If God is an American Idol fan — and that’s a big “if,” considering where Jennifer Hudson, Ricky Braddy and Pia Toscano have finished over the years — then perhaps Nicki Minaj is the insane, mumbly-mouthed angel sent (ejected?) from above, here to drop harsh truths and a wacky kind of honesty that have been missing from the show for far too long.
Certainly, Nicki’s anti-sob story, pro-weirdness, “give us one minute of professionalism” stance injected much-needed energy into Night 2 of Season 12′s gender-segregated Hollywood Week, following a Wednesday night telecast that all too often blared like a giant neon sign proclaiming, “Sorry About the Guys! (But Next Week We’ll Have Some Really Awesome Female Singers Who Could Give Us a Kelly- or Carrie-Style Sales Boost”).
Which isn’t to say Nicki is always on-point — just look to Mariah Carey’s Clenched Jaw of Barely Suppressed Rage (TM) for confirmation — but at least you get the sense that Ms. Minaj is saying what’s on her crazy mind, rather than waiting for a producer to feed her an opinion from underneath the judges’ table. And during a quick, one-hour rundown that focused on a selection of the Final 43 guys’ solo performances, which were used to narrow their ranks down to just 28 singers, Nicki’s bon mots made for good TV.
Speaking of good TV, let’s break down the good, the bad and the inexplicably booted from tonight’s episode. As I often do on Thursdays — when I’ve got double recap duty on Idol and Glee — I’m gonna keep things to a Twitter-esque 140 characters or less (whenever possible):
Through to the Top 28
Paul Jolley, “Blown Away” | Can’t say I was blown away by the fashion in which Paul pushed his vocal on this Carrie Underwood ditty, even if I appreciated the risky song choice. [Side note: Was there anything more in tune than Nicki's post-performance smackdown about being "really irritated" by Paul taking the stage on the brink of tears and with a decided lack of confidence? "Give us one minute of professionalism!" she grumbled, and then added he needed to take his insecurities off his face. Might I suggest he also consider hanging up that white pants/white v-neck/light gray vest combo from the Miami Vice collection? Just a thought.]
Lazaro Arbos, “Edge of Glory” | We only got a snippet and it sounded perfectly fine. Just don’t expect me to get out of my chair or anything, okay?
Curtis Finch Jr., “Jar of Hearts” | Big voice, but the face-pulling and vocal draaahhhmmaa seem as organic as a box of Cap’n Crunch. I’m already exhausted by this gent and we’re not even at the live shows.
Devin Velez, “What a Wonderful World” (pictured) | Tried to pack a few too many runs in the opening lines, but once he settled into the melody, he unveiled a voice full of character and nuance. Hate to use the phrase (thanks to Fox’s other singing competish) but the kid has the X factor.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “Georgia on My Mind” | Only heard a snippet, but his “Jah-jah” pronunciation of “Georgia” negated his solid grasp of pitch. Let’s call this round a draw.
Cortez Shaw, “Sunny” | He’s a clear and present danger when he doesn’t try to do too much with his clear and polished pipes (as was the case here). Never hurts a contestant to be unfeasibly handsome, either, does it?
Jimmy Smith, “Landslide” | An excellent example of how to play around with a classic melody without disrespecting it. Plus, Jimmy has the rare ability to stretch his upper register without sounding in any way strained.
Nick Boddington, “Stars” | His voice is as clear and bright as his piercing blue eyes. Loved the raw emotion he brought (both vocally and at the keyboards), even if his falsetto ending was possibly a wee bit sharp.
Charlie Askew, “Somebody That I Used to Know” |“There was a girl, there always is…,” explained the suddenly not-so-awkward teen as he introduced his one-song mini concert. He’s got a voice full of character and a distinctive tone, but his occasional flat notes make me worry about a live-show collapse. [Side note: Mariah's request that Charlie "please migrate forward" was a nice shout-out to her own 2008 single.]
Burnell Taylor, “Jar of Hearts” | Winner of this week’s “Jar of Hearts” showdown. Sounds better belting than he does in more tender moments, but has some quiet star power, too.
Marvin Calderon, “Jar of Hearts” | Just got a brief snippet, but his enunciation came off a bit too clipped for a big pop ballad.
Also advancing (though not shown): Adam Sanders, Johnny Keyser, Vincent Powell, JDA (in a wacky sheer black veil, after being asked by Mariah to “sashay forward”) and Mathenee Treco.
Matheus Fernandes, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” | “I’m 22 years old, not 10,” said the diminutive former Glee Project contestant as he took the stage for a wobbly-then-scream-y Kelly Clarkson cover. Nicki, however, was not having it. In a speech that should be made every year to Hollywood Week hopefuls, she told Matheus that an intriguing backstory can easily “go from inspiring to you wanting a pity party,” and that he needed to merely “be you, be great” and not make constant references to his height. Preach it, Sister Minaj!
Nicholas Mathis, “Locked Out of Heaven” | Things began falling apart when the burly father of two dropped to his knees mid-performance. Still, Keith’s comment about waking up on tour busses at 3 a.m. in tears and wondering how you got there, was a great piece of advice about how to compartmentalize on stage, as well as a surprisingly candid confession of the perils of being a professional musician.
Papa Peachez, “You and I” | I wasn’t quite sure why Nicki was so offended by Papa’s Lady Gaga song choice, but his lazy delivery made him sound like he was halfway through a ride on the Lunesta Butterfly. “I’m completely sure that flame [Papa exhibited in his audition] is now completely burned out,” said Nicki, dripping with disappointment at the collapse of her spirit
Michah Johnson, “I Told You So” | Micah brought so much conviction and honesty — as well as a rich, buttery tone — to the Randy Travis track that I was certain he’d advance with unanimous agreement from the judges. Mariah, though, seemed to imply that the “interesting” song choice and straightforward, melisma-free delivery was problematic. (Wait, don’t we like unexpected song choices? And what’s wrong with straightforward? I need Jessica Fletcher to come solve this mystery!) Micah, for his part, took the elimination with grace and style. “It’s tough to get cut, but I’ve been through a lot worse,” he mused. Shall I start the petition to get him back for Season 13, or do you want to take it on? Discuss!
Ousted without any performance clips/explanation: Gabe Brown, Sanni M’mairura and — what in the name of editing hell is this all about? — Nate Tao! [Side note: I'll never understand why Uncle Nigel thinks it's okay to kick an audition round front-runner to the curb without showing us any video footage of said singer's fall from glory. I mean, cut 30 seconds of Randy speaking and help us understand what happened to Nate. Come ON!]
Anyhow, with that gripe expressed, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Night 2 of American Idol Season 12 Hollywood Week? Is Nicki making the show more entertaining? And did any of tonight’s singers sound like potential winners to you? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!