“The crowd is ready,” Ryan Seacrest said, and as the camera swept through the studio, the squealing audience did the Wave. “Welcome to the party — this is American Idol!”
Opening credits! Top 13 night! Yeah!
The judges were introduced and came out looking great — they all seemed to have agreed on a monochromatic color scheme. Steven Tyler was rocking a black suit and white shirt, Jennifer Lopez had on a gorgeous black-on-black polka dot number, and Randy “The Dawg” Jackson was sporting a vaguely preppy ensemble.
Next, Ryan welcomed our Top 13 to the stage. After a quick segment about the contestants working with Jimmy Iovine — with footage of the gang looking intimidated, serious, and/or stressed out in his presence — it was time to start the show.
First up was Lauren Alaina, who informed us in her intro package that Shania Twain is one of her idols. Lauren chose to sing Shania’s “Any Man of Mine” because she thought it was a fun song that would show off her personality — which it did do, certainly. Looking great in a floaty blue top, jeggings, and ballet flats, Lauren worked the stage and clearly had a great time performing. She was cute and sassy, and she sang well.
That being said, it kind of felt like the song didn’t really go anywhere. Amusingly, during the part of the song when Lauren was singing “Let me hear you say ‘Yeah’,” we got a shot of the judges and Steven was shaking his head. It was pretty clearly just him being into the music, but still giggle-worthy.
None of the judges seemed overly enthused by the performance itself, despite all three clearly being Lauren fans. “You know how much I love your voice,” Steven said. “I love that song, but I wish it had been a little more kickass.” Randy added, “That girl that we first saw, we want America to see more of that.” Lauren seemed slightly wounded by the judges’ remarks, but still managed to call Ryan “Peaches” before the segment ended. Stop that, Lauren! Respect the Seacrest!
Soul man Casey Abrams performed next — he chose Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles and managed to namecheck delightful late ‘80s/early ‘90s sitcom The Wonder Years, for which that song was the theme. With this song, the trick is to “Let the audience see it and feel it,” Jimmy Iovine explained.
“I wanna be felt,” Casey said. Yeah, we snickered. Like you didn’t?
The good news is, we definitely felt Casey. (Not like that.) The rendition was terrific — clearly in the style of Joe Cocker without ever seeming like an imitation. Casey was one of the few contestants who seemed completely comfortable on the intimidating Idol stage, and his singing was completely on-point. However: Were we the only ones a little surprised that the ever-so-wholesome Idol allowed the lyric about getting high to be left in? Scandalous.
The judges felt Casey, too. “There was one point, I just grabbed Randy and was like ‘What am I watching right now?’... You blew me away,” Jennifer said. “You make listening to you sing fun, and I loved it, dude, I loved it,” Randy said. “You are a rainbow of talent, man... a plethora of passion,” Steven enthused.
“I think Joe Cocker embodied me for a second,” a rather excited Casey told Ryan. So what you’re saying is that while everyone else felt you, you felt Joe Cocker, Casey?
Following Casey’s lively performance couldn’t have been easy, and we felt a little sorry for Ashthon Jones. The good news: She chose Diana Ross’s “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” a song she clearly loved. And she looked stunning. The bad news: The performance was, to put it in words Randy Jackson might use, “not hot.” There were good moments, but there were also some shrill moments. Definitely not Ashthon’s best performance.
The judges were pretty gentle (or just weren’t paying attention, or were hearing something else in the studio). “I liked it... it sounded like it was a little bit of a safe move,” Randy said. “I think there’s a lot more in there than you’re showing us, and that you’re going to,” Steven said.
Paul McDonald and his very white teeth were up next. Paul extolled the virtues of his musical idol, alt-country artist Ryan (not Bryan!) Adams. His song choice was “Come Pick Me Up" and the performance was... strange. The thing is, the song is actually pretty sad, and the emotion is a big part of what makes it a great song (usually). Paul’s smiley, goofy style just didn’t work with this particular tune. We still like you, though, Paul, and we appreciate your appreciation of Ryan Adams.
The judges also still like Paul, despite agreeing that the performance itself was lacking. “It was a little pitchy — nail it next time,” Steven said. While Jennifer praised his uniqueness and noted that he did move the crowd, she mentioned that she didn’t know Ryan Adams, or the song. “You should,” Paul said. Burn? Nah, it seemed good-natured. “I love the character of who you are,” Randy said, and then namedropped alt-country acts Whiskeytown and Wilco, probably just to show that he could.
