American Idol: Top 11 Double Elimination Show Reviews and Predictions

After last week’s shocking vote, which would have sent Casey Abrams home if not for the judges wisely using their one save of the season, the Top 11 all got to perform again this week.  From here on out, the judges will be powerless to do anything if the voters get it wrong again.  The pressure is now on the contestants to choose the right songs each week and connect with the voting audience if they want to remain in the competition.

Because the judges used the save last week, two contestants will be going home this week, but all 11 will be going on tour this summer.

This week, each contestant was asked to perform an Elton John song.  Almost every contestant chose a song that was one of Elton John’s well-known hits, but not everyone chose the best song for their voice and style.

Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):

[11]         Paul McDonald – You would think that it would be an advantage to perform a song that you have covered already before trying out for American Idol, but for McDonald, this was not the case.  The only thing that stood out about his performance was his Elton-esque wardrobe.  Other than that, it was just more of what McDonald delivers every week.  His rendition of “Rocket Man” was fine, but certainly nothing special.  He would have been better served if he chose to perform “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” instead.

[10]         Scotty McCreery – It is very surprising that the judges seem to lambaste everyone who tends to stick to the same style every week, but when McCreery does it, he gets praised.  Ever since the first season of Idol, the judges regularly accuse contestants of being too safe with their song selections.  They should have been all over McCreery for choosing a song called “Country Comfort” this week.  It wasn’t like it was one of his favorites.  In fact, he knew nothing about the song except that it had the word “country” in the title.  Even though I am a lifelong Elton John fan, I have to admit that this song didn’t even seem remotely familiar.  McCreery’s performance was fine, but American Idol is a competition, and this was one of the least competitive song choices in the show’s history.

[9]           Naima Adedapo – Like McCreery, Adedapo took an Elton John song and made it her own.  However, she did so by drastically changing one of Elton’s most popular songs.  Her reggae version of “I’m Still Standing” was interesting and somewhat entertaining.  However, it came off as trying to force things when she sang it with a faux-Jamaican accent.  Adedapo is at her best when her singing complements her stage performance (which was virtually non-existent this week).  She gets an “A” for originality this week, but a “C” at best for her singing and interpretation of an Elton John classic.

[8]           Jacob Lusk – As one of the judges’ favorites since the beginning, it seems that Lusk can do almost nothing wrong.  To his credit, he always does his best to connect with the song and show how passionate he is.  But he often times comes up short when it comes to delivering the song with style.  His choice of “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” was based on Mary J. Blige’s cover version rather than Elton’s original.  If Lusk really wanted to shine this week, he should have chosen “Take Me to the Pilot” and made it his own.  It may very well have been viewed as one of the best of the evening instead of just rising high enough to avoid elimination this week.

[7]           Haley Reinhart – It was very surprising that Reinhart wasn’t in the bottom three last week since she was the previous two weeks before.  Her rendition of “Benny and the Jets” was, by far, her best performance of the season.  She looked more comfortable than ever on stage, and she showed off the bluesy style that she is capable of singing.  It is highly unlikely that Reinhart will be able to go toe-to-toe with the top singers in the competition, but it looks like she may go further than most would have expected just a few short weeks ago.

[6]           Stefano Langone – For the first time ever, Langone finally took the judges’ advice and opened his eyes to connect with the audience.  There is no doubt that he can sing, but he needed a better stage performance to help sway Idol voters.  The judges seemed pleased with his progress.  Although he did what they asked, his version of “Tiny Dancer” was only slightly above average, but it is not entirely his fault.  In order to showcase different parts of the song, the arrangement was done very haphazardly.  The song had no flow whatsoever, and it didn’t even come close to tapping into the emotions that Elton does when he performs the song.

[5]           Casey Abrams – On the heels of the most shocking vote in American Idol history, Abrams was mercifully saved by the judges.  Clearly, the brush with elimination has shaken Abrams.  His decision to perform a safe, mellow version of “Your Song” was disappointing.  Although he performed it well, it showed that he is more concerned with doing whatever it takes to stay in the competition rather than delivering a performance to show that he’s in it to win it.  With a trimmed down beard and new haircut, Abrams looked much more mainstream, but if he doesn’t try and recreate the magic that made him stand out in the competition, he will likely find himself going home sooner than he anticipated.

[4]           Lauren Alaina – Each week, Alaina seems to be gaining confidence and delivering performances that show why she was one of the early favorites.  Her country pop version of “Candle in the Wind” was nicely done.  She made the song her own without changing it drastically like Adedapo did with “I’m Still Standing.”  After a few rough weeks early on, Alaina is now showing that she can be a factor in this competition.  She may not have enough to compete with James and Pia on a weekly basis, but she is showing that she has good potential just the same.

[3]           Thia Megia – It wasn’t surprising to see Megia end up in the bottom three last week.  For some reason, her performances since the Top 13 was announced have been average at best, and sometimes below average.  She made up for it this week by choosing to sing “Daniel, a song well within her range and a very good fit stylistically.  This performance was one of the best of the evening, and was definitely Megia’s best in several weeks.

[2]           James Durbin – It’s hard not to root for Durbin even when trying to be objective.  But he is either light years ahead of everyone else when it comes to stage show, or the producers desperately want him in the finale.  Choosing the upbeat “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” lent itself well to creating a lively performance, but the piano on fire and the blinding light show made Durbin look like KISS and the rest of the contestants look like KISS’ warm-up group.  That being said, Durbin is absolutely the most polished stage performer in the competition, and it is understandable why the producers want to keep him around for as long as possible.  His vocals this week were not nearly as impressive as they usually are, but he stole the show anyway.

[1]           Pia Toscano – With each passing week, it certainly looks like Toscano and Durbin are destined to meet in the finale.  She didn’t leave her ballad comfort zone this week, but she did try to connect with the audience more than she usually does.  The only one who can come close to her vocally is Durbin.  Every other girl pales in comparison.  Once again, her vocals shined as she performed “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”  It would have been nice to see her tackle one of Elton’s songs that aren’t so close to her style, but as long as she keeps nailing every song that she sings, there isn’t much to complain about.

WHO’S IN THE BOTTOM THREE?

Naima Adedapo

Stefano Langone

Paul McDonald

WHICH TWO WILL GO HOME?

Naima Adedapo and Stefano Langone.

Adedapo’s decision to do a reggae version of “I’m Still Standing” is ironic because it will likely knock her down and out of the competition.  Langone deserves to stay, but he isn’t unique or special enough to inspire voters to support him over others.

