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'American Idol' recap: The top 13 try their luck

_RAY7251 In a way, Wednesday night's "American Idol," in which the top 13 stepped onstage and sang trimmed-down versions of songs by their own musical idols, marked a new beginning, the hitting of a reset button for the competition.

"Welcome to the party … The official countdown to the finale begins tonight," Ryan Seacrest said at the outset, driving that very point home.

That's not to say that the 13 performers -- who were given the chance to hone their performances with big-name professional producers as well as this season's new in-house mentor, Interscope Geffen A&M Records CEO Jimmy Iovine –- shed the history they'd brought to Wednesday night's show. Not at all. They've already chalked up credits and demerits along the way.

Rather, there's a sense at this stage of the competition that it's really anyone's game. These 13 singers wouldn't have made it this far if they didn't have talent, especially this season when the bench is so deep. Now it's time for them to show America what they plan to do with that talent, how they plan to make us love them. It's time for them not just to wow us, but to woo us as well.

So who wooed? And who wobbled? Here's a rundown:

Lauren Alaina: The judges' flirty, confident favorite turned in a flirty, confident performance of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine," but neither Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez nor Randy Jackson was particularly impressed –- or at least not as impressed as they would like to have been. Steven said the performance needed more kick. J.Lo and Randy also felt the song choice didn't do Lauren any favors, damning her with faint praise. Lauren said she'd deliberately chosen a fun, upbeat song over a ballad in order to stand out (and to show off her personality and "country music diva" chops), but the move may have backfired. Still, it's hard to imagine she won't make it through to the next round.

Casey Abrams: The musically gifted Seth Rogen lookalike charmed us (yet again) even before he stepped onto the stage, telling us he'd chosen to perform Joe Cocker's cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" because he admires the growl in Cocker's voice and because, "He doesn't look that hot either, and he's inspired that look for me." Then he sold the song for all he was worth, leaving J.Lo gasping that he had blown her away. "What am I watching right now?" Jennifer said she'd asked Randy midsong. "I'm watching somebody important." Randy called him "so unbelievable" and "so exciting." And Steven said Casey was "a rainbow of talent" with a "plethora of passion." I suspect Casey will get more than a little help from his friends out there in this round's fan voting.

Ashthon Jones: Maybe Jimmy Iovine raised the stakes too much when he said that Ashthon was so good that he was inviting Motown founder Berry Gordy to watch her sing, but Ashthon, as beautiful as she looked in her shiny, shiny dress, didn't really manage to hit all the notes performing Diana Ross's "When You Tell Me That You Love Me." Perhaps she'd been working too hard on nailing high notes she said she'd never attempted before at the expense of the rest of the notes. Or perhaps she was just nervous. The judges, who'd kept her in the competition as a wild card, seemed a bit disappointed, though they praised her professionalism and presence. Steven said he believed there was a lot more to Ashthon than she's shown us. But if that's true, I'm not sure she'll get the chance.

Paul McDonald: Paul picked a song by Ryan Adams -- "with an R," he emphasized -- whom it turns out Jennifer Lopez had never heard of. Before Paul sang Iovine told him he had to nail the chorus, that, though he had a great voice, his success on this night depended on his "intensity." If by intensity Iovine meant hopping across the stage and delivering the song with jerky motions, then Paul delivered. In truth, vocally, Paul's performance seemed a bit slack. The judges once again hailed Paul's uniqueness, just before Randy compared him to a bunch of groups like Whiskeytown (Adams' old band) and Wilco and the Traveling Wilburys. I like Paul and think he should make it through based on his really interesting vocal tone –- or if only to see Ryan Seacrest do his Paul McDonald impression by hopping across the stage and gesturing spastically all over again.

Pia Toscano: "Can Pia top her stellar performance from last week?" Ryan inquired. Miraculously, the answer was yes, blowing the audience, the judges and lord knows who else away with a superpotent take on Celine Dion's "All by Myself." Lopez was struck speechless, turning in several seconds of dead air after Pia sang. Randy declared that Pia was among the very few "Idol" singers who had the chops to tackle songs by Mariah, Whitney and Celine, said he was "in awe" of her and that she had given a "very hot, dope, cool performance." But Steven really seemed to capture the essence of what, in addition to her voice, I've come to most admire about Pia: her hardworking, roll-up-the-sleeves, rise-to-a-challenge spirit. (I loved the offstage glimpse we had of her wearing glasses, with her hair up, talking about how she was going to achieve her long-held goal of singing Celine by rehearsing until she got it right.) "That was the sum total of all the work you've done until now," Steven told Pia, then added, in a nod toward her fierce, low-key determination, "Happy International Woman's Day, by the way … You just slammed it."

