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'American Idol' recap: Did the top 11 make you feel the love?

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It was the top 11 all over again on Wednesday night's "American Idol," as America's top 10 picks plus the snatched-from-the-brink Casey Abrams tackled the songs of Elton John. In a metaphorical tip of the feathered hat to the flamboyant singer, whose wild outfits are nearly as famous as his countless hits, the finalists also primped and preened for an "Entertainment Weekly" photo shoot.

It was an evening as much about image as it was about song, which seemed a fitting coda to the whole Casey elimination saga, since you could make a case that his shlumpfy sartorial style (and increasingly bushy hair and beard) had cost him at least a few key votes.

So what did Casey and the other contestants have in store for "Idol" watchers on Wednesday night? Would we feel the love tonight? Or would they go breaking our hearts? And which two contestants do we predict will be saying goodbye to the yellow brick road on Thursday night?

Read on …

Scotty McCreery, "Country Comfort": Not surprisingly, Scotty tackled what he told us was Elton's "one and only country song," sending a special shout-out to his grandma, who was cheering him on in the audience and hitting one of his trademark final low notes. The perfectly capable, if not surprising, performance, prompted Steven Tyler to issue one of his special head scratchers: "Nothing I could say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled cowboy boots wouldn't fix," he said, adding, "You did it again for me, Scotty." Jennifer congratulated Scotty for sticking to his instincts about song choice and performance, instructing him, "Never doubt yourself." Randy said something Tyler-ishly confusing about "Scotty's bar and grill" and noted that Scotty was looking very seasoned up there. "You are so in the zone right now," he told Scotty. "That song sounds like it could be on your record, dude. Very nicely done."

Naima Adedapo, "I'm Still Standing": Naima chose to do a reggae version of an Elton song she saw as an anthem to herself, noting that a lot of people hadn't imagined she'd still be in the running at this point. (Musical mentor Jimmy Iovine encouraged her to maybe broaden that out and dedicate the song to all the other people in the world who were having a tough time but are "still standing" -- good advice that Naima took.) Naima (who appears to have maybe had some dental work done?) again showed that she can move well onstage, and her voice sounded stronger than it sometimes had in the past. But I found it pretty uncomfortable to listen to her suddenly sing in a put-on reggae-inflected island accent when, in fact, she doesn't speak (or normally sing) with one at all. It made the whole performance seem altogether inauthentic. Randy obviously thought so, too, calling it "kind of corny … and that's not who you are."  Jennifer said it was a "better idea than it was payoff for me." And Steven, who -- now that Jennifer has taken to offering slices of genuine criticism sandwiched between thick-cut slabs of flattery -- has picked up the flag of empty encouragement and begun to wield it with almost militant fervor, said, "Boom chaka-lacka-lacka, baby. Good for you for picking a song that fit you."

Paul McDonald, "Rocket Man": I'm going to call this one of the most disappointing performances of the night -- and not just because Paul wore that same rose-emblazoned Nudie-inspired suit of his. Before he went out there, Iovine, who had advised Paul to amp up the energy and intensity in weeks past, told him to get out on that stage and rock it like it was an encore in front of 20,000 fans. He started gently, allowing us again to admire his distinctively appealing vocal rasp and then raised our hopes of a crescendo or a sudden burst by asking, "Ya'all ready?" And then took the song … down to a whisper, leaving me thinking -- for perhaps the first time -- that Paul, clearly a chill dude, just doesn't have a lick of intensity in him. The judges were measured in their responses. Randy said it was "quiet comfort," if a bit pitchy in spots, and said, "When you get into that tender zone, that quiet ... soft voice, it's very infectious" but expressed a desire to hear more vocal power. Jennifer said she felt he might have been "holding back." And Steven -- after making a crack about Paul's suit -- compared Paul to "five great artists" who sometimes didn't hit all the notes, which he said was a good thing but which doesn't sound all that good to me. Oh, and Randy and Steven quibbled a bit (about pushing and panting and some nonsense), which makes me think maybe Steven wasn't so happy that Randy tried to move in on his incomprehensible-criticism territory. But Steven, really, Randy was there first, dawg.

