‘American Idol’: Motown Night Earns Contestants Respect

by | March 23, 2011 at 10:43 PM | American Idol, RealityTV, TV News

Now, it’s up to you, America.

The 11 remaining “American Idol” finalists acquitted themselves pretty well in tonight’s Motown salute, with even such seemingly left-field performers as James Durbin, Scotty McCreery and Paul McDonald tackling the soul classics with remarkable aplomb.

Tomorrow night will eliminate one contestant, which is important because this summer’s live tour will include the remaining 10 survivors, so whichever one gets ousted misses out.

Among the performers, at least two of the bottom three over the last two weeks—Naime Adedapo and Haley Reinhart—improved their position, while young Thia Megia did everything the judges asked in performing the uptempo “Heat Wave,” and knowing the history of the Martha and the Vandellas song…though it still might not be enough.

Of the favorites—Jacob Lusk, Casey Adams, Lauren Alaina and Durbin did nothing to hurt their chances, though Pia Toscano perhaps decided to do one ballad too many. McCreery, with an unlikely, deep-voiced cover of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” and McDonald, strumming his guitar for his characteristically husky take on Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears,” both kept their lurking dark horse status intact.

PLAY BY PLAY
Casey Abrams is once again the unbashed crowd-pleaser, working the audience with a somewhat restrained—for him—version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” that earned him the first standing ovation of the night. “Harness that energy,” counseled mentor Jimmy Iovine. “Control, excitement and passion…that’s what makes great singers great.”

The judges remain enamored of Abrams, who just continues to lurk below the leaders. “You’re the perfect mix of crazy and out-of-control ego,” gushed Steven Tyler, who’d use the same compliments on Durbin, too. “People know who you are,” commented J. Lo, whose comments were particularly trenchant throughout the evening. “Is there anybody out there like you? I don’t think so. You can carve out a niche for yourself.” Randy simply marveled, “A trrue original. You can only do you and that you is great.” At the very least, he could be the next Michael McDonald, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thia Megia finally took the judges’ advice and loosened up for “Heat Wave,” leading Iovine to admit, “She did her homework. She had nothing but confidence in the studio. I was pleasantly surprised.” All three judges basically admitted the same thing, admiring the fact she took chances. “Now I need you to dig even deeper,” said J. Lo. “Now I know you’ve got it in you.” I would say the 16-year-old is in some degree of danger tomorrow night, unless her Asian-American voting bloc turns out in force.

Jacob Lusk proved once again he’s got the purest pipes in the room in tackling Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need,” earning the show’s only standing ovation from the judges. Iovine suggested restraint that he “grab the song, sing it, control it…and use the power when it’s justified,” which is just what he did. Steven Tyler was so moved he ran up to Jacob at the conclusion, and fans mobbed the stage to give him a hug afterward. Jacob applied some of his Lusky Skank to the version, and while the judges raved, it may be a little more difficult for him to galvanize the public. “The great Berry Gordy is somewhere going, ‘Oh my God,’” said Randy, who called it Lusk’s second best performance. “You held it back, you milked it, you did it,” offered Tyler. “You made us beg for those notes,” said J. Lo about holding back at the end.

Lauren Alaina solidified her favored status with a rollicking version of “You Keep Me Hanging On” that showed her preternatural ability to work the crowd in a floor-length tiger-striped gown. Iovine commented that Lauren was “stubborn and insecure, but I saw a lot of confidence and poise” in the studio. “You ripped that song another beauty mark,” said Tyler. “You don’t listen to anyone and I like that.” J. Lo liked her body language, “You threw your head and neck into it, and that’s what the song required.” “She’s got her swagger on high,” said Randy. “She’s ready.”

Stefano Langone sort of squandered the good will he gained last week with a rather tepid version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” which might leave the Wild Card winner threatened with removal tomorrow night. All three judges commented on his lack of “connection” with the audience. “You can definitely sing, but there was no real emotion,” said Randy. J. Lo was perceptive, noting, “I don’t want the intensity to come from you trying to do well, but from your heart breaking.” At this point, Randy asked if he had a relationship, then suggested he was having one with Ryan, which was a little weird.

Haley Reinhart might have saved herself with a bluesy, strutting take on “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” which Jimmy Iovine telling her, “You’ve got nothing to lose. Just go for it.” And she did, with her short skirt and Joss Stone by way of Janis Joplin roar, she won over all three judges. “By the middle of the song, the Haley we love, that bluesy girl with the attitude, has returned,” said Randy. “You don’t look a day over fabulous,” said Steven Tyler. “That’s the Holly I’ve been waiting for since I first saw you.” Added J. Lo: “You have that effortless control of your voice, which is perhaps the most soulful of all the girls.”

