Season 12, Season 12 finals

American Idol Top 9: The song by song grades

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Will Nicki Minaj show up on time?

Will she show up at all?

Here’s an even tougher question: Will some of the Season 12 cast ever sing anything other than a ballad?

Yep, I’m looking at you,  Candice Glover, Amber Holcomb, Devin Velez and Burnell Taylor.

Because if any of you stick to ballads again this week and don’t nail it, I’m going to be merciless in my critique.

It’s time to show some versatility.

More importantly, it’s time to liven this show up.

Guys still hoping for a little help from the voters include Burnell, Devin, Paul Jolley and Lazaro Arbos.

Gals more likely to travel the long and winding road to the Idol finals include Candice, Amber, Kree Harrison, Janelle Arthur and Angie Miller.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. We’ve heard these songs sooo often on Idol.

If you want examples of how it’s done, or what we should be seeing tonight, head here. I’ve posted my five favorite Idol performances from nights when the Idols were forced to sing John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs back in seasons seven and nine.

Wooh! Off to a great start. Nicki’s on time. Mariah’s apparently wearing something she can stand up in.

Ugh! Great start came to a screeching halt with an in-show Coke commercial featuring Carly Rae Jepsen.

And the sing-off results from last week. The winner is: Aubrey Cleland.

Excellent news. She was most deserving. Of course, she should have been a wild card pick for the Season 12 finals.

Kree Harrison of American Idol (FOX Photo)Kree Harrison, 22, Nashville, Tenn. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Where is Amber Holcomb? She got the pimp spot last week. And the unwritten Idol rule is that he or she who goes last one week sings first the next. Unless, apparently, you’re a judge favorite, but perhaps not a fan favorite. Or at least not so much of a fan favorite that the judges are sure you can survive singing first. Back to Kree, who’s singing “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Kree is first in my Idol rankings and landed in the top three last week. And she’s off to a splendid start, though she apparently has a cold. Or perhaps Idol was just trying to start off the show on a bright note. Because Kree is delivering a wonderful opening. Liked the touch of soulfulness in that performance. I’m telling you, this gal is going to be tough to deny over the course of a long Idol season. Grade: A– (and I reserve the right to upgrade based on what happens later.)

Burnell Taylor of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Burnell Taylor, 19, New Orleans, La.: Burnell is singing “Let It Be.” Yep, another ballad from Burnell, who doesn’t know the song? Really? Burnell finished seventh last week and is number eight in my rankings. Here go the hands. And, just in case Burnell needs a hand, here comes the Idol choir. I will give Burnell this, he’s doing much better than last week. And very well for a guy who doesn’t know the song. But I’m not getting any sense of emotional attachment to the song from him. To find out how important that is, follow the link above and check out the song at the bottom — Brooke White’s brilliant performance of this from Season 7. Wow, the judges sure like Burnell. He’s getting rave reviews. Randy says he couldn’t have wanted anything more from Burnell. And he should remember Brooke’s version of that song. How about a little emotion, Randy? Might that have been appropriate on that song? Huh Grade: C+

Amber Holcomb of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Amber Holcomb, 19, Houston, Texas: Come to think of it, Amber just had a birthday. Maybe not being forced to sing first was her birthday present. She’s another judge favorite. She finished fifth last week. She’s also fifth in my rankings. Amber’s singing “She’s Leaving Home,” and Jimmy Iovine is predicting we’re in for a winner of a performance. Really nice staging of the performance by the folks at Idol. Can Amber do young and fun? I think she’d be so good at young and fun. Pretty nice vocal, but it was a little sleepy. Why are these kids picking Idol songs they’ve never heard before? Keith is complimenting Amber on making the song sound fresh. Nicki wants the light colored lipstick back. And thinks Amber didn’t look like she was into what she was singing. Well, it wasn’t a performance we’re likely to remember at the end of the night. Grade: B–

