With three contestants left, we get a glimpse at who’s really “in it to win it” and we can really see the light at the end of this never-ending tunnel. Next week is the finale and in two weeks, we’ll start forgetting all of this year’s contenders. After all, The Voice is just ramping up with their elimination rounds. And there’s always a new squirrel to distract us. But for now, American Idol is the squirrel and we have three contestants left.

This week, the three finalists get a taste of how their recording sessions will go. They each sing three songs, and they didn’t get to choose any of them. The first round are songs picked by Jimmy Iovine, the second round songs are picked by the judges, and the Idol producers picked songs for the last round. Don’t expect any particular connection between artist and song this week. (And don’t scratch your head as to why Idol winners sell less each year). One more cynical aside: This is the week when the judges and producers totally tip their hands and show who they want to advance. Song choice is everything. Anyway, off we go…

ROUND ONE: JIMMY PICKS

Kree opens the show with Perfect, by P!nk. Because that’s a country, blues song that fits right in her wheelhouse and core audience. Except not at all, really. She seems spacey and almost lifeless as she performs and wanders around the stage. Good vocal. Not a good song choice. Keith says it reminded him that she’s a country girl. Nicki starts in with a British accent, which is never a good sign. She says her vocal was great, but it felt short and apparently Kree was too tall; she should wear flat boots instead of heels. Randy didn’t love that song for her. She can sing anything, but this fell flat and lacked pizzazz. Mariah says it’s hard to let someone else pick your songs for you and she’s sure Kree will be better later on tonight (translation: it wasn’t good, darling).

Candice takes on U2’s One, which seems like another odd choice from Jimmy. The arrangement is quite different, almost as if they tried to make it more of a gospel song, and it works somewhat, but she’s stuck shout-singing instead of being able to really let her vocal work for her. Nicki congratulates her for making the top three. She loved the song choice (oh, right, Mary J Blige sang this, too – my fail) and said Candice did it justice. Randy says he thinks she’ll win (in a roundabout way). He thought the song allowed her to soar vocally and convey an emotional message. She’s in it to win it. Mariah wonders why she wasn’t happy with it and assures her that they felt it. Keith concurs that it was a great song choice and is amazed by the power of Candice’s voice and he loves when she sings off-key.

Angie gets an Elton John song, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word. She lets someone else play the piano, so she can focus on the sizzling camera glares as she stands center stage ankle deep in manufactured fog, surrounded by strings. That was a long note. She’s delivered a piercing vocal and a very controlled performance. Too controlled? Randy brings up the piano. She sidesteps the issue and says she might not have learned it in time. He says it was restrained and he liked how she sang the verses. Mariah says it was one of the best performances Angie’s done all season and credits the mic stand. Keith says she has range for days, but she could’ve held back even more and broken a lot of hearts. Nicki comments on the dress and the shoes. It wasn’t as emotional as previous performances, but she’s clearly bringing it to win.

AFTER ROUND ONE: Angie, Candice, Kree.

ROUND TWO: JUDGES PICK

Candice leads off round two with Next to Me, by Emeli Sande. I’m not going to lie. When I saw there were 2 Emeli Sande songs last night, I had to look her up on Spotify. The song is familiar, but I would never have guessed that name. Anyway, this arrangement is somewhat pulled back, but more in Candice’s groove. A good amount of energy and play vocally. Mariah says it was A+mazing and she was re-energized by her trip home. Keith says he believed it was a true conversation about Candice and her man. He loves how she just sings what she wants to sing. Nicki cries. Apparently the visit home was emotional (I haven’t watched that clip yet). She’s proud of Candice and says congratulations. Randy toots the American Idol horn (you can come from anywhere and make it because of our show) and gives props to the judges (we picked a great song to show how you fit on the charts right now). Nicki jumps back in and gives a speech about inspiring women everywhere. Candice cries.

