Oh, America. How will you decide? On Wednesday night, the "American Idol" Top 3 — Kree Harrison, Candice Glover and Angie Miller — proved yet again that any of them is worthy of the win. Each sang three songs apiece, none of their own choosing. Round 1 songs were selected by mentor Jimmy Iovine, Round 2 by the "Idol" judges, and Round 3 by the show's producers.
Each of the singers won a round, and Glover won the night, Iovine said, but both Harrison and Glover won our hearts and our sympathy with their "homecoming" visits.
The "Idol" footage of contestants returning to their hometowns for heroes' welcomes — parades, packed concerts, honors bestowed by local politicians, chauffeured limos delivering them to beloved homes and waiting families — always tug at the heartstrings. But Glover's journey from her humble remote origins and Harrison's return to the dilapidated childhood ranch house that had apparently been abandoned (with her dad's old T-shirts still in it) after the death of both her parents, just a few years apart, in tragic accidents when Harrison was still a child, well, they packed a bigger than usual emotional punch.
Miller's coffee shop meet-ups with teen pals, excitedly fluttery hands and fast claps, and cat named Fluffy really couldn't hold a candle.
That Mariah Carey couldn't stop crying was to be expected, but Nicki Minaj's response was a surprise. After watching Glover's hometown footage, she became so verklempt that she had to cut herself off and take a moment to recover. Even Keith Urban seemed to be sniffing back tears. Randy Jackson may have had the only dry eyes in the house. You could call him stoic, that Randy, if it weren't for all those "in it to win its"; and Jackson was "in it to win it"-ing a lot in response to these Top 3 performances.
For Round 1, Iovine assigned Harrison Pink's "Perfect," which showcased the warmth of her tone and vocal control, but as Jackson noted, lacked "pizzazz" and fell "a little flat."
Glover was given U2's "One," apparently a version sung by Mary J. Blige. The judges liked the selection and the performance. Minaj was particularly enthusiastic. "You are on your way, you are a diva," she told Glover. "You did that justice .… That did not feel like 'American Idol.' That felt like I was at your show. Work it, work it."
Miller sang Elton John's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," making the risky choice of not accompanying herself on the piano, where the judges like her best. Some of the judges (Jackson, Carey) felt the performance was admirably restrained. Others (Urban, Minaj) thought she could have held back even more. Everyone agreed, however, that Miller's voice was terrific. Though he wished she'd played the piano, Iovine said Miller had won the round. "Stellar job," he said.
For Round 2, the judges gave Glover Emile Sande's "Next to Me." Not surprisingly, they thought it was a fantastic choice. "Kudos to us," Jackson said, and Urban contended it showed how much Glover has grown as a singer. Minaj was even more moved by Glover's personal growth. "Women suffer from so much insecurity," but Glover came out on that stage like a strong, confident woman every single time she performed, Minaj said. "You just own who you are."
Miller, whose brother is growing out a playoff beard on her behalf, rocked out — believably — to Pink's "Try." Urban and Minaj agreed she'd never appeared so comfortable onstage. And Jackson said it was the perfect song choice, suiting her "like a glove."
Harrison segued from her tear-inducing hometown package to her emotional take on Rascal Flatts' "Here Comes Goodbye." The judges adored it. "You can't underestimate or deny the power of a true emotional trigger," Minaj said. Carey said there was "something so real" about Harrison that you can feel whenever she sings. Urban said the song had him "from beginning to end." And Jackson went for the self-back-pat trifecta, offering his "props" to the judges for the song choice.
Iovine gave the round to Harrison.
For Round 3, Miller returned to the piano to tackle the producers' pick, Emile Sande's "Maybe." (For those keeping track at home, that makes it two Pink songs and two Emile Sande songs in one nine-song evening.) The judges felt she'd arrived. Jackson said the evening had made her a "complete" performer. Minaj said she'd "come full circle. Your growth has surpassed my expectations. You are out of your head, you are not pageanty, you are feeling it, you're not staring into the camera like a zombie. You are emotionally connecting every time."
Harrison was handed the Band Perry's "Better Dig Two," which I thought she seemed to have fun with, though the judges strongly disliked the song choice. "That's not your comfort zone," Minaj said. "Whoever picked that for you should be stoned."
For Glover, the producers stacked the deck, dressing her up, draping her with jewels, backing her with a full band and a projection that looked like Oscar night, and giving her a song that allowed her voice to soar: "Somewhere," from "West Side Story." The judges leaped to their feet for a standing ovation.
"Oh my goodness, what was that?" Urban said breathlessly. "What happened? How do you do that?" Then he turned to the camera. "If you want to vote for Candice, call the number on your screen. If you don't want to vote for Candice, call your doctor; you probably don't have a pulse."
Iovine emerged to declare that Glover had won both the round and the night.
I'd be happy if Glover won the whole thing, though I'm also a big fan of Harrison's. Miller, while I admire her clear voice, projects a personality I find, well, irritating; I'd be OK if she were the one who went home.
Who would you like to see win?
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