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'American Idol' Recap: The Top 13 Pay Tribute To Their Idols

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
March 10th, 2011 9:20am EST

Pia Toscano

After last night, it’s official: I miss Simon.

This week the Idols were tasked with picking their own personal Idols and singing some of their best songs. A nice theme without any restrictions that should have allowed the contestants to pick perfect songs and absolutely sing the hell out of them.

Instead, the night was incredibly uneven. Performances varied from pretty good, to mediocre to just downright desecrations of the songs for which the contestants were supposed to have extreme respect. Nobody really stood out on this easy theme night to the point that I wondered how they even got in. And why-oh-why Molly DeWolf Swenson couldn’t be one of them.

(Speaking of which, did I mention that these Idols are performing about 20 minutes away from the half-broken Ikea couch from which I type my ramblings? And that the proximity of that performance at least increased my chances from zero to 1-in-the-population-of-Los Angeles County? At least in that scenario there’s some hope for me and my ‘Idol’ girlfriend. Now I suppose I’ll have to go stake out The White House to spot her on her internship. And in case the Patriot Act people are reading, I’m joking. Kinda.)

It also made me miss Simon. I missed everyone’s favorite English sourpuss the most tonight because of how well-received this motley collections of performances were by the judges. Between Steven and J-Lo, I counted something like 4-and-a-half negative reviews. And none of those came on the performance that included yodeling.

Simon wouldn’t have let this stand. He would’ve trashed the wedding singers, made the high school performance cry, and shut down the self indulgence with aplomb. Instead, everything was great, and that simply wasn’t true.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Read on to find out who actually distinguished themselves, who fell in with majority of the rabble and who yodeled…

Lauren Alaina sang “Any Man of Mine” by Shania Twain

Jimmy Said: This girl’s gonna have a big career.

Steven Said: I wished it’d been just a little more kick-ass.

J-Lo Said: We now really want to see you kick it into high gear.

Randy Said: You need something that lets you shine beyond belief. I’m not sure this song did that.

The Verdict:

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve never heard this song before in my life, but the verse had the same melody as “Afternoon Delight”. I guess that’s how you blend pop and country – rip it off.

Now on to the actually performance. This simply couldn’t have been more boring. There just wasn’t anything to it. Lauren stood in the middle of the stage, walking around occasionally with no real purpose and gave a vocal performance that sounded like somebody singling along with the record at home.

Sure her voice was pleasant, in tune, on pitch, I suppose, but there was nothing at all compelling about it. Just a young girl with a nice little voice singing along in front of her family at a barbecue. Not really something that screams, “pop star!”

Grade: D+

Prediction: I thought she’d be around for awhile, but getting savaged by the judges out of the first spot is a surefire ticket to the bottom three.


Casey Abrams sang “With a Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles

Jimmy Said: You can’t be casual and sing this song.

Steven Said: You are a plethora of passion.

J-Lo Said: I felt like I was watching somebody important up there. It blew me away.

Randy Said: You make listening to you sing fun.

The Verdict:

And this is when I start to understand the Casey Abrams fan club. He kicks aside his ridiculous over singing and excessive growling and uncovers a seventies-era Jazz/pop voice that I didn’t know was there.

There were a few moments where he couldn’t help himself, falling into his old ways and off of rhythm with the song – but when you’re performing this version, it’s almost expected. I’d say he was even somewhat demure compared to what I thought he’d do with this version of the song.

He wasn’t all the way there yet, but he did start to show the skeleton of a serious competitor. Now he just has to flesh it out.

Grade: B

Prediction: I think Casey will be just fine with that performance.


Ashton Jones sang “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” by Diana Ross

Jimmy Said: I was so inspired that I wanted to invite Berry Gordy to watch her sing the song tonight.

Steven Said: I’ve got confidence in you.

J-Lo Said: I want you to do songs that we can sing along with you. (What?)

Randy Said: It was a little bit of a safe move, but I thought it was good.

