Before the performances began, judge Randy Jackson opined that Motown was "music for all people that brought people together." Fellow judge Jennifer Lopez said there were so many good songs "you really can't go wrong" but you need to make it your own.
Casey Abrams kicked off the night with Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," wearing a black suit and a raspberry colored button down, his curly hair slicked back. After a sort of growly opening, he loosened up, walking into the audience, where there were violin players on the second stage! His bluesy delivery was right on the money.
Steven Tyler called him the "perfect entertainer:" "Perfect pitch and perfect mix of crazy, out-of-control ego." J. Lo liked that he already knows who he is as an artist and the fact that he's unique in the music scene right now. Randy called him "a true original." [Casey package; Casey's performance]
Sixteen-year-old Thia Megia went with an uptempo song, "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas, wearing a black and pink ruffled dress with black heels. Her version was a little more drawn out, rather than syncopated and bouncy like the original. Even though she was smiling, she didn't seem to be that comfortable and seemed unsure of the lyrics at one point.
J. Lo thought it was great to see her "let loose like that." She advised her to be sure she connects to her lyrics. Randy liked that she took a chance and that, while she can dig deeper, he was happy to see her doing something different. Steven thought it was "just great. I'm good with it." [Thia package; Thia's performance]
Jacob Lusk chose "You're All I Need to Get By" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, giving it a gospel flavor. He wore an off-white suit and pink striped tie. J. Lo was clearly enjoying it, bouncing around in her chair. I thought it was a little anticlimactic, despite a big ending, but it was a good move for Jacob to show some control rather than falling into his old habit of over singing.
Steven jumped up on stage to hug Jacob immediately afterwards. Guess that means he liked it! Randy said that the "great Barry Gordy is somewhere going 'Oh, my God.'" He asked, "You know what was wrong with that performance, guys? Absolutely nothing." Steven liked that Jacob held back on this performance. J. Lo said, "You made us beg for those notes." Randy pointed out that a Motown bass legend was on the stage with him.
Host Ryan Seacrest invited Jacob's grandmother to give him a hug and then, "the entire front row." Jacob good-naturedly went along with it as fan after fan filed up for an embrace. [Jacob package; Jacob's performance]
"Our Southern Belle" (as Ryan termed her) Lauren Alaina selected the Supremes songs "You Keep Me Hanging On," wearing a black and white striped floor-length strapless dress, an odd choice for a song where she intended to move around. She had to hold it up in her hands as she walked. For some reason, she decided to prance down to the judges and gyrate in front of Randy. Did she know the song was about somebody who is angry and hurt? She substituted some head bobbing for real emotion.
Steven said, "You ripped that song another beauty mark." He likes that she doesn't "listen to anybody about anything." J. Lo thought she looked amazing. She liked that she threw her head and neck into it, showing some attitude. Randy said, "She's now got her swagger on high. She's ready." [Lauren package; Lauren's performance]
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey was in the audience, and he was unimpressed with some pasta given to him to taste, made by Stefano's mom.
For reasons unknown, Stefano Langone was allowed to choose the 1980s hit, Lionel Ritchie's "Hello." I realize that Lionel Ritchie recorded on a Motown label, but it seemed odd while everyone else was going with '60s tunes. This song choice should have provided a good moment for Stefano, who excels on ballads. His delivery of the song was good initially, but the arrangement got a little strange: as he took great liberties with the melody. It seemed more like a vocal exercise after a while, with all the runs, than like a performance.
J. Lo said she thought he's fine and that he can sing. Now she emphasized that he needs to connect with the audience and the lyrics. "I don't want the intensity to come from you want to do well. I want the intensity to come from your heart is breaking." Randy agreed. "You had to be perfect emotionally and vocally." He said that he sounded good but "there was no real connection." Steven thought he "ramped up too soon" and told him he just needs to pull back a little bit. [Stefano package; Stefano's performance]
Haley Reinhart went with the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." She started out on the steps, where she seemed to have trouble descending, in her short-shorts and platform shoes, paired with a white jacket with black lapels and a sparkly black shirt. Once she got onto the stage, she slumped her shoulders as she tried to deliver a bluesy version of the song. As always, she sounded better if you closed your eyes, because her awkward stomping around the stage was distracting. Still, no denying the girl can sing.
