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'American Idol': Songs from the 21st century? With help from the Billboard Hot 100, we offer our picks

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Music from the 21st century: such a wide open theme for the “American Idol” contestants to navigate and one that would at least ensure that finalists hit the stage with more youthful tunes. 

However, for a show  so slanted toward youth -– the age of hopefuls has been lowered, and the oldest contestant will be turning 24 this year -– it continues to deliver tracks from deep within the American songbook. 

The contestants were allowed to pick tracks from the 21st century, and considering that none of the finalists was a preteen at the start of the new century, it left too much room to turn back the hands of time.

So, after another week of high praise from the judges (with the exception of minor notes of the proverbial "pitchiness), Pop & Hiss opted to create a challenge.

Each week, no doubt there is someone, somewhere in America yelling at the television set about the contestant's choice (usually it's one of us). We thought it might prove instructive to take a stab at song selection. How hard can it be? The theme? Songs curated exclusively from this week’s Billboard Hot 100.

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Casey Abrams

Song: “Harder to Breathe” (Maroon 5)

Should have sung: “The Cave” (Mumford & Sons)

Abrams’ cover of early Maroon 5 garnered nothing but praise from the judges, even if a nervous Randy Jackson had to remind Abrams of his polarizing take on Nirvana. Throughout the competition, Abrams has honed his combination of folk, rock and jazz, a combo that would fit nicely into the simmering, folksy rock of "The Cave.

Haley Reinhart

Song: “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)   

Should have sung: “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)

Why mess with a good thing? Reinhart got it right when she took on music’s queen of heartbreak. "Rolling in the Deep" is currently charting in the top 10. And for a singer who was counted out early in the competition and has flirted with the bottom three more than once, Reinhart has pushed forward with performances of "Bennie and the Jets," "Piece of My Heart" and "Call Me" that have gotten her back on track. "Idol" judge Jennifer Lopez praised her for taking a risk on a song that "everybody knows and loves," telling her that because of Adele's powerhouse voice it's tough to make that song her own, but that she managed to put her own spin on it. Even if she couldn't tap into Adele's burn. 

Jacob Lusk

Song: “Dance With My Father” (Luther Vandross)

Should have sung: “Far Away” (Marsha Ambrosius) 

Though Lusk could go the R&B crooner route with Trey Songz’s latest chart offering, “Love Faces,” the song’s overt sexual lyrics are outside his moral compass, and Kirk Franklin’s choir-fronted “I Smile,” is a more uptempo direction than he typically goes. There isn't a great deal of the soulful R&B he typically takes on, and he has gotten most of his criticism when he's ventured out of that lane. Ambrosius’ piano-driven ballad “Far Away” could make room for that ole Lusky stank. Plus, the song's emotional narrative is what he likes to tap into.

James Durbin

Song: “Uprising” (Muse)

Should have sung: “Sing” My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance is a bit more mainstream than the resident rocker likes to go, but with the song's pop-rock sensibilities and that easy hook, Durbin could rack up more votes than he already does. Sorry,  Durbin, there isn't much heavy metal in the Hot 100.

Lauren Alaina

Song: “Born to Fly” (Sara Evans)

Should have sung: “Firework” (Katy Perry)

Alaina continues to get praise for picking songs that suit her country pop inflections, and Sara Evans is a great choice for the youngster. Evans currently has the begging-to-be-covered single  “A Little Bit Stronger” on the charts, and it was hard to resist assigning her the song. Both Lopez and record exec Jimmy Iovine told Alaina that she needs to stop being afraid to go big with notes, and she even agreed that she had become self-conscious that she wasn't hitting enough money notes like her peers. Perry’s anthemic "Firework" has a big chorus for her to get those notes in.

Scotty McCreery

Song: “Swingin' ” (LeAnn Rimes) 

Should have sung: “Don’t You Wanna Stay” (Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson)

McCreery, though the performance was great in the judges' eyes, managed to perform a song that was released a full decade before he was born. Sure, he did LeAnn Rimes' version of the song, but it's odd that with all the country that's come out in the last decade, he slanted toward this one. With that voice, he could cover any country man he wanted. We've assigned him a Jason Aldean hit. 

Stefano Langone

Song: “Closer” (Ne-Yo)

Should have sung: “For the First Time” (The Script)

Langone added a few dance moves to the hit from R&B craftsman Ne-Yo, sending the girls in the audience into a tizzy. It would be easy to toss Langone some Bruno Mars, but he already delivered “Just the Way You Are” (which secured him a spot as a wild card), and “Grenade” went through the wringer during Hollywood Week. We figure that the tune from the Irish pop-rock band was a chance to take the singer, who drifts between R&B and pop, a bit out of his comfort zone. 

What current songs would you assign the "Idols" if you had the chance?

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

twitter.com/gerrickkennedy

Photos: (Top) Clockwise from left: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Stefano Langone, Jacob Lusk, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams. (Bottom) McCreery performs. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.

 
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