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Singing Their Idols

"Welcome to the party," host Ryan Seacrest told viewers at the top of last night's Top 13 performance on season 10 of American Idol. This week, the contestants chose songs by their musical idols and received coaching from season mentor Jimmy Iovine as well as other top producers.

Top 13
The Top 13

Kicking off the night, Lauren Alaina picked Shania Twain, who she said was the first artist to mix pop and country. For her performance of "Any Man of Mine," she wore a sea-foam-green tunic with brown beads, a thin leather belt, and black pants. The shirt was very flouncy and not that flattering. The song was a good match for her voice but kind of forgettable. It was upbeat but not the biggest hit and would be easy for other performers to overshadow. [Lauren's package & performance; Lauren's critique]

Streven Tyler said he wished it had been "more kick ass." Jennifer Lopez said Lauren "needs to kick it into high gear" but told Lauren, "You have an amazing voice. You're super comfortable up there." Randy Jackson thought it was a cool song, but he wanted "America to see more of the girl we first saw."

When Ryan asked Lauren how she felt about the comments, she responded, "I didn't want to do a ballad, because that's what everybody does. Steven, I'm sorry." (Again with Steven! He can't get you through any longer.) If she wanted to do an upbeat song, she should have gone with something people would recognize, like "I Feel Like a Woman."

Casey Abrams, in a black leather jacket, white T-shirt, and black pants, started out sitting on the stairs for his performance of "With a Little Help from My Friends," the Beatles song, but he was inspired particularly by Joe Cocker's performance. He owned the stage, with a bluesy performance backed up by backup performers on stage. In addition to a couple Cocker-esque growls, he also added a little scatting near the end, and the whole performance was a treat. [Casey's package & performance; Casey's critique]

J. Lo said, "I go by what I feel." She said that she had just grabbed Randy during the performance and said, "What am I watching right now? I'm watching somebody important." Randy said, "What Jen was watching was 'Idol' season 10, the remix." He said he's always excited to see what Casey will do. He praised him for hitting all the notes and making it fun. Steven said, "You are a rainbow of talent.... a plethora of passion."

Ashthon Jones admires Diana Ross and selected her song, "When You Tell Me that You Love Me." Her fashion was inspired by Diana, too: a one-shoulder metallic evening gown. Despite the package that talked up her performance, it seemed a bit flat out of the box. Barry Gordy of Motown was in the audience to listen, by special invitation. Hmm. Wonder what he really thought? [Ashthon's package & performance; Ashthon's critique]

Randy said he'd been worried about the song choice and "it sounded like it was a little bit of a safe move" but he liked it, although he did note that she went a little sharp and flat at times and pulled it back. Steven said she has potential and he has confidence in her (not exactly a ringing endorsement). J. Lo agreed that at times it got away from Ashthon, and she pulled it back in. She encouraged Ashthon to sing a song that people can sing along with her, one that's better known.

Paul McDonald looks up to Ryan Adams (with an "R") and sang "Come Pick Me Up." He started out by asking the audience, "Are you all right this evening?" He wore a military-style black jacket with red piping, a red button-down shirt, and black pants. The beginning of the song was very whispery and weak. For the chorus, he started bouncing around the stage, and his vocals grew stronger, as well, waving his arms around. I'm not convinced this was the best choice for him. Last week was much better. [Paul's package & performance; Paul's critique]

Steven likes the rasp in Paul's voice but thought it was "a little pitchy" and told him to find a chorus that was in his key. J. Lo said the audience had enjoyed it and that Paul is "so unique." She added, "I hope America gets it" and added she doesn't know the song even though she knows a lot of music. Randy thought the song wasn't the most exciting. He said he gets it and is a huge fan.

Afterward, Ryan asked Paul to teach him his dance moves, and the two of them gyrated while Ryan read out the numbers to dial. Cute.

Pia Toscano has loved Celine Dion since she was 8, and she chose "All By Myself" to sing. She was gorgeous and composed in a gold shimmery mini-dress with a long, sheer train. Her opening to the song was very controlled, and she blew off the doors when she hit the chorus, ably tackling the key change. This girl is a real contender. [Pia's interview & package; Pia's performance; Pia's critique]

J. Lo was at a loss for words. She said, "I bet a lot of people were wondering what you would do to top last week. There it is." Randy reminded everyone he's been on this show for 10 years. He said that he'd always told people not to tackle these songs by big singers if they can't handle them, but that Pia hit the notes dead on. Furthermore, he said that it was a "very hot, dope, cool performance." Steven thought she "polished that apple." He wished her a happy International Women's Day and said she'd made a lot of women happy with that performance.

James Durbin looks up to Paul McCartney, calling him one of the best songwriters and singers. He had chosen, "Maybe I'm Amazed." He wore a white T-shirt, a vest with a subdued red and blue star pattern, and he started out the song just as subdued. After rocking out on the chorus, he pulled it back in for a controlled ending. [James's package & performance; James's critique]

Randy said that James is one of his favorites. He also dropped in the fact that he'd been in Journey. "You just turned the other cheek, showed that you have a sensitive side... James Durbin is dangerous, America. This man can sing." Steven said, "If there was ever a review to be said about you, you just sang it." J. Lo, trying to talk over audience applause, said, "Let them clap." She told him he has what the greatest rock singers have: a melodic quality.

Haley Reinhart had chosen "Blue" by Leann Rimes. When she launched into the song, wearing a midnight blue dress, it was a very interesting choice: almost yodeling. This was so different from last week, it made me wonder if she has any idea who she wants to be as a singer. I didn't love it, but I'm not a country fan. [Haley's package & performance; Haley's critique]

Steven thought it was beautiful and said that the country Western part of America would be roaring over it. J. Lo praised her for doing things with her voice that are "so diverse." Randy told her that he likes that she can do anything, but he found it a little "sleepy" and a little boring. She talked back to him, defending her choice. J. Lo also spoke up on her behalf, saying that Haley sings in a very sensual way.