Pia Toscano, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me": Flouting Randy's request that she do something other than a ballad, Pia let her vocal talent shine bright on her favorite Elton song, promising that, if America kept her around next week, she'd "get you all moving." On Pia's final note, like Jennifer, I got goosebumps. Steven said she'd done it again and then took aim at Randy. "Some people might have been wrong up here when we asked you not to sing ballads again," noting that Pia made him "cry inside" and was "just about as good as it gets." As if suddenly remembering his schtick, he added, "That was a complete and full sentence." Jennifer said Pia's notes "take us to an otherworldly place" and said she felt her trying to break through emotionally. Randy backpedaled and said Pia had "slayed" her ballads every time and noted that he was "just trying to get you to switch up gears a little bit." He added, "I heard all of Pia tonight and Pia was great once again."

Stefano Langone, "Tiny Dancer": First, the good news: He managed to keep his eyes open and (literally) make contact with the audience, reaching out to hold Jennifer Lopez's hand at the end. With Jennifer, at least, the gambit worked: "I could really feel you taking our notes … really connecting with our audience," she said. "I really felt like you moved the crowd today." Randy hailed him for hitting "the money notes right on." And Steven said Stefano had a "sweet thing to your voice," adding that, though he sometimes found it "a little Broadway," he had "nailed it."  Me? I don't really agree. I feel like it was the schmaltziest performance of the evening. The way Stefano stretches out some notes is starting to grate on me. I'm kind of over him.

Lauren Alaina, "Candle in the Wind": Lauren, meanwhile, took a song that could have been schmaltzy -- a song that we have all heard kajillions of times -- and made it sound surprisingly new and interesting. Randy said it was "one of the greatest songs ever written" and "one of the greatest Lauren Alaina performances on this stage," calling it "very, very hot." Steven trotted out his old line about loving Lauren "since the first moment you laid eyes on me" and said if Lauren kept singing like that she'd "be able to afford the rest of that dress." Jennifer said that, perhaps for the first time, "Everybody in America got to hear what we heard" from Lauren during the audition that made them all such fans.

James Durbin, "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)": Flaming pianos. LED lighting that should have come with a warning for people with pacemakers and epilepsy. Dangerous dance moves. A microphone stand tossed who knows where. James put on a serious show -- and he had some pretty good vocal pyrotechnics too. Steven hailed him as a fellow rocker, warning him, "Don't wear out your welcome. … Don't be up there too long. You don't want to look like me." Jennifer said that when James sang, she forgot she was on a competition show but rather felt like she was at a concert. She called it  "a really full performance of a great song by a great artist. Period." Randy noted that one of the best things about James was that it's clear he's having a terrific time onstage, calling it, "a great, great, great performance." Ryan even weighed in, saying James' performance was "fearless." But apparently that wasn't quite true. What with the hairspray and leaping flames and all, James revealed that he did have one fear: that he would have a "Pepsi moment."

Thia Megia, "Daniel": Jimmy Iovine advised Thia to forget all the high school play-acting stuff she ever learned and really try to connect to the lyrics of "Daniel," a song Thia said reminded her of when her own big brother went away when she was little. She gave a less mannered performance than usual and again put her very nice vocal tone on display. But still, she managed to leave me cold. The judges, however, were appreciative: Jennifer called it "beautiful" and credited Thia with managing to internalize the lyrics. Randy liked the way the "relaxed" quality of the performance let people hear Thia's beautiful voice but added that he felt the choice was "a little safe." Steven said, "I think that when you find the right song the voice appears, right? And I think that's what happened tonight."

Casey Abrams, "Your Song": Casey had a lot to prove: not only that he could sing, but also that he actually cared about the voters' opinions. He proved it in the best way possible, by trimming up his hair and beard (though stopping short of shaving it off altogether, making his big-reveal moment a little underwhelming).  When he sang, "My gift is my song and this one's for you," he really seemed to be speaking directly to "Idol" watchers. Or could it be to the judges who'd saved him? Anyhow, the performance was sweet. And after congratulating themselves repeatedly for saving Casey (Jennifer said she'd slept like a baby afterward), the judges congratulated Casey for his performance. "Very nicely done," said Randy, summing it up.

