Category: Amy Reiter

'America's Got Talent' recap: Howard Stern makes his debut

America's got talent
"America, are you ready for the revolution?" "America's Got Talent" host Nick Cannon asked, standing on what appeared to be a rocky mountaintop, as the NBC talent show kicked off its seventh season Monday night.

"The show is about to go to a level it has never gone before," Howie Mandel said in the montage that followed, which included a clip of someone taking a hammer to a concrete block on someone else's crotch. 

Oh, "America's Got Talent," you wonder of hyperbole and cheese, you master evoker of the cringe, welcome back!

The "revolution" to which Cannon was referring was presumably the show's extremely well paid, highly controversial (before he even had a chance to do anything) new judge, Howard Stern.

Of course, the self-dubbed King of All Media is no stranger himself to cheesy hyperbole and making America cringe. But it's safe to say a lot of people – fans of "America's Got Talent," fans of Stern, the parenting group that's called for an ad boycott – didn't see how the boundary-pushing radio personality would be suitable for a family-friendly talent show: Would he, metaphorically speaking, take a hammer to "America's Got Talent's" delicate parts, they may have wondered?

I'm guessing the new judge's doubters weren't those people in the audience at the Los Angeles auditions chanting "How-ward, How-ward, How-ward" in the show's season premiere.

I don't remember anyone ever doing that for Piers Morgan.

But then, after only one night with Stern at the judging table, the memories of Morgan as a judge have already grown hazy and faint: pursed lips, nasty quips about Cannon's attire, a quick trigger finger on the buzzer, a toxic relationship with the other judges …

As an "America's Got Talent" judge, Stern, it may not startle you to learn, is nothing like Morgan. It seems we can look forward to him being, at turns, self-effacing and self-promoting, sincere and sassy, surprisingly in command and sometimes downright sentimental. Stern proved himself neither afraid to buzz (he confessed he liked the feeling of power) nor to encourage nor even to climb up onstage and bestow a warm hug to a weepy wannabe. He introduced himself as a man who knows how to assess talent and also what it's like to be told you can't do something and yet persevere. A stern judge and a sympathetic advocate all rolled into one.

Yes, he was funny and a bit bawdy: "Why did Piers Morgan give up this job?" he wondered as a comely female contestant positioned herself onstage. He repeatedly referenced his own "virginity" as a judge. And he commented that "stripper magician" Aoni Jackson's "man boobs" and diminutive package size might not help him realize his dreams. But come on, the guy was a "stripper magician"! For the most part, the shock jock was kind, almost fatherly, and far less shocking than some of the auditioning acts themselves.

But the best part is that all three judges – Stern and returning judges Mandel and Sharon Osborne -- seem to get along famously and to revel in their rapport. When Stern gently teased Mandel about his germ phobia or took a winking poke at Osborne when he advised an attractive, not terribly talented contestant to do as Osborne had and marry a wealthy man (cut to: Ozzy), it had none of Morgan's mean-spiritedness. And when the trio was briefly stuck in an elevator and Stern grew visibly uncomfortable, he gentlemanly ushered Osborne and Mandel's mother off first when the lift finally arrived safely.

OK, the gentleman may have been a little brusque.

"She's 80 years old. You trampled my mother," Mandel griped, amused.

"She's lived long enough. If I die, it's important to the show. Your mother's expendable," Stern quipped.

"My mother lived 80 years and then she met Howard," Mandel giggled.

And what of the talent on Monday's two-hour season premiere, which auditioned talent in Los Angeles and St. Louis?

Los Angeles highlights included William Close, who turned the entire theater into a musical instrument he called an Earth Harp and played it mesmerizingly; the crisply clogging Elements Dance Crew; an acrobatic sport-bike act called All Wheel Sport; the very young aerialist Amazing Elizabeth; rap freestyler Chris La Vrar, who swore he made up his lyrics "100% off the top of my head," though I have my doubts; and the adorable father-daughter singing act Jorge and Alexa, who made Stern express a desire to call his dad up and ask him why he didn't play guitar with him when he was a kid.