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American Idol: Top 11 Review and Predictions

The Top 11 American Idol contestants each had to perform a Motown song this week.  For the most part, all of the contestants chose songs that they were capable of singing.  Every week is important for the contestants, but with the exception of the finale, this week is the most critical as the contestant that gets voted off does not go on the American Idol tour.

If history is any indication, the contestant that gets voted off this week is not likely to be heard from again, and will be forgotten fairly quickly.

Because this week is so critical, the contestants who have built up a loyal following will likely make it into the Top 10, regardless of their performance or the judges’ comments.  The only way that the judges would use their save this week is to protect someone who they feel is special or someone who is so unique that losing them would hurt the tour.  This bodes well for some of the contestants, and not so well for others.

Each week, Television2Day will review American Idol and rank the contestants based on their performance for the week.  After the rankings, a prediction of the bottom three will be made, along with a prediction of who will be voted off the show.

Here is the Top 11 Breakdown (in reverse order):

[11]       Haley Reinhart – Performing “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson, Reinhart had her best performance since reaching the Top 13.  Unfortunately for Reinhart, it was still nothing special, and there is no reason to believe that it will be enough to move her up in the rankings.  Her overall look was better this week, but the decision to have someone who is not comfortable on stage walk down potentially hazardous stairs wearing stiletto heels was questionable.  It’s very hard to focus on singing when you’re trying not to fall.  Reinhart has talent, but screams at times when hitting the power notes and her lack of stage presence is detrimental when it comes to generating votes.

[10]       Thia Megia – It is unfortunate that Megia cannot seem to deliver the kind of memorable performance that she did to make it into the Top 13.  In an effort to listen to the judges’ advice, Megia stepped out of her ballad comfort zone with her performance of “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas.  It was good to see her loosening up a bit, but her performance felt a bit forced.  The talent is there, but Megia seems to be overwhelmed by having to compete on the big stage.

[9]         Paul McDonald – After stating his interview that he grew up on Motown music that “makes you move,” McDonald smartly chose not to showcase his frantic movements this week as he performed “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson with an acoustic guitar.  If Rod Stewart didn’t exist, McDonald’s voice would be much more intriguing.  But Rod Stewart does exist, and McDonald’s weekly performances merely serve as a reminder that there is a much better version of him out there.  This was his best performance in the Top 13, but overall it was just more of the same old, same old that has become very predictable.

[8]          Scotty McCreery – If there was one performer who was at a disadvantage with the Motown theme, it was absolutely McCreery.  He did what he could to make Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” his own, and for that he should be commended.  But the fact of the matter is that the original song is powerful and emotional, and McCreery’s version, while original, did not even come close to capturing the essence of the song.  Pushing himself beyond his deep register seemed to satisfy the judges to a degree, but this was his weakest performance yet in the Top 13.

[7]         Stefano Langone – One of the bigger surprises of the Top 13 so far has been Langone’s ability to show off his vocal range.  That being said, this week’s performance was a big drop off from last week, and Langone continued to struggle with keeping his eyes open and connecting with the audience.  His choice of “Hello” by Lionel Richie was bizarre for a few reasons.  First of all, the song was recorded in 1984, which is not exactly Motown’s heyday.  But more importantly, Langone admitted that he didn’t really know the song, which makes it a very questionable choice.  This is especially true given the fact that he said that he grew up listening to Motown.  Langone shined at times, but he spent too much time with his eyes closed, and the condensed version of the song was awkwardly arranged.  It wouldn’t come as a complete shock if the judges’ comments end up pushing Langone into the bottom three.

[6]         Casey Abrams – There was nowhere to go but up from last week’s Nirvana performance.  Aside from the fact that his cleaned up look was reminiscent of Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover,” Abrams delivered a solid performance of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”   Abrams knows how to work the stage and the crowd, and his sound is definitely unique, and thought this performance was not even close to his best, it was more than enough to push him into the Top 10.

[5]         Naima Adedapo – More than any other contestant, Adedapo needs to deliver memorable stage performances because she simply is not a strong enough vocalist to compete with the best singers in the Top 11.  Two weeks ago, her performance of “Umbrella” by Rhianna turned heads, even though the vocals were not outstanding.  Last week, her subdued performance of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do With It” landed her in the bottom three.  With a spot in the Top 10 on the line, Adedapo delivered her best overall performance to date with “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas.  Her look was spot-on, her vocals were very solid, and her stage show was very entertaining.  Adedapo will never be one of the top vocalists, but her command of the stage gives her a chance to be a successful entertainer.

[4]         Pia Toscano – Vocally, the only one who can compete with Toscano on a regular basis is James Durbin.  Once again, her singing of “All in Love is Fair” by Stevie Wonder was incredible.  But from an entertainment perspective, it just didn’t measure up to some of the other contestants.  Toscano is a beautiful girl with an amazing voice, and she doesn’t need to do much to stay in the competition at this point.  But as the competition moves forward, she is going to have to deliver more than just great vocals if she wants to make it to the finale.  Because her vocals are so perfect, she has some room to turn it down a notch and focus on connecting with the audience.

[3]          Jacob Lusk – If there was a contestant who was made for Motown week, Lusk is it.  His performance of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By” was his shining moment in the Top 13.  He always delivers the big notes, but doesn’t always do it with style.  This week he did.  Even though it was a Marvin Gaye song, Lusk’s performance was much more reminiscent of Luther Vandross (which is not a bad thing).  He worked very well with the background singers, and you could see that his comfort level was higher than it has been in weeks.

[2]         Lauren Alaina – On the heels of her admirable performance of Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” last week, Alaina delivered her best performance to date with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes.  For the first time since reaching the Top 13, Alaina showed why she was considered to be one of the early favorites in the competition.  This was her best look by far, and her confidence was at an all-time high.  Her singing and performance this week launched Alaina right back to the top of the competition.

[1]         James Durbin – During the Season 10 tryouts, Durbin stood out early on because of his great voice and the challenge of overcoming Tourette’s and Asperger’s Syndrome.  Since making it into the Top 13, Durbin has proven that he not only belongs, but he has a very real possibility of winning it all.  More than any other contestant, Durbin continues to choose songs that are ideally suited for his voice, and with each passing week, his confidence seems to grow.  His performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” this week was flawless.  No one has shown the combination of amazing vocals and engaging stage presence like Durbin.  He hits every note almost effortlessly as he commands the stage and works the crowd.  At this point, the only one who can stop Durbin from reaching the finale is Durbin himself.

