As the show's black-and-white opening illustrated, tonight's American Idol was about going back in time to the golden age of Motown. It's the music that changed the face of the recording industry and made Steven Tyler want to make out with girls. Those classic songs also helped deliver what was perhaps the best overall performance show of the season. Of course, there were still a few missteps. So, who will miss out on making it to the Top 10 and, therefore, the Idol summer tour? Let's break it down:
But first: Tonight's show was a star-studded affair. Liv Tyler, Kirsten Dunst, Gordon Ramsay and The Chicago Code's Jennifer Beals were all in the studio for the live show. (I know Gordon is a tough TV chef, but did he really have to insult Stefano's mom's cooking?) Anyway... the singers!
Casey Abrams, "Heard It Through the Grapevine"
Something about Casey's slicked-back hair was odd. Combined with the beard, he kind of looked like a serial killer. And considering that he sings with a perpetual look and sound of anger, it was slightly disconcerting. Casey sang the song well and in the way I fully expected him to sing it. And while I like Casey and how different he is, his routine is quickly approaching the Taylor Hicks danger zone. Harness that energy, Casey!
The Judges Say: Steven thinks Casey is the perfect entertainer. The recipe: perfect pitch and an out of control ego. (Hmmm.) Jennifer and Randy think he's a true original and that he will carve out a niche for himself in the biz. Right, just like Taylor Hicks did?
Thia Megia, "Heatwave"
After last week's ghastly insult to Pocahontas, Thia finally got back to being fun and upbeat. This song didn't stand out as my favorite of the night, but I can't say anything bad about the way she sang it. Most importantly, it was a marked improvement on the artist Thia's been selling herself as the past few weeks.
The Judges Say: Jennifer liked the upbeat song, but wants Thia to let loose even more and connect with her lyrics. Randy and Steven were both happy to see her take some chances.
Jacob Lusk, "You're All I Need to Get By"
During his intro package, Jacob said he "can't sing fun songs," noting that his singing has to effect change in people. His recent caterwauling has only inspired me to want to change the channel. But tonight, he found some restraint. He still went all wild and crazy at the end, but he never lost control of the song or the melody. And in return he earned a standing O from the judges, as well as a hug and kiss from Steven Tyler, who rushed the stage. (And then Ryan invited half the audience up for hugs as well. What's happening here?)
The Judges Say: Steven called him Baby Luther and said he milked the notes. Jennifer agreed, saying he made the judges beg for the big notes. Randy said, "You know what was wrong with that performance? Absolutely nothing!"
Lauren Alaina, "You Keep Me Hangin' On"
I've been feeling for most of the season that Lauren didn't need to be singing country music just because she is from the South. Tonight, she proved that, as she totally killed the vocals and the sassy attitude of the song. She was definitely one of the night's best, and, at only 16, continues to show maturity (well, at least when she's singing) that many past young contestants did not.
The Judges Say: Steven, as always, loved it. Jennifer liked the attitude and the head-and-neck snapping. Randy said she's come back from some rough weeks with her "swagger on high."
Stefano Langone, "Hello"
Oof. Stefano has really come on strong lately, but, despite Jimmy Iovine's warnings, he completely oversang the song. (Also, why do contestants keep going after songs that other Idol contestants had "moments" with. David Cook killed this song in Season 7.) I continue to have problems with Stefano's phrasing and his attempts to keep his eyes open and "connect" with the audience become distracting when he's virtually squinting half the time.
The Judges Say: Jennifer said the vocal was fine, but she wants to feel that Stefano's heart is breaking when he sings. Randy also felt a lack of emotion, and Steven thinks Stefano made the song too big, too fast.
Haley Reinhart, "You Really Got a Hold on Me"
Jimmy's advice to Haley: Sing like you've got nothing to lose. (Very good advice for someone America clearly hasn't show much interest in voting for!) Also, it doesn't hurt to flash a little leg in hopes of sticking around a little longer. (Just ask Haley Scarnato from Season 6). Even though Haley once again clearly displayed power and control in her voice, there's just something about her growly delivery that puts me off. She earned better comments from the judges than she has in weeks, but on a night with so many good performances, I predict she'll again be in the Bottom 3 (and probably go home) for what was mediocre at best.
The Judges Say: Randy and Steven agree that the Haley they first fell in love with is back. Jennifer was amazed at how her voice goes anywhere Haley wants it to go.
Scotty McCreery, "For Once in My Life"
Sorry, Scotty: No amount of what I like to call "eyebrow singing" could save this one. The arrangement (and most of his vocals) were painfully bad. Also, I don't think Scotty was able to avoid the lounge singer vibe Jimmy warned him about. I applaud him for sticking to his roots, but some musical styles just aren't going to translate. I fear more of this to come. (Aside: How is it possible that after all this time, it only struck me tonight how much Scotty looks like Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman?)
The Judges Say: Steven said he took a big chance and that it was beautiful. (Really?) Jennifer and Randy agreed it wasn't his strongest performance.
Pia Toscano, "All in Love Is Fair"
Much like Casey, Pia always delivers. But I also know exactly what to expect from her. So while her vocals were among the best of the night again, I was kind of bored with her. I want to see something different already.
The Judges Say: Jennifer says she's got the chops, but now it's time to own the stage. (She does just stand there a lot, doesn't she?) Randy wants something that isn't a ballad and Steven said she is "the closest star in this American Idol universe."
Paul McDonald, "Tracks of My Tears"
Again, a bad choice based on Idol history. Adam Lambert owned this song when he stripped it down, showing he could do more than screech. Paul was more comfortable than ever playing his guitar and singing his folk-y version of the Smokey Robinson classic, but nothing about the performance just screamed awesome to me. I really like Paul, and this performance was nice. But that's about all.
The Judges Say: The judges all basically spent their 30 seconds looking for new ways to say quirky and unique. Randy did add that while he likes Paul's husky, Rod Stewart-esque tone, he would like to hear more of the tender parts of his voice also.
Naima Adedapo, "Dancing in the Street"
I really enjoyed Naima for the first time in a while. I think she found a way to make the song fit her without going way past the opposite extreme. Mainly, she was able to control the song and her vocals were much improved because of it. I could take or leave the dancing, but, hey, it's in the song title. Nice job, overall.
The Judges Say: Steven said she has the whole package and Jennifer said Naima gave her the first goosebumps of the night. Randy said all of Naima finally showed up.
James Durbin, "Livin' for the City"
I have been tough on James, but he's really won me over the past few weeks. I still think he needs to learn that not every song needs a huge screechy note, but he has great melody in the lower register as well. I'm not sure he should ever do the little dance shuffle he did again if he wants to keep his rocker cred, but his performance was pretty much pitch perfect and a nice way to end the show.
The Judges Say: Jennifer was speechless. (Maybe because she talked herself out with her lengthy constructive criticisms of everyone else.) Randy said it started out rough, but he eventually found his pocket. Steven said he nailed it.
So, who do you think will be in the Bottom 3? And who deserves to go home? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
As the show's black-and-white opening illustrated, tonight's American Idol was about going back in time to the golden age of Motown. It's the music that changed the face of the recording industry and made Steven Tyler want to make out with girls. Those classic songs also helped deliver what was perhaps the best overall performance show of the season. Of course, there were still a few missteps. So, who will miss out on making it to the Top 10 and, therefore, the Idol summer tour? Let's break it down...