Top St. Louis contenders included cross-bow sharpshooter act Ben Black; this season's requisite glow-in-the-dark high-tech dance ensemble, Lightwire Theater; the Loyalty Dance Crew, who worked retail and fast food jobs but loved to dance; a singing waiter calling himself Simply Sergio (it was his rendition of "God Bless America" that brought Stern to the stage for a hug); and another very sweet father-daughter singing duo, street musicians Maurice and Shanice, whose "You've Got a Friend" showed off her beautiful alto. Stern called their act "perfection."

And the lowlights? A kooky lady who lets her cockatiels eat directly from her mouth, who sang … while covered with birds; a circus sideshow performer/stay-at-home dad who pierced his face with long needles (at least that's what it looked like through my fingers); the aforementioned "stripper magician" whose wand (ahem) Stern deemed too small.

"I'm really hopeful," Stern said at the end of Monday's show. "I feel we're on our way."

You know what, Howard? I feel that way, too.


Howard Stern: I've made weirdos stars for years

'America's Got Talent': Fans embrace Howard Stern debut

Review: Howard Stern's sweet debut on 'America's Got Talent'

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Kotton Kandy with Nick Cannon. Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC.

'American Idol' recap: Hollie Cavanagh ousted, three remain

Hollie Cavanaugh on "American Idol"
It was no pleasure to see Hollie Cavanagh go home on "American Idol" on Thursday night, just shy of earning a slot in the top three and a hero's homecoming. Despite giving uneven performances all the way through – a few rousing numbers ("The Climb," which she reprised as her goodbye song, and, just this week, Journey's "Faithfully") amid a sea of so-so ones – Cavanagh had been unfailingly likable, sunny and upbeat in the face of near-constant criticism.

The 18-year-old British-Texan seemed to embody a certain all-American can-do attitude, an optimistic stick-to-itivenenss, doggedly getting out there and giving it another shot, week after week, long after most people – including probably the "Idol" judges and Jimmy Iovine -- had expected her to stick around.

But Cavanagh's time was clearly up. And of course, it would have been far worse to have seen any of the others go. Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips are the perfect top three. Each so different. Each so talented.

Before the results were revealed, each of the top four contestants was called forward for a recap of the previous night's performances and a taste of Iovine's tough love. The "Idol" mentor had high praise for Sanchez, calling her "Dreamgirls" number "flawless" and saying that, immediately afterward, star maker Tommy Mottola had emailed him to say she was "the real thing" and he couldn't wait to go to her first concert. He gushed that, on Damien Rice's "Volcano," Phillips had "finally delivered" on his promise, giving a "magnificent" performance that would have prompted Iovine to sign him on the spot had he heard him do it in a club. And he said Ledet was practically speaking in tongues on "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and while he had seen Prince and Bruce Springsteen do that, "I've never seen that on 'American Idol' … It was so, so captivating. I want to see it again and again and again."

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'American Idol' recap: The final four duke it out

"American Idol"
I'm still a little damp-eyed from Jessica Sanchez's final performance on "American Idol" Wednesday night, on which the final four contestants each sang a song either from or about California (yes, somewhat random) as well as a song they wish they'd written themselves, which Ryan Seacrest also classified as songs that inspired them.

Sanchez's take on "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls," into which she channeled all the emotion stirred up by her near "Idol" ouster a few weeks back, may have inspired us all — or at least anyone who has at any point ever felt underappreciated or overlooked. It was not just beautifully sung and deeply felt; it was moving, galvanizing, electrifying. Breathtaking.

Jimmy Iovine had been so deeply affected by Sanchez's song during rehearsal, he said he'd probably never forget the moment. He said if she sang it the same way during the show, "it could be game-over."

It could be game-over.

It really would be game-over if it weren't for the fact that Sanchez has some stiff competition — at least for the judges' affections — in Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.

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'The Voice' finale recap: Jermaine Paul wins Season 2

Jermaine paul Blake shelton the voice finale recap

Jermaine Paul won! The former backup singer for Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige stepped definitively out of the background and into the winner's circle in the Season 2 finale of "The Voice" Tuesday night.

"Winning would mean just, uh … it would mean the world to me," Paul had said, choking up, moments before Carson Daly revealed the results of the audience vote that would determine the winner.

It had taken Paul years of hard work, touring and toiling, to get there, clustered with fellow contestants Chris Mann, Juliet Simms and Tony Lucca, on the "Voice" stage, waiting to hear whether he'd captured this season's crown, as well as the recording contract and $100,000 that come with it. (Each of the four finalists had already won a new car, we learned during the finale, and Paul had seemed particularly tickled about his new wheels.)