BOTTOM THREE PREDICTION:

Haley Reinhart

Thia Megia

Paul McDonald

WHO GOES HOME?

Haley Reinhart – After ending up in the bottom three each of the last two weeks, Reinhart had to deliver the performance of her life to make it into the Top 10 and go on tour.  She improved, but not nearly enough to compel Idol fans to pick up the phone and start voting for her this week.  Many of this year’s contestants bring something unique to the table.  Reinhart does not.  She is merely a good singer who needs a lot of work on her stage presence.  The fans that have put her into the bottom three for the past two weeks are the same fans who buy tickets to see the American Idol tour.  It would be very surprising to see anyone other than Reinhart going home this week, but then again, Idol voters are often times unpredictable.

WILL THE JUDGES USE THEIR SAVE?

Highly unlikely.  Unless one of their unanimous favorites somehow ends up with the lowest amount of votes, it would be very surprising to see the judges do anything to give someone another crack at making it into the Top 10.

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American Idol: Top 12 Breakdown and Predictions

The Top 12 American Idol contestants were given a wide variety of songs to choose from this week as they each performed songs from their birth year.  Once again, the song choices were not always great, and though the judges seemed to be pleased overall with this week’s show, it was actually a huge disappointment, and a big step down from last week’s performances.

As the weeks progress, it is becoming clear that the contestants fall into a handful of different categories.  There are those who are loved by the judges, those who are loved by the voting public, those who are loved by both, and those who are likely to be leaving the show sooner rather than later.

The contestants who are loved by the judges and the fans have the liberty of taking big risks, knowing full well that they are unlikely to go home in the next few weeks.

Each week, Television2Day will review American Idol and rank the contestants based on their performance for the week.  After the rankings, a prediction of the bottom three will be made, along with a prediction of who will be voted off the show.

Here is the Top 12 Breakdown (in reverse order):

[12]        Paul McDonald – A favorite of the judges and of many fans, but it’s hard to understand why.  His vocals are unique for American Idol, but they are nothing more than a poor man’s version of Rod Stewart.  His stage presence continues to border on absurd.  Although it was partly due to being under the weather, his version of Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” simply was not very good.

[11]        Casey Abrams – As one of the favorites of the fans and the judges, Abrams was able to take a huge risk by performing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.  His performances to date have been stellar, so he’ll get a pass on this week’s performance, but it was not good at all from a singing standpoint.  The bass playing was cool, but American Idol is not a competition to find the best musician.  Hopefully Casey will return to form next week.

[10]        Haley Reinhart – This far into the competition, contestants should have carved out an identity, but Reinhart has not.  Performing “I’m Your Baby Tonight” by Whitney Houston was not a smart decision.  Her voice is too weak in the lower register and she screams to hit the high notes.  As usual, her performance was nothing special.  If you had to compare her to another contestant, the closest one would be Lauren Alaina who consistently outshines Reinhart, so there is nothing to make her stand out in the crowd.

[9]          Karen Rodriguez – If not for the fact that fans never seemed to like Ashthon Jones on a personal level, Rodriguez would very likely have gone home last week.  Her saving grace is that she has positioned herself as the Spanish singing contestant, so she has a niche audience of voters to help keep her around.  It was a mistake to try and tackle “Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne because her voice is far too weak to do the song justice.  Once again, Rodriguez awkwardly crammed Spanish singing into a song that didn’t need it.  Aside from appealing to JLo and Spanish-speaking fans, Rodriguez does not do anything to inspire the average Idol fan to pick up the phone and vote for her.

[8]          Naima Adedapo – Last week, Adedapo’s stage presence was so good that you were able to give her a pass when the vocals fell short at times.  This week, the stage presence was no better than average, and neither was her version of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  Adedapo cannot compete vocally with the top girls, so she must rely on delivering memorable stage performances if she plans on sticking around in the competition.  Simon Cowell surely would have called this week’s performance “forgettable.”

[7]          Jacob Lusk – Once again, Lusk’s passion keeps the judges firmly in his corner, but his risky choice of “Alone” by Heart did not pay off.  It almost doesn’t matter what Lusk sings now because he’ll get votes based on his personality and the judges’ praise.  While his performance this week had its moments, objectively speaking, it was no better than average.

[6]          Thia Megia – With one of the best voices in the competition, Megia should be soaring, but her consistent bad song choices are keeping her from putting her best foot forward.  At some point, when there are less contestants, Megia is going to have to step up and showcase her talents with the right song choice, or find herself leaving the competition while singers that don’t have her talent remain.

[5]          Scotty McCreery – The judges seemed to think that McCreery pushed himself beyond his comfort zone this week, but in actuality, it was just more of what is expected from him every time that he takes the stage.  It made perfect sense for McCreery to sing Travis Tritt’s “Can I Trust You With My Heart?” because it is right in his wheelhouse.  As usual, McCreery was solid but not spectacular.  He may very well be the most middle-of-the-road performer in the show’s history.  He never has the kind of performance that blows you away, but also never does a bad job.  He’ll stick around until he has to face the top singers.

[4]          Lauren Alaina – Another contestant who performed under adverse conditions with the flu.  However, aside from some weak spots in the lower register, Alaina did an admirable job with Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One.”  After weeks of choosing questionable songs, she finally got it right this time.  It would have been interesting to see how well she would have sang the song if she were healthy, but it was one of her best despite the challenge of singing with the flu.

[3]          James Durbin – One of the biggest problems with American Idol is that contestants must condense songs into a very narrow window so that there is time for useless banter.  As usual, Durbin did a great job with song selection, singing “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi, but it seemed a bit awkward because he started in the middle of the song.  However, he is looking more and more comfortable on stage each week.  And though this was not even close to his best performance, he definitely remains one of the favorites to win it all.

[2]          Stefano Langone – Although he still has not carved out a niche for himself, Langone delivered one of the best performances of the week with Simply Red’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”  His voice is always very solid, and he has moments of greatness.  His stage presence is fine, but he needs to learn how to deliver the big notes while keeping his eyes open and connecting with the audience.  Langone is definitely a sleeper who can be there at the end as long as he remains consistent.

[1]          Pia Toscano – Arguably the most powerful female vocalist in American Idol history, Toscano continues to impress with her performances.  It is clear that there isn’t another girl in the competition who can come close to her, as evidenced by her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”  Toscano is the total package, which makes her wardrobe choice this week particularly puzzling.  One can’t help but wonder who came up with the idea to have Toscano dressed like Latka Gravas of Taxi.  Was it done on purpose to help level the playing field for the other girls?  Maybe, maybe not.  But the fact remains that no one has delivered as many memorable vocal performances as Toscano, and unless she slips up along the way, she should cruise into the finale.

