Hey, American Idol. If The Beatles were so revolutionary half a century ago, as your show intro insists, how come this competition is among solo acts and not bands?
Beatles night on Idol ensured there would be a lot of great songs, though the show missed a beat right off the bat by playing “Revolution” at the outset instead of “Revolution 9″ which could have serenaded (and unnerved) the Top 9 with its repeated refrain: “Number nine, number nine…”
Well, the show kicked off and instead of Sir Paul or even Ringo coming out to preface the show, it was Carly Rae Jepsen, talking about some sort of cola tie-in for her Idol finale performance in which viewers can choose how she’ll perform and even help finish her lyrics, if not her career.
And there was one bit of leftover business from last week: who would go on to be the 11th performer on the American Idol tour? After the results of the sing-off last week, it was Aubrey Cleland over Charlie Askew (and poor Charlie was given another opportunity to fail on national television).
On to the meat of the show, which for Beatles fans meant that the strength of the material was undercut by the sheer ignorance of it by many of the aspiring singers.
Kree Harrison had never sung a Beatles song and Burnell Taylor never heard “Let It Be” before. Amber Holcomb had never heard her song, “She’s Leaving Home,” but then again neither had Mariah Carey! After awhile, they stopped asking the young performers how well they knew The Beatles, maybe to save us all from embarrassment.
The lapses affirmed that gross pop music ignorance should be grounds for instant elimination of contestants and judges.
There was a time for several seasons Idol wasn’t allowed to do Beatles songs for contractual reasons. Then things changed. But calling it Beatles night didn’t mean any George Harrison songs were performed; it was all Lennon/McCartney, but predominantly McCartney — his pop tendencies are obviously better suited to the show. And all but one song was from the later period of the band.
But for all the praise given The Beatles for their perfection, the performances began with Kree Harrison doing the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” — all screaming guitar intro and over-the-top Leon Russell gospel arrangement. Kree added her own country flourishes to that and sang it much better than Cocker (without the spittle and distracting hand movements).
It was also The Beatles song best suited for the show, with its lyric, “What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?” (The Beatles never wrote about pitchiness).
For having never heard of the song, Burnell burnished his version of “Let It Be” lightly, surprisingly avoiding its deep gospel roots, and got big praise from the judges.
Amber Holcomb was a standout with “She’s Leaving Home.” She was lucky in having a song that is so rarely covered — and is so short she could sing the whole thing, adding soulful touches that gave it dimension. Even so, Nicki Minaj chided her for showing how much she didn’t like doing the song.
Lazaro Arbos’ “In My Life” was the first big miss of the night. He was nervous and in the wrong key and the judges were keen to notice. He was sweating already; the criticism made the tears come. Minaj, apparently continuing a feud, said he shouldn’t ever listen to Jimmy Iovine again. Iovine was apparently picking all the songs; Lazaro, through his stutter, tried to explain that he was made to switch to that song just yesterday and he wanted to do another.
Candice Glover came out and killed “Come Together” in a big way.
Paul Jolley added a kind of Broadway intensity to “Eleanor Rigby,” momentarily losing his angle of being a pop country singer. Minaj called it safe, bland and forgettable. Randy Jackson said he didn’t connect with the song.
Angie Miller did her version of restraint, hanging back on “Yesterday” but still giving it big notes and altering the melody in parts.
Devin Velez was very good in bringing a Brian McKnight soulfulness to “The Long and Winding Road” in a performance that began with simple piano accompaniment but grew to include a string and chorus overload that served as inadvertent plug for the Phil Spector movie on HBO this week.
Janelle Arthur was an especially pleasing show closer, with a ringing country version of “I Will” that she hoped would send her into the Top 3 (a designation that is now made public; usually you’d only hear of who was in the bottom two or three).
With Lazaro and Paul getting the most criticism from judges, can we assume one of them will also be the second male cut from the Top 10?
They’ll face the music on Thursday’s results show, which will likely include another group Beatles songs. Only past Idol contestants Jessica Sanchez (featuring Nee-Yo) and Casey Abrams will guest star. Guess Ringo was busy.
American Idol airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CTV/Fox and on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CTV Two/Fox.