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'American Idol': Boys struggle with song choice, from Judas Priest to Bruno Mars and beyond

March 2, 2011 |  8:30 am


Song choice. It’s a relatively straightforward concept that "American Idol" judges have attempted to drill into contestants’ psyches for the last 10 years.

As unnerving as selecting a track and whittling it down to a minute-and-a-half seems, it’s a crucial decision that can make or break a contestant when singing for America’s vote and the judge’s remarks.

The decision is all the more important for the contestants hoping to carve out their spot in the top 12 come Thursday.

Tuesday, the top 12 boys proved just how unforgiving Randy Jackson (who has comfortably adjusted to his role as the show’s voice of reason -- read: villain) and his newer cohorts will be when it comes to doling out postmortem criticism, especially now that the show has moved to the big stage –- and the contestants perform in front of a live audience of cheering fans.

Questionable song choices that confused –- and annoyed -– the judges were a through line for the boys' night.

In the past, former judges, whether Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul or Kara DioGuardi, often lambasted selections, even telling contestants they were probably going home because of it, and though this year's judges didn’t downright tell anyone they’d be packing their bags Tuesday night, they made it clear they weren’t too pleased with some of the choices.

Though Clint Jun Gamboa’s rendition of Stevie Wonder's “Superstition” was heralded as “beautiful” by judge Steven Tyler, the 1972 gem has made its way onto the show at least once a season. As uninspired as the choice may have been, Jackson said it was brilliant and even complemented Gamboa, who makes a living hosting karaoke nights, for not venturing into a performance worthy of an alcohol-ridden dive bar.

Ditto for Jovany Barreto tackling “I’ll Be.” Granted, voters at home may dial in for a song that has a dose of familiarity, but on the show it was passed off as "very karaoke," even if Tyler said it was beautiful (but, to be fair, he used that sentiment for a number of contestants, so maybe "beautiful" is the rocker’s lingo for “terrible”).

A few contestants, however, ventured off the predictable path -- for better or worse.

Sometimes they were rewarded in kind, like Paul McDonald’s “unique” take on Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” Brett Loewenstern's rendition of the Doors' "Light My Fire," James Durbin’s offering of Judas Priest's “You've Got Another Thing Coming” ("Idol" buffs, has any contestant ever dived into Priest?) and Casey Abrams’ “sexy” rendition of “I Put A Spell On You,” made famous by Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- all songs that made it inherently impossible for the judges to utter the word karaoke.

Surprisingly, going contemporary -- something both this writer, and the judges have pined for -- yielded mixed results.

Jordan Dorsey’s dance-heavy offering of Usher’s “OMG” lead a confused Jennifer Lopez to ask if this was the kind of singer he envisioned himself to be. Dorsey adamantly denied his desire to be a more Usher-like R&B lothario, but didn’t offer an answer as to why he choose the Euro-dance club hit as his introduction. For his part, Stefano Langone won the judges over with Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”

With an unquestionably talented crop, there are only 10 seats (the other two slots come from the judges' wild-card selections). Whether the girls have a better sense of song picking is to be determined Wednesday night, and what they choose will begin the conversation about who they are as singers and whether they'll stand a chance at winning over America's vote.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photos: Stefano Langone, from left, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk and Casey Abrams perform in front of the judges. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox