Lend the Top 9 your ears and they'll sing you Beatles songs they've never heard before

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 21, 2013 at 05:42 AM EDT
Fox

American Idol

S12 E20
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Would you stand up and walk out on me if I said Beatles night is always my “absolute favorite” (hat tip/chest tattoo peek to Keith Urban) of all the tired-out American Idol themes? I just don’t see how you can go wrong with the Lennon-McCartney songbook, as thinned out as it is (the show only has clearance to air a small window of tunes). When the contestants blow it, it’s utter blasphemy, but when they pull it off, it’s so divine! High drama either way.

Mess’rs K.(en) and N.(igel) have assured the public their production will be second to none. And tonight Mister Height (Ryan Seacrest) is topping the bill! I’m so annoying! LOOK AT ME, I’M A HUGE BEATLES FAN.

Let’s get to the Top 9.

Kree Harrison, “With a Little Help from My Friends”: Kree covered the Joe Cocker version (I always think of it as the Wonder Years version) and rocked it…with a cold! “This song was made in central casting for her,” said Jimmy, which struck me as very “To be clear, we chose this song for her.” Most of the songs did seem like assignments tonight. But Kree definitely knew and felt this one and dug deep. I would say Candice just slightly “out-uptempoed” her tonight, but that’s fine. Both will move on.

Nicki and Mariah attempted to out-pun each other in their Kree-tique — Nicki adored the fact that she always put her own “Kreedo on it” (or it might have been “Kreedom.” who knows? who cares?) and Mariah said Kree’s vocals were “Kreely amazing,” which could have been interpreted as really amazing or clearly amazing. There are so many ways to say the same thing, especially when puns get involved!

Also, Kree’s late parents had the best ’80s hair. Way better than Angie Miller’s.

Burnell Taylor, “Let It Be”: You may know him as “a guy Keith once called Sweet Burnell,” said Ryan. Desperate much? He obviously doesn’t have a real nickname yet — just let it be! I tried to get over my internal, psychedelic, major-Beatles-phase-in-junior high rage over Burnell having never heard such a classic. But it’s okay. I don’t know most of the songs on the radio today. Guess which one of us is more relevant? (Me.) (Just kidding, it’s this teenager with crazy glasses.)

I wasn’t a huge fan of the ENORMOUS candle animations behind Burnell — they were distracting and dwarfed him. But I liked the use of a modest, occasionally lit staircase choir and Burnell’s boldly guttural melody choices. I wouldn’t have guessed the song had been new to him if I hadn’t known. I even liked the casual spin on “Mother Mary comes to me, YEAH.” That was potentially blasphemous! But the kid has a good handle on what works, and practice makes pretty damn good. Keith Urban called Sweet Burnell’s tone “the most instantly recognizable” of the group.

NEXT: I know I’ll often stop and think about Lazaro’s worst performance… Amber Holcomb, “She’s Leaving Home”: Maybe I’m biased because I love this song so much — it’s so moving and tragic yet full of hope, and it comes out of nowhere on the Sgt. Pepper’s album to whack you upside the head with emotion. I remember listening to this with headphones in the ol’ minivan on family road trips, silently weeping out the window over the prospect of someday parting ways with my family. Then in my early 20s I was like “Wait, why are her parents so sad — she got a job!” But this isn’t about me. Sorry to get all Mimi Me for a minute there.

The judges found Amber’s performance slow-building and lacking (Nicki bitched about Amber’s lack of light lipstick), but for me it was the best “make it current!” interpretation of the night. I loved the way Amber sauntered out confidently amidst a smoky haze and switched parts of the song around. I never would have imagined a big power note on “leaving,” or the upward lilt she threw on “so many years” and “how could she do this to meeeeeee.” And the final “Bye bye-EEEE” high note was inventive, too. I feel like she really went for it here! And she set the mood rather well by squelching her tendency to smile all the time.

Keith and I were on the same page — “You made it sound as fresh as if it was just written this week.” This is his favorite Beatles song! Plus the one after this, the one after that, and so on. It’s amazing how long he kept that joke up without it turning annoying. Well done, Keith!

The rest of the judges were just like “Uh what song is that?” which surely made it easier to dismiss Amber.

Lazaro Arbos, “In My Life”: Oh, wow, this was really bad. Embarrassing. The worst. Lazaro, who showed up right after winning a golf tournament in Oz, had to fight his bright yellow jacket for the coveted title of Loudest. I wish the jacket had won. The judges benevolently attempted to blame the key of the song for Lazaro’s failure, and Mariah offered some b.s. about how “for me, when I look at you, it’s about your perseverance and courage.” Barf. Only Randy was honest with the kid: “That was your worst ever. Out of tune from beginning to end. We’re just starting to wonder, where did your vocals go?” Just starting? This week? Hilarious, Dawg.

Lazaro had a mini meltdown after his critique, keeping his face turned to his right to shield a steady stream of tears that Ryan helpfully wiped away. Poor Seacrest even tried a double playful punch, and finally a shoulder-squeeze strong-arm. “You all right? Stay strong.” Aw, he’s so good! I could never get mad at Ryan.