BOTTOM THREE PREDICTION:

Haley Reinhart

Karen Rodriguez

Naima Adedapo

WHO GOES HOME?

Naima Adedapo – She is the best of the bottom three, but she doesn’t seem to have enough of a dedicated fan base to carry her when her performance isn’t great.  It wouldn’t be a shock to see any of the three go home this week, however, Rodriguez appears to be the safest based on supportive comments by the judges and the connection to the Spanish community.

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American Idol: Top 13 Breakdown and Predictions

It looks like the change of judges has breathed some new life to American Idol, as evidenced by the performances of the Top 13 contestants.  One of the interesting changes this week was watching the contestants working with producers on their upcoming performance.

Having each contestant choose a song from one of their idols was a great idea, because it meant that they would be singing songs that would allow them to shine (in theory at least).  Despite the freedom to choose the right song and the help of industry executives, many of the contestants still chose songs that put them at risk of going home this week.

Each week, Television2Day will review American Idol and rank the contestants based on their performance for the week.  After the rankings, a prediction of the bottom three will be made, along with a prediction of who will be voted off the show.

Here is the Top 13 Breakdown (in reverse order):

[13]        Karen Rodriguez – Performing “I Could Fall In Love” by Selena, Rodriguez struggled to find the right notes, and left the judges unimpressed.  She created the right look, but the vocals never came close to where they needed to be.

[12]        Paul McDonald – McDonald chose “Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams, but it almost didn’t matter.  Because of his unique voice, people seem to really like him.  While his vocals were adequate, his performance on stage is awkward at best, and often times bizarre.  Ryan Seacrest, who is usually annoying when goes off script and tries to inject himself into the show, was actually entertaining as he did his impression of McDonald’s on-stage moves.

[11]        Haley Reinhart – Reinhart’s performance of “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes was nothing special.  While the judges seemed to like her ability to yodel, there was nothing else that makes her stand out from the crowd of contestants.

[10]        Thia Megia – As one of the early favorites based on last week’s performance, Megia took a big step backwards with her performance of “Smile” by Michael Jackson.  It’s unfortunate that she seemed to be talked into choosing a song that wasn’t what she had in mind because of a recommendation from the mentors.  She is one of the most talented singers, but her song choice did nothing to show off her abilities this week.

[9]          Ashthon Jones – Poor song selection is likely to hasten Jones’ exit from the competition despite her talent.  She made the right choice by picking a Diana Ross song, but made the colossal mistake of picking one that wasn’t well known (“When You Tell Me That You Love Me”). In all honesty, her performance was no better than average.  It was nice to see Jennifer Lopez point out the danger of doing songs that are not known by the masses.

[8]          Lauren Alaina – It is very puzzling that Alaina has relied solely on upbeat country songs the past couple of weeks because it is not what got her into the Top 13.  Her likability and performance will most likely keep her around for a while, but if she doesn’t start showing off the talent that got her to this point, she will be gone before too long.  Choosing a Shania Twain song was fine, but like many other contestants, she chose the wrong one (“Any Man of Mine”).

[7]          Stefano Langone – It’s kind of difficult to get a grasp on what Langone would be if he should ever record an album.  While pigeonholing himself into a specific genre might not elevate him against the competition, his lack of identity is likely to hurt him in the coming weeks.  His performance of “Lately” by Stevie Wonder was pretty good overall.  He had some moments in the song where he showed his range, but nothing that made the performance memorable.

[6]          Jacob Lusk – Personality-wise, you can’t help but root for Lusk to do well.  He brings so much passion into his performances that even the judges can’t help but be swayed by the emotion.  His ability and range is as good as any other contestant.  That being said, his performance of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Could Fly” was good, but not great.  The notes that he hits are very impressive, but other than the way he connected with the song, stylistically, it was not his best performance.

[5]          Scotty McCreery – There is no doubting that McCreery is ready to record a country album right now.  His performance this week was much better than last week because he looked a bit more comfortable on stage.  Garth Brooks’ “The River” was a very good choice for McCreery.  Unless there are a ton of country fans voting, McCreery’s one-dimensional style will not elevate him into the top of the competition, but his consistent performance will keep him around for a while.

[4]          Naima Adedapo – If not for some issues with pitch and breathlessness, Adedapo might have had the top performance of the night as she performed “Umbrella” by Rhianna.  She wisely chose to do a modern song that is known to virtually everyone, which came as a bit of a surprise being that she has leaned toward the classics previously.  Her stage presence was the best of any contestant, and she showed this week that she has the potential to be a star if developed properly.

[3]          Pia Toscano – It was going to be difficult to top last week’s stellar performance, and Toscano did take a small step backwards.  However, her performance of Celine Dion’s version of “All By Myself” showed why she is still one of the favorites to become the next American Idol.  She has proven once again that she is the most powerful female vocalist in the Top 13.

[2]          Casey Abrams – It came as no surprise that Abrams chose to do “A Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker.  It was the perfect song choice, and his stage presence is always engaging and very entertaining.  With or without an instrument, Abrams consistently delivers memorable performances.  He is clearly one of the favorites to be the next American Idol.

[1]          James Durbin – One of the biggest criticisms of the contestants every year is that they choose songs that don’t fit their voice or songs that are not known by most people.  To his credit, Durbin always chooses songs that fit his style and that everyone can sing along to, although certainly not to his level.  Durbin’s rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney was, by far, his best yet.  This was the first time that he showed off his near-perfect voice without adding in Adam Lambert-like vocal gymnastics that don’t always fit the song.  If Durbin can continue to mix power, melody and control like he did this week, he may very well be the contestant to beat.

BOTTOM THREE PREDICTION:

Karen Rodriguez

Haley Reinhart

Ashthon Jones

WHO GOES HOME?

Karen Rodriguez – It wouldn’t be shocking to see Jones voted off since she wasn’t voted into the Top 10 by the American public, but Rodriguez’s performance was panned by all three judges, including Lopez who loved her performance last week.