After the commercial, Pia Toscano was on deck with Ryan Seacrest, getting the first Coke interview (we’ll call it a Coketerview) of the evening. Pia looked stunning in a very small, very sparkly dress, chatting with Ryan about nothing in particular. In her pre-performance segment, Pia looked adorable in black nerdy glasses, and informed us that she’s a longtime fan of Celine Dion and would be singing “All By Myself” this week.
Once she began singing, we discovered that Pia’s tiny, sparkly dress had a long train, which: eh. Her makeup was pretty and sparkly, though. Oh, and the singing, right. She sang the song beautifully; her voice is fantastic. Are we the only ones who noticed the song has, um, not that many lyrics? We get it, you’re all by yourself and you don’t want to be anymore.
“We love you, Pia... Really, really beautiful,” Jennifer said. “The big three are Mariah, Whitney, Celine... we say don’t tackle those songs if you can’t do them, Randy said, adding that Pia’s natural gifts allow her to take on songs by those iconic singers. “Happy International Woman’s Day today,” Steven said, by way of complimenting Pia’s performance. Oops. Although nobody claimed tonight’s show was live, Steven let the cat out of the bag, because International Woman’s Day was yesterday.
James Durbinperformed next, and named Paul McCartney as his idol. His pre-performance segment included Jimmy Iovine praising his vocal abilities. “I didn’t even know kids were out there singing like that,” Jimmy said. (Apparently Jimmy has never heard of, just for instance, Adam Lambert.)
The performance was probably the best we’ve seen James to date. He mostly held back his Rawk! screams and turned in a fairly restrained, yet very cool, rendition of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He also seemed comfortable on stage, and very happy to be there.
The judges love The Durbz, clearly. “You’re one of my favorites in this whole thing,” Randy said. As James tried to quiet the crowd to let Jennifer speak, she said “Let ‘em clap, baby, when they wanna clap.” She added that James has what “the great rock singers have,” a melodic quality to his voice.
Next up was Haley Reinhart, who chose the song “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes. Haley said she’d been singing the song since she was a little girl, and it meant a lot to her. Jimmy Iovine pointed out that it was a very difficult song to sing and told her she sounded incredible.
Haley took the stage wearing a stunning blue (of course) dress, with some serious cleavage and gigantic, fabulous earrings. Best-dressed of the night, if you ask us! The performance was decent, if not incredible. Between her previous performances of “God Bless the Child,” “Fallin’,” and now this, it’s hard to be sure what Haley’s all about.
“That was beautiful,” Steven said. “I think America is really getting to know you now,” Jennifer said, adding that Haley does very unique things with her voice. “For me it was a little boring actually, if I’m being honest,” Randy said. Woof, Dawg. We thought so, too.
Jacob Lusk followed with the second Coketerview of the evening, and he and Ryan did a silly bit about Jacob’s previous job as a spa concierge. “One of my favorite singers of all time is R. Kelly,” Jacob explained in his pre-performance package. “He’s my idol.” Since R. Kelly is actually kind of creepy and awful (allegedly), we’ll give Jacob the benefit of the doubt and assuming he’s just speaking musically, here.
The song Jacob chose was, naturally, “I Believe I Can Fly.” What, no “Ignition (Remix)” or “Trapped In The Closet”? Fine. The performance had an extreme gospel, take-it-to-church vibe, so it was probably great if you like that sort of thing, and excruciating if you don’t. Jacob can certainly sing, but beyond that we’re not entirely sure what to think.
The judges weren’t either, it seemed. “Pure passion. Pure music. I can’t even judge it,” Steven said. “It is very hard to judge you, Jacob, because you make us feel so much when you sing,” Jennifer said. “You have a signature sound, and to me that’s what singing is about,” Randy said. “I love you; I’m excited every time you hit the stage.”
The adorably-named Thia Megia is still just 15 tiny years old, and reaffirmed that by apparently never having heard of Charlie Chaplin, calling him “Charlie Chapman." Regardless, Thia’s idol is Michael Jackson, so she chose to sing the song “Smile,” which she knows as a Michael Jackson song, because yes, she’s still just 15.
And it was... not good. The beginning, a straight rendition of the song, sounds very nice, but about halfway through the arrangement shifted to some kind of weird lounge music, kind of jazzy, maybe with some Spanish guitar thrown in? Thia got lost in all the strangeness, and it was just a shame. Oof.