Viewers may have felt they had spent years getting to the moment of truth as well. Tuesday's two-hour finale included performances by the four finalists, who brought back previously dispatched Season 2 "Voice" contestants to sing with them. But that wasn't even the half of it. There were highlight reels of the judges' bloopers, a tribute to CeeLo Green's cat, a look at Blake Shelton and Adam Levine's "bromance." Flo Rida dueted with Simms. Daryl Hall and John Oates sang "Rich Girl," backed by Paul, Mann and Lucca. Lady Antebellum performed. And Justin Bieber kept that promise he made his fans and the show earlier this season and returned to sing his new single "Boyfriend." (What, you didn't belieb him?)

At the outset of the show, Paul's coach, Shelton, uttered words that would prove prescient: "Jermaine Paul dug down deep" with his stirring, stylish rendition of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" Monday night, giving "the performance of his lifetime," Shelton said. "He won."

And win he did.

Daly revealed the results from the bottom up, revealing first the contestant finishing fourth, Team Christina's Mann, who was separated from the third-place finisher, Team Adam's Lucca, by only a quarter of one percentage point. (Talk about a squeaker.)

That left Paul and Team CeeLo's Simms clinging to each other, awaiting their fate.

Only four percentage points separated them, Daly said, then asked, "Are you ready to find out the winner?"

In the seconds before she learned she'd finished second, tears gushed down Simms' face. But her emotional display was no match for Paul's once he learned he'd triumphed. He thanked the voters, his wife, his children, his parents, even his mother-in-law. (What a guy.) And then he gave a special shout-out: "Nobody but Jesus, man, nobody."

Then he had so many people to hug and kiss, he could barely get through the beginning of "I Believe I Can Fly," which he was to reprise, singing a large part of it holding his wife, who was sobbing in his arms.

But finally, Paul broke away from the pack and let his voice soar, which it did, as impressively as ever.

Paul's career, too, is set to take wing. I believe he can fly. And though I wouldn't have minded seeing Simms go home a victor (I'll forever admire her "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World"), I have to admit, the win couldn't have happened to a nicer-seeming guy.

Are you happy Jermaine Paul won?

Who's got your vote?

"American Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between the two blockbuster singing competitions. Last week, readers put "American Idol's" Jessica Sanchez just slightly ahead of "The Voice's" Juliet Simms on top. Who will be the favorite this week? Vote below and check out last week's performances and see what our judges had to say at


'The Voice' finale: And season 2 winner is...

'The Voice' recap: Final four sing for the win

'American Idol' vs. 'Voice': Juliet Simms better than Jessica Sanchez?

-- Amy Reiter

 Photo: "The Voice" winner Jermaine Paul with coach Blake Shelton. Credit: Justin Lubin / NBC

<p>Who's got your vote?</p>
<p><a href=",0,7861224.htmlstory" target="_blank"><strong>"American Idol" vs. "The Voice"</strong></a></p>
<p>Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between     the two blockbuster singing competitions. As of Monday, readers put "The Voice's" Juliet Simms on top.  Who will be the favorite this  week? Vote below. And check out last week's performances  and see   what our judges had to say at <a href=",0,7861224.htmlstory" target="_blank"></a>.</p>
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<p><noscript><a href="">Vote for your favorite performance of the week:</a></noscript></p>

'The Voice' finale: And season 2 winner is...

The voice finale

The Season 2 winner of "The Voice" has been crowned: Jermaine Paul, of Team Blake, snatched the win away from Team CeeLo's Juliet Simms, Team Adam's Tony Lucca and Team Christina's Chris Mann in the "Voice" live finale Tuesday. It was an emotional victory that left him, and probably more than a few viewers at home, in tears.

Going into Tuesday's finale, there had been no clear favorite, though Paul's performance of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" on Monday's final performance show had offered up raw emotion, vocal power and an elegant stage presence and style.

It obviously did the trick with voters, who were the sole determining factor in choosing, from among the four finalists, this season's winner, who will receive a recording contract, $100,000 and, of course, bragging rights.

To be sure, the results did not come quickly. NBC stretched out the suspense for two hours, as Flo Rida, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Lady Antebellum, and a bevy of returning "Voice" contestants all took the stage, as did Justin Bieber, with his new single "Boyfriend."