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Mad Love – New CBS Sitcom Worthy of Filling the Two and a Half Men Void

When Charlie Sheen was fired by Warner Brothers, the fate of Two and a Half Men was virtually sealed.  Although the show hasn’t officially been cancelled, moving forward without Sheen would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.  Luckily for CBS, they may already have a show ready to step in and fill the void once Two and a Half Men goes off the air.  It’s early in the game, but if the first few episodes are any indication, Mad Love (starring Jason Biggs and Sarah Chalke) looks to have staying power.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to see Jason Biggs on television, given his successful silver screen career.  After watching Mad Love, it’s easy to see why he made the decision to accept the role as Ben Parr, a thirty something lawyer who works with his best friend, Larry Munsch (Tyler Labine).

The two best friends couldn’t be more different…a sort of modern-day “Odd Couple.”

Biggs is perfectly suited to play the straight, hard-working, somewhat anxious lawyer who is determined to build a long-term relationship with Kate Swanson (Sarah Chalke).  Labine, on the other hand, doesn’t look (or act) like a typical lawyer.  He is kind of sloppy, does whatever he can to cut corners to avoid working, and carries himself with a swagger that would seem cocky if he weren’t so likeable.  Of course, his abrasiveness doesn’t appeal to everyone, most notably Connie Grabowski (Judy Greer), who is Kate’s best friend and roommate.

Connie and Larry are always at odds, although there is an underlying sexual tension between the two.  In a recent episode, they realized that they actually hooked up with each other at a costume party several years back.  Both agreed to keep it a secret because neither one wanted to admit what had happened between them to their friends.

Even though Biggs and Chalke are the bigger stars, the biggest laughs on Mad Love are delivered by Labine and Greer. Both have been around for awhile, but neither has become a household name to date.

In recent years, Labine has starred in Reaper and Sons of Tuscon.  He seems to play the same type of character in every show, which makes you wonder if he’s even acting.  Loud and boisterous, funny and likeable, Labine is the type of character that you would like to hang out with in real life.

Greer has made numerous appearances on television and in the movies, but has never been the main attraction.  Her pessimism and acerbic wit are a perfect complement to what the rest of the ensemble cast brings to the table.

Mad Love features a great cast, interesting story lines and plenty of laughs to go around.  If the show is given the chance to shine, Labine and Greer may very well become as famous as their counterparts.

Even if Charlie Sheen didn’t self-destruct, the time was probably drawing near for Two and a Half Men to end its incredible run.  Because the “half” man is now almost out of high school, the show has transitioned away from the original premise into an endless string of sexual innuendos.  It’s still a very funny show, but the premise is nearly identical from week to week.

Networks are usually left scrambling to find a suitable replacement once a hit show goes off the air.  Fortunately for CBS, that show is already on the air, and they would be wise to immediately start promoting Mad Love as the replacement for Two and a Half Men once it is officially cancelled.

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American Idol: Separating the Pretenders from the Contenders and Predicting the Season 10 Winner

Season 11 of American Idol is already drastically different from previous seasons, and not just because of changes to the judging panel.  In a smart strategic move, Idol didn’t belabor the process of getting down to the Top 12 (or Top 13 as the case may be).  Instead, they gave each of the 24 contestants the opportunity to perform one song to impress the American public to secure their place in the Top 13.

Although the performances seem to have gotten fairly good reviews, the truth of the matter is that most of the contestants fell far short of their potential.  Perhaps nerves got the best of them on the big stage, but it was a little surprising given that they were not restricted to the type of songs that they were allowed to sing.  You would think that each one would have picked a song to allow them to shine, but most didn’t.

While there were no terrible performances from any of the 24 contestants, only a few really delivered memorable vocal performances.

Based on their performances this week, and their performances leading up to this week, I have ranked each contestant and their chances to become the next American Idol.

FAVORITES:

PIA TOSCANO – Pia Toscano is the total package.  Her vocal performance was significantly more impressive than almost every other contestant.  She has a good personality, and a great look.  If she can continue to perform at a high level, American Idol may very well have the most marketable winner in the show’s history.

THIA MEGIA – At the age of 15, Thia Megia wouldn’t have even been allowed to audition in any of the previous seasons.  Idol producers should commend themselves for lowering the age minimum, as the move has already paid off.  Unless she stumbles, Megia will likely stick around for a long time.

CASEY ABRAMS – Unlike the other favorites, Casey Abrams is not what you expect an American Idol to look like.  He is a bit odd, and definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer, but his voice is unique and his musicianship is better than any other contestant in the show’s history.  It remains to be seen whether the voting audience will embrace Abrams’ unique style.

CONTENDERS:

JAMES DURBIN – It’s easy to root for James Durbin because he has an incredible voice to go along with an inspiring personal story.  Overcoming Tourette’s and Asperberger Syndromes to perform on stage is nothing short of amazing.  However, unless he gets votes for his story, his chances of becoming the next American Idol may be slim.  He’s not quite as good as Adam Lambert, and Lambert was only a runner-up.

JACOB LUSK – There has never been a funnier celebration than Jacob Lusk’s upon finding out that he was in the Top 24.  His performance to get him there was brilliant, maybe one of the best ever on American Idol.  With an incredible range and likeable personality, Lusk has the chance to go very far in the competition.  However, vocal gymnastics won’t always do the trick if the song choices aren’t good.

LAUREN ALAINA – The 16-yr old singer was one of the early favorites amongst the judges, and easily made it through into the Top 13.  However, if Lauren Alaina is going to win the competition, she is going to have to deliver vocal performances that show off her abilities.  This week’s country sound did not do her justice, and her performance fell far short of both Pia Toscano and Thia Megia.

DARKHORSES:

ASHTON JONES – The only explanation for Ashton Jones not getting voted in by the American public is that they are not connecting with her personally.  Perhaps they see her confidence as arrogance.  Although her performance this week wasn’t one of her best, it was certainly good enough to be amongst the top girls.  Unless she can find a way to connect with the audience, Jones will have a hard time rising to the top, despite her talent.

STEFANO LANGONE – It’s not his fault, but Stefano Langone is too similar to other people to stand out in a crowd of good singers.  His wildcard performance was much better than his performance earlier in the week, but it was also very similar to that of Jovany Barreto, who didn’t make it through to the Top 13.  He is better than Kris Allen, so there is always hope, but in this group, Langone is going to have a hard time getting noticed.

NAIMA ADEDAPO – If American Idol was being filmed inside of a smoky jazz club, Naima Adedapo would likely be the favorite to win it all.  However, she may just be too much of an “old soul” to capture the hearts of the American Idol audience.  Her voice is as good as most, but her image and song choices make her a long shot to become the next American Idol.