The Verdict:

Wow. Just awful. She was flat the entire time, and it wasn’t even so much her deflated pitch, it just sounded like her voice wasn’t capable of handling the song at all. It was like a little leaguer stepping up and trying to take a major league pitcher over the fence – he just doesn’t have the ability to put that kind of a swing on the ball. Just like how Ashton doesn’t have the vocal ability to put the raw charge into that kind of song.

Which is a pity, because it seems like the producers were counting on her to have that sort of a diva voice.

Grade: D-

Prediction: I found that to be forgettable at best, and America didn’t vote her through last week. That means she’s gotta be in trouble.


Paul McDonald sang “Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams

Jimmy Said: Paul is a voice that Idol’s needed for a long time.

Steven Said: I love your voice, but find a song where the chorus is in your key.

J-Lo Said: I don’t know Ryan Adams or that song, and I know a lot of music. (He’s only sold about a million records, so I guess that’s excusable)

Randy Said: I love the character of who you are.

The Verdict:

Okay, this is just way too much of a hipster orgasm for me. Between the weird army jacket and Paul’s 90-minute “Just got out of bed” haircut, I can’t get over how pretentious this whole thing is.

So why do I kinda dig it? Why does watching somebody who looks like an old wino stumbling through the alley on stage and a voice like a frightened mouse with a nicotine habit make me want to keep listening?

I think it’s twofold: He picks really good songs and that he has actual real charisma up on stage. He has “it” whatever “it” is. I don’t know that I really think he’s any good from an objective level – he’s off-pitch, he has no vocal power and has a tendency to basically invent his own phrasing – but on a subjective level, I just want him to stick around.

Grade: B

Prediction: I don’t think Vote For The Worst has ever failed to get through their guy at this point. And Paul is their (un?)lucky pick to start things off.


Pia Toscano sang “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen

Jimmy Said: You sang it impeccably.

Steven Said: You just slammed it. That was beautiful.

J-Lo Said: (Jennifer had to choke back tears – Paula alert!)

Randy Said: Hot. Dope. Cool Performance.

The Verdict:

This is a terrible song and a performance all the more stunning for what Pia had to overcome with simply choosing one of the ten or fifteen cheesiest songs ever written.

Much like her performance of “I’ll Stand By You”, Pia just absolutely destroys every single note. Technically, it’s absolutely flawless, on pitch and in tune with every single beat. That’s impressive on its own.

But it’s much more than that, and this is what makes Pia a standout contender. Her tone. Her tone has this wonderful bit of rawness to it – almost a hint of country inside a big pop/soul instrument. When you can bring something unique in your tone like that, it’s almost irresistible.

Pia also has a confidence and poise about her that allows her to absolutely command the stage by doing nothing more than standing still and looking elegant. Very impressive stuff.

Grade: B+

Prediction: Standing O from the crowd, and I’m assuming the voters at home as well.


James Durbin sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney

Jimmy Said: I didn’t even know kids were out there singing like that.

Steven Said: You have taken everything you ever felt and kicked it into the middle of next week.

J-Lo Said: You have a great melodic quality to your voice.

Randy Said: Tonight you sing Paul McCartney and slay it.

The Verdict:

It’s weird, the whole film package talked about how we were going to get some sort of cool new arrangement of this song, but I heard the exact same melody with nothing changed other than a louder rhythm track in the background. That disappointed me, but expectations are my fault.

James is fine here. Nothing brilliant or amazing. He flashes his yell, shows he can sing the quieter notes and doesn’t really fall off-track at any point, but for me, there just seemed to be something missing. Some amount of pizzazz or charisma that would make the performance seem like more than just a solid vocal, because that’s really all I got from this.

Grade: B-

Prediction: The audience screams were almost instantaneous. Looks like James is picking up a huge voting bloc. 


Haley Reinhart sang “Blue” by Leann Rimes

Jimmy Said: You sing it so convincing and so powerful.

Steven Said: So so fine. Thank you very much.

J-Lo Said: Really really special. Good job tonight.

Randy Said: A little sleepy and a little boring for me.

