I don't fully understand Wednesday (March 13) night's "American Idol" theme... But I'm concerned anyway.

Music of the American Idols? Really? 

Let's see how this goes...

8:03 p.m. ET. Nicki Minaj is... stuck in traffic? Must we go on without her? Really?

8:05 p.m. "That means any song from any winner is fair game," Ryan explains of the theme. Apparently that means any song sung by an "Idol" winner, either on the show or afterwards. I guess that gives folks a lot more wiggle room.

8:06 p.m. Jimmy Iovine wants Curtis Finch Jr. to be more contemporary. So he's gonna sing Fantasia's coronation song? Hmmm...

Singer: CURTIS FINCH JR.
Song: "I Believe"
My Take: I want to talk about the initially appealing arrangement that Curtis has been given here and I want to praise him for starting as low as he does. He sounds really good in his lower register. I want to talk about the silly chorus that parades down the steps to join Curtis at the first chorus. I want to talk about how much less interesting the song gets when Curtis starts over-singing it in the second half. And I want to talk about that really rough note that Curtis missed entirely and the judges won't mention at all. But really, how is anybody supposed to talk about anything other than Curtis' red paisley blazer? That's a spectacular, spectacular jacket. That performance was not spectacular. It had moments. But it wasn't great.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "You always pick the right songs in my opinion," Keith Urban says. Keith says that adrenaline caused Curtis to sing "above" the song. Randy loves Curtis' "fly jacket" and restyling, but he cautions Curtis to try something different, because he wants to see "other sides of Curtis." Mariah, however, was happy that Curtis sang with the choir and she wants more of that "gospel tinge."

 

8:18: p.m. Jimmy tells Janelle that song choice is going to be very important for her, because Janelle wants to simultaneously be Old Country and New Country. Or something...

 

Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: "Gone"
My Take: Scotty sang this one during his "Idol" run. It was one of the few times he went up-tempo. For Janelle this is a chance to show that she can be a sassy, sexy country babe. I really like the way it starts. The more stable Janelle is, the better she sounds. When she tries to prowl the stage, she has that inevitable situation where her voice just can't hold up to the exertion and she gets lost in the backing vocals. When I can hear Janelle, she sounds good and she has a terrific attitude. When I can't hear her... I can't hear her and that's clearly not good.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Janelle's got cotton-mouth when she finishes. Again, that's because she's not in shape to do a performance like that yet. Keith loved her version of the song. Nicki's back! And she's become the Unabomber! She calls Janelle "King Arthur," but says that her song last week was better. Nicki wants to hear the "pretty" part of Janelle's voice. Randy felt that the song didn't lead anywhere and he agrees with Nicki that it wasn't a good song choice. "I felt that your aura was definitely giving us 'star,'" Mariah says, confusingly. Mariah wants to hear a ballad or something mid-tempo.

 

8:28 p.m. Jimmy Iovine likes Devin Velez's restraint, but tells him not to get locked into singing older stuff or adult contemporary stuff. This week, he's doing a Carrie Underwood song I've never heard before...

 

Singer: DEVIN VELEZ
Song: "Temporary Home"
My Take: Devin tried saying he was taking a risk with this Carrie song, because it wouldn't just be another ballad. As this song has been arranged, though, it's basically just another ballad. There's no country edge or twang at all and Devin doesn't try to change or augment his smooth, casual voice. This is one of those instances in which Devin's voice is probably too smooth. I think that there's a country edge that would have prevented that from being pleasant elevator music, but Devin didn't have that edge. Decent little falsetto note at the end. Maybe it woke one or two viewers up, but probably not. Performing in this part of the show and being this forgettable, Devin is going to be in real trouble. Devin also has a terrific blazer. Did the "Idol" men spend more time in blazer fittings than rehearsals this week?
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "I didn't feel like you had confidence with that song at all," Keith says. Nicki disagrees with all of Keith's criticisms. "To me, this is you. This is your comfort zone," Nicki protests. "I thought it was way too safe. I didn't really like it," Randy says, warning Devin and the other performs that this is a competition. Mariah also seems to be telling Devin to step up, but not exactly.

