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American Idol: Top 9 Reviews and Predictions

Last week’s double elimination show started out with the typical fake drama that has become a staple of reality television.  By telling the audience that the results were shocking, we were led to believe that someone like Casey was going home because there were no saves left.  It was a mild surprise to see Thia go home after her improved performance, but certainly not shocking.  And though Naima has had her moments on the show, it was hard to find anyone who thought that she was staying after her performance of “I’m Still Standing” with a faux Jamaican accent.

As the number of contestants starts to dwindle, barring any terrible performances, the voting is very likely to be determined by each contestant’s fan base.

This week, the contestants were once again given a wide variety of song choices with the only limitation being that the songs had to come from artists who are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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

[9]          Paul McDonald – Out of all the remaining contestants, McDonald’s voice is by far the weakest one.  It’s hard to say what would have been a good choice for him other than a Rod Stewart song, but the decision to perform Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” was a huge miscalculation.  Jimmy Iovine even stated in the introduction that there is no one cooler than Johnny Cash.  Love him or hate him, I doubt very much that anyone thinks of Paul McDonald as “cool.”  About the best description that he can hope for is “quirky” or “eccentric.”  His stage presence has always been bizarre, and this week was no exception.  As he delivered the line “blow my blues away” his face was painted with his signature gigantic smile that was reminiscent of a clown’s mouth at a fast food drive-thru restaurant.  Not exactly ideal when singing about the blues.

[8]          Scotty McCreery – When the Top 13 were first announced, I predicted that McCreery would be one of the people who would exit quickly because of his limitations.  While I still think that he is a one-trick pony, I believe that the trick is a good one for those who enjoy country music.  His voice is just as good as most country stars, and he could make an album today and succeed without any further help from American Idol.  For some reason, McCreery chose this week to try and show some versatility, but it didn’t come off very well.  I found myself looking forward to the parts that featured his signature deep voice.  His version of “That’s Alright Mama” was just that….alright.  Nothing special and nothing terrible.  He did show some stage presence, but other than that, this was not one of his better performances.

[7]          Jacob Lusk – During the introduction, Lusk proclaimed “If I end up in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad, it won’t be because I sang the song wrong…it’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.”  I’m sure that this meant something to Lusk, but it just came off as arrogant on the show.  His version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was exactly what you would expect it to be.  Although Lusk has a wider vocal range than most, he has become a bit formulaic, and seems to be on the verge of becoming a one-trick pony just like Scotty McCreery.  He can sing, and he can work the crowd from the stage.  But there is nothing all that original about him, except for the fact that he seems to be more emotional than the rest of the contestants combined.

[6]          Stefano Langone – Every week the judges encourage Langone to open up his eyes and connect with the audience.  To his credit, he is trying to take their advice.  However, making a drastic change is not easy to achieve in such a short time span, and watching the transformation can be a bit painful at times.  You can tell that he is trying to take the judges advice, but at times he ends up squinting as he fights the urge to do what he has always done.  His rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” had its moments, but overall it was nothing special.  When he sings in his natural voice and hits the power notes, his voice is as good as most of the contestants.  But his falsetto in this song was weak, and it took away from the other parts.  There is nothing terribly unique about Langone.  He is just a very good singer who looks and sounds like a lot of other very good singers.

[5]          Lauren Alaina – Even though American Idol is predominantly a singing competition, there has to be some consideration given to style.  At this point in the competition, the show should be helping the contestants with their wardrobe.  If they already are, then the person who is working with Lauren should be let go.  Her voice is great, and she seems to be gaining in confidence from week to week.  However, her look tends to take away from her performance at times.  Her version of “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin was a good fit for her voice and she sang it very well.  However, the arrangement was kind of slow and sleepy, and didn’t really allow Alaina to shine as brightly as she could have if it were a little livelier.  Either way, she is one of the best this season, and her performance tonight should be more than enough to push her through to next week.

[4]          James Durbin – It was going to be very difficult to top last week’s over-the-top stage show that Durbin delivered as he performed “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” so he didn’t even try to do so.  He surprised everyone by going in the complete opposite direction by sitting down and performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  With the theme of the night being Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most people expected another concert-like performance.  Instead we got to experience the softer, more emotional side of Durbin.  The song wasn’t ideal for showcasing his incredible vocal range, but it did show that he is the most versatile and dynamic performer in this year’s competition.

[3]          Haley Reinhart – Throughout the competition, Reinhart has always been solid, but rarely spectacular.  Her stage presence early on was equal parts awkward and strange.  But once she guaranteed her slot on this summer’s American Idol tour, things seemed to click for her.  All along the judges have been mentioning Reinhart in the same breath as Janis Joplin.  In all honesty, I didn’t see it until tonight.  Her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” was by far her best since she has been on the show.  Not only was it ideally suited for her voice, but she also connected so well with the song that it changed her whole demeanor on stage.  For the first time this season, I finally saw what the judges have seen all along.  She deserves to stick around for a while after tonight’s performance.

[2]          Casey Abrams – He may not always be the best, but Abrams is always one of the most interesting contestants that has even graced the American Idol stage.  His brush with elimination clearly served as a wake-up call.  The original song that he chose for this week was Sting’s version of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” but he wisely decided to go in a much more appropriate direction with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” instead.  Accompanied by his upright bass and a guitar player, Abrams delivered the kind of performance that had him turning heads early on in the competition.  He showed a more “conventional” side with this performance, but also tastefully included some of his signature growls that make him stand out from the other contestants.  Once again, the judges’ decision to use their one save on Abrams was validated with his rendition of a CCR classic.

[1]          Pia Toscano – The judges and the fans all want to see Toscano’s subdued stage presence turned up a notch so that they are in line with her amazing vocals.  It didn’t quite get there tonight, but at least it wasn’t just another flawless ballad.  As promised last week, she stepped out of the ballad zone and into an up-tempo number that showed her versatility.  Her performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” was one of her best of the season.  Even though the song lent itself so well to showing that she can dance, Toscano still played it fairly close to the vest.  But she did move around a bit, and she proved that her talent goes well beyond amazing ballad performances.  As good as some of the female vocal performances are from time to time, none are even close to Toscano when she nails it.  Her singing is at a level that puts her at the top of all current and previous female vocalists on American Idol.

THE BOTTOM THREE

Paul McDonald

Stefano Langone

Jacob Lusk

WHO GOES HOME?

Paul McDonald – He has outlasted all of the people who didn’t have a strong enough following to stay in the competition. He was in the bottom three last week, and this should be the week that he finally gets eliminated.

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