The newly chosen finalists rocked the stage on Wednesday night's performance show with songs by the finalists' favorite singers. After spending the week rehearsing and laying down tracks with Jimmy Iovine's talented staff of producers, the 13 contestants confidently took on songs by some of the biggest singers around.
Before the performances, the judges and Ryan took the stage, and in a season of firsts, we got the first Idol audience to do the wave. This why they made the set 360 degrees! Soon there will be workers throwing concessions in the audience and beach balls will go flying.
Lauren Alaina kicked off the night, staying true to her pop-country aspirations with Shania Twain's "Any Man Of Mine." She met with legendary producer Don Was who put out records for some of the biggest stars in country music and classic rock. I was slightly worried because this was the song that sent Siobhan Magnus home last season, but I think this song is a better genre fit for Lauren. She really knows how to play to the cameras, and she's fun to watch. Lauren wore flat shoes, which is a sensible decision when skipping around a stage. I mean she's a sophomore. The highest I teetered off the floor at that age was in 1/4 inch soccer cleats. There were new, blonde back-up singers that appeared on stage for the country numbers. The judges liked the performance, but they want her to kick it into high gear and sing something where she'll really shine. If Lauren sticks around, I predict she'll go with a ballad next week. With a pout, Lauren pointed her index finger into the air to get America to vote for #1.
When Casey Abrams talked about his decision to sing Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends," we saw a photo of baby Casey. He didn't always have a beard! Casey was hoping to put his all into his performance, much like Joe Cocker does. Casey started on the stairs, which was very tame for this fierce performer. But it wasn't long before Casey hopped down and worked the stage and showcased his gravely voice. From underneath the staircase, a choir emerged and joined him with the chorus. He sang with such conviction; I really wanted him to get a little help from his friends. Judge Jennifer Lopez felt like she was watching someone important up there. Randy Jackson said that listening to Casey is fun, plus you never know what he's going to do. Steven Tyler colorfully called Casey "a rainbow of talent...a plethora of passion."
Last week, Jennifer and Randy encouraged Ashthon Jones to take on a Diana Ross song. I mean the girl has the hair! She got matched with Rodney Jerkins--who has had his hands' in many of the Pop/R&B hits from Mariah Carey to Idol's own Jennifer Lopez. Rodney pushed Ashthon to sing higher than she's ever gone before. Typically, Ashthon bounces around the stage and works the audience, but for "When You Tell Me That You Love Me," she stood in place and focused on the ballad. The judges witnessed Ashthon growing more as a singer, and noticed her professionalism when she pulled back as some notes got off-course. But Jennifer suggested that Ashthon chooses a song that's more popular next time.
Paul McDonald met with Don Was as they worked on Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up." He clicked immediately with his music producer and rehearsed with his guitar in the studio. In a Sgt. Pepper's jacket, Paul worked the Idol audience. I liked what "Maggie May" did for Paul's vocals better than "Come Pick Me Up." But it was one of the most entertaining performances! With the teeth of David Schwimmer in "The One With Ross' Teeth," and the dance moves of Elaine Benes in "The Little Kicks," I think he's fun to watch. The judges like Paul's character, and they hoped that America would get his performance and his understated rasp. The best part was when Ryan Seacrest read off Paul's number while imitating Paul's dance steps. Um, can Ryan Seacrest please win the Best Reality TV Host Emmy this year? Thanks.
Pia Toscano decided to break an un-written Idol rule: Don't sing Mariah, Whitney, or Celine. Their songs are just too big to tackle. Pia explained that the song means a lot to her father, so I guess that's an okay reason to sing Celine Dion's "All By Myself." Jimmy said Pia sang it perfectly as she rehearsed in a ponytail and glasses. Pia took the stage in a sparkly dress that had some sort of cape or train in the back. She looks like a grown up Selena Gomez. It may have been a big Celine song--what Celine song isn't big?--but she sang it well and it looked effortless. Jennifer was nearly speechless, and Randy said although he doesn't recommend contestants take on singers this big, Pia has that natural gift. Steven told Pia she "polished that apple" and he wished her a Happy International Women's Day. He's an observer of all holidays. With that voice and stage presence, I don't think Pia will need to worry about being all by herself.
James Durbin looks up to Paul McCartney's versatility. Take note, all you Vegas contestants that never performed a song by The Beatles! However, James performed a non-Beatles song by Paul, "Maybe I'm Amazed." Crystal Bowersox took this song on at the end of last season, and it suited James' range beautifully. He didn't overdo the screaming, but he handled those high-pitched moments with ease. I loved the shot of the three judges bouncing their heads to the song. Randy managed to plug his old gig in the band Journey (haha, I love Randy) and busted out some alliteration: "Dude, James Durbin is dangerous. That dude can sing." Steven said James kicked it into next week, and Jennifer enjoyed the melodic rock quality of his voice.
Haley Reinhart typically sings R&B songs, but she went country with LeAnn Rimes' "Blue." She started singing it back when she was eight and back when her dad had a mullet. She collaborated with producers Rock Mafia this week. They typically work with younger artists, including Idol's David Archuleta. In a long navy dress, Haley stood at the microphone and sang "Blue," nailing the yodeling in the chorus. That ain't easy! She also did some Hawaiian dancing arm movements. I guess that's her way of telling a story. Country isn't a genre I'd pick for Haley, but it was good to hear her versatility. Jennifer told Haley, "You, more than anyone else in the competition, do things with your voice that are so diverse." Randy liked her versatility, but he thought it was a little sleepy. I noticed he had an earbud with a wire hanging off his head during the performances, but I'm not sure what he's listening to.