But finally, after the Beliebers' screams had died down, Carson Daly revealed the results: Classically trained opera singer Mann finished in fourth place, just edged out by former Mouseketeer Lucca, who came in third.

That left Paul, a former backup singer for Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige, and Simms, an aspiring rock star and the only woman in the final four.

With only four percentage points separating them, Simms claimed second place and Paul emerged the winner, bringing him out of the background, into the spotlight, and ready to fly.

What do you think of the results?

Who's got your vote?

"American Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between the two blockbuster singing competitions. As of Monday, readers put "The Voice's" Juliet Simms on top. Who will be the favorite this week? Votes were tallied below. And check out last week's performances and see what our judges had to say at


'The Voice' recap: Final four sing for the win

'American Idol' vs. 'Voice': Juliet Simms better than Jessica Sanchez?

'The Voice' recap: Final four prove it's a man's world, but not totally

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: (l-r) Jermaine Paul, Chris Mann, Juliet Simms, Tony Lucca. Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC.

'The Voice' recap: Final four sing for the win

It's finale week on "The Voice," and Monday night the four finalists — Team Blake's  Jermaine Paul, Team Christina's Chris Mann, Team Cee Lo Green's Juliet Simms, and Team Adam's Tony Lucca — took the stage with three (count 'em!) songs apiece to vie for the win.

They had a lot to prove and a lot on the line, but for the most part they stepped up and showed themselves worthy of occupying their slots in the final lineup. It's probably safe to say none of the four contestants dramatically changed the game with their final official competition performances. (Each also sang a duet with his or her coach and soloed on one of the coach's songs, as a tribute.) Fans will remain fans, detractors will remain detractors.

Who deserves the win is another question entirely and one that America's votes, and America's votes alone, will decide. Mercifully, the suspense will be short-lived. We'll have to wait only a few more hours to learn the results. Tuesday night, the Season 2 winner of "The Voice" will be crowned.

My top thoughts heading into the moment of truth:

1. What does Christina Aguilera have against Tony Lucca, anyway? On Monday night she seemed to be gunning for him particularly hard, taking issue with his song choice, Jay-Z’s "99 Problems." The chorus of the song is "I’ve got 99 problems but a ... ain’t one,” though Lucca omitted the expletive from his version. Blake Shelton took a gentle poke at Lucca, saying he was "confused" by the lyrical omission, but then adding that the performance was "all fun" and "a really cool version of that song."

But then Aguilera said the "lyrical connotation was a little derogatory toward women." Normally, I'm sure I'd agree with her, but after seeing her pick-pick-pick at poor Tony, who comes across as a perfectly nice family man, week after week, well, I felt for the guy. Levine said the song's omitted word referred to "life" and not to women, which, OK was a little specious, but he'd clearly anticipated Aguilera's response: He tried to shut her down by flashing a "Team Xtina" T-shirt.

But Aguilera didn't stop. After her team's finalist, opera singer Chris Mann, sang her hit "The Voice Within," she clambered onto the stage and declared, "This is a real man, who respects women." The implied contrast was clear. And it seemed like an unnecessary kick.

I hope Lucca's young son wasn't paying attention.

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'American Idol' recap: Skylar Laine booted off in fifth place

Skylar Laine was dismissed from "American Idol"

Someone had to go home on "American Idol" on Thursday night, and certainly there's no shame in heading out in fifth place, especially this season. But the fact that it was Skylar Laine, the boot-stompin', gun-lovin', rip-roarin' country girl who had made no secret of her desire to win, well, I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for her. After all, she'd taken the competition seriously and worked hard to select songs she thought could position her for the long haul.

But Laine had fumbled with her song choice Wednesday night. Dusting off Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and giving it a dated production that was cheesy to boot (Jimmy Iovine noted it had elements of Vegas and Broadway) wasn't such a great idea, as it turned out. The judges had gushed about the song choice and the performance, but these judges, they gush. And with Hollie Cavanagh seriously stepping up her game Wednesday to save her own skin, the voters made Laine pay.

Once you're in the upper ranks of "Idol" this season, there's no room for a stumble -- unless your name is Phillip Phillips. I love Phillips, but he's had a series of off weeks (Iovine implied Phillips' health might be to blame) and, week after week, he's dipped nary a tappin' toe in the bottom two or three.

