One would think that, if you’re going to compete on American Idol, you might want to bone up on The Beatles greatest hits. After all, four recent seasons of the Fox hit have featured the legendary band’s song library as a theme. But alas, season 12 is not your parents’ Idol, and as millions of faithful viewers learned on Wednesday night’s performance episode, the vast majority of the top 9 were virtually clueless when it came to the Fab Four.
They were given a list of 20 songs to choose from, and the producers steered clear of certain numbers (like “Blackbird”) purposely. That’s not to say there weren’t some stellar performances, but the more admissions were made about never hearing these classic songs, the more the studio audience visibly cringed.
It may be a while before the finalists hear the end of it — and hopefully that alone will inspire them to dig into the Beatles’ catalog — but we had to ascertain their knowledge (or lack thereof) for ourselves. Read on for how the Top 9 rate when it comes to Beatles 101.
Lazaro Arbos ("In My Life"): Born and raised in Cuba, where he lived until he was nine, the 22-year-old crooner tells THR that he grew up with the Beatles vis a vis his parents, but seemed surprisingly indifferent to their legacy. Asked if he might explore their music more now, he answered, “I might — or not.”
Janelle Arthur (“I Will”): “It’s not as well-known and I had never heard it before,” says the resourceful country singer of choosing “I Will.” She stumbled upon Allison Kraus’ rendition of the 1968 song, but ended up coming up with a version of her own. “The Allison Krauss cover sparked my interest, but I found some other covers and kind of mixed it in. Then the musicians were so awesome and knew how to give it more of a country feel. It was gorgeous.”
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Candice Glover ("Come Together"):“I did not grow up listening to the Beatles,” says the 23-year-old Beaufort, South Carolina native. “It was a lot of pressure because I know a lot of people love the Beatles.” She ultimately chose “come Together” because of its groove. “I didn’t know the lyrics were that crazy when I chose it.”
Kree Harrison (“With a Little Help From My Friends”):At 22, the Woodville, Texas native says she considers herself “an old soul when it comes to music.” Indeed, here favorite artist is Otis Redding, and not only did she know the Beatles’ version of the 1967 hit, but also Joe Cocker’s cover from the following year. “I thought I’d marry the two,” she tells THR. Harrison reveals she wanted to do the song “Something,” but ultimately thought the message of “… ‘Friends’ would be more fitting.”
Amber Holcomb ("She’s Leaving Home"):With little knowledge of the Fab Four, 19-year-old Holcomb sampled all of the songs provided on an iPod and ultimately chose “She’s Leaving Home” based on a “need to know what the song’s all about.” It turned out to be the perfect fit. Says Holcomb: “I sang it for Jimmy [Iovine] and he was, like, you don’t need to change a thing — this song sounds like it was made for you.” With a stellar arrangement of her own, a home run might be more appropriate.
Paul Jolley ("Eleanor Rigby"):Palmersville, Tennessee’s 23-year-old hometown heartthrob gets an A for his Beatles expertise. Of his fellow finalists, Jolley told THR, “I can’t believe they don’t know [The Beatles]. They need to do their research, especially with where they’re at. They should have done it before they got here.” Jolley, as it turns out, got most of his Beatles knowhow from school. “We had music history and choir, where we did a lot of Beatles songs because they’re iconic,” he said. When asked for his favorite Beatles album, Jolley answered, “I’m on the same page as Keith Urban; Every one of them is my favorite.”
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Angie Miller ("Yesterday"):“I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles, so I don’t really know a lot of their songs,” says the 19-year-old Beverly, Mass. native. “Yesterday,” as it turned out, was one of the few she had heard before (it is one of the most recorded songs in history, after all). Adds Miller: “I had a connection with it so I just really wanted to do it.”
Burnell Taylor ("Let It Be"):“I know of the Beatles,” says the 19-year-old New Orleans native with the angelic voice. “As far as me knowing their songs word-for-word, I’m not too familiar with it, but I do feel like they’re legends.” Taylor dove into “Let It Be” by learning it first, connecting with it second. In his words: “Someone told me it was in a movie or something with a war and this kid who was by himself. I got that visual in my head and I just put myself in it because I think that’s what makes a true artist.”
Devin Velez (“The Long and Winding Road”): As it turns out, Velez’s song choice came at the last-minute. “It was my third song choice; The first was ‘Come Together,’ the second was ‘In My Life,’ which Lazaro wanted to do,” he says. “I wasn’t a big fan of the Beatles, but when I heard [“Long and Winding Road”] I was, like, this is it. I had an emotional connection with the song just for personal reasons and I think I gave my heart and the judges saw it.”