The Top 7 take on classic rock tunes (let Nicki Minaj boo herself in advance) with accompaniment from Orianthi

By Annie Barrett
Updated April 04, 2013 at 05:51 AM EDT
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Tonight’s Rock Songs (No Ballads) theme for the Top 7 turned out to be The Same Few Songs We Always Hear (And One Ballad). Plus: One contestant performed a song from later than the year 2000. Whaaaaaat? Idol is shakin’ it up! It’s positively the Space Age up in here. We are living it!

Burnell Taylor, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”: If the assignment was “Carry out the song title as best you can,” Burnell absolutely succeeded on Rock Week (No Ballads) (No Originality). Apparently this was the only song on Idol‘s cleared list that Burnell even vaguely knew. So, I mean, that’s dumb. They should have more songs. But also, aren’t these kids supposed to be interested in music?

I don’t understand why someone who wants to be a recording artist wouldn’t lunge at the chance to rearrange any classic rock song to better suit his personal style. There’s an entire team of professionals to help you do it! It’s just so confusing. They have stereo systems all over the place, right? Burnell probably has an iPod? Put a song on your iPod and play it 50 times. Voila: Now you know the song. And you’ll probably go around singing it to yourself, perhaps in your own particular way. So sing it that way on the show. Gah!

I know there’s a time crunch as we go week to week, and the contestants have to learn a second song, plus a results night song, plus participate in a bazillion interviews and photo ops. But where is the planning? Where is the focus on what should be the most prominent task at hand? Why would you give up so easily and treat this week as a bye — especially when you’ve been in the bottom three? When I see a lifeless, just-getting-through-it performance like Burnell’s, all I can think, in the style of Dionne from America’s Next Top Model Cycle 8, is “What the hay-ul?”

Burnell put more oomph into his duet on The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” but his efforts as a “shining star” were completely overpowered by the celestial dominance of Candice Glover, to whom Keith Urban referred as “the whole galaxy.” She really is in a class of her own — Burnell’s got a rich, unique voice and all, but next to Candice, he was barely whispering. Is this all part of the producers’ master plan to eliminate another Y-chromosome (whose name is not Lazaro) in the interest of GIRL POWER? Who knows? I’m guessing Burnell gets voted out tonight.

Despite my general frustration with him, I couldn’t get enough of Burnell’s shyly appreciative smile after his big sister Candice told the cameras backstage that their vibe as friends likely helped them in the duet.

NEXT: Take another little pinch of my nerve, now, babyKree Harrison, Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”: Kree got a “10 out of 10 for professionalism” from Keith for performing with a pinched nerve. Come to think of it, a lot of the judges’ critiques for Kree are basically along those lines. Randy and Mariah babbled absolutely endlessly, dah-ling, on how country, bluesy, and rock are all different styles — kinda sorta — but they don’t have to be — DAH-ling — not when you’re Kree! I believe that was the gist of that mess. But Kree’s going to have to dig deeper and turn in a performance that inspires real excitement and a momentum that propels beyond the idea that she’s “already ready” to work in the real world. This number just blended in with the rest for me.

I’m very impressed that Kree knows the entire Idol staff’s names, immediate families, extended families, favorite colors, etc., though. If something wonky happens over at Telescope and the only votes that get through are from the hug-hungry crew guys, Kree is your winner.

Janelle Arthur, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right”: I like Janelle. Along with Candice, she’s become so naturally captivating onstage. Last week’s rave reviews for her slowed-down cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On” (which also earned her an A+ on the “Carry out the song title as best you can” assignment) must have infused her with a new sense of confidence. The judges are being really heavy-handed with their insistence on Janelle’s improvement arc, which I find unnecessary, but whatever. They’ll just keep on announcing generic truths for the rest of the season, like Nicki’s “You feel like every little girl’s best friend” (ugh) and “It’s safe to say that Middle America is at home voting for you” (barf). WHY? Happens all the time. (I’m trying not to let it bother me because the show is way more fun that way, but man is all this scripted nonsense getting annoying.)

I liked how Janelle executed a deep squat and got all legit-crazy up in the camera’s face on “It just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” Perhaps! But tonight, at least in the judges’ case, they were looking for her clothes and shoes. Well, Nicki with the sparkly jeweled boots and Randy with the fringed vest, at least (this episode had major crossover potential with Dancing with the Stars). Not Mariah Carey, no sir. “NO, DARLING, I HAVE MY WARDROBE, THANK YOU,” she slurred while making sure Ryan Seacrest didn’t touch any part of her with that icky synthetic fabric. I’m just glad she went unscathed! Close call.

