American Idol Recap: The Top 8 Visit the Motor City, Musically Speaking

Welcome to the American Idol and their annual visit to the Motor City, aka Detroit, aka Motown. And their annual mentor-episode with Smokey Robinson.

I think other cities must get jealous. Why doesn't American Idol visit Nashville? Or Memphis? Or the East Village? Or Liverpool?

You know what else gets jealous? Keith's hair. Or at the very least his highlights got jealous of Nikki's roots and decided to make their own over-the-top appearance. Who would have predicted Mariah Carey would have the lowest-maintenance beauty routine on the judge's panel?

I surely digress, so let's dig in. This week each contestant will sing a solo and be put in a group, so we can all be reminded of Group Week. Thanks #AmericanIdol.

1. Candice sang "Heard It Thru the Grapevine" (Originally recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, then Gladys Knight and the Pips)

Oh, now, she's just awesome, come on! She took a down and dirty bluesy approach to it that made it her own. (Or maybe made it like the Smoky Robinson version of the song that never got released...I guess we'll never know.) It was gutsy, powerful, committed, just spot on. Like she is ever anything but.

Duo. Janelle and Kree sang "Like a Prayer" by Madonna

The judges nailed it: Having Kree and Janelle sing a duet just kind of highlighted that Janelle is a poor man's Kree. There is totally a place for a more delicate country flower in the music world. But it's not duetting with a country power ballad singer. 

2. Lazaro sang "For Once in my Life" by Stevie Wonder

Well, it was his best performance yet, but don't misunderstand and think I meant he was great. He was adequate. And still cute, absolutely. I think he is better when it's uptempo, and he doesn't have as much time to think about it and get nervous...which drives him off-pitch. Given he wasn't even in the bottom with far worse performances, I won't be surprised if he's still totally safe.

3. Janelle sang "Keep Me Hanging On" by the Supremes

Janelle sang her own arrangement of this song, sitting on a stool with her guitar, and playing up the pathos in the lyrics. In general, I really liked the arrangement, and it came close enough on the heels of her not-so-great duet with Kree to completely over-shadow it and leave you with this better performance as your memory of Janelle for the night. Weird quibble of the night for Janelle: Sometimes she has a weird Barbie smile when it doesn't seem appropriate, but I think she just kind of has a Joker mouth. Overall it was Janelle at her best.

4. Devin sang "Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

He really has an oh-so-pretty voice and perfect vibrato. He's not the most exciting performer (perhaps mostly because he does all these similar-sounding ballads) but I could listen to him sing very happily, in a pretty, lighter Josh Groban kind of way. Unfortunately I wonder if he doesn't bring enough 'zazz to bring the votes.

Group: Angie, Candice, Amber sang "Make You Love Me"

Fine. Boring. Meh. They sounded very good, no doubt. But none of them had even the slightest amount of Miss Diana Ross charisma. It's all in delivering the subtlety of a come-hither glance, not the crassness of a CFM pump (I'm looking at you, Angie).

5. Burnell sang "Ma Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder

I love this song. I've sung this song, and it's a fun one.  Burnell did a nice, relatively restrained version, so it's probably the best I've liked him. But just like Phillip Phillips really started to bug me with his incredible likeness of Dave Matthews last season, Burnell is starting to work my nerves with his John Legend-ness. Including some  weird things was he doing to the pronunciation. Sounded like he was singing Ma Cherie Amour the way he imagined John Legend would sing it. So, I'm still not sold on Burnell.

6. Angie sang "Shop Around" by Smokey Robinson

This was a full-on mess. First of all: Did she mess up her words? Second of all: Were parts of it just too low for her? I felt addled and confused the whole time. And so did she. She always has supreme confidence and commitment going for her, but this whole thing seemed a lot less self-assured. And not in an endearing Lazaro-like way. I actually feel like she could be at risk. it's been 3 weeks since she's done a WOW performance. She better get behind that piano, stat!!

7. Amber sang "Lately" by Stevie Wonder

I have no idea why Amber would not be pulling in the votes. Maybe we can't handle someone so young that's seems like such an old soul. I thought she was pretty great last night. Vocally, yes, but also totally heartfelt. Again. If she goes home it would be a real shame!

Group: Devin, Lazaro and Burnell sang "Can't Help Myself"

Was not good. At all. It was a mess all over the place (and apparently it was all Lazaro's fault).

8. Kree sang "Don't Play That Song" by Aretha Franklin

She sounded great which is no surprise. She was livelier than she's been before, which was a bit of a surprise. But she does still need to work on singing more from the heart than from the head. That's what happens when you have a great set of pipes...I nitpick on your performance skills.

Bottom Line for the Bottom Three:

Should be: Lazaro, Angie, Burnell, with Lazaro going home (I know I'm a broken record.)

Will be: Angie, Devin, Burnell, wth Devin going home.

But what did you think?

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