PRETENDERS:

KAREN RODRIGUEZ – There was nothing spectacular about Karen Rodriguez’s performance, so it was surprising to see her get more votes than Ashton and Naima.  Her interjection of Spanish verses just seemed awkward, but it impressed Jennifer Lopez enough to help sway Idol voters.  Unless she can capture a large Hispanic vote by singing in Spanish on a regular basis, Rodriguez’s stay on American Idol will likely be relatively short.

HALEY REINHART – As stated previously, all 24 contestants this season have singing ability.  Haley Reinhart’s singing was a little bit above average, but her clear discomfort on stage is going to make it difficult for her to surpass those that are just as talented and much more polished.

PAUL McDONALD – Seeing Paul McDonald getting the audience vote was very surprising.  His Rod Stewart interpretation was decent, but his stage presence borders on bizarre.  At times, he looked like a marionette being controlled by wires in the rafters, and he somehow managed to make real singing look like lip-synching from a low-budget karate film.

SCOTTY McCREERY – Middle America must have been jamming the phone lines to push Scotty McCreery ahead of singers like Stefano Langone, Jovany Barreto and Robbie Rosen (who was the most surprising omission from the Top 13).  The deep-voiced, country crooner is a one-trick-pony whose act is going to grow old quickly for those that aren’t diehard country music fans.  He also looked lost on the big stage, sitting so awkwardly in his chair, that you couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to fall over as he sang.

PREDICTION: Things change from week-to-week every season on American Idol, and this year may not be any different.  However, based on all of the performances to date, I predict that Pia Toscano will defeat Thia Megia in the finale and become the next American Idol.

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Is Mr. Sunshine ABC Network’s Next “Hot” Sitcom?

In 2009, ABC Network launched Cougar Town, one of the funniest, most well-written sitcoms on television.   Courtney Cox (of Friends fame), and the rest of the ensemble cast brilliantly bring each character to life.  On the heels of Cougar Town’s success, ABC Network has once again gone back to the Friends well for their new sitcom, Mr. Sunshine, which stars Matthew Perry as Ben Donovan.

Perry’s character is the General Manager of the Sunshine Center, a second-rate sports arena in San Diego.  While the name of the character has changed, Ben Donovan could have easily been cast as Chandler Bing in his new career.  He is well-suited for this role, but Mr. Sunshine doesn’t shine as brightly as Cox does in Cougar Town, which is not necessarily an indictment of his acting ability.

The Cougar Town cast was as perfectly assembled as the cast of Friends was.  The roles of the characters on Mr. Sunshine are still being developed, but it didn’t take long to realize that Allison Janney’s character, Crystal Cohen (owner of the Sunshine Center), will be the one to receive most of the accolades if the show takes off.

Janney’s character is wildly inappropriate, has little to no filter and is almost as politically incorrect as Archie Bunker.  She plays the role perfectly, and even though she is not the focal point of the show, you can’t help but look forward to hearing what she will say next.

In the pilot episode, before hosting a charity event for Himalayan children because someone was bitten by one of the dogs at the Himalayan dog track that she invested in, Crystal Cohen wanted to make sure that the event would put her in a positive light.

“Now Alonzo” she said, “Make sure that you have a good mix of kids for the photo op.  You know…black, white…the Himalayas are in Asia, right?  Get me an Asian kid.  Oh, and I’m going to need some kind of trophy.  Have the Asian child hand me some kind of a trophy.”

In the second episode, a number of blind children were invited to attend a concert at the Sunshine Center.  Upon leaving the room full of blind children, Cohen very casually said…

“I envy the blind.  I sometimes think that I too would give my sight to play the piano that way.”

Overall, Mr. Sunshine is a quirky sitcom centered around a series of unlikely scenarios and sometimes outrageous dialog.  Because there is a different event each week at the Sunshine Center, there will be no shortage of potential storylines.

The show is not as clever or well-written as Cougar Town, but it has its share of laughs, and offers ABC Network the potential to fill a regular time slot with a sitcom anchored by another former Friends cast member.

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Life After Friends: Grading the Cast Members on Their Post-Friends Careers

For ten years, millions of people tuned into NBC every Thursday night to hang out with Ross, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler and Joey.  We saw them go from single in the city to married with children and moving to the suburbs.

Television shows that last as long as Friends don’t come around very often because it is hard to keep things fresh and entertaining for viewing audiences.  It’s difficult to go out on top, but Friends managed to do so.

Once the show went off the air, the cast members faced the challenge of moving on to other roles while being typecast as their respective Friends characters.  It is the blessing and the curse that actors face when becoming a particular character in the eyes of the world.

The cast members of Friends have enjoyed varying degrees of success since taking their last sip of coffee at Central Perk.

The following is a report card of each cast member’s post-Friends career (in ascending order):

David Schwimmer

GRADE:  Incomplete

Schwimmer has not done enough in television or movies to be fairly evaluated.  His most notable role since Friends ended only features his voice (Melman the Giraffe in the Madagascar movies).  Aside from a handful of forgettable cameo roles on television, and a couple of movies that were far from blockbusters, Schwimmer has been virtually non-existent to any fan that hasn’t gone to see him acting on stage.

Matt LeBlanc

GRADE:  D+

When Friends ended, so to did the lives of most of the characters.  The only exception being Matt LeBlanc’s character, Joey Tribbiani, who moved out to Hollywood.  For 46 episodes, Friends fans were given the opportunity to see what Joey’s life was like living without his five closest friends.

The show named after his character, Joey, struggled to find its way early on, but eventually settled into becoming a decent sitcom.  However, it was far from successful.

LeBlanc recently resurfaced in a Showtime original series called Episodes. The show is about a British husband and wife comedy writing team who move to Hollywood to remake their successful British television series, with disastrous results.  The show is scripted, but it may as well be reality television because the premise of the show has actually come to fruition.

It is not necessarily LeBlanc’s fault that Episodes is unwatchable, but he doesn’t do anything to elevate the show to an even remotely entertaining level.

Lisa Kudrow

GRADE:  B-

Lisa Kudrow’s television career since Friends has been nothing to write home about.  Aside from a handful of cameo roles, Kudrow has starred in 13 episodes of a show that she created for HBO called The Comeback.  Clearly, one season does not a “comeback” make, so the show’s title is actually a bit ironic.

However, Kudrow has carved out a decent career on the big screen by starring in 10 movies since Friends went off the air, and she deserves credit for taking on roles that do not make you believe that you are watching Phoebe Buffay over and over again.  That being said, Kudrow has certainly not become a box office draw.  She is merely a good supporting actress who plays her roles well.