NEXT: And bad mistakes, Lazaro’s made a few…. Lazaro Arbos, Queen’s “We Are the Champions”: Is Lazaro stuffing his pants? I’m pretty sure he is. Our tragic never-knows-the-words hero turned on his Freddie Mercury swagger (LOL) for this performance. This time he did remember the words, but they might as well have just been “F— you for doubting me” on a loop,” especially as he sauntered past the judges’ table and later executed a well-timed wind-up Rock Jump! to end the song instead of his signature, highly mockable full-body Jazz Hand. Has Lazaro suddenly become…the complete package?

I mean, no. Please. He fell apart again in his duet with poor Angie Miller on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (I just couldn’t handle it) and is clearly not able to work well with others…or on multiple tasks in the same week. But hey, I definitely applaud him for making sure “We Are the Champions” wasn’t an embarrassment.

All I could really think about during Amber Holcomb, Janelle, and Kree’s trio on Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” was how completely and utterly Clueless they seemed.

Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?

Dionne would totally be the most into “selfies,” too. Ugh, I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t do the depressing math that Clueless came out when Amber was ONE YEAR OLD…and move on.

NEXT: A broken toe vs. legs for days Candice Glover, the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: This wasn’t my favorite from Candice, but I recognize every time she sings with others that I’m probably grading her on a curve in her solos. She did get gritty and give off a take-no-prisoners attitude like you’re supposed to do on Rock Week, and I noticed she had the most and the most natural side-by-side mutual appreciation going on with guest guitarist Orianthi, who tried to “weave around” everyone’s vocals tonight and not step on anyone’s toes.

Which reminds me: Candice has a broken toe, somehow derived from a failed prank to convince Lazaro the American Idol mansion was on fire. Nicki’s reply here was both catty and clever: “That’s what you get,” she scolded Candice. “Lazaro’s got special powers, don’t you know that?”

More catty/less clever: Nicki preemptively booing herself for saying Candice’s song choice had put her to sleep. To Nicki’s credit and my despair, the booming boo did sound like an incredibly aggressive alarm clock.

Unlike Keith, I’d forgotten during Candice’s song that she was in pain, because I couldn’t stop getting distracted by the aggressive laser spotlights surrounding her and the five backup singers/guitarists standing solemnly in front of the Idol Oval. With the seizure-inducing black and white animations pounding the screens, the whole scene just looked like Edward Gorey drawings on crack.

“I think people don’t understand what rock is,” said Randy to all the total idiots out there like you and me who have never heard of rock and roll. “Rock is an attitude.” He compared Candice to Tina Turner. Yeah, I can see it!

Amber Holcomb, Heart’s “What About Love”: This song is the BEST. I love me some gooey ol’ Heart. But come on, let’s be real. This is a ballad! How absurd. Oh well, I’m not that mad about it. I will say that even though Amber’s first verse had me completely drawn in and feeling it — or “melting,” said Nicki — I lost connection with her once she started wandering around in the fog.

Amber’s vocal is undeniable and rife with “little Houstonisms” like Randy said. She’s technically excellent. But I don’t know — something gets lost once the camera pans out from those exquisite closeups. I always end up thinking Amber would be an amazing solo artist if the main point of being an artist was to make bangin’-looking videos. And let’s be honest — this is 2013. That s–t’s important. Her gorgeous voice would just be a bonus.

NEXT: Bringing the possibility of Angie losing her shirt to life The costuming vote should be in full effect for Amber, who sported a new-and-improved “Naomi Campbell realness” look tonight with pin-straight hair and miles and miles of legs and I’m very into that. With her leather shorts and a jacket featuring a labyrinth of unnecessary gold hardware, she looked unreal…and by far the most “current” of the pack.

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

Can’t let any of ’em slip away!

Angie Miller, Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life”: I feel like this is the performance we eventually expected from Angie (Randy’s deliberately compared her to Amy from Evanescence and Hayley from Paramore in the past) — and she nailed it! A sweet piano-based opening, Fog City, some more seizure-y graphics, lovemaking eyes, WIND MACHINE, the works. Sold! To every young viewer who loves this 2003 song (fair?) and/or watched tonight’s final performance lazily intrigued by the thrilling possibility that Angie’s shirt would blow completely off due to the expertly manufactured tornado.

Bottom line: Angie sounded great, and those facial theatrics the judges had warned her about (and which her fellow contestants teased her about in the cutesy intro package) were actually warranted this time, considering the dramatic staging of the performance.

Angie: “Yeah, I love the ‘edgy’ side of things.” Ohhhhhhh. Children. If you have to call something edgy, it’s not.

Who goes home tonight? Should Lazaro return to bright colors/normal-fitting jeans? Discuss!

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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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