NEXT: God, that Candice Glover, she just do what she please Candice Glover, “Come Together”: I’m so glad we saw Jimmy encourage Candice to treat the “complicated and esoteric” lyrics in the song’s verses as negligible and focus on hitting the choruses, because as a viewer it’s very off-putting to see that strain, especially with a song the singer doesn’t know. Aware of this strategy, I felt like I didn’t need to worry about all that gibberish either.

Not only did Candice pull off another showstopper (in the middle of the show no less) but she was by far the best “rocker” of the night. The Other Guitarist (not our fave Hot Guitar Player Brady Cohan) even wore sunglasses to clinch the rockin’ vibe.

I particularly loved the surprising low note on “muddy water” and delightfully high “so hard to seeeeeeee!” Nicki wanted more crazy, in-the-moment faces from Candice but I disagreed; I think she mostly does stay in it with her “attitude face.” Oh, and I’m loving Candice’s dad. “My boss is excited to just even know me…I hope he don’t see this!”

Paul Jolley, “Eleanor Rigby”: Well, this is another of my favorite Beatles songs — it’s particularly haunting if you play it very softly while recapping live reality TV shows in a solemn cave of tragedy. Seriously, it’s great. Unfortunately, despite the fog enhancement and four-part orchestra, Paul couldn’t quite pull off the aura of minor-key desperation this song deserves. It didn’t help that viewers were likely mentally comparing his performance to David Cook’s masterful one from season 7.

That said, it was encouraging to see Paul’s “perfectionism” and willingness to adapt to Jimmy’s suggestions in the studio, and I did really like his vocal tonight. He seemed much less self-conscious than he has in the past. It’s just not quite there though. The judges continued to squash Paul’s pipe dream of being the male Taylor Swift (I just picture big, colorful words floating around in his mind…IMAGE, MONEY, FAME) and suggested he’s more suited to pop or rock. Mariah took it even further: She sees Paul making “an uptempo dance record produced by some pop producers. Get on a hard-driving track and do something big.” [Dramatic singsong on its way…] “You never know-ohhhhhhh.” Eh, sometimes you do.

Angela Miller, “Yesterday”: It struck me after Angie described herself as a “theater person” at her high school that what I dislike about her performances is that she’s always play-acting. She’s so precise on her long gazes into the camera, making sure her face oozes this emotion, then that one. It’s like we can see the process of her masterminding — “What would look perfect on TV right this second?” — and then carrying that out as an actress. In trying so hard to act vulnerable, she comes across as anything but. With the new “edgy” hair (straight long layers, called it!) and soft purple spotlight, it felt Angie she was auditioning for a Broadway version of Jem and the Holograms: Disneyfied.

None of this is a knock on her vocals, which were admittedly great. And I do think Angie’s whole acting shtick will be effective. I even think she’ll probably win the season. But she’s not quite natural enough for me right now. And the entire segment seemed like a setup for Randy to proudly compare Angie to Hayley from Paramore or Amy Lee from Evanescence.

NEXT: Penis humor (?) with Nicki Minaj Devin Velez, “The Long and Winding Road”: I’m saddened to report that I’m also not feeling much of a genuine connection between Devin and his music. I want to, because his voice is just so pretty. Burnell has the coolest voice of the guys; Devin has the finest.

His performances just aren’t resonating for me. I had no idea what he’d sung by the end of the show. I feel like military-schooled Chicago boy Devin is dying to be more fabulous but is holding himself back — Keith called it a “laid-backness.” All I know is Devin’s shiny green suit with a sparkly rosette pin was working harder than he was.

Oh, thanks to Nicki for classing up the joint by trying to get “penis” by the five-second-delay censors. “I mean pianist! Can’t bleep that, HA HA HA, FOX!” (Fox’s unofficial response: “F— you, Minaj.”)

Janelle Arthur, “I Will”: This was the perfect song choice for Janelle — I was waiting for something this subtle where her pure vocal could sort of just creep over us and draw us in. Still, I wanted more out of this number, especially as it came last in the episode. Maybe it’s just that I’d have preferred if there had been 700 percent less things happening onstage. The giant twirling heart in the background was so treacherous….

…and at times Janelle had to put up a serious fight for some frame space!

Favorite critique from Randy tonight was to Janelle: “You had a nice thing with your head.”

The judges loved Janelle — Keith made sure to point out her cowboy-boot heels and Nicki asked her to renew their vows (oh no, will Kree be jealous?) and called her a “beautiful swan goddess.” That’s one mighty fine euphemism for “jeweled toga.”

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude

Why yes, dah-ling. It reminds me of the first time I fell asleep by the pool. FOR ME.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen! See you tomorrow. Who goes home tonight?

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

Which 2013 ‘American Idol’ judge is your favorite? — POLL

All ‘American Idol’ recaps on EW.com

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