Jacob Lusk, "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word": After meeting his idol Mary J. Blige ("I've met a lot of people, but this is big," he told us), Jacob appeared onstage, standing in a cloud, and turned in one of his trademark dramatic performances, ending on a wildly impressive note. I'm thinking it might be time for Jacob to retire the gospel-choir backup singers, whom he often employs and who sometimes overpower his undeniably powerful voice. But the judges loved it -- and him. "Jacob, man, I watch how far out there or in there you get when you sing," Steven said, noting that the "first half just blew me away" and "the second half was equal … you slay me." Jennifer thought he'd made the song his own. Randy complimented Jacob's restraint and called it "brilliant."

Haley Reinhart, "Bennie and the Jets": She's been in real danger of getting voted off for weeks, but Haley proved herself worthy of the final slot. "She moves great, she has a great tone and she has a great style of singing, but she doesn't always bring all three parts to the game," Iovine noted, adding that she would do so Wednesday night. She did -- prompting Jennifer to make a squinched-up, into-the-music face that we've never seen her make before. "That was it, Haley. That was it, Haley," Jennifer said. "That's what we’ve been talking about." Randy said, "Best performance of the night right there." And Steven bestowed his highest compliment: "You sing sexy."

But at the end of the day, two singers will be headed home. Who do you think it will be? Me, I'd be OK losing Stefano and either Naima or Thia. You?

Full Show Tracker coverage of "American Idol"

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: James Durbin performs on "American Idol." Credit: Michael Becker / Fox

 
Comments () | Archives (26)

I agree...Tiny Dancer is one of my favorite Elton John songs. It makes me cry whenever I hear it. Last night's rendition by Stefano was unrecognizable, unmoving, and completely unmemorable. I don't get why he was "saved" to begin with. Did we really need two extra people to make things interesting? Thia is cute and sings well, but again is unmemorable. Paul sounded plain awful, I don't care how unique his voice is. At least Naima keeps it interesting, even if watching her is like a car accident you can't turn your eyes away from.

I agree, I think Naima, Thia and Stefano are not as great as rest. Casey is still my man. Love him!

So why do the judges - and bloggers following suit - criticize Thia's choice of songs as safe and complain about Pia just singing ballads but it's perfectly okay when Scotty sings what basically sounds like the same song every week?

Naima and Paul. GO! Please.

Naima, Paul and Thia can leave, Stefano needs to step it up, can Scotty sing anything other than country?? and Jacob, Jacob,,,,I did not like his last two performances, so he can hit a note but in general he can also leave the show..

None of the judges criticize Scotty for singing the same type of song every week - why?

God i miss Simon! He was the only one who had enough guts to call a spade a spade. My god how can these judges actually believe that Paul Mcdonald is great? If i walked into the corner Bar and heard him singing i would turn around and walk out. He sounds like Yakki the duck singing to Chopper the bulldog. ( I guess im giving away my age, no one watching Idol probably ever watched the good old cartoons.) Please start the sanity, i'll admit he has a recognizable voice and that would be SUCKS!

I agree with you. Any of the three you mentioned will likely go tonight. It seems to me that Scotty - who has a large fan base I know - should go soon unless he expands his western/cowboy style. Maybe he should review someone like Garth Brooks' work to see that Garth doesn't sing each and every song the same way. I realize Scotty is only 17, but he needs to expand within the type of music he sings so well.

JACOB - GO HOME ALREADY!!! I can't believe anyone could like his voice...it sounds so shaky... Yes, Naomi go and Stefano can go too.

After the drama of last week, it seems that the separation of who has "it" and who is close but not close enough is getting wider. The ones that get "it" seem to be hitting their stride, and I have to admit that I am impressed with the rapid maturity of some of the talent. It is interesting to note that this week more than previous, it seems like some of the contestants have become confident enough to pick and chose the advice they are given, or ignore the advice all together and growing into what they see themselves to be. I do get a sense that the kinder, gentler, post Simon Idol contestants have been given emotional/creative freedom that perhaps past Idol contestants didn't get.