Jacob Lusk had chosen "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly (can we have a moratorium on R. Kelly, please?), wearing a gray suit, a black button-down and a red-and-white checked tie with a red pocket square. He was smart in his song choice, going for a platform that would allow him to pull out all the stops. Surrounded by backup singers in blue choir gowns, he launched into a series of runs that made it seem like a gospel revival. It might have impressed a lot of folks, but I liked his more controlled performance last week better. [Jacob's interview & package; Jacob's performance; Jacob's critique]

Steven called it pure passion, pure music and claimed, "I can't even judge it. That's how good you are." J. Lo told him that performances like this one made this season anybody's game. Randy agreed that the talent is unbelievable. He praised Jacob's unmistakable sound but found that he got sharp in the middle. Still, he thought that Jacob finished strong.

Thia Megia, whom the judges had once compared to Michael Jackson, wanted to do a Michael Jackson song, so she selected Jackson's cover of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," which she mispronounced "Chapman." She wore a cream and coffee-colored strapless dress with sweetheart bodice, and her voice was tender for the opening. Then, for some reason, the arrangement went off the rails, with a jazzy upbeat rhythm that sounded like someone was playing with a Cassio keyboard. Still, even that couldn't detract from her pure, clear, perfect-pitch vocals. [Thia's package & performance; Thia's critique]

Randy loved the intro and heard a little Michael and a little Adele. He thought it got pitchy during the jazzy arrangement and didn't know if he loved that part. Steven agreed that it was pitchy in the middle but thought she has a great future ahead of her. J. Lo thought the beginning reminded her of last week's performance, and that's where her strength is: "It's transcendent." She liked seeing her move and wants to see more, but "it doesn't matter. You sing like an angel." Afterward, Thia agreed with the judges, saying that she, too, felt more comfortable in the beginning of the song.

Stevie Wonder is Stefano Langone's idol, and he went with "Lately," wearing a cobalt blue button down, a black baseball jacket, and dark jeans. The melody seemed to get away from him in the early part of the song, but he seemed a little more comfortable in the middle of the song. His ending was sweet. The whole song, however, felt a bit rushed. [Stefano's package & performance; Stefano's critique]

Steven thought "you pulled it off." He thought the ending was like "a volcano." J. Lo said, "You had me dancing there for a minute." She said it's not easy to do the dance remix of a well-known ballad but thought it sounded great. Randy thought it sounded a bit rough and acknowledged it's hard to sing Stevie. Still, "He'd be proud of this... you were soaring."

Karen Rodriguez, of course, admires the Hispanic pop star Selena and used to dress up as her when she was a child. Her look for the evening was a little extravagant, a black sparkly pant suit with bellbottoms and a crossed front bodice, a huge stack of bracelets, and mile-long sparkly dangling earrings. Maybe she was trying to distract from her lackluster performance. She seemed to have trouble finding her place in this song; I think it was just too big for her. [Karen's package & performance; Karen's critique]

J. Lo told her, "You look so beautiful tonight. You're shining like a star up there." She thought Karen had been uncomfortable on the high end and low end of the notes. But Karen is "one of our strongest girls," so she hopes that Karen makes it through. Randy agreed that it seemed like Karen was "fighting the song." He wants more excitement from her. Steven agreed that the energy took a long time to ramp up. In the interview with Randy afterward, it turned out that Karen designed her outfit. Not surprised.

Scott McCreery had chosen "The River" by Garth Brooks. He wore a simple gray patterned shirt with dark jeans, and he was definitely comfortable with the song. After all, this is his wheelhouse. I do have to say I like his voice, but he's got to be careful not to get lazy. There were times he was almost talking it instead of singing it. [Scotty's interview & package; Scotty's performance; Scotty's critique]

Randy liked the fact that Scotty had opted not to change up the song too much. "This is exactly where you belong." Steven thought "You did the Garth justice." J. Lo loved that he opened up as a performer, feeling the audience and bringing them into the performance.

Naima Adedapo went with a Rihanna song, "Umbrella," and was excited about making it her own. She wore a funky ensemble with bedazzled leggings, a strapless top with a striped, uneven hem, knee-high Army boots, and a lot of earthy jewelry. Her rendition of the song was a combination of reggae and pop R&B, with some cool dance moves thrown in. Maybe she was trying to do too much, because at times her performance was uneven. [Naima's package & performance; Naima's critique]

Steven thought it was a little pitchy but "you're crazy good." He liked that "you brought flavor tonight." J. Lo didn't care about the pitch problems: "You've got fire up there." Randy differed from J. Lo in that he does care about the pitchiness. He advised her to work on her breath control, especially if she's going to be moving around so much. In addition, he loved the reggae part of the song. At her first opportunity, Naima rambled off a dedication to her husband and Jah, the god of Rastafarianism.

Kudos to Casey, Pia and James, with a nod to Naima and Jacob. Because of all her Hollywood-week air time and because she went with a country song, Lauren is undoubtedly safe. While Paul stank up the stage this time around, he's got a fun personality and has demonstrated vocal skill in previous performances, so he's probably safe but may appear in the bottom three.

Almost definitely headed for the bottom three are Karen and Ashthon, possibly joined by Haley. Since Karen made the Top 10 on viewer votes, she's in a better position than Ashthon, who was put in the Top 13 by the judges' Wild Card selection. For that reason, she's also likely to be the one headed home.

It's not enough to pay tribute to your idol; you've got to pick a great song.

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Tags: american idol, music, television

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