American Idol contestants take on Motown; Top 10 to be decided

American Idol contestants tackle some of the greatest Motown hits in a last effort to secure a spot in the top 10. Jacob Lusk, James Durbin and Scotty McCreery deliver while Stefano Langone struggles.

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Judges Steven Tyler (l) and Randy Jackson, pose at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA on March 14.

Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez started the show off splendidly Wednesday evening. Jennifer's ethereal ensemble with matching eyeshadow made her look like a magical sequined creature while Steven waxed poetic when explaining how the Motown movement impacted him in his youth.

"It just made me wanna, you know, make out with girls back then. You know, it was the rhythm of the kiss," Tyler said.

With such pure, unadulterated, stream of consciousness, who wants to listen to singing? But Idol has an important job this week, to find their top ten contestants. These contestants will have the opportunity to go on tour this summer - assuming all of the dates aren't canceled this year considering last year's weak ticket sales.

Casey Abrams was the first contestant to tackle Motown, choosing Marvin Gaye's, "I Heard it through the Grapevine." Casey claimed he was comfortable with Motown and his performance demonstrated just how comfortable he was as he made his way into the audience and crowed to a young lady in the front row. Unlike last week, when Casey might have gone off the rails a tad, this week he focused on the restraint necessary to avoid losing the pitch. The result of his work was another quintessential Casey Abrams performance: great vocals, intense passion and just the right amount of quirkiness. Steven Tyler summed it up nicely when he said Casey was the perfect entertainer with the, "perfect pitch and perfect and perfect mix of crazy-ass out of control ego." To further enhance the ego Steven was referring to, Ryan inquired about the girl in the front who Casey was singing to. Well girls, her name is Megan and Casey describes her as a friend.

Thia Megia took the not so subtle hint last week that she was terrifically boring and people were snoozing during her performances, which is absolutely true, no matter how many Twitter followers she has. So, Thia took on "Heat Wave," by Martha and the Vandellas, in an attempt to show some pizazz. In the rehearsals, music producer Jimmy Iovine seemed very impressed with Thia, but experience has taught Idol viewers that mentors never say what they are really thinking. Gwen Stefani came the closest when, prior to Sanjaya Malakar rocking his faux-hawk and destroying her band's "Bathwater," she said, "I feel for him." But surprisingly enough, Thia really made a marked improvement. Her dress was adorable and she actually smiled a real smile as she performed. It almost seemed like she was having fun?! The judges gave compliments, but seemed to be choking on the tongues they had in their cheeks, which is a real source of frustration this season. Sure, we must embrace that Simon has left the building, but this show needs a dose of reality and everyone is too busy being nice and kind to tell these performers what they need to hear. JLo told her, "Part of performing is acting," which was Jennifer's nice way of saying, "You have no personality so fake one." Randy said, "I'm happy to see you move up a notch tonight with something different," in other words, "At least I was awake this week." Steven agreed with JLo and Randy and said, "Umm, just great. I'm good. I'm good with it." Compliments, indeed.

Jacob Lusk chose "You're All I Need to get By" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Jimmy Iovine said there was no one in the competition more natural to sing Motown than Jacob and Jacob agreed, confessing that he can't just sing a song that is fun, it has to mean something. Oh great. Thanks Jacob. Just take away all hope that someday you might perform something lighthearted rather than heaving your emotional innards onto the stage with a wail (albeit an in tune wail, but a wail nonetheless) of agony. But Jacob, like Casey, performed better this week by showing some restraint and even a bit of happiness while singing. The judges were just as happy about Jacob's restraint. Steven loved that Jacob held it back, Randy said it was perfect performance and Jennifer told Jacob that he made her beg for the notes this week, after which a stream of young ladies filed onto the stage to hug Jacob.

Lauren Alaina struggled to choose a Motown song but her vocal coach suggested "You Keep Me Hanging On" by The Supremes. This song is one of the most empowering female songs of the genre and it seemed to resonate for Lauren, who shared that some of the public's criticism of her has been hard to deal with and she is fighting to move past it. Jimmy Iovine, despite having some reservations a couple of weeks ago, felt confident in Lauren's performance this week - he picked the right week to be confident because Lauren Alaina owned the stage tonight, not just style-wise or performance-wise but vocally, as well. It was the closest we've seen of the Lauren who took our breath away during auditions. Steven said that "She ripped the song another beauty mark," and Jennifer loved Lauren's attitude. Randy told Ryan that Lauren had her swagger on high. Up, up and away, Lauren. Don't listen to the haters - your talent and personality are amazing.

Next up was Stefano Langone, who has been struggling to keep his eyes open this season. Stefano chose "Hello" by Lionel Ritchie and Jimmy Iovine told him straight out that he needs to let the emotion from the song build rather than jumping right into his corny mannerisms. Okay, okay . . . he didn't say corny mannerisms, but you all know that's what he was thinking. Well, try as Stefano might, he could not manage to keep his eyes open, which was almost forgivable because when he tries to keep them open he just ends up looking like he's straining really hard and it may have had something to do with why he sounded like an injured cat wailing in an alley. The judges seemed to disagree and said that Stefano sounded great. Ummm, hello? (Pun intended.) That sounded great? Oh boy, where is Simon when you need him? Simon would have told him that his phrasing of the song was ridiculous, as was the little - for lack of a better word - sneer that he made when singing the chorus. Simon would have pointed out that it is hard to connect to lyrics when you don't sing them right, "tell me how to win your heart because I haven't got the clue?" No, Stefano, it's "A" clue. You haven't got "a" clue. (Again, pun intended.)

