Ten girls sing, five get cut, and one of 'em is so good Mariah Carey wants to smack her

By Annie Barrett
February 21, 2013 at 08:26 AM EST
Michael Becker/Fox
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Welcome to Las Vegas, land of sudden death. We’re not quite live (performances were taped the night before), but there’s a sorely missed energy in the air and especially on the judges’ panel. I’m loving them! Ten performances in two hours allows for a LOT of “rawwwwwr talent”s from a lovesick Keith Urban, brutally honest missives from Señora Ladybug Nicki Minaj, surprisingly zesty complete sentences from Randy Jackson, and unbridled self-centered rambling from Mariah Carey.

Mariah was the biggest shock for me tonight — she’s been edited so carefully all season as the beta-diva to Minaj (the horror!) that it’s seemed like she’s had little to offer the contestants. And tonight she was at a disadvantage again, speaking fourth 10 times. Maybe I’ll change my mind as it becomes repetitive, but I rather enjoyed her long-winded attempts to make points, many of which were constructive vocal technique notes that could actually benefit the contestants. Nicki may be delivering all the sound bites, but Mariah knows her stuff and will get to the point if you stick around.

Anyway, I liked the vibe, I liked the new “sudden death” stakes, and I liked how the judges, especially Keith and Nicki, reacted with interest to all the relatively mundane stuff Ryan Seacrest said while hovering behind them. Remember when Steven Tyler would use this time to play Statues? These new judges are visibly alive!

Five of 10 women went home Wednesday; five of 10 men will get the boot Thursday. Next week, same thing. Five more girls and five more guys will advance to the Top 20, and then viewers will vote during the third and final Vegas Round week, on March 6.

So basically this is the producers’ crafty little way of arranging the Top 40 so that the ones they want can go through. It’s weird that last night’s ladies were competing against only half of the pack. But again, I like the new format. Let’s not overthink it.

I will admit to somewhat overthinking this dramatic new art installation, Stool Sample.

NEXT: The Bachelor‘s Tierra gets eliminated…againELIMINATED

Jenny Beth Willis — I kept referring to her as “the vampire” in my notes last week, which was unfair: She is a lovely, good-natured porcelain doll who could sadly make neither a hideous black/magenta lingerie “dress” nor Trisha Yearwood’s “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love” work to her advantage. To her credit, we’d never, ever met her, and if she’d gotten any amount of past pimpage, I might have been drawn in at least a little. But no. Her poor family and friends! I loved her grinning dad. Oh well. It was nice to not meet you.

Brandy Hotard — This (SUDDENLY) dead ringer for Tierra (the Tierrarist) from The Bachelor gave a “pageant delivery,” according to Nicki, of Travis Tritt’s “Anymore.” Brandy’s voice was there — she sort of reminded me of Pia Toscano both facially and in terms of total vocal control — but there was no emotional connection to a sad song. Mariah suggested she stick to her sweet spot, the middle register. “You could have been around back in the day, as a great country singer that had a beautiful voice,” Mariah lamented in what sounded to me like a huge burn against the current country scene.

Shubha Vedula — As soon as she got up from the piano, her “Born This Way” rendition devolved into a lukewarm mess, with awkward, drunk-cheerleader-esque choreography punctuating what should be sassy and confident lines like “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen.” She stuffed too many ideas in there and it was painful, but I respect Shubha’s decision to go uptempo. Isn’t that what the judges said they wanted in Hollywood? Apparently this was the wrong time to take a chance. It’s a shame because vocally Shubha didn’t misstep at all, and she even threw some Eastern-inspired runs in there. The coaches could have totally worked with her and helped her manage her expectations. Ugh.

Kamaria Ousley — The professional backup singer was the definition of pitchy on Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All.” I have no idea how she made it this far (or has maintained a career as a professional backup singer). Nicki and Mariah generously offered that Karmaria was nicely styled — specifically, “Your hair is working, yes ma’am, be proud of that,” said Nicki, the roots on her blonde weave expanding about a half-inch per sentence uttered throughout the night. Mariah warned Kamaria to be careful in those shoes because she herself had a pair like that and they broke. In the front.

These are some classy shoes.