Randy thought it started rough but that by the middle of the song, "The Haley we love... came growling back." He added, "I'm happy to see you return to that form, yo." Steven thought she sang her heart out and "you don't look a day over fabulous." He liked the growl she does, and he imitated it in full-throat Steven Tyler fashion. J. Lo thought she has effortless control of her voice. "Honestly, I think you may have the most soulful voice of anyone in the competition." Then she thought twice of it and acknowledged Jacob. [Haley package; Haley's performance]
Country guy Scotty McCreery probably had the biggest challenge ahead of him. But he was on his game, in more than one way. In a video from the mansion where the contestants live, we watched him make a basket from the second-floor balcony onto the basketball court. For his song, he went with "For Once in My Life," which had been performed by Stevie Wonder as well as a number of other artists. He started out sitting on the steps, wearing all black like Johnny Cash. His countrified version of the song was pleasant in the opening, and despite his now-familiar pointing and smirking, it was a fun version of the song.
Steven thought it was beautiful and compared him to Glen Campbell. "Just remember, when you go down on those low notes, man, you tweak everybody." J. Lo liked that he made it his own but felt it wasn't his best performance. Randy agreed it wasn't his strongest performance but liked that he was taking chances. He said it felt like the song needed to peak sooner, but by the end, when he hit the low note, "You were the young ladykiller." [Scotty package; Scotty's performance]
Pia Toscano went with another ballad, Stevie Wonder's "All Is Fair in Love," wearing a black backless pants suit. Without a doubt, she's got the biggest voice of all the women in the competition, and while her performance was strong, I couldn't help thinking it was very old-fashioned. She's going to have to show how she can be relevant to a modern audience.
J. Lo said, "You kill us with one of your killer ballads." She thought she did well in vocals and delivery but that now she needs to work on her performance, to own the stage. After all "You're going to have to do a two-hour concert some day." Randy thought that J. Lo was right. He liked the falsetto in the beginning. His only criticism was that she's been doing nothing but ballads. "You can't live by ballads alone." Steven said, "Right now you are the closest star in this 'American Idol' universe." He said that "If stepping out and putting some sneakers on and kicking some asses is what you need to do," he knows she'll do it. [Pia package; Pia's performance]
For his turn on the stage, Paul McDonald went with the Smokey Robinson song, "Tracks of My Tears." He brought his guitar onstage to do a light, bouncy rendition of the song, wearing black pants and a black button-down. Talk about a lack of connection with the lyrics: this is not a happy song! I've got to say it: he's a likeable guy, but Paul needs to connect with the meaning of the songs he sings.
Randy liked that he wasn't dancing all around this time. "You've got a distinctive, different kind of voice" and thought this arrangement was cool. He liked when he sang tenderly at the end of the song and wants to hear more of it. Steven agreed that he's very different, "like Dylan or Willie Nelson." J. Lo thinks he's the most seasoned performer and that he's the complete package. All he needs, she said, is a good producer. Hmm. Wonder what Jimmy Iovine, who has worked with all the contestants as their mentor, thinks of that remark? [Paul package; Paul's performance]
Naima Adedapo did the much-covered Martha and the Vandellas song, "Dancing in the Streets," wearing blue-gray bell bottoms and a matching tank top, with a bare midriff and about a million bracelets. In the package before the song, she said that she'd been working on her dancing for the performance. Maybe she should have focused, instead, on the vocals, which were often flat. The dancing was fabulous, if only because it was about five seconds where she wasn't singing.
Steven didn't know what to say. "It was E to the Z with Twiddle-ee-dee." He said she has "the whole package." J. Lo called her an exciting performer and that it gave her goosebumps. "You're my mover; you're my shaker." Randy added that he's been a little rough on her but "finally tonight, all of Naima-ship showed up." I think when he listens to it back, he's going to change his tune. [Naima package; Naima's performance]
James Durbin closed the show with Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," wearing a black jacket with skulls and chains on it, along with a black T-shirt, gray vest, black jeans, and a subdued "scarf tail." He did a rocking version of the song and was a natural when he strutted down the side and hammed it up for the camera, getting down on his knees. All in all, rock solid.
J. Lo kept saying, "Oh, my God!" As James responded to the cheering crowd, she told him, "Soak it up." She said, "You are serious business" and called it "an incredible thing to watch." Randy thought at the beginning it was a little rough (but J. Lo and the crowd disagreed), but when he hit his stride "It was unbelievable." Steven said "sometimes it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world." He thought the song was perfect for his voice and "you nailed it." [James package; James' performance]
Kudos to James and Casey, with a nod to Pia and Scotty, all of whom should be safe. So, who's headed for the tulip chairs this week? Naima's dancing couldn't distract from her performance, and while the judges weren't critical of her, she'll probably wind up in the bottom three. Joining her will be Haley again. The third slot is the most uncertain and could be filled by Thia or possibly even Lauren. Whoever it is, though, I predict it will be Naima or Haley's turn to leave.
Choreography can't save a weak performance.