Matthew Perry

GRADE:  B+

Matthew Perry’s post-Friends career has been interesting, although great success in television and movies has eluded him to this point.

Perry starred in Aaron Sorkin’s uniquely clever show entitled Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for one season, as it was prematurely cancelled by NBC. As an hour-long comedy drama, Studio 60 had a hard time finding its niche and building an audience large enough to justify keeping it on NBC’s slate.

Perhaps, NBC thought that having one show that was a behind-the-scenes look at a pseudo-Saturday Night Live on their schedule was more than enough.  It was somewhat confusing to have two new shows with the same basic premise on at the same time on the same network (30 Rock being the other).

Matters were further complicated by the fact that both shows were the only ones on primetime to feature numbers in their title.  One can’t help but wonder if Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would have had more success if Sorkin had given it a more marketable title.

Perry has appeared in a handful of movies since Friends went off the air, but his most likely path to enjoying success again appears to be with his new show, Mr. Sunshine. Perry’s character, Ben Donovan, is very Chandler-esque, but that might not be a bad thing since it gives the show an instant familiarity.

If the first episode of Mr. Sunshine is an indication of what is in store for the future, Perry may very well have found another show with staying power.

Jennifer Aniston

GRADE:  A

Did the cast members of Friends collectively decide to call it quits because they felt that the show had run its course?  Or, did they think that they would be able to use the show’s success as a springboard onto the big screen?  If the answer is the latter, then Jennifer Aniston is the only one who got it right.

Aniston has successfully transformed herself from Rachel Green into a bona fide silver screen queen, starring in 14 movies since Friends went off the air.  Unlike Kudrow, who fills complementary roles, Aniston is the box office draw.  And though Aniston has made a handful of cameo appearances on television, she is no longer thought of as a TV actress.

For better or worse, Aniston’s romantic comedy roles always seem to remind movie-goers of Rachel.  And though she has played other roles that show her acting range, Aniston never really seems to make you forget that Rachel is always lurking somewhere in the background.

Courtney Cox

GRADE: A+

Courtney Cox played the role of Monica Geller to a tee.  She embodied the role so much that the thought of her playing any other television character seemed difficult to fathom.

Cox was basically off the map for the first few years after Friends. Like the other cast members (aside from Aniston), she didn’t achieve much success on the big screen.  But it didn’t matter.  Cox is made for television.

A few years after Friends went off the air, Cox brilliantly filled the role of Lucy Spiller in the FX original series, Dirt. Cox played the tough but sexy editor-in-chief of a magazine called “DirtNow,” which was created by combining “Dirt” (a typical tabloid magazine) and “Now” (a more respectable glossy magazine)

By the time that the first episode of Dirt was over, you forgot that Monica Geller ever existed.  Although both characters were controlling, Monica did it in a quirky, lighthearted way, whereas Lucy Spiller did it in a manipulative, cut-throat kind of way.

Unfortunately, FX pre-maturely cancelled the show after 20 episodes, leaving fans wanting more.  This dramatic show had more than its share of laugh-out-loud moments, but the drama was what made it compelling.

Like many hour-long dramas, Dirt was about character development and a continuing storyline.  FX never really gave it much of a chance to develop a bigger audience, which is a shame since the quality of the writing was outstanding.

If there is a silver lining to the cancellation of Dirt, it is the launching of Cougar Town (Cox’s latest series).

Cox’s character on Cougar Town, Jules Cobb, is a recently-divorced real estate broker living on a cul-de-sac with the rest of the ensemble cast.  Because Jules is a quirky, somewhat obsessive control-freak, it would be natural for shades of Monica to shine through. However, Cox is so good as Jules that Monica never enters your mind while watching the show.

The writing on Cougar Town is as good as any sitcom on the air today.  The ensemble cast, with Cox leading the way, plays off of each other brilliantly.  Like Friends, the half hour seems to go by so quickly that you are left wanting more.

Very few actors and actresses have been able to recreate themselves on television when they have achieved tremendous success as a particular character.  Some have done it in two roles (Jack Klugman, Caroll O’ Connor, Andy Griffith, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), but it’s hard to recall anyone else doing it in three roles.

Jennifer Aniston may have achieved the most Hollywood success out of all of the Friends, but Courtney Cox is the one who grades out the highest for her ability to embody multiple television characters in such a short amount of time.

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Fairly Legal – Thursday Nights – USA Network

When you think of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, it is not likely that you wonder what else they do besides cheerleading…until now.

Sarah Shahi, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader who grew up just minutes away from Cowboys Stadium, shines in her role as Kate Reed on Fairly Legal (a USA Network original program).

In the opening scene of the pilot episode, Reed is awoken by her cell phone and finds herself in bed with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Assistant District Attorney, Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco).  The sexy Reed, wearing nothing but a men’s dress shirt, leaps out of bed disappointed in herself and Patrick for sleeping together again.

On Reed’s first day back at work after her father’s passing, the lawyer-turned-mediator shows off her skills as she successfully mediates an attempted armed robbery at a coffee shop between a gunman and the coffee shop owner.  Although it would seem implausible in real life, Shahi makes you believe that she could pull off such a feat if she actually found herself in a similar situation.

Whether she’s mediating a dispute between an armed robber and a store owner, a father and son involved in a business dispute, a wrongly-convicted man and the state of California, or a high school football coach and the parents calling for his dismissal, Shahi uses her even-keeled manner and flexes just the right amount of sex appeal to get the job done.

The underlying story on Fairly Legal revolves around Kate Reed coming to terms with her father’s death while trying to keep the law firm that bears the family name from crumbling without its founder.  Matters are further complicated by the fact that she must do so with managing partner, Lauren Reed (Virginia Williams), the woman that she refers to as her “evil step-mother” even though the two are the same age.

Kate Reed’s only saving grace is that she has her super-assistant, Leonardo Prince (Baron Vaughn) to lean on.  The witty and entertaining Prince seems to know Kate even better than she knows herself, and as a result, always seems to fulfill her requests without being asked.

This light-hearted legal drama offers a unique twist which differentiates it from other shows in the genre.

Fans of legal dramas should set a season pass on their DVR for Farily Legal.  The first two episodes are currently available on Hulu.com.  New episodes air on Thursdays at 10pm EST/9pm Central.

Based on the first three episodes of the season, it looks like Shahi is going to give USA Network something to cheer about as they continue to add to their exceptional slate of original programming.

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Is American Idol Better Than Ever With Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez?

When Simon Cowell announced that he was leaving American Idol, it seemed like the show had finally run its course.  As much as people watched the show for the competition and to discover new singers, many tuned in just to hear what Cowell would say.

