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Welcome the six boys and seven girls who made it (three with help) through the first round of audience voting. This is the first night of maybe their last night being a finalist. Multitudes of screaming fans fill the seats surrounding the stage both high behind and low in front opening the show with a sports wave all around. Once again the show is pre-taped, not LIVE, as we had come to expect from seasons past, so there shouldn’t be any awkward moments unless producers want us to see and/or hear them.
Ryan: Welcome to the Party! THIS is American Idol!
Randy, JLo and Steven, all wearing various takes on black and white, glide across the stage to the judges table. I guess they thought formal wear appropriate for the opening night of Finals. Is there a new announcer this year? He sounds like someone who would narrate documentaries. Anyway, JLo must have a clause in her contract that says Ryan must hype her career projects at least once a show, because he points out that her single is number 1 on itunes. What is the name again? heee.
With a grand gesture, Ryan presents the Top 13 as a group and they pile out from backstage to line up for their share of screaming applause in the order they will sing. No one is introduced by name and Ryan quickly hustles them off stage.
There is a Theme tonight, oh, yes there is. Choose A Song By Your Personal Idol doesn’t lock the contestants into a particular genre or style of singing so they can showcase where they already know they fit in the musical spectrum. I counted at least four, maybe five different genres highlighted tonight with the most popular being Country sung by three of the 13.
This is the first week contestants will work with mentor, Jimmy Iovine and his Grammy Award winning record producers. Each singer and producer works hard to perfect the 1:40 minute song and stage presentation. So with introductions and opening blah-blah over, let’s start the show.
Lauren Alaina – Any Man of Mine (Shania Twain)
Lauren chose Shania because she was the first artist to mix country and pop as one musical genre. “Shania Twain is a country music diva and hopefully, one day, I will be, too.” Her mentor, Don Wes, thinks she has IT. Does she?
Showing some of her personality while wearing skinny jeans covered by a fluffy short dress, she paces the stage, singing the song pretty much straight up, but she doesn’t command and finishes her performance with a shy, “Thank you.”
Expecting to hear nothing but praise, her face shows disappointed hurt when she hears the first comment from:
Steven: I love that song but I wish it had been just a little more kick ass. I love your voice.
JLo: You always sound so amazing. We really want you to kick it into high gear. This is IT. The competition starts today.
Randy: You sang it well, but I guess what we were hoping for is that girl we first saw. We wanted America to see more of that. Your voice is so big, you can sing anything.
Ryan consoles Lauren with the words, constructive criticism. Though how much they sink through to a 16 year old we will have to wait and see…if she makes it through.
Casey Abrams – With A Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles) The Joe Cocker inspired version
Joe Cocker has that gravel in his voice and he doesn’t look that hot, either; and Casey thinks he has inspired that look for him. At dress rehearsal, Jimmy Iovine wants him to let the audience see and feel the physicality of the song. “You can’t sing like that and be casual.”
Casey opens seated on the long stairs and goes for an intimate feeling. When he begins the phrase, “I get by…,” he walks down to be joined by twelve back-up singers – his friends. Yes, Casey, I get your “hit me over the head” reference, dude. With their help he rocks and growls it to the finish and gets judge applause for his effort.
JLo: I go by what I feel – notes, pitch, whatever – it doesn’t matter. At one point I grabbed Randy and said, “What an I watching right now?” I’m watching somebody important; blew me away.
Randy: I’m always excited to see what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it. You are so exciting. You hit all the notes, always. I loved it.
Steven: You’re a rainbow of talent, man; you are a plethora of passion. You came to