Scotty...Sure of his track and, a little like Naima in this regard: I think Idol is less important now to him than at the beginning because he knows there is an after Idol for him so he "keeps on truckin'" to strengthen his country base. Thia and Pia get critical responses for playing it safe and trying something out of their comfort zone. Not so for Scotty apparently.

Naima...Also seems to have this attitude of doing what she wants despite advice otherwise. I think she knows that she can no way compete with the voices on this cast. That and her unique looks don't work the cookie cutter "Idol" so she tries to hit other aspects of her talents, like performance and originality. I think she knows she is playing with "house money" so go with it. I give her credit, but truthfully, taking risks also means you will miss. This time she missed.

Paul...This song was made for his style and I think he swung and missed. Wasted opportunity. He was in the "ho hum" category for me, and now has dropped lower.

Pia...Lovely as ever. I think despite the encouragement to be/do more upbeat, this was a perfect song choice. From the bits of personal profiles I have seen, Pia strikes me as someone with values and warmth, unfortunately she seems to hold some of that back, adding none of it to her performances. It seems she and Lauren are close. Perhaps Pia can take some tips from Lauren about connecting and warming up to the crowd.

Stefano....My comment about talent separation is pointed squarely at Stefano. I agree, his emphasis tones are starting to grate. Am on the "over him" boat with you.

Lauren....What can I say...I am amazed at the ease the notes come out of her mouth. I see some of the critiques on her attitude and how she comes across and wonder, do these people forget she JUST turned 16? A maturity and stage presence way beyond her years. All I have to say to those who are critical of the way Lauren behaves just need to listen to her voice and forget the other stuff. She has such a beautiful texture to her voice, hers may be the first Idol project I am looking forward to hearing, post Idol. You are spot on with the comment that she made a song heard a bajillion times, worth another listen.

James...One of my front runners. Possibly his weakest vocal performance in the finals, but I will give him a pass because it seems clear, his confidence has him working on performance and showmanship as he seems to know who he is vocally. Randy, I think was right, when he said that what is infectious about James is he is truly having fun at this and it shows.

Thia...I feel for her. I get the sense she has been pigeonholed as well as lack of life experience while singing soulful ballads has the judges giving her advice that she can not overcome. Asked to do upbeat she came with "Heatwave" which I thought was good, and still she can't even get a snippet of 'ata boy/girl' from the judges. The main difference between Idol's two 16 year olds, IMO, is that Lauren has had time to live and enjoy life, which comes across in her performance and demeanor. Thia on the other hand gives off this vibe that instead of enjoying life, she is in a room with a voice coach and piano perfecting her pitch. That shows also.

Casey...Played it safe. Had some good spots and some bad spots. Near the end I thought I heard a really sour note that Casey converted into a growl to cover it up. What made Casey, Casey was combination of personality, showmanship, musical talent and nutiness. Notice I didn't say voice. This song choice was understandable given the drama of last week, but he should not stray too far from the components that got him into this competition.

Jacob...I usually fast forward through his performances after the first few seconds but this time I made an effort to sit through all of it. He is talented certainly, but I wish he took the advice to not be so over dramatic. I agree with Randy, pick your spot to show off the Lusk power, don't cry all over it. Same with the facial emoting. Pick and chose when to reveal them. A whole song of those expressions is practically unwatchable. First half of the song was very good, second half however....here comes the faces and the screaming....

Haley...Before tonight, certainly an afterthought. I had a chance actually to listen to "you really got a hold on me", the whole studio version and surprisingly It was very, very good. Just listening to her voice, she is unafraid to put lots of vocal dynamic and texture to her performance. Definitely a unique voice in the field. Don't know if it was the best performance of the night, but certainly after listening to just her voice, she is on the upswing. Well done Haley, didn't think you had it in you.

