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‘American Idol’ recap: Candice Glover and Kree Harrison soar

(Ray Mickshaw / Associated Press)

Candice Glover showed us -- twice -- why she undoubtedly belongs in the top three on “American Idol” on Wednesday night, no matter what Jimmy Iovine and the judges (save for Mariah Carey) said last week. In fact, the South Carolina 23-year-old soul singer proved she’s right up there with Kree Harrison (sorry, Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb) as a worthy contender to win the whole thing.

If I had to rank the remaining contestants at this point -- in terms of my own favorites-- it would look something like this:

1 and 2 (in no particular order): Kree Harrison and Candice Glover
3 and 4 (ditto): Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb
A somewhat close 5: Janelle Arthur
A very distant 6: Lazaro Arbos

The Top 6 contestants were given a strange assignment this week: Each had to sing a song from the Burt Bacharach and Hal David catalog (Round 1) and then a song they wish they’d written themselves (Round 2). Oh, and they also had to share something we didn’t know about them, which is why we are now aware, among other things, that Miller and her best friend post embarrassing videos of themselves on YouTube, Holcomb eats frozen shrimp (“Shrimpsicles”) straight out of the freezer, and Arbos likes to ride four-wheelers and hunt.

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Round 1 separated the top-notch talent, who can reinvent and reinterpret an old song so it sounds fresh and new, from the ones who appeared to be dutifully doing the best they could to fulfill their assignment. The first round also featured one truly terrible performance.

Harrison (whose brother was in the audience for the first time) and Glover were in a class by themselves here, though Holcomb performed well, too. Harrison’s “What the World Needs Now” had a buttery warmth and soaring ease that made it seem as if it were newly written just for her, just for now. Keith Urban said he felt Harrison’s “motherliness” when she sang. “You have a real genuine compassion for people,” he said, a “humanity” that really came through. Nicki Minaj agreed, but added that Harrison’s style was also “hella cocky.”

Glover, meanwhile, delivered a gorgeously soulful, sumptuously mellifluous, emotionally connected “Don’t Make Me Over” that rose to the level of the vocal greats. Standing O! Minaj called it “exquisite” and said it showed singing was what Glover “was born to do.” There was something in Glover’s voice, she said, that “made me feel like I wanted to have a women’s revival” meeting in there. Randy Jackson considered it, at that point at least, “the best vocal of the night.” And Urban said it had earned Glover a slot in his top three.

Holcomb, for her part, looked great in a denim sleeveless, wide-legged pantsuit and sang well with “Say a Little Prayer for You,” for which the judges all went crazy. Minaj said she’d just become her favorite girl in the whole competition. Carey deemed it an “A+, top of the world” performance. And Urban compared Holcomb to a “summer breeze.”

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Miller, who was actually first up in each round, earned measured praise for her “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” Vocally solid, the judges agreed, but Miller hadn’t quite connected emotionally. Arthur showed off her silky hair, vocals and stage presence with “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” Urban felt it was “beautiful.” Minaj? “Boring.”

Curiously -- cravenly -- Minaj didn’t even bother to critique Arbos’ first-round song, "(They Long to Be) Close to You,” which was a complete train wreck: off-key, difficult to understand ... painful, really. “No, no, no, no,” Jackson said. “That was horrible.” The other judges said essentially the same thing, albeit somewhat more gently.

As an aside: I would really like Jackson to retire “in it to win it” right here, right now. I lost count of how many times he rolled it out on Wednesday’s show. But when Carey, who could herself stand to lose the word “darling,” trotted out the phrase as well, it went from amusingly overused to irksomely so.

Round 2 further separated the best from the rest. Arbos did moderately better with his choice, Robbie Williams’ “Angels,” but he still muddied the lyrics so much they were hard to make out. Arthur, I felt, fell somewhat short of her best performances with Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” a song she’s loved since she was a kid. And Holcomb gave an upbeat, vocally competent take on Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” while dancing around in pink pumps that made her look like she was dressing up in her mother’s shoes.

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Miller, however, reminded everyone why they’d cited her among their favorites, sitting at the piano, which is where she shines, and singing Kari Jobe’s “Love Came Down” as white birds soared across the screen behind her. Carey called it “just perfect.” Minaj told her sticking to that sweet spot was the only way she was going to win.

And then way, way up here, there was Harrison, who sang Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” simply, compellingly, beautifully. Minaj said it solidified Harrison’s spot “at the head of the class,” and predicted she’d stick around in the industry for “a very long time.” Urban called it a “buckle polisher” and stared into his own invisible mirror ball: “I predict that you will become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in the future,” he said, adding that Harrison reminded people why “real country” music is so beloved.

And then way, way, way up here, there was Glover, who poured all her love and all her soul and all her spirit into the Cure’s “Lovesong,” and put herself not only back on the map, but all the way at the tippy top of the heap. She did things with her voice that were all her own, and earned a second standing ovation from the judges, including Carey, who then strolled up onstage and threw glitter at a startled Glover. Urban literally and repeatedly bowed down. And Jackson exclaimed, “on behalf of all the judges,” that Glover’s performance was among the best on “Idol” in its 12-year history. Later, as tears streamed down Glover’s face, he upped his praise even further, saying it was among the best on any talent show “ever, ever, ever.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. Glover and Harrison really are “in it to win it.” Here’s hoping one of them does.

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