 

8:39 p.m. It appears that Angela Miller has become "Angie" permanently now. Jimmy Iovine warned Angie that she gets a little pageant-y sometimes, which confuses her. 

 

Singer: ANGIE MILLER
Song: "I Surrender"
My Take: This is not a song I especially like, but Kelly Clarkson's version of it was terrific. Angie does this performance piano-adjacent, but she doesn't play the piano. Granted that her black, leather dress isn't pageant-regulation, but this is a performance that somewhat illustrates the points Jimmy tried to caution Angie about. She's got a very big voice, but it's not the "bigness" of her voice that I like, per se. I think this was a much more ambitious performance than any of the night's first three songs, but it still was a bit more hollow and smile-y than I'd have hoped for. It's a bit surprising, because Angie's pretty reliably moved me in the past, but tonight I didn't get much other than a very good voice. With Angie, the goal is probably to make sure she survives the weeks she doesn't play the piano so that we love her even more when she tickles the ivories. I think this is a fine survival performance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "As do I... surrender," Keith explains. Nicki loves the way Angie's styled. "Your legs are giving me everything I needed in life today," Nicki says, raving at Angie's ability to walk in heels. She also says that Angie's voice is "flawless." "I hate when you part ways with your piano," Nicki notes as her only criticism. "America the competition starts now," Randy clarifies. "This girl is in it to win it," Randy says, making us yearn for the year he abandoned that phrase. "Stellar," Mariah says. And that's literally all Mariah says.

Singer: PAUL JOLLEY
Song: "Amazed"
My Take: The fiddle player is doing some very fine work accompanying Paul here. She's got some real sincerity in her bowing and whatnot. Paul? Well, he's just darned cheesy. Jimmy may have told Paul not to over-sing and not to be theatrical, but he apparently can't resist. I don't think he can turn that off. He sounds just fine, mind you. The whole song is in his sweet spot and he executes every note proficiently. And he doesn't oversing. But oh the cheese. And the corn. And the over-emoting. Paul's overly self-conscious leer into the camera at the end of the song may haunt me for years. But it's also likely to sway female viewers in Paul's direction.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "I really feel like you've been listening," Keith tells Paul. "This is the first time you've stimulated my sexual appetite," Nicki tells Paul. "I think it was a great choice for you," Randy says. "I don't want this to make you hold back," Mariah says of Jimmy's cautions about theatricality.

Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: "I Who Have Nothing"
My Take: It's a great song and this was definitely Jordin Sparks' very best performance in her winning season. Candice is certainly better at this than Jordin was when she started off in her season. I fear this arrangement is way over-orchestrated. I love Candice's voice and I wish we were just listening to her sing. Candice is getting her wail on and I mean that as a compliment, but at times she's fighting the band more than I think is ideal. Candice is doing the Shirley Bassey cover here, which is probably why it sounds an awful lot like a Bond theme, but there are two or three moments towards the end when she's shouting. But I sense that I'm grading Candice against the higher reaches of Candice's potential and not against the other singers here. Yeah. That's the best performance of the night by a lot. But... I think I preferred Jordin's version and I'm not the hugest Jordin Sparks fan.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "If we were allowed more time, we'd still be standing and clapping ourselves," Keith raves. "It would be in everybody's best interests to never perform that song ever again," Nicki says, calling it Candice's best performance yet. "You really worked that song out," Randy calls it one of the greatest performances on the show... this season. Oh come on, Randy. If you're gonna go out on a limb, go out on more of a limb than that. Mariah says Candice is "mesmerizing." Mariah, the only just not to stand for Candice, tells her that she'd have stood up, but her skirt is too tight. Heh.

