American Idol: what a field of 13

Well, almost. Randy Jackson made reference to the fact that, “Hey, these 13 are here because we picked them.” And he would be correct. I think this is one of the best jobs of judging to get us a field of great singers to choose from ever on “American Idol.” And I credit the exit of Simon Cowell for that. I loved the guy, but he always had that “who can be a star?” question in his head rather than judging who the best vocalists were. This batch of judges is looking for that best singer first and foremost. Which brings us to last night’s performances. The Top 13 chose songs by their own idols, and had the help of Jimmy Iovine and producers such as Don Was to help them with arrangements. Some of them were beyond good, even beyond great. A few were just okay, and just okay in this field will get you sent home fast. Let’s go to the videotape, as it were…..

Casey Abrams sang Joe Cocker’s version of “A Little Help From My Friends,” and this guy is tailor made to take on Cocker’s music. But he took it up a notch, and showed why he is already a strong contender to win this thing. J-Lo said at one point, she grabbed Randy and said “Wow,” Randy said he’s always excited to watch Casey sing and that it was unbelievable, and Steven said Casey is a “rainbow of talent.” Indeed.

Pia Toscano chose Celine Dion’s version of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” and I’ll preface this by saying I can’t stand Celine but I respect her amazing vocal ability. But Pia took this up a notch the same way Casey did. Pia mentioned in the video intro that her dad has always ingrained in her to practice, practice, practice. I’m glad she said that, because it’s true, and she proved it with a flawless and awesome showing. Damn. J-Lo was speechless at first and said Pia topped last week’s performance, Randy said Pia has a Celine-like quality, and Steven said that this is the sum total of all that practice, and he was right on with that. Man, is she good.

James Durbin took on Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” one of my personal favorite songs of all-time. And if you think it’s an easy song to sing, go try it in front of a mirror. It was very strong, and a nice slightly changed up version. Randy said James slayed it and showed his sensitive side, Steve said it was such a great job, and J-Lo said James should get used to all that applause, and also that he has a melodic quality that all great rock singers have.

Haley Reinhart sang Leann Rimes’ “Blue” and did an awesome job, including hitting all of the yodeling runs perfectly. She also incorporated her sexy growl into it. Steven said it was beautiful, J-Lo said America is getting to know Haley and how diverse she is, but Randy said it was a little boring and sleepy. I’m sorry Randy, but you were very wrong on this one. She was not sleepy the way your beloved Ashton was. But more on that later.

Jacob Lusk sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” the perfect choice for his soaring voice, but he kind of overdid it in spots. Still, this dude is just insanely good. Steven said Jacob invokes pure passion, and that it’s hard to even judge him, J-Lo agreed with Steven and said Jacob makes her feel so much, and Randy said Jacob has a signature sound, but that it was rough in some of the key changes, however Jacob always recovered.

Lauren Alaina did Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine,” and part of her problem was that she had to go first. It was good, but not even close to Lauren’s best. Steve said he expected more from Lauren but that it was good, J-Lo said Lauren sounded amazing but that she needs to take things to another level now, and Randy said Lauren doesn’t know how talented she is, and that she can do more, but that this was good.

Paul McDonald is now my dark horse. He sang Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up,” and I bet iTunes sales of that song spiked last night and today. It took a bit to get into a groove but once he did, Paul proved he has something unique to offer and that could take him far here. Steven said he loves Paul’s character and raspy voice but that it was pitchy at the start, J-Lo said she loves the audience reaction when Paul sings, and Randy said he loves who Paul is.

Stefano Langone sang a slightly obscure Stevie Wonder song, “Lately,” and it was pitchy in spots but mostly, Stefano’s voice stood up to Stevie’s, no easy feat. But it had some flaws. Steven said Stefano pulled it off well, J-Lo said he had her dancing in her seat, and Randy said that Stefano slayed it. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it was good.

Thia Meghia took Randy’s comment about comparing her to Michael Jackson to heart, singing “Smile,” which was actually a standard originally from a Charlie Chaplin movie. It was pitchy in spots and had a weird arrangement, but Thia stayed in pitch for a good part of it. Still, this one was sleepy for me and I still don’t see the mass appeal for Thia or think she’s going to last very long in the finals. Randy said he loved the intro but it got pitchy, Steven agreed, and J-Lo said it started like last week’s performance but lost something.

Scotty McCreery did Garth Brooks’ “The River,” and I thought it really was just okay. But the judges were doing backflips for some reason. Randy said this song is exactly where Scotty belongs, Steven said he did Garth justice, and J-Lo said she saw Scotty opening up a bit as a performer.

Naima Adedapo closed things out with an offbeat version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” and it was a weird choice but sort of interesting. Still, I think it was not quite who Naima is. Steven said Naima is crazy good, but that this was pitchy, J-Lo said she’s got fire, and Randy said it was pitchy and lacked breath control, but that he loved the arrangement.

Karen Rodriguez is not one of my favorite finalists. And while she channeled her idol, Selena, fairly well, she was pitchy too often and was literally afraid of hitting the high notes. J-Lo said Karen was uncomfortable up there and pitchy, Randy agreed, and Steven said it was lacking energy. Yep.

Ashton Jones is definitely my least favorite out of this group, and I’m bummed that she made it in over Robbie Rosen or Lauren Turner. Ashton sang Diana Ross’ “When You Tell Me You Love Me,” and it was just not a great choice and pitchy like crazy. Of course, the judges had to protect their wild card, so Randy said that while he was worried about the song choice, but he liked it, Steven agreed and said he thought Ashton was holding back a bit, and J-Lo said it was so elegant and that Ashton is a real pro. Whatever, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see her go home tonight.

So there you have it. I think Casey and Pia set the bar real high but several of these singers can compete, while about half of them will start dropping off, hopefully starting with Ashton or Karen tonight. What do you all think? Let me know in the space below, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow…..


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