The Verdict:

All right, kids. It’s off-key yodeling time. If you like the music of the Swiss Alps as sung by a fourteen-year-old boy who’s going through puberty, then Haley has the voice-cracking recipe for you.

Or, if you prefer the parts of the song that don’t include yodeling, you can listen to her mumble the other portions of the song like she’s just finished her third shift at a night club and is simply trying to make it through one last song so she can clock out and go smoke another cigarette.

Those are the two choices Haley offered with this performance. I don’t know that anybody would place that order on their musical menu.

Grade: F

Prediction: Goin’ country is always a good plan. I think it’ll help Haley get through. Even if she yodeled.


Jacob Lusk sang “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly

Jimmy Said: Jacob has an incredible gift.

Steven Said: Pure passion. Pure music. I can’t even judge it, it was so good.

J-Lo Said: (More tears – Paula! Paula! Paging Paula!)

Randy Said: You have such a signature sound. That’s what singing is about.

The Verdict:

Did somebody pull a Gilooly and inject Jacob’s lips with novocaine before this performance because I couldn’t understand a single word he said throughout the entire song. Which is a real accomplishment, seeing as I’ve heard this song literally 479 million times.

Apart from the poor enunciation, this performance also featured the return of bad Jacob – the guy who feels a need to add fifteen runs to each note and oversing rather than put his signature on the melody or just sing the song well. Yes, it’s impressive that he can do all the things he does vocally, but that doesn’t mean the excess serves the song well.

Grade: C-

Prediction: Jacob’s another of the big judges favorites who will sail on through.


Thia Megia sang “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin

Jimmy Said: I think she’s gonna pull of a magic thing tonight.

Steven Said: A little pitchy in the middle, but I liked it all in all.

J-Lo Said: I’d like to see more of what you can do. But who cares? You sing like an angel.

Randy Said: I loved the beginning more than the end.

The Verdict:

Ugh. Why are we forced to hear this song every season? It’s such a drudging bore that doesn’t do anything to help the singer since it’s not very challenging. Why do they keep singing it?

Thia does what she can with it, going for the Michael Jackson rhythmic version after sloughing through some Chaplin on the first verse. It’s nice. It’s fine. It’s just a decently sung but boring performance. There’s nothing more to it than that. Yes, she has a pleasant voice, but the song choice was so abysmal that she didn’t have anywhere to go but sideways.

Grade: C-

Prediction: Boring. Forgettable. Should be a concern for Thia. The crying on the confessional camera might help, though.


Stefano Langone sang “Lately” by Stevie Wonder

Jimmy Said: No one in America knows how well you sing yet. But they’re gonna find out.

Steven Said: The arrangement was crazy, but you pulled it off beautiful.

J-Lo Said: It wasn’t just a copy. It was really you.

Randy Said: Stevie’d be proud of this. You slayed it.

The Verdict:

It’s looking like Stefano can only sing out. He struggled mightily with the beginning of the song where he was forced to control his voice and handle some of the quieter portions – those fell flat and didn’t stay in step with the rhythm.

The rest. Well that’s another story. He was on pitch pretty solidly the whole time, but the performance and rhythm were just manic. He bounced around the stage like a jackrabbit on Charlie Sheen (it’s a drug, after all) and seemed like he was waiting for his spot to sing each song. And the arrangement almost sounded like an ABC song – to skew to a very specific demographic.

I like what he did vocally on the faster and bigger portions of the song, but I have no idea what was with that performance. It was just a…spectacle.

Grade: C+

Prediction: I put Stefano second in my power rankings, so clearly I think he has a large voting contingent.


Karen Rodriguez sang “I Could Fall in Love” by Selena

Jimmy Said: Don’t oversing tonight.

Steven Said: The energy was just lacking throughout.

J-Lo Said: (Paraphrasing) You looked uncomfortable and didn’t do a good job, but you’re one of our strongest girls.

Randy Said: It’s a little sleepy for me. Didn’t quite come off for me tonight.

The Verdict:

A hit-and-miss performance for me. There were moments where Karen was absolutely brilliant, connecting with the song perfectly and flashing a gorgeous pop tone to her voice. If she could hold on to those moments, she’d probably already have a record deal.

