minaj liked the way Harrison put her "own Kreedom" on the music. Randy Jackson declared Harrison to be "ready." And Carey faked everyone out by saying she "didn't think it was good," before declaring it to be "fan-freaking-tastic." Oh, Mariah.
Burnell Taylor: Miraculously, even though he'd never heard "Let It Be" or the band behind it before, Taylor did the song justice, showing off his captivating vocal tone to boot. "You didn't even sing the song, you caressed it … like it was a newborn baby," Minaj said, admiring Taylor's delicacy and raspiness. Jackson said the performance left him wanting for nothing. Carey called it "genuine" and "heartfelt." Urban complimented Taylor on his "instantly recognizable" vocal tone. Taylor heard from Seacrest too: He advised him to keep the snazzy leather jacket he'd performed in.
Amber Holcomb: She apparently grew up running around barefoot on a farm -- with lots of family members -- and her dad cutely suggested that all he wants her to do on "Idol" is "win it." Iovine predicted that Holcomb wouldn't be leaving the show anytime soon because she'd kill "She's Leaving Home," which it turned out she'd never heard before. The performance was a bit theatrical but also engaging to watch and vocally spot-on. The judges seemed so-so on it. Jackson thought it started slow but that Holcomb ultimately found her power notes. Carey, who also hadn't heard the song before, found her to be "fearless." Urban claimed the tune as his "absolute favorite Beatles song of all time" and thought Holcomb had made it sound as fresh as the day it was written. Minaj, after getting sidetracked about lipstick color, accused Holcomb of looking "defeated" even though her vocal was "amazing."
Lazaro Arbos: This was Arbos' inevitable crash-and-burn moment. Clad in a bright yellow jacket, hair again retro-styled, Arbos sweated (literally) his way through "In My Life." He was off-key in parts. His enunciation was muddy throughout. And it looked a little as if he might just keel over right in the middle of it. But it wasn't until the judges expressed their disappointment -- relatively gently, I thought -- that he really lost it. Carey had commended him on his "bravery," "courage" and "perseverance." Urban suggested he might have sung the song in a different key. Minaj bemoaned his lack of confidence and begged for its return. And then Jackson let him have it. "I think that was your worst performance ever," he said, adding Arbos was out of tune and "just not hitting it" vocally. Face dripping with sweat and tears, Arbos explained -- with difficulty -- the song had been swapped in late in the game. "Hang in there, buddy," Seacrest reassured. "Wipe those tears off."
Candice Glover: We didn't need Iovine to tell us Glover was going to wow us all with "Come Together" -- because she always wows us -- but it was gratifying to hear him tell her "This show is very lucky to have you." Glover looked super-comfortable and confident striding around the stage. Urban thought she came across like a "rock chick." Minaj wanted to see more "attitude" in her face. Jackson was thrilled she tackled an up-tempo number. And Carey compared Glover to a "prizefighter" and said she could do things vocally that no other contestant could do. Then everyone made silly faces. No, really.