The judges also remembered that Thia is still only 15, and they tried to go easy on her. “You, just with the microphone, with that instrument is gold to me,” Randy said, explaining that he much preferred the beginning to the end. He added that in the beginning she sounded a bit like Michael Jackson again (true) and also somewhat like Adele (not true). “I liked it all in all,” Steven said, and while Jennifer said she would’ve liked to see Thia move around more on stage, she concluded that “it doesn’t matter; you sing like an angel.”
After the commercial, we got a shot of Thia, weeping backstage and hoping America will give her another chance. After that, we’re pretty sure they will.
Wild card pick Stefano Langone was thrilled to be performing “Lately” by Stevie Wonder. Stefano worked with producer Polow Da Don on the song, and they worked out what ended up being a fun, if slightly odd, dance-y arrangment. “I think he’s a star artist,” Polow said. “No one in America knows how well you sing yet, but they’re gonna find out,” Jimmy Iovine told Stefano.
Stefano looked great and worked the entire stage, and from the many bobbing heads visible in the audience, it appeared that the crowd was into it. Stefano’s facial expressions occasionally verged on slightly cheesy, but his vocals were terrific and he really gave the performance his all. Way to prove the judges right for keeping you around, dude.
Steven then said possibly the best sentence of the night: “By the time it ended it was just soaring like a volcano.” What? Amazing. “You had me dancing there for a minute, baby!” Jennifer said. Randy said that while the performance started out a little rocky, “by the middle of it, you were soarin’, dude.”
Next up: Karen Rodriguez. So Karen loves Selena. Selena inspired her to become a singer. Karen even has some Selena Barbie dolls. So, of course, Miss K-Rod chose to sing Selena’s ballad “I Could Fall In Love.”
Karen’s performance outfit, which she later told Ryan that she helped design, was a sparkly midriff-bearing pants ensemble, inspired by — wait for it — Selena and Jennifer Lopez. Well, she looked beautiful (she’s a gorgeous girl), but the singing was average at best.
“You look so beautiful tonight,” Jennifer said, and asked whether Karen could hear herself singing. Karen: “A little.” Nice of Jennifer to give her an excuse! “It felt like you were kind of fighting the song... It was a little sleepy for me,” Randy said. “The energy it took to ramp up to how well you ended the song was just lacking a little bit; I know you can sing so much better,” Steven said.
Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low! Scotty McCreerywas up next, with the night’s final Coketerview. Scotty was bummed to be missing baseball season, and since his team is 2-2 so far, we’re guessing they miss him too.
Garth Brooks was the idol; “The River” was the song choice. Scotty really is a good ole country boy, isn’t he? Scotty performed in a blue cowboy-style shirt and a cross necklace, with a giant cheesy background image of an actual river behind him. Clever. The song was perfect for him, and he sounded great, as usual. Was it a groundbreaking performance? No, but it was certainly enough to please his fans.
“If it ain’t broke don’t even think about fixing it,” Randy said. Which, Randy always wants people to change things up, so, okay. In this case he was right, though. “You did the Garth justice,” The Steven said. “I saw you open up as a performer,” Jennifer said.
The final performance slot of the night went to Exotic FlowerNaima Adedapo, who chose to sing “Umbrella” by Rihanna, “an artist that I truly respect and admire.” Naima was excited to really bring her own style to the song, and also to work with Tricky, who produced the original version.
The performance was, frankly, insane. Naima appeared on stage wearing 17 articles of clothing, 27 pieces of jewelry, and doing about 107 different things, all in the space of two minutes. She danced, she rapped, there was a crazy sort of reggae section, there were breaks in the music... and while not everything worked, the overall impression was actually kind of great.
“You’re crazy good, I love ya, ” Steven said. “You brought flavor tonight that no one else has done.” Jennifer agreed. “I don’t care about all the pitchy, you got fire, girl,” she said. “You’re doing it like stars do it.”
But perhaps Randy Jackson said it best: “Yo, I’m like, what!”
So that was it for our “Lucky 13.” Tomorrow, somebody goes home (Ashthon? Karen? Thia?), and we get performances from Diddy and Adam Lambert. But before someone’s dreams are crushed forever (or at least until they win an Oscar, right Jennifer Hudson?), tell us — what did you think?