Singer: LAZARO ARBOS
Song: "Breakaway"
My Take: I like Lazaro's teal blazer, but it needs a little more flourish. Make it shinier! Or add some paisley. And a fine skinny tie as well, Lazaro. And snazzy up-do. Really, Lazaro should only be singing Frank Sinatra songs from the '50s. As for the performance? I'm not sure if Lazaro has a clue what he's singing. He's basically whispering under the the backing vocals and orchestration. It's like going to a karaoke bar where somebody is totally convinced they know a song and it turns out they don't know the lyrics or the melody and they just mumble quietly and hope the rest of the bar will do the heavy-lifting for them. That was really, really, really weak. It will be a total test of audience sympathies and warmth for Lazaro. On the basis of the performance alone, he'd absolutely be in the Bottom Three tomorrow.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith didn't feel like the song was in Lazaro's wheelhouse and Lazaro agrees. "I like that you look like Ricky Ricardo tonight," Nicki says, calling it her least favorite of Lazaro's performances. Randy thought the song was way too big for him. "I think a lot of people are falling in love with the courage you have," Mariah condescends.

Singer: KREE HARRISON
Song: "Crying"
My Take: Anybody remember the sweatsuit-wearing Kree from a couple weeks back who claimed she wasn't gonna become anybody other than who she was then? Tee-hee. I'm not complaining, because Kree looks gorgeous. But she's definitely been mighty polished by the "Idol" machine. They've polished her, of course, because they know that she has the voice to win this thing if they can find a way to package her. This version of Kree can absolutely be packaged. This is a high-emotion, well-delivered performance. She feels it and she sells it and, at times, her voice soars.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith thinks Kree could sing the phone book. "Hello, Harry!" Nicki greets Kree, before launching into a story about her love for waffles. "It was smooth. It was delicious. It was just fun," Nicki clarifies after Keith sniffs her Coke cup. "You have one of those infectious voices," Randy says. Mariah thanks Kree and tells her that she can't wait to hear her sing again. In a cute moment, Kree accidentally calls Ryan "Randy" and hugs him to apologize.

Singer: BURNELL TAYLOR
Song: "Flying Without Wings"
My Take: Hovering in a bank of fog and conducting all of our emotions is Burnell. This isn't the worst of the "Idol" coronation songs, but it's in the bottom half and Burnell can't cut through the treacle entirely. His voice gets really strained on the high notes. When it's in his comfort zone, though, he sounds very good and adds a few flourishes that Ruben couldn't do or wasn't asked to do.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith loves the "Burnell-isms," which he calls "really natural." Nicki was obsessed with Ruben's first albums. She prefaces that she loves him and then says he's well-on-his-way. Randy likes that Burnell put his own twist on the song and compliments him for raising it up for the dudes. Mariah and Burnell have a history. She loves the choices he's made. Or something.

Singer: AMBER HOLCOMB
Song: "Moment Like This"
My Take: Another Kelly Clarkson joint. Amber's got too much going on around her. The wind machine is pushing her hair around and billowing her dress. She seems on the verge of catching on fire from the fake candles on the screen behind her. The orchestra blares. And Amber still shines. I don't know if she captures Kelly's emotion, but melodically, she's confident and her voice is powerful. This isn't as dynamic and show-off-y (or ambitious) as Candice's performance, but it's probably more on-point.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "I love how effortless you sing," Keith says. "That was the best performance of the night. Seriously," Nicki says, comparing her to first-album Whitney Houston. Nicki wants to see more leg and some pink lipstick on Amber. "Nicki's funny," says the perpetually perplexed Randy. "You blew it out of the box tonight," Randy gushes. "Hashtag, pow," says Mariah, comparing Amber to Mariah. Awww... Amber's step-mom comes on-stage to give her a birthday present.

 

9:58 p.m. Once again, it's all about the Big Four. Candice, Amber and Kree were my favorites tonight, with Angie a little behind them and then a big gap to everybody else.

9:58 p.m. It's gonna be interesting to see how the voting goes tonight. It *should* be an all-male Bottom Three, with Lazaro and Devin in there for sure. Curtis was pretty weak tonight and hearing the replay of that bum note that nobody called him on was unpleasant. It'll be worth seeing if the country-friendly voters come out to protect Janelle and Paul. My guess for elimination is Devin, that Lazaro has more passionate fans who will ignore how bad he was tonight.

 

Who do you think is going home? And who did you like tonight?