I thought that American Idol moving forward without Cowell would be like the band Daughtry going on tour with a singer other than Chris Daughtry.  After watching the first two episodes, I must admit that I was wrong.

I also thought that the show had nowhere to go but down after the season featuring Adam Lambert, whose vocal performances left jaws dropping in awe.  Even though he ended up as the controversial runner-up, Lambert will be the one that people remember from the eighth season of American Idol for years to come.

No singer was going to come close to what Lambert delivered, but last season should have been appealing because it was Cowell’s last one as a judge.  It was not!

Every season without fail, when the top 12 contestants are decided, the judges deliver the cliché sound bite…“This is the best top 12 that we have ever had!” Last season those empty words rang especially hollow.  If it was not in their contract to say so, then the judges were either incapable of judging talent or they were flat-out lying when they made that proclamation.

Even the most casual American Idol viewer knew that last year’s top 12 was not as good as the season with Lambert.  Cowell knew it, but couldn’t say it, and it showed in his judging.  When the season began he just seemed bitter.  He had always been the most direct, and sometimes harsh, which caused him to be thought of as the “mean” judge, but he would deliver his barbs with such wit that you couldn’t help but be entertained.

It’s hard to say what caused the change in Cowell.  Perhaps his mind was already on his new venture, or perhaps he knew that Lambert had set the bar so high that the show had hit its peak.  Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that he was no longer entertaining to watch.  And with mediocre talent hitting the stage each week, there was really no reason to tune in.

When all of the rumors started floating about who was going to replace Cowell, the most ridiculous one seemed to be Steven Tyler.  After all, why would one of the most legendary singers in rock and roll history want to take a huge chance at hurting his credibility with his fans by being a part of show which features singers who couldn’t hold a candle to him?

Another name floating around to become a judge was Jennifer Lopez, which was only slightly less surprising than Tyler.  After all, Lopez was already a tremendous success as a singer, dancer and actress.  However, because she is known as a pop artist, she didn’t face the same credibility issues as Tyler.

When Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi “quit” the show, it opened the door for both Tyler and Lopez to join Randy Jackson on the new judging panel.  DeGeneres and DioGuardi were never a very good fit, and without Cowell, the producers of American Idol couldn’t possibly go on with such a lackluster panel of judges.  They had no choice but to add judges who would immediately intrigue the viewing audience.

With a healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism, I tuned in to watch the first two episodes of American Idol.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the producers may have just saved the show with Tyler and Lopez, who are both interesting to watch and offer a breath of fresh air into the judging of the contestants.  Truth be told, things had become very stale with the same cast of characters doing the same thing year after year.

It didn’t take long for Tyler to make his mark.  After a laid-back, deep-voiced kid sang a country song, Tyler said…“Well hellfire save matches, f**k a duck and see what hatches!”

Randy Jackson shrieked…“What are we doing here? Yo man!”

Tyler innocently looked at Jackson and quizzically replied…“What, I’m not allowed to say that?”

The moment was reminiscent of George Constanza’s classic Seinfeld moment when he slept with the cleaning lady on the desk in his office, and when called out by his boss for the act, innocently replied…

“Was that wrong?  Should I not have done that?  I tell ya, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon…”

Like Constanza, who never seemed to learn his lesson on Seinfeld, Tyler continued to make statements that make you laugh out loud and sometimes cringe a little bit.

For example, when Victoria Huggins, a sugary-sweet, diminutive 16-year old from North Carolina (with a voice much bigger than her stature) finished performing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Lopez emphatically stated “It’s a yes for me!  And I love the skirt.”

With an almost sinister look on his face and in his voice, Tyler creepily said “Oh yeah, just the right amount showing, that’s nice.”

A shocked Randy Jackson leaned back in his chair laughing, while looking up to the ceiling with his arms in the air, and bellowed… “Oh my God, what is this show?”

As much as Tyler may shock Jackson, he does it in a good way.

When Cowell was around, Jackson never seemed to be fully at ease.  He would try too hard to inject fake ghetto slang into every comment.  That might work for some, but when you consider that Jackson has played with acts such as Journey, Whitesnake, Stryper and the Charlie Daniels Band (to name a few), the “yo dawgs” seem a bit contrived.

It’s early in the season, and Jackson’s fake ghetto slang may very well return, but for the moment, it seems as though the fun that he’s having with Tyler and Lopez has allowed him to be much more relaxed and a better judge than he has ever been before.

Lopez has masterfully taken on the Paula Abdul role as the sweet one, but does so in a much more lucid way.  She is nice without being over the top, and though she has a hard time being critical, she has managed to do so in a gentle way.  People who loved the constant bewilderment that Abdul brought to the table may not find as much appeal in Lopez, but in my opinion, she is a definite improvement.  And though Lopez is a huge star, she still possesses a humble attitude that makes her very likeable.

When Jovany Barreto, a 23-year old Cuban ship builder from Louisiana, finished singing an impressive song in Spanish, he addressed the judges.  He told Steven and Randy that they were “the bomb,” and then went on to say the following to Lopez…“Jennifer, I have been watching you since I was a little kid, and you’re a goddess in my eyes.  Keep being who you are.  You’re an inspiration to all of us.” A visibly choked-up Lopez complimented him on his performance.

Once Barreto found out that he was going to Hollywood, he kept the promise that he made to his fellow ship builders and took off his shirt to show Lopez his abs.  Before he could get his shirt off, Jackson prompted Tyler to go up on stage so that they could all show their abs together.  Lopez tried in vain to stop them, but Jackson and Tyler were undeterred by her pleas.  She ended up getting more of show than she wanted, but it was all in good fun.

Based on the first two episodes of the season, it seems that there will a lot of laughs this year with the class clown, Steven Tyler, leading the way.  His lack of boundaries and disregard for social graces may very well make this the best season of American Idol yet (regardless of who the contestants are).

Who else would have thought to ask Randy Jackson’s high school football coach if he ever “paddled his ass?”

Simon Cowell was funny and inappropriate at times, but it’s doubtful that he would have ever playfully entered the building wearing a tiny hat like Tyler, turned around, looked at the camera and said…“You know what they say about a little hat…it’s good for a little head!”

Like a great athlete who elevates his teammates to another level, Steven Tyler has already made Randy Jackson better and his presence will make it easy for Jennifer Lopez to shine.  As unlikely as it may seem, American Idol may end up being more entertaining than ever with Tyler leading the way.

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