Yes, Paul and Naima gave less-than-spectacular performances, as did Stefano, and Thia has a beautiful voice but is somewhat boring. But why oh why has Jacob Lusk not been sent packing long ago? His high-pitched screeching -- oops, I mean "singing" -- is atrocious, if not downright painful to listen to. I usually have to leave the room during his Idol performances to protect my eardrums! Week after week the judges heap praise on him, and Idol voters must buy into it. Am I missing something here? I don't think so! It reminds me of the old story "The Emperor's New Clothes," where the emperor is really stark naked, but everyone's afraid to point it out, so instead they praise his "new clothes." There were far better singers that have been eliminated, yet Jacob is unexplicably still there. Please, Idol voters, come to your senses and realize that the "emperor is naked" and quit voting for him. I and my eardrums will be forever grateful!

Thia and Naima are not the best in the competition.

I really like Pauls voice but it just sounds so weak...he has no versatility with his range.

Getting tired of Scotty and the country thing.

I think it will come down to Lauren Jacob and Pia.

They are consistently the best of the bunch.

I'm ready to see Naima and Jacob go. They both make me cringe during parts of their songs. Two others are boring to listen to but these two should go first.

Please get rid of Casey Abrams. He is not terrible but he is not good either.
The other elimination should probably be Naima.

Naima will definitely be eliminated. The second elimination is up for grabs. Thia seems like a sweet girl, but she is by far the most boring, most forgettable contestant. In her favor she has the entire country of the Phillipines voting for her, so sadly, even though she "should" go, she probably won't. That leaves Paul, Stefano and IMO Jacob possibly being the second elimination of the night.

I think Thia sings Daniel so relax and so nice. Let's hear her sings again next week. I like the way she sings so entertaining.

I'd say it's going to be Paul and Naima.

I know James has a good vocal range but who would want to hear an entire album of screaming?

I just think of whose voice I would want to hear over the radio and only Pia's Thia's would be welcome.

How can the entire country of the Philippines actually vote for Thia and save her from elimination? Granted, there are several Filipinos in the U.S., I don't think that minority can actually save her (unless it's a contestant backed by a specific state, ala Jasmine Trias and Hawaii).

Performance-wise, I think Naima, Paul, and Casey were the worst that night. It further proves that the judges simply wasted the "save" card just in case Pia or Alaina have a bad night.

Based on voters' perceptions, I'm seeing Naima, Stefano, and Thia in the bottom 3 with the last 2 getting the boot.

The best of the night were Haley and James, hands down. They were both spot on and full of energy!

It really SHOULD be Naima and Paul leaving tonight. I credit Naima for changing things up and trying to make the song her own, but it just didn't work. And she's honestly just not that good, never really has been: I still think they should have saved Robbie instead of her in the Wild Card Round. Paul has a unique voice and all, but come on: the last THREE weeks he has been flat out awful.

I personally love Stefano, but I won't be surprised at all if he gets sent packing. I don't get why he's getting so much heat for his version of "Tiny Dancer": was it the best cover version I've heard? No. Then again, this is a a VERY difficult song to cover and I thought he did a great job considering the fact that his voice is not meant for this kind of vocal register. And yes, he did connect with the audience. Stefano is one of the view that I can actually hear on the radio---I have a hard time really, REALLY seeing Thia, Jacob, and even Casey and Pia having radio hits. Stefano has an R&B vibe to him that is current and fresh. He NEEDS to pick better songs. When he sang "If You Don't Know Me By Now", EVERYONE was on the bandwagon. He needs to sing like that again.

It's funny to me, really, because I watched Lauren's performance of "Candle In The Wind" a few times back and there was no emotion in there whatsoever. Did she get criticized? Of course not. She has a pretty voice and all, but her arrogance puts me off.

Personally, I though Pia oversang "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me". That song is golden because of the FEW high, big notes that Elton hit. Pia tried to go big on every note, and the gospel background singers just made it too much. She'll inevitably be around until Top 5-2 depending on popularity and if she can actually sing something other than ballads, but I was honestly not that impressed with this.

 
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