Scotty McCreery remains an audience favorite, and he sure looks like he’s ready to have a sausage named after him. He took on Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” and did what he had to do, completely making it his own. Not only that, but he was also shown swishing a basket from the balcony of the “Idol” mansion. “Last thing I want to come off as is a lounge singer,” said McCreery, but he doesn’t have to worry about that. Tyler compared him to Glen Campbell and Harry Nilsson. “You can’t make a three-point shot from under the net,” said the Aerosmith cracker barrel philosopher. “With those low notes, you tweak everybody.” J. Lo was in total agreement: “Everytime you hit that note at the end, you get me all over again.” “That’s a lady killer note,” nodded Randy. Although he remains a long shot, young McCreery just continues to impress. The kid idolized Elvis, and he could be following that same path from country to pop.

Pia Toscano may have slipped a little with yet another ballad, even though she proved her world-class voice with a stirring version of Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love is Fair.” Producer Harvey Mason Jr. noted that “There are no singers like her anymore,” while J. Lo compared her to Celine Dion. The judges all thought she should use a little more heart and a little less head. “I need you to start including that other part and dynamic,” said J. Lo. ‘That will take you over the top. We need to see it because we know it’s there.” “You hit the notes dead on,” said Randy. “But you can’t live by ballads alone. Give me even a mid-tempo.” Tyler was effusive, though. “You are the closest star in the ‘American Idol’ universe. Step out, put your sneakers on and kick some ass.” She’ll need to do that if she expects to go all the way.

A guitar-strumming Paul McDonald used his throaty, lived-in Rod Stewart croon to Smokey Robinson’s “The Track of My Tears” and once again owned the song. Randy thought he “took it to a cool place,” while Tyler compared him to Dylan and Willie Nelson. “You’re the most seasoned performer here,” said J. Lo. “You’re kind of the complete package. All you need is a producer and there you go.” With McCreery, he remains an intriguing long shot, just lurking outside the contenders.

Naime Adedapo, who always seems to be walking, or should we say dancing, on a tightrope, improved her chances to stay with a rousing “Dancing in the Street” that included a final dance number accompanied by a pair of African drummers. It was a game-saving performance that had Tyler chortling, “It was an ‘e’ to the ‘z’ tweedle-dee-dee,” or something like that. “You are an exotic performer,” said J. Lo, admitting her first goosebumps of the night. “You’re my mover, my share, my dancer up there, a little extra something.” Said Randy: “All of Naima showed up tonight… the African dancer, the one who loves reggae…” Was it enough to buy her another week? We’ll soon see.

James Durbin, in the 11-spot, the so-called pimp position, tackled Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and kept himself high on the list of contenders. Playing shamelessly to both camera and crowd, Durbin recovered from last week’s mishap, and established his role as a front-runner. “If he gets it right, this could be his moment in the sun,” said Iovine. “This is where Jagger, Plant and Tyler get their soul, their influence.” J. Lo said: “You are serious business up there. It’s just an incredible thing to watch. You leave me speechless.” Randy thought it was a little rough, but “when you finally hit your pocket, it was unbelievable.” Steven Tyler gave what, for him, was the highest praise: “Sometimes it takes a little bit of crazy to make it in the world. You nailed it.”

POWER RANKINGS

FAVORITES
1. Jacob Lusk: Love him or hate him, he will be someone to reckon with, and I don’t think he did anything tonight to move him from the top slot.

2. James Durbin: His “Living for the City” proved his range, and improved his standing. A crowd favorite who will definitely be a factor.

3. Casey Jacobs: Just keeps hanging around, with performances that are so compelling and unique, he could just spring an upset.

4. Lauren Alaina: Coming on strong, this crowd-pleaser should not be discounted, especially with her Christian and deep south following.

CONTENDERS
5. Pia Toscano: Beautiful voice, incredible poise, magnificent looks… but can she get away from the ballad stigma?

6. Scotty McCreery: Sure, he’s a one-trick pony, but it’s quite a trick, don’t you think?

DARK HORSES
7. Paul McDonald: He doesn’t seem the “Idol” type, but did previous winners Lee DeWyze or David Cook?

8. Naime Adedapo: Put herself back in the race with the African dancing, but she’s been skating on thin ice for awhile now.

9. Haley Reinhart: Plucky blues woman probably earned herself another round with this week’s performance.

NEXT TO GO?
10. Stefano Langone: Did himself no favors this week with a tepid “Hello.” A few more performances like that, and he could be on the endangered list.

11. Thia Megia: The amazingly composed 15-year-old is doing everything she can to answer the judges’ criticism, but even with her loyal voting bloc, her exit could be near.

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