INTERACTIVE | 'American Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

Phillips was sitting pretty on the couches again this week, despite the fact that neither of his performances was up to the standards he'd set earlier in the season. Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez, both of whom had had strong nights, were safe, too, though Iovine echoed my sentiments that Sanchez scanned too mature and too sexy for a 16-year-old girl on "Proud Mary." Her stellar "You Are So Beautiful" likely restored her to voters' good graces.

Cavanagh, meanwhile, kept Laine company in the bottom two. And after Coldplay had performed twice and Carrie Underwood once, and Ryan Seacrest had done all he could to stretch out the results, the two 18-year-olds finally got the news that, after nearly 60 million votes had been cast, Laine was the singer who'd leave the competition.

Cavanagh locked Laine in a clinch and refused to let go for an uncomfortably long time. Jennifer Lopez, who'd only the night before posited that Laine had a good shot at the win, teared up. But Laine appeared to take the news in boot-shod stride. She almost seemed less upset by her ouster than she had about those rumors that she and Colton Dixon were an item. As her highlight reel ran, she could actually be seen in video inset singing along with the Scotty McCreery song that's serving as this year's sayonara song.

So it's probably safe to say that Laine will keep on singing, whether on "Idol" or off. As if to prove exactly that, before the credits rolled and her run on the show ended, Laine kicked up her heels with a rootin', tootin' rendition of "Gunpowder and Lead." Yeah, she's tough, that girl. And I predict her music career will take off like a shot.

Are you sad to see Skylar Laine get the boot?

"American Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between the two blockbuster singing competitions. Last week, "American Idol's" Jessica Sanchez came out on top. Who will be the favorite this week? Use the poll below to vote. Check out this week's performances and see what our judges had to say at


Full coverage: 'American Idol'

'American Idol' recap: Top 5 tackle the '60s and the Brits

'American Idol' recap: Elise Testone sadly departs

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Skylar Laine performs on "American Idol" on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox

'American Idol' recap: Top 5 tackle the '60s and the Brits

Jessica Sanchez sings "You Are So Beautiful" on Wednesday
We learned so much on "American Idol" on Wednesday night, when the final five contestants took the stage to sing two solo songs each -– one from the '60s and one by a British artist -– plus either a duet (the boys: Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips) or a trio (the girls: Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine and Jessica Sanchez).

Just to name a few of those things:

1. Jimmy Iovine and his old pal Steven Van Zandt (this week's guest mentor) are like a couple of backslapping, noogie-exchanging teenagers cracking each other up and making silly trouble when they get together, as the contestants noted when they attended hilarious rehearsal sessions with the duo.

2. Phillip Phillips has a girlfriend, whom Ryan Seacrest, still apparently uneasy that his own girlfriend found Phillips "yummy," pointed out in the audience. But those who were disappointed to learn that Phillips is off the market might take heart that he had the decency to look uncomfortable when Seacrest reduced his female friend to a hair color. "He's into brunettes," the host, whose girlfriend is blonde dancer Julianne Hough, said.

3. Phillips and Ledet, who did a sort of peculiar though ultimately good duet of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," don't have the smoothest rapport. Phillips looked dyspeptic (sure, could have been the old kidney acting up) when Ledet said something about him messing him up on the song before they took the stage together. But then Ledet looked seriously uncomfortable when Phillips jokingly moved to put his arm around him at the end of the song. Phillips naughtily pressed on. I guess he really does like brunets.

4. If one of them doesn't win this thing, thus becoming, as Seacrest reminded us, the first female "Idol" winner in years, Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavanagh and Skylar Laine -– who seemed to have a lot of fun with Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" -- could form a powerful/adorable girl group. It did seem a bit diminishing when Jennifer Lopez said they looked like "three little dolls," though.

5. "Idol" really seems to be pumping up the production values this year: lots of big backing bands onstage and backup singers and dancers -– and even the occasional set, as Laine had when she took the stage with Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."

6. Steven Tyler had never heard Leona Lewis's hit "Bleeding Love," which Hollie Cavanagh -– seated on a piano, emoting, and singing spot-on and crystal clear -- really shined on.

7. Lopez had never heard the Box Tops' "The Letter," which is why she had no idea how much Phillips had changed it up and flattened out the melody.

