“American Idol” Rocks Out

photos by Michael Becker/FOX

Finally.

It was Rock 'n' Roll night on American Idol tonight (April 3), with the explicit instruction of “no ballads.” And we know this has been a ballad-singin' bunch of divas (dudes included), so a little change of pace was very welcome. The intro package had stills of rock stars, amplifiers, a Big Muff distortion pedal and oodles of rock iconography.
 
Mostly the contestants stuck to the program, with assistance from guitar goddess Orianthi. And they were mostly good. There was also a litany of health issues, bold fashions and forgotten lyrics.
 
But it didn't start out so good. Burnell Taylor picked Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and a leather jacket out of Rocky Horror Picture Show and managed to look supremely uncomfortable the entire time. He didn't really sing off pitch or anything, but it might as well have been an intelligent robot reciting a tune. "I've never seen you look more uncomfortable in a song," said judge Keith Urban. (See?) Nicki Minaj thought he was still "adorable." Burnell even acknowledged it. "It's not me, but I just roll with the punches," he admitted.
 
Then Angie Miller and Lazaro were (oddly) paired on Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” As you might expect, Lazaro was lucky to still be hanging on after Angie took the stage. He also forgot a line, which makes this two weeks in a row for him. "It was a bit too kitschy for me, and not in a good way," said Keith.
 
Kree is apparently the maternal one among the contestants and makes sure they’re all comfortable. She was also battling a pinched nerve tonight. And she was born in the same hospital as Janis Joplin, whose “Piece of My Heart” she adopted. It was a little obvious, given her country diva aspirations and Faith Hill already knocking this one out of the park, but she sounded really good as usual, adding some little growls when she reached for the highest notes. Judge Mariah Carey thought she had "an innate ability to choose her songs."
 
Burnell got a little redemption when he duetted with Candice Glover on the Joe Cocker arrangement of The Box Tops’ hit “The Letter,” which proved to be a perfect fit for him. Of course, Candice nearly powered him off the stage, but it was still one of my favorite Idol duets in the whole less than memorable history of them. "Yo girl, you already there," praised Randy Jackson to Candice.
 
Viewers got a bit of a curveball from Janelle, who opted for Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right,” which I figured was totally wrong (see what I did there?). But it actually felt pretty spot on and let Janelle stretch out a little bit stylistically to hit some big notes. The judges loved her sparkly boots and fringy vest, and Randy Jackson thought it was "authenticity at its best." 
 
Naturally, Nicki took Janelle's boots and Randy took her vest.
 
Speaking of flamboyant fashion, Lazaro actually toned it down for his solo performance of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” It was big and dramatic (as any Queen song should be) and his pronunciation of the word as "shampions" was cute, so his fans undoubtedly loved it. The song also fit his narrative of overcoming obstacles. "I was liking it. I was loving it," said Nicki.
 
Janelle and Kree were then partnered with Amber Holcomb for another Billy Joel song, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Amber flubbed the words in one stretch, but they all sounded pretty good in a kind of blah performance. "You girls were great together. You should do more," offered Keith. "It put me to sleep," shot back Nicki, who did like Amber's "Naomi Campbell realness." Thankfully, Amber didn't throw a cell phone at her.
 
Oh man, and the injuries kept coming. Candice Glover apparently broke her toe in an April Fool's joke gone awry, so she sang The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” through the pain. She nailed it as usual, with some dazzling high end screams and runs, but her limited mobility muted the excitement somewhat. "Your voice is so freaking good, you know," said Keith. Yeah, we know.
 
 Amber Holcomb also surprised me with Heart’s “What About Love,” which at first seemed like an odd choice. But she actually sounded pretty great on the thing, modulating it upward just to show she could do it. One of her best so far. Nicki called it her "favorite of the night."
 
The final spot went to favorite Angie Miller, who made a wise selection with Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.” She was back at the piano for the start, then once the drums kicked in she stood on a podium amid smoke and wind and what not. It was an appropriately theatrical performance of a bombastic rock song, even if she had to try to keep the fan from blowing her shirt up. Randy complimented her "great dynamics" and Nicki thought it was a "perfect choice."
 
So once again, it was really the two remaining male contestants (Lazaro and Burnell) who had the weakest moments on tonight's show. That being the case, Lazaro has more fans and probably gets to hang around. Amber could also be in danger, not because of a bad performance, but because she just doesn't seem to be polling as high as the other ladies. 
 
It gets really tough from here on out, folks.

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