Angie gives P!nk a Try. Yes, bad pun, but not as bad as the caption under the video. “Watch as Angie ‘tries’ her hand at making the Top 2!” (Fine, they’re both equally bad.) Meanwhile, Angie is doing a fine stellar job with this song. So good, in fact that Keith and Randy high-five at their brilliant song choice for her. Keith says he loves that she didn’t play the piano again and she’s never looked more comfortable. Nicki accuses Keith of cheating off her notes. She agrees that Angie was the most comfortable she’s ever been singing an uptempo song and she is Miley Cyrus’s long-lost twin. Randy says that song choice was amazing and fit her like a glove and she did a great job, she’s trying to win, y’all. Mariah says she’s festive and she performed like never before. She belongs on stage.

Kree takes the closing spot for round two, with Here Comes Goodbye by Rascal Flatts. Subtle, judges. Reeeeaaally subtle. Between Jimmy’s odd song choice and the subtext here, we’re looking for Candice and Angie next week. The joke’s on them, though, because she crushed this song. Go figure, she sings country really well. Nicki says her fans love her a billion times more than the judges ever could. Randy says the judges love all three of the finalists and she sang her heart out. Brilliant. Mariah doesn’t want Nicki to be the only emotional judge, so she chokes up and we can only hope she breaks into Emotion. She doesn’t but she tells Kree she’s real and no one can take that away. Keith is choked up, too. She had him from hello. She sang it just right. “God bless you.”

AFTER ROUND TWO: Kree, Angie, Candice

ROUND THREE: PRODUCERS PICK

Angie finally sits behind the piano to take on the second Emile Sande song of the night, Maybe. If nothing else, we’ve learned that P!nk and Emile are the Top 2. Oh, it’s a breakup song. Does that mean the producers don’t like Angie? Hmmm… “Maybe it’s time to go.” I guess this song is a lot easier to learn on the piano. Very much limited to the high vocal range. I liked the performance, but it wasn’t her best. Randy says she became a complete performer. Mariah says she did a great job with a song that’s not easy to sing (because it’s primarily in the upper register). Keith says she should sing from under the piano next week. Nicki says she’s come full circle.

Kree gets some love from the producers with Better Dig Two, by The Band Perry. Not only is it a country song, but it also mentions the number 2. Here’s the subtext as I see it. Idol contestants who sing country sell a LOT. If we get rid of Kree, we’re killing the show, because the other 2 girls won’t sing country or sell as much. Mariah says it was a nice look at the wild side of Kree. Keith says he liked the song, but it didn’t feel like it was the right fit. Nicki attacks the producers for the song choice because it wasn’t in her comfort zone. (Way better than P!nk, though, right?). Randy echoes the disdain for the song choice, but says she rocked it out anyway.

Candice shows of her less modern licks with Somewhere from West Side Story. Hello, this is amazing. Screw the “modern” sound. Let her go sing alongside of Connick and Buble. Is there not a market for that, too? Not so subtle advertising for Gatsby in the staging, but hey. A reminder that this girl can SANG. Keith says “if you don’t want to vote for Candice. . . you don’t have a pulse.” Nicki says “See you next week.” Randy says it was like a vocal lesson. ANOTHER of the best vocals in Idol history. Mariah ends with A+mazing and thanks her for making her cry, yet again.

WINNER: Candice, Angie, Kree

IN IT TO WIN IT?

Which brings us to the question of the night… who is going home? It’s tough. I gave each girl a round, so they’re pretty even. And Round Two, in particular, was closer to dead even than anything else. So, then it comes down to who’s voting and who has been consistently getting votes throughout the season. And as much as Candice has the judges in her corner and as much as she has “the best [two] vocal performance in Idol history,” she’s not been getting the same votes as Kree and Angie.

That could change, certainly. And in all honesty, Kree was the weakest of the three this week. But, my gut says that Candice goes home. She shouldn’t, but it’s pretty rare that the actual best voice wins in one of these things. Candice may just join Elliott Yamin, Melinda Doolittle, and Joshua Ledet as third-place finishers who out-sang the Idol winners of their respective singers.

Who ya got?

peace… love… bdg…