NEXT: Tenna Torres over Isabelle? Really? Isabelle — Randy called her rendition of “God Bless The Child” old-fashioned, and it’s true that we’ve only seen her perform older standards. Still, that’s a huge voice they just let go, and for me (for you dawg?) Isabelle was almost comically into herself in a very amusing way, on reality TV at least. I’m surprised they kept Tenna Torres instead of her. I’d have put Isabelle or even Shubha ahead of Tenna for sure.

Speaking of whom….

MOVING ON

Tenna Torres – I thought her vocals were all over the place last week, and this week I guess I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt (the judges had no problem with her cover of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Soulmate”) and admit that perhaps I just don’t like her tone in general. That won’t be easy to overcome, but I’ll try. I don’t think she’s long for the competition anyway. Too many theatrics, to the point where she doesn’t seem quite genuine.

I did enjoy Tenna’s overbearing “Flames! Flames on the side of my face!” hand gestures at the beginning of the song, but in a joke way, not a real way. Apparently Nicki’s fans were mad at her for liking Tenna’s voice, which was a weird note for Nicki to offer the desperate hopeful. Nicki’s advice? “Lose the hair. Cut it all off and go bald.” I say they should both do it.

Adriana Latonio – Tiny Filipino girl with a big voice. I wonder if the reason Idol hasn’t shown her up until this point was to avoid early comparisons to last season’s runner-up Jessica Sanchez. A late start could be just the ticket for the Anchorage 17-year-old, who showed remarkable confidence and control on Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” She even had the Idol Lip Quiver (via an extreme close-up of the final vibrato) going on, with the promise of more to come.

I loved Adriana’s breathiness on the “How can I…” repetition, and Keith said her emotional connection to the song “completely belied” her age. I can actually see the potential Jessica comparison working to Adriana’s advantage — her voice isn’t quite as huge and perfected as the former’s, but she could have a more genuine spunk in her and therefore people will defend her. But what do I know? She’s basically a complete stranger, still. We shall see.

NEXT: Kreeeeeeeeeeeeeee!Kree Harrison – I loved how Randy’s critique of Kree, dressed down in a huge button-up and jeans, was basically “You’re so good you don’t even have to slut it up!” It’s true, though — her “Up to the Mountain” cover was so effortless, so free of artifice, that I forgot I was watching American Idol. The judges nearly fell over each other trying to outdo themselves with different ways of describing Kree’s authenticity as she just shook her head — half due to humility and half, I’m sure, due to complete disbelief that she managed to survive the absurd numbers game so far and is now clearly a frontrunner.

I predict Kree will do her best to maintain wardrobe/makeup control…and then one week she’ll blow everyone away by sauntering out in a gorgeous evening gown. You know it’s gonna happen!

Angela Miller – Her ’80s hair and 70 pounds of makeup were troublesome, but like the Jessie J song says, “Nobody’s Perfect,” you know? She definitely “gets inside” a song and knows how to twist and turn it (and her body) to full effect; I just wonder if the judges’ clear favoritism and her tendency to over-perform could end up turning people off. Nicki and Mariah both focused their entire commentaries on Angela’s original tune from last week — Mariah going to far as to ask Angela to mention the title again. Hmm….

Amber Holcomb – Her “My Funny Valentine” cover was so good, Mariah Carey wanted to smack her. That’s when you know you’ve made it. Another no-show up until this point, Amber was actually around last season and got cut in Vegas — a sweet and retreating presence in the shadow of the majestic Shannon Magrane. I cannot believe I just remembered Shannon Magrane’s name.

Anyway, to borrow a lyric from the song, and I do apologize in advance, Amber made me smile with my heart with the way she took on this classic. I don’t know how much help she had in arranging it, but there was so many little choices — when to soften up, when to smile, when to prompt Mariah’s ‘O’ face with a series of high-pitched runs — that set Amber apart.

Nicki buzzkilled all of this with her suggestion that Amber’s “inner shine” might not shine through the TV for viewers. Eh, let them decide for themselves. Amber’s “newfound confidence” story arc and early-season obscurity could definitely endear her to voters.

And now for the low point of the recap (congrats for making it this far)….

I kept seeing a clarinet on Ryan’s shirt.

Who was your favorite tonight? Is the new elimination process too awkward? Discuss!

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

All ‘American Idol’ recaps on EW.com

Zoanette Johnson: Really, ‘American Idol’?! — VIDEO

Mariah Carey gets the Nicki Minaj phone call: A dramatization

‘American Idol’: 12 Wishes for Season 12

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