Lazaro Arbos of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Lazaro Arbos, 21, Naples, Fla.: A Lazaro fan asked me whether I thought he might be in trouble tonight. My response: Not a chance. He’s going to make it through the next couple of weeks on popularity alone. The guy ranks second among all the Idols in Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Lazaro will sing “In My Life.” And he might be thankful for all those fans by the end of the night. Uh-oh, Lazaro, this is not good at all. Bet Nicki comments on the bright yellow jacket and the red shoes. I’m not sure Lazaro was even in the right key for the first part of that vocal. Mariah compliments Lazaro on his courage and perseverance. Nicki says she needs the old Lazaro back, the confident Lazaro. Randy wonders where the vocals have gone and calls it his worst performance yet. Grade: D

Candice Glover of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Candice Glover, 23, St. Helena Island, S.C. OK, time to rescue us from a string of sleepy performances, Candice. She landed in the top three last week, and I’ve got her ranked at number three. Jimmy’s predicting another strong performance. Hey, look at this, Candice is going upbeat with “Come Together.” Hooray. Dang, she can sing something other than big ballads. And she still found a way to decorate the song with a few special flourishes. Really liked that ending. Keith likes the “rock chick” side of her and calls it “absolutely killer.” Great advice from Nicki — make sure she plays the part as well as sings the part. Randy loved the vocal. Great compliments all around from the judges. Grade: B+

Paul Jolley of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Paul Jolley, 23, Palmersville, Texas: He finished eighth last week; I have him ranked ninth. In other words, he’d better do well. He’ll sing “Eleanor Rigby,” and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to top David Cook’s version from Season 7. Wow, starting off in an awfully high note. But he pulled it off. And he’s turning in a really nice vocal. Much better than I expected. And he just soared where he should have soared. Something he didn’t do last week. Way to go, Paul. That was a really, really solid performance. Keith starts off by complimenting him on his performance. Nicki, however, didn’t like it. She calls it “safe, bland and forgettable.” Randy says he thought Paul seemed disconnected from the song. I didn’t get that impression at all. Grade: B

Angela Miller of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Angie Miller, 19, Beverly, Mass. Look at that, Angie’s high school class voted her “Next American Idol.” Heck, that might prove prophetic judging from the fan base she’s amassing. Angie’s going to sing “Yesterday.” Let me play Nicki for just a moment. I really like the new hair style. OK, back to music. Hmm, interesting performance. There were a couple of shaky moments early on. There was a heck of a glory note in the middle that was great, but seemed a little misplaced. And then there was a magnificent ending, which is becoming an Angie trademark. It all adds up to great reviews from the judges. It all adds up to a performance that will certainly earn her another week. Angie ain’t going nowhere until we get down to a top three at least. Grade: B

Devin Velez of American Idol (FOX Photo)Devin Velez, 18, Chicago, Ill. He finished ninth last week, so he needs a really strong performance. And we’re in for another ballad from Devin — “The Long and Winding Road.” Good luck. Well, that wasn’t as sleepy as “Temporary Home.” That wasn’t nearly as good as the song has been done before on this show (say by David Archuleta). I think it’s just that I’m not a huge fan of Devin’s voice. And the flourish at the end didn’t save it. Sorry about that. Keith thinks he wasn’t connected with the song. Nicki is looking at him like he’s crazy. She liked the performance. Randy proclaims that Devin is back. I say, it wouldn’t be a travesty if Devin went home. Grade: C+

Janelle Arthur of American Idol. (FOX Photo)Janelle Arthur, 23, Oliver Springs, Tenn. The gal who finished last among the very talented gals gets the pimp spot this week. She’ll sing “I Will.” Janelle’s really likable. Here comes The Beatles with a country twang. What’s Janelle supposed to do? As she once said, some people love it, some people hate it, but she can’t do anything about it. Normally, I don’t mind it. But I’m not loving it on this song. But Keith calls it “really really beautiful.” Nicki says Janelle looks like “a beautiful swan goddess.” She’s beside herself over that performance. Now Randy says Janelle is back and calls it one of the best performances of the night. OK, I wasn’t nearly as wowed as the judges. But Janelle has been doing much better than she was in the Vegas round. Grade: B

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