James Durbin: He lost the tail –- and gained some leather fringe around his neck. Durbin seems to be gaining even more confidence, turning in a fine rendition of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." Randy said James was "one of my favorites in this whole thing" because he can sing pretty much anything, and proclaimed, "James Durbin is dangerous, America." Steven said something incomprehensible about James kicking things "into next week," adding, only slightly more comprehensibly, "If there was ever a review to be said about you, you just sang it," or something like that. Jennifer compared James to "the greatest rock singers." Backstage, Durbin said he was happy just to have made it this far, but he'll probably go further.

Haley Reinhart: Not sure which judge called some of the singing Haley did in LeAnn Rimes' "Blue," yodeling, but I'm guessing that word didn't do her any favors with the "Idol" voters. The judges were split on Reinhart's selection of the tune, originally written for Patsy Cline. Steven said the part of America that loves country and western music was "roaring"; Randy called it "a little sleepy and a little boring." I actually really liked it and was relieved to see Haley stand still behind the mic. Personally, I think what could hold her back is not vocal quality or song choice, but that she doesn't seem nearly as comfortable onstage as a lot of the other singers. But America clearly sees something in Haley, having put her in its top 10 over at least three of the other 13 finalists.

Jacob Lusk: Lusk soared (as usual) with R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." I could have done without the robed chorus, which was a bit distracting. But the judges summed it up well. Steven hailed Jacob's "pure passion," predicting his talent and voice will "soar way beyond your wildest dreams." J.Lo said it was difficult to judge Jacob because he made her "feel so much." Randy said Lusk was "unbelievable" and shared that he was "excited every time you hit the stage." Personally, I'd like to hear more about the "wet room" at the spa where Jacob works as a concierge. I'm guessing Jacob will have a chance to tell us a bit more about that in future weeks -– censors willing.

Thia Megia: Thia took a risk by singing a jazzed-up version of Michael Jackson's "Smile." (When someone pointed out the song actually dated back to Charlie Chaplin, she seemed confused: "Charlie Chapman?" But she's young; surely we can forgive?) The song was a total sleeper. Even the judges didn't like it that much. Jennifer said of the performance: "It doesn't matter. You sing like an angel." We'll see if it matters to America. I'm guessing the voters will give Thia the benefit of the doubt this time.

Stefano Langone: Stefano, the only male contestant who made it through as one of the judges' wild-card picks, said he knew he had to "let America see my soul" to stay in the competition. He put everything he had into Stevie Wonder's "Lately." Steven thought he pulled it off "beautiful." Jennifer said he had her dancing. Randy said Stevie would be proud, that Stefano had "slayed" it, and that the song built so that, by the middle of it, Stefano was "soaring." I like Stefano's humility. Let's see what America thinks of his soul.

Karen Rodriguez: Creepy revelation of the evening: Rodriguez, whose mother used to dress her up as Selena and trot her out to sing, has Selena Barbie dolls in her room! Without her mother to blame, Karen again dressed up as Selena and sang "I Could Fall in Love." I have the feeling that -- based in part on Iovine cautioning not to oversing, and not to talk on the phone or even e-mail (ha!) before her performance –- Rodriguez might have been having some trouble with her voice. That may be why she sounded sort of cautious in her lower register, though she gained momentum as the song reached higher. "I know you can sing so much better," Steven said, echoing the sentiment of the other judges. I bet we'll get a chance for Karen to prove that true.

Scotty McCreery: Baseball, country music –- Scotty turned in an all-American, apple-pie performance of Garth Brooks' "The River." Jennifer rightly noted that he seems to be just beginning to open up to the audience as a performer. (I thought he made progress even as the song went on.) Randy seemed to turn the oft-heard "Idol" advice about trying new things and pushing boundaries on its head and hailed Scotty's decision to stay in his comfort zone. "If it ain't broke, don't even think about fixing it," he said. Scotty gets his own rules -- but does he deserve them?

Naima Adedapo: Naima seems to have been given the "pimp" spot at the end of the show based not on her vocals, but on her production values. There were projected raindrops and flashes of lightning during her peculiar rendition of Rihanna's "Umbrella," but the singing was kind of soggy. The judges noted her pitchiness but hailed her "flavor." I've got a bad feeling that Naima may be headed back to her old job soon. Ugh, the toilets. Maybe, now that she's had a flash of fame, the concert-hall managers will promote her?

What did you think of the performers Wednesday night? Are your favorites still your favorites? Were there any surprises? Weigh in!

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Lauren Alaina performs in front of the judges. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox

Comments () | Archives (10)

I hope Thia stays.

Wow...are you being paid by Idol? "Deep Bench"? The reason they are on an even playing field is that they are all equally bad. The fact that they feel the need to get everyone to keep repeating how great the talent is this year is proof positive that know it's not true.

It is a crying shame that these poor kids are thinking they will "be someone" soon. I wouldn't pay $.05 cents for a download of any of them.