After Stefano's performance, Ryan brought leftovers from a meal that Stefano's mother made for the contestants to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, who was in the audience. Gordon quipped that it was a good thing that Stefano could sing, suggesting he was never going to be a chef. Ryan, obviously out of practice with snide British sarcasm after Simon's departure, didn't seem to get the hint and he pushed Gordon to say more. Gordon grimaced at the food and said, "Umm, yeah . . . it's . . . fine." A close-up of Stefano's mother's embarrassment and hurt illustrated Idol at its worst, using senseless cruelty as entertainment value. Stefano's mother is not a contestant and never signed up to be judged. Shame on you, Idol.

Haley Reinhart's goal this week is to not be in the bottom three and she's hoping that Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold on me" is going to showcase how much she wants to be here. Jimmy Iovine told her that if she walked with as much confidence as she sang, she would win. Somehow that made Haley think it would be a good idea to start the song on a staircase in 5 inch heels. Watching Haley navigate the stairs in her shoes was a harrowing experience and she seemed to teeter vocally, as well. Haley's got a real style to her voice that just hasn't been matched with the right song yet. Her guttural notes are delightful, but they never quite fit with her song choices. Wednesday night was an improvement and the judges enjoyed her performance, with Jennifer saying she has the most soulful voice of all the girl contestants.

Scotty McCreery worked with the record producers to add a country twang to Stevie Wonder's version of "For Once in My Life." Waiting to hear Scotty take on Motown was as nerve-wracking as waiting for Adam Lambert to take on country. Well, though some may disagree, Adam pulled it off and Scotty did the same thing Wednesday night. He really loosened up on the stage and while everything out of Scotty's mouth inevitably sounds country, there seemed to be something about choosing another genre that freed him up this week. He moved easier, he wore a brighter expression and vocally, he was spot on. His finest moment was the end of the song, when he hit a particularly low note and grinned at the camera. Wow, who knew someone who looked so much like Howdy Doody could be so sexy? Though Randy and JLo said it wasn't Scotty's strongest vocal, they enjoyed the performance, especially the "young lady-killer" low note.

Obviously Pia Toscano hasn't been reading this blog. If she had been, she would have known that Stevie Wonder music is considered a major no-no. But Pia is riding high lately and the judges have made her think she can do no wrong. One might even go so far as to say that they have made her believe she is better than she really is. This week, the music producers only continued the charade, saying that there aren't singers like Pia anymore. Come on, Idol - let's exercise some of that restraint you're always hounding the contestants about. They can't all be superstars! Pia chose "All in Love is Fair," because what we really needed to hear from Pia was another ballad. We've never seen her stand rooted to one spot and belt out her notes . . . oh no, wait, this is all Pia has done. Of course she looked beautiful and hit every note, but suspicions that she may be a one-trick pony are starting to develop. Finally, the judges decided to give her a tiny dose of reality. Jennifer said she needs to learn how to control the stage. Randy griped about another ballad. Steven said that he believes Pia can step out, put some sneakers on and kick some ass. He also said it was beautiful, an adjective that he has used for almost every performance thus far.

Paul McDonald claims that Motown is good for the soul and announced that he would be singing "Tracks of my Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It was amazing to see how, with a guitar in his hand, Paul is so much more grounded; his movements become more concentrated and deliberate and one can really bask in the pleasure of his unique voice. Jimmy Iovine said that the uniqueness of Paul's voice was so rare and such a gift, a theme that Steven picked up on, comparing Paul to Bob Dylan and Wille Nelson. The rock-folk version of the song really suited Paul and Randy stole my thoughts when he said that the really wonderful part of the song was the final verse that Paul delivered with such tenderness. Paul McDonald was good for my soul this week.

Naima Adedapo chose "Dancing in the Streets" by Martha and the Vandellas. It seems that the song spoke to Naima and she wanted to try and add African dance to her performance. It was an odd choice considering that, for the last few weeks, Naima has gotten so absorbed in her performances that she has lost her vocal control. The good news is that the African dancing did not affect her pitch this week. The bad news is that her pitch was off from the start of the song. It was another disjointed, erratic performance from Naima and there's a very good chance that she may have just missed out on the top ten. The judges, of course, said that she was great and no one mentioned the pitch issues, instead they really focused on her dancing. This is, however, a singing competition and to use one of Simon's favorite terms, Naima's performance tonight was just incredibly indulgent.

James Durbin chose "Livin' for the City." Another Stevie Wonder song! Ugh. Although Wednesday night's performance was almost enough to change my opinion about Stevie Wonder and James Durbin. Even with James's excellent "Baby, I'm Amazed" performance, he never looked like a potential winner of Idol. Wednesday changed that. James owned the stage and played to the crowds with such confidence and ease that one might have thought him a seasoned performer. Jennifer and Steven had only good things to say. Randy complained about some problems in the early part of the song, but said that James pulled it all together by the end.

On that note, let's pull Wednesday evening all together. It's time for your favorite blogger's predictions:

The bottom three this week:

  • Naima Adedapo
  • Stefano Langone
  • Haley Reinhart

The person who will just miss the top ten? This is a tough one to call, but let's go with Stefano Langone. Although it's possible that people will feel bad about Ryan and Gordon being mean to his mother, in which case Naima will be the one to go.

Be sure to check in on Friday to see if your favorite made the top ten.

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