Unfortunately, she simply doesn’t have that level of command over her instrument, because as soon as we felt her connection, she’d veer off-course into a breathy flat few bars or have her voice go up into a shrill bit of over-singing.

You could also tell how much she was struggling to hold on to her tone, as her strife was manifested in a performance that seemed scared, like she was unable to fully commit to any part of the song.

This led to something of a disconnected snoozer, which is a shame because there were moments that sounded really special.

Grade: C-

Prediction: I think Karen has cornered herself the Hispanic vote with her song choices, and that should be enough to carry her past that uneven effort.


Scotty McCreery sang “The River” by Garth Brooks

Jimmy Said: Who can argue with staying true to you?

Steven Said: You’re ridin’ high.

J-Lo Said: Tonight you made the connection with the audience.

Randy Said: You could put that out as a record right now. I love it!

The Verdict:

Okay, so Scotty’s voice is simply made for country music. I don’t even know why he’s on this competition anymore. Send him to Nashville with a black hat and he’ll cut about 47 albums before we know the results tomorrow. He just has a great country voice and can sing any country song. It’s just that simple for him. So effortless, cool and undeniable. And tonight he lost the rigidity of previous weeks and dug right into the song without any pretense. If he keeps that loose he’ll continue to impress.

My one complaint with this performance was his mic work. He didn’t really seem to know how closely he should hold the microphone to his mouth. For a few moments I was worried the mic went out as I was typing, only to look up and see that you could throw a volleyball between his mouth and the mic. Somebody get this guy some mic-holdin’ lessons!

Grade: B+

Prediction: Haley and Lauren tried to steal, but Scotty’s got the country vote locked down.


Naima Adedapo sang “Umbrella” by Rihanna

Jimmy Said: She could go right to the top five.

Steven Said: A little pitchy, but you brought flavor that no one else has done.

J-Lo Said: You got fire, girl!

Randy Said: You didn’t have the vocal control, but I loved the whole reggae thing.

The Verdict:

So much for the quirky jazz singer, Naima busts out of that lane and goes about as pop as you can with Rihanna, not shying away from the rapping, the dancing or anything that comes along with singing what’s already a seminal track.

You could tell that this was a little out of her wheelhouse, and she was somewhat uncomfortable with the genre and the song choice as she hit some uncharacteristically loose notes and had an expression that seemed to say, “Am I really doing this song?” The dancing threw her at times to the point that she was struggling with both her vocals and remembering what to do next with her choreography.

It was certainly a sight to see, especially a weird lightning strike dance move that looked like Raiden’s finishing move, but it was certainly a memorable sight.

Grade: B

Prediction: I think that was just nuts enough to send Naima through.

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s worth repeating: I miss Simon. I would have loved to have heard him slam a hammer on J-Lo’s and Steven’s incessant praise. He surely wouldn’t have been quite as negative as me (few are), but he would have at least stopped the drooling over cabaret and karaoke that we had to endure all night.

Even if that would have been cruel, it could have at least guided America to an opinion on who to vote for, rather than giving us 13 brilliant performers and no clue whom to choose.

Speaking of which, it’s prediction time.

I think Lauren is in major danger going first and getting rare bad reviews from the judges. Nobody’s going to remember that dull performance enough to vote her to safety. She’ll bottom three for sure, but I don’t think she quite goes home.

Joining Lauren will be the other youngun in the competition: Thia. I’d normally say Thia would go home here because she followed a good performance with a very boring one. What often happens there is that voters assume she’s safe because of last week and not bother to cast their votes this week. But that doesn’t work because she was so boring that she won’t pick up those extra votes. I’d say that would all send her home except for the fact that she cried. That might gain her enough sympathy to stick around.

Ashton will round out the bottom three. This was another absolute snoozer that came extremely early in the show. Asthon didn’t do anything to distinguish herself and being so non-descript as early as she went is a recipe for doom. And exactly what will send Ashton home.

What did everybody else think of last night’s show?

Photo Credits: FOX