So, it's a big night on "American Idol" as the Top 10 are going to take the stage for the first time and Nicki Minaj is late. Stuck in traffic? Say what?
Wasn't she the judge who chided some contestants for their lack of professionalism during the audition rounds? Um, Nicki, how about practicing what you preach? For the money you make, you can be air-lifted to the studio by helicopter, for crying out loud.
Then again, maybe Nicki knew something we didn't. Maybe she realized that Curtis Finch Jr. would fail to get the show off to a rousing start. So why not skip it?
Of course, we weren't as fortunate as Nicki. We had to sit through all 10 performances -- good and bad -- as the contestants took on "Music of American Idol" as their theme. That means they can do any song recorded, or performed, by a former "Idol" winner.
So let's see how it goes: Curtis Finch Jr. ("I Believe"): Jimmy Iovine is mentoring the kids this week and he's advised Curtis to stop being so "retro." So he does Fantasia's coronation song? Hmmm. He starts off fine, but that red paisley blazer is about to give us a seizure. As the song goes on, it gets more and more wobbly with a really wretched note in there and something screechy at the end. The worship leader has done some serious over-singing. The judges let him off fairly easy, though, with Randy Jackson saying he'd like to see some other sides of Curtis. Janelle Arthur ("Gone"): The country girl takes on one of the few uptempo songs that Scotty McCreery tried in Season 10 and -- hey look! -- Nicki has made it to the show. (She's wearing big goggle-like sunglasses and a black hoody and looking sort of like the Unabomber). Ms. Tardy says she wasn't "wowed" by the song and would rather have Janelle show her "pretty" side. Randy wasn't so sure about the song choice, either. But, hey, the cowboy boots looked great. Devin Valez ("Temporary Home"): There has been so much talk about this being a girl's year, that even the guys are doing songs by females. Curtis took on Fantasia and now Devin does Carrie Underwood. His tone, as usual, is fine, but it's another ballad and it's rather boring and forgettable. "That was not one of your better performances," Keith Urban says. "... I didn't feel you had confidence with the song at all." Nicki disagrees and says it was right there in Devin's comfort zone. But Randy says it's "way too safe." As for Mariah, well, we have no idea what she said. Angie Miller: ("I Surrender"): Ah, memories of Kelly Clarkson -- the original "Idol" flavor. Angie's rocking a short black leather dress and is accompanied by a full string section. There's power in her voice and confidence in her stage presence. Has the competition finally started? Keith: "I thought you knocked it out of the park tonight!" Nicki: "Your legs are giving me everything I needed in life today." (Huh?) ... "You're perfection on every level." Randy: "Absolutely amazing performance. I loved every moment." Mariah: "Stellar." Paul Jolley ("Amazed"): Scotty McCreery sang this Lonestar song in Season 10 and probably sang it better. Jimmy has told Paul to stop with the Broadway over-singing ("It's not 'Les Miz.'"), and he does -- for the most part. It's his best performance in weeks. "This is the first time you've stimulated my sexual appetite," says Nicki, apparently referring to Paul's fashion style and not the song. Mariah's glad that Paul is taking Jimmy's advice, but cautions against holding back too much. He needs to be himself, after all. Candice Glover ("I (Who Have Nothing)"): Uh-oh, did Jordin Sparks just get schooled? The Season 6 champ sang this number on her way to the title, but she couldn't have done it any better than Candice, who is cementing her status as a top "Idol" contender. She performs it with aggression and drama and swagger, and then punctuates it with a commanding glory note toward the end. Wow. Wow. Wow. All the judges are raving. "It would be in everybody's best interest to never, ever perform that song on 'Idol' ever again," Nicki says. "You just destroyed and annihilated. That was actually my favorite performance you've ever done." Says Mariah, "Every time you are on stage, it's mesmerizing. I'm transfixed watching you." Lazaro Arbos ("Breakaway"): Another one from Kelly. Lazaro looks snazzy in his suit and tie and it's impossible not to like him. But good looks and likability can carry you only so far. This is not a great performance. Plenty of rough patches. Keith says the song wasn't in Lazaro's wheelhouse. Nicki says he looks like a "cuddly Ricky Ricardo," but the song wasn't up to par. Randy thinks the song was way too big for him. Is he destined for the Bottom 3? Kree Harrison ("Crying"): Carrie Underwood did this Roy Orbison classic in Season 4. Now, Kree takes it on and does it justice. She handles it with the delicacy and feeling it requires and tosses in some really lovely high notes. Carrie -- and Roy -- would be proud. "You could sing the phone book, baby," Keith says. Nicki goes on a long monologue about buttermilk pancakes and syrup and finally gets around to saying the song was "smooth and delicious." (Have you noticed that Mariah never laughs, or even smiles. at Nicki's verbal flourishes?). Burnell Taylor ("Flying Without Wings"): Wow. A shout-out to Ruben Studdard -- something you don't hear much of these days. But Ruben never had those weird little hand gestures, did he? This is a coronation song, and those tend to be schmaltzy. Burnell is fine here, but the song is probably doing him no favors. We'll probably forget it in 10 minutes. Nicki says she was obsessed with Ruben's first album, but this isn't her favorite Burnell song. Mariah claps and says something that has something to do with melody, but not waffles and syrup. Amber Holcomb ("A Moment Like This"): OK, this brings back some very warm memories for "Idol" fans who have been here from the beginning. Kelly Clarkson's coronation song. "The song that started it all," says Ryan Seacrest. (Or the song that Kelly no longer does in concert). Amber is up to the challenge. She sings it with passion and power, and it's beautiful. Nicki calls it the best performance of the night and says Amber reminds her of an early Whitney Houston. Says Randy, "You blew it out of the box tonight." And Mariah closes with "Hashtag pow," whatever that means.
So who goes home and who stays? If anything became clear tonight it's that it may be even more of a girls year than we originally thought. Amber, Candice, Kree and Angie pretty much had the guys (and everyone else) eating their dust. It will be interesting to see these four battle it out in the coming weeks -- and if anyone else can challenge them for supremacy.
We'll be back Thursday to watch the Top 10 become the Top 9.