The "judges" lack any ability to critique. JoLo is just into self-promotion (bet she studies herself on tape) and Tyler, perhaps brain partially fried? Bore - ing to the max. Bet Simon's LHAO

nolarex-stop watching the show! Many people think the talent is better this year.
You just sound like an unhappy person

The talent this year is very good. To say otherwise is either sour grapes or a tone-deaf ear talking.

That said, Lauren should go back and watch past seasons to see what NOT to sing. Her choice last night was atrocious. I like Shania Twain, but that song does not feature or highlight vocals... it is just a fun, upbeat number that is fun to two-step to at the bar. Remember the criticism of Kellie Pickler when she chose to sing "Suds in the Bucket?" Same thing here.

Ashthon was terrible and the song choice was bad. Someone should have helped her out on that. If she wanted to sing a Ross song, there are only hundreds to choose from.

Didn't like Jacob this week, either. The transition was so off that I didn't recognize the song for a minute there.

Casey, James, and Pia: good song choice and delivery.

I agree with you for the most part.

I think either Ashton or Karen will go home tonight. I didn't like Paul's Ryan-with-an-R song but his voice is so unique that I'd hate to see him leave. I liked Haley's yodeling. Hated Jacob's robed chorus. Thia was disappointing. Pia and James were incredible. Casey was very, very good. I didn't think Stefano was as good as his sing-for-his-life number that earned him the wild card. I love Naima and I like that, like Paul and Haley, she tried something different. Lauren was good but not great. Scotty's stage presence gets better with every performance. He should stay.

I hope they don't do the elimination until after 8:30 or so, because my daughter and I will miss it if they do.

I love Pia's powerful voice, but who doesn't. Naima, to me, is the outstanding performer of the group. She not only has a good voice and range, but she is unique in style. Her Reggae "breakout" during last night's show was amazing. I agreed with Randy that she should have used that style for an entire song. I also like Haley. Although she did a LeeAnn Rimes number, it was really Patsy Cline and doing PC and throwing in the yodel without a single error is also amazing. Haley has a real chance to go on. The audience and reviewers should remember that Idol is about POP music, not any particular style. I hope that these three girls go all the way to the end! This year, it's time for a female to win!

Newsflash, folks. NOBODY with a really interesting voice has ever made it into the top 5. Here's my prediction, based solely on this recap. The to 6 won't include either Pia Toscano or James Durbin, because Idol is about lowest common denominator. Don't tell me not to watch, either, because I don't.

I have only followed a couple or three seasons of AI, but this season in particular, this show in particular, really showed who is ready for the "big" stage as opposed to all the set-ups and preliminary stages.

Several of the front runners of this "best season in years", really wilted under the hot lights of "showtime!"

The younger members predictably illustrated that, despite their vast talent, timing is everything, and maybe this is not their time...yet.

On the other hand, it was obvious some understood the situation and brought their "A" game.

Alaina and Thia, although have been mostly unscathed, showed that a little seasoning is still needed. Same with Scott. Even though he has the look, attitude, and chops... his performance had me wondering, "is there more to this sing-song country/western deep voice approach ?" He's got to show more in order to win.

The stand outs for me are the one's that seem to get "it", starting two weeks ago:

James (So far so good....Paul would have been impressed), Casey (Still able to walk that line between Totally Nuts and Genius) and finally Pia (I hated the song...All By Seeeelf....20 times=no fun. But she does seem to have the talent, and she really comes off as someone who is willing to put in the hard work and not rely on talent and looks...which I have a feeling she still would look awesome without all the make up-we got a glimpse of the bespectaled Pia in the pre-performance piece).

Lastly, please get rid of the shameless panderers. I can't notice their "talent" without being disgusted by their shameless attempts at warming up (not to be confused with 'impressing') the judges. You hear that Ashton? Karen?

I lied, one more thing....for the love of God, will someone please help some of these guys with real constructive criticism? How can they learn if all you say is how great they are or how much you love them? And Steven, find another way to critique other than throwing in "pitchy" every once in awhile....give them something they can use. Amazingly, Randy has come out with some spot on critiques, although they are few and far between.

I forgot to mention, this is the first time I noticed Naima. She did not get points for execution, but that was an A+ attempt.

I really put her as an afterthought, not exceptionally attractive, not a stand out voice, weird clothing. But for some reason, I really enjoyed this "performance". Sure it was rough vocally, but you got a sense of what she was trying to do, and she showed that she has the talent to pull it off. JLo actually had something cogent to say in this instance about factoring in breathing discipline when adding physicality to your performance. I really got the sense that Naima understands that ultimately people want to be entertained.

Good words. I also do American Idol commentary on youtube on my robertantonnyc channel. I think those looking for a professional singer's viewpoint will enjoy it.


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