8. Seacrest, A, doesn't know a tulip from a daffodil and, B, thinks we've all been waiting to see him put on Jessica Sanchez's ridiculously high-heeled shoes.

Oh, we could keep going like this all night, but we have many performances to discuss, so let's get to it:

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'The Voice' recap: Final four prove it's a man's world, but not totally

To quote the song Juliet Simms completely slayed on "The Voice" Monday night, "This is a man's, man's, man's world, but it wouldn't be nothing, nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl." And in the man's world that America's votes helped create on "The Voice" in Tuesday's results show, that woman or girl turned out to be Simms. She's the last female contestant standing heading into the finals next week.

In a night that brought back last year's four finalists — Dia Frampton, Vicci Martinez, Beverly McClellan and winner Javier Colon — to perform alongside artists like Cyndi Lauper, Kid Cudi and "Voice" coach Cee Lo Green, the results were parceled out team by team.

The final tallies, flashed briefly onscreen, followed a mysterious formula (Carson Daly said it was all spelled out on "The Voice's" website, but I couldn't find it) that combined percentages assigned by the judges and America's votes. But what was clear was that at the end of the evening, one member of each team would be left standing and the other left to utter his or her thanks into the mike and wave a tearful goodbye.

INTERACTIVE: Who's the best? 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

Since each teams featured two solid performers, we probably could have predicted that seeing four talented singers swept offstage in one night was going to feel brutal, even bloodbath-like. We might also have guessed, based on previous votes, that in most cases the best man would win, but we might not have realized just how sad we would be to see almost all the best women sent home.

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'The Voice' recap: Eight singers step it up in the semifinals

Voice recap christina aguilera lindsay pavao

The eight remaining contestants -– two from each of the four teams -– took the stage Monday to vie for a spot in next week's finals on "The Voice." Tonight, half of them will head home, their fates determined by a combination of coach and audience votes.

Who will make it through, and who will head home in disappointment? That's really a matter of taste and luck, I guess. As the coaches keep telling us, the surviving singers are an eclectic bunch. There's the classically trained opera guy and the quirky former barista (Christina Aguilera's team), the girl rocker and the comeback-kid wonder (Cee Lo Green's team), the former Mouseketeer and the former cubicle worker (Adam Levine's team), the backup singer stepping into a spotlight and the devoted daughter who's staking her claim to fame in her beloved father's memory (Blake Shelton's team). 

Though the audience has shown a recent preference for the guys on each team, Monday's performances could prompt a recalibration. And the coaches' opinions could tip the balance either way.

Here's how the performances went down:

Tony Lucca (Team Adam): Lucca still seemed to have something to prove after last week's Aguilera-tweaking, triumphant take on Britney Spears' "… Baby One More Time." He strutted the stage singing "How You Like Me Now" with a new confidence, yet also an eager hopefulness. Green said it was a "really, really pleasant surprise." Aguilera called it "slickly done," which didn't seem like a compliment, and she snarkily suggested Lucca and Levine form a Spears' cover band. Levine, though, said it was "the perfect thing at the perfect moment" and told Lucca he'd "killed it."

Erin Willett (Team Blake): Clearly evoking memories of her father, who died during battle rounds, Willett sought an onstage "moment" with "Without You." She gave a smooth performance, and then, finishing, fought back tears. Aguilera called Willett's performance "very bold" as well as "unique and original," adding that she was "proud" of the way Willett invested emotionally on the song. Green said it sounded new and fresh. And Shelton, whose own dad recently died, said he wished he had "a tenth of the talent" Willett had, calling her singing "unbelievable" and adding that he'd "give anything to have the strength" Willett showed by holding it together emotionally while she was singing.

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'American Idol'-'Voice': Is Jamar Rogers better than Elise Testone?

Jamar Rogers
As we approach the finales of "American Idol" and "The Voice," the cuts get tougher. On "Idol," it was Show Tracker favorite Elise Testone who ended her run this week, while on "The Voice," Adam Levine sent home Mathai and Cee-Lo said goodbye to Cheesa.

That leaves five "Idol" hopefuls and eight "Voice" performers to carry on. Our "Idol"-"Voice" rankings also continue, taking all the singers from both shows and putting them head to head each week. I'm choosing my top five performers from among the two shows, along with Times music writers Todd Martens and Chris Barton -- and you can cast your votes too, at the bottom of this post.

Below are my picks for the week. To see what my co-judges have to say, and to view the performances, click here.

INTERACTIVE: Who's the best? 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

1. Jamar Rogers, "The Voice"

The flames flickering at his back and the projections of pulsating speakers above and below him certainly heightened the sense of intensity, but Rogers' take on Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" would have felt plenty urgent even without all that impressive stage business. Rogers is a survivor, a fighter and a seriously compelling performer, and he sang as if it were his own personal anthem -– and as if his life depended on it.

2. Katrina Parker, "The Voice"

With her heartfelt rendition of Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts," all lush and raspy and round-toned, Parker stepped away from all those Adele comparisons that have been beating around her and claimed the heart-shaped spotlight all on her own. It was as if she were proclaiming a resounding "Me!" to her own question: "Who do you think you are?" Her "Perfect" the next night was a perfect follow-up.

3. Elise Testone, "American Idol"

I love it when Testone really rocks out, feeling the music and letting her voice leap, skip and bounce as if the notes are smooth stones she's expertly skipping through still water, making hypnotic melodic ripples. Her performance of Queen's "I Want It All" was a perfect example, even if her "Bold as Love" didn't quite work. I'm sad to see Testone leave the "Idol" stage, but I trust this is far from the end for this talented singer. Here's hoping she gets all she wants.

4. Tony Lucca, "The Voice"

It wasn't very nice of Christina Aguilera, with whom Lucca shares a "Mickey Mouse Club" past, to call him out in front of millions of people the other week. It was one thing to label his performance style "one-dimensional," but quite another to accuse him of trying to sneak by on his Disney past. So it was truly gratifying to see him slyly hit back at Aguilera with this song by their fellow former "MMC" castmate Britney Spears. Plus, he conquered the song as if it were a hit of his own.

5. Jessica Sanchez, "American Idol"

Of the three "Idol" judges, only Randy Jackson loved Sanchez's take on the Queen classic, but I thought she captured the song's strangeness, sounded beautiful without sounding "pretty," and proved she really can sing pretty much anything.  Yes, even rock. To me, it was far more interesting than watching someone sing Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father" on "Idol" for the umpteenth time, even if it was sweet of her to dedicate that song to her soon-to-be-deployed dad. 

"American Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between the two blockbuster singing competitions. Last week, "American Idol's" Phillip Phillips came out on top. Who will be the favorite this week? Use the poll below to vote. Check out last week's performances and see what our judges had to say at


'The Voice' recap: So long Cheesa and Mathai

'American Idol' recap: Elise Testone departs

INTERACTIVE: Who's the best? 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

--Amy Reiter

Photo: Jamar Rogers on "The Voice." Credit: Lewis Jacobs / NBC

'American Idol' recap: Elise Testone sadly departs

Elise Testone on "Amerucan Idol"

Well, fellow "American Idol" watchers, I am a little sad. I realize Elise Testone might not have been among everyone's favorite contestants – clearly she wasn't, since she was voted off Thursday night -- but she had definitely grown into one of mine.

In this week's "Idol"/"Voice" rankings, where her performance of Queen's "I Want It All" slid into my list at No. 3, I compared the way Testone's voice leaps around the notes to the skipping of stones in the water, making graceful melodic ripples. And now that she's been told to pack up her groovy clothes and go home, my heart has sunk like a … oh, you know.

But of course there's no way we couldn't have seen this coming (yes, yes, Haley Reinhart, I know). Testone had been in the bottom three so many times mentor Jimmy Iovine joked that she'd built a vacation home there. Plus, the judges were hot and cold on her, and even Iovine sometimes piled on.

INTERACTIVE: Who's the best? 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

Still, after Ryan Seacrest delivered the bad news to Testone, did he have to rub it in by suggesting it might be time to consider Stevie Nicks' offer to make her one of her back-up singers? That seemed gratuitous. Surely Testone can carve out a successful career as a solo artist. If nothing else, Stefano Langone's performance of his (long, busy) song "I'm on a Roll" on Thursday's show proves you don't have to win the competition to get a record contract and to take advantage of the "Idol" platform. Langone came in seventh last year; Testone just finished sixth. Nervous giggling aside, she may yet get the last laugh.

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