R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" has been performed on this stage by Season 4's Anwar Robinson, Season 5's Katharine McPhee, and Season 7's Aaron Kelly. This time, Jacob Lusk was singing the song that he fell in love with as a flat-top wearing kid who watched Space Jam. During rehearsal, Jacob said he sang from another place. Jacob began to sing the song and was joined by the choir, now in blue. The show normally saves the choir for later in the competition. This is exciting! He inserted some unique runs into the song, and he emoted as usual. Steven and Jennifer felt that it's tough to even judge Jacob because of how deeply he feels music. Randy said that Jacob's signature sound is what singing is all about. Although he noticed some pitch problems, Randy thought Jacob did an unbelievable job with the top notes.
Last week, Randy compared Thia Megia's voice to Michael Jackson's, which was fitting because Thia revealed that MJ is her Idol. She worked with Ron Fair on making "Smile" her own. Jimmy suggested creating a more intimate, soft beginning. Thia took the stage and the beginning of her performance was similar to the way she started last week, with very little band back-up. However, halfway through the song it became very jazzy. The judges all preferred the beginning part of the song where her voice really shined. Jennifer was glad we go the chance to see Thia move around a bit on stage, and she wants to see more of that from her. After hearing the judges' comments, Thia was emotional. At 16 years old, I'm sure she's used to being the best singer of her peers and not used to hearing anything other than glowing feedback. But then again, she met Coach Peggi Blu in Vegas!
Stefano Langone is a Stevie Wonder fan, and I can see the comparison with Stefano's higher pitched voice. He chose to sing "Lately" because the words tell a story. Stefano met with Polow Da Don and they had great chemistry, and Jimmy Iovine told Stefano that he's excited for America to see how good Stefano actually is. The first few notes of the song got a little lost in his lower register, but when the song took on a dance club beat, Stefano was in his element. The judges seemed to be having a good time at their table as Stefano performed. Steven said, "By the time it ended it was soaring like a volcano." I didn't know volcanoes could soar. Jennifer liked that Stefano had her dancing, and Randy thought he soared [like a volcano] by the middle of the song.
It's been no secret that Karen Rodriguez idolizes Selena. In fact, she has Selena dolls on her nightstand. We saw clips of Karen singing Selena songs when she was a really small kid, and it looked like she was on some kind of singing TV show. She worked with Jim Johnson to put her own R&B spin on the song. When she sat down with Jimmy it seemed as if she lost her voice. Karen grabbed the microphone while wearing a Selena-inspired outfit and sang "I Could Fall In Love." The lower parts in the beginning of the song didn't sound as great as Karen normally does. I wonder if it is laryngitis or if she's nervous to sing a Selena song in front of Jennifer Lopez, who played Selena in the biopic. The judges commented that Karen wasn't herself tonight, and that she normally is much stronger. Randy and Steven wanted to see more energy from Karen.
Ryan said that after the break we'd find out what country icon inspires Scotty. Josh Turner? Nope, he maxed out his Josh Turner songs and chose to sing "The River" by Garth Brooks. He had a chat with Ryan on the stools, and with this new set, it seemed like the images on the screen were going to attack them. We saw a baby picture of Scotty, which couldn't have been more than a decade ago. Scotty began to sing and a river appeared on the screen behind him. I really liked the deep moments in the song. Randy said this is exactly where Scotty belongs and "If it ain't broke, don't even think about fixing it." He thinks Scotty could put this out as a record right now. Jennifer noticed how Scotty opened up as a performer, and Steven said, "The carpet's all paid for, God bless the TV, let's go shoot a hole in the moon." I think that meant he liked it. We need translations on this show!
Naima Adedapo rounded up the night with Rihanna's "Umbrella." I love the acoustic version by Mandy Moore and I was hoping she'd go that route. Naima worked with the producer of the actual song, Tricky, and they looked like they were having a blast in the studio. Jimmy reflected that Naima could go right to the Top 5! That's huge after coming off the wild card last week. An over-accessorized Naima wore jeans instead of a dress, and began her performance with some smooth dance moves. As the rain and lightning projected onto the stage's screens, Naima busted out some reggae, which I loved, followed by another quick 8-count of dance steps. Steven adored Naima for bringing flavor to the show. Jennifer said Naima is doing it the way real stars do. Meanwhile, Randy gave Naima some advice about breath control. In one breath, Naima rapidly gave a shout out, which I believe was to her husband, and Ryan revealed that Naima's number is 36 instead of 13 to avoid superstition.
One person would be eliminated. Who did you love? Tell us in the Idol Community.
Here's the song list from the Top 13 performance show:
Lauren Alaina – "Any Man Of Mine" by Shania Twain
Casey Abrams – "With A Little Help From My Friends" by Joe Cocker
Ashthon Jones – "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" by Diana Ross
Paul McDonald – "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams
Pia Toscano – "All By Myself" by Celine Dion
James Durbin – "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
Haley Reinhart – "Blue" by LeAnn Rimes
Jacob Lusk – "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly
Thia Megia – "Smile" by Michael Jackson
Stefano Langone – "Lately" by Stevie Wonder
Karen Rodriguez – "I Could Fall In Love" by Selena
Scotty McCreery – "The River" by Garth Brooks
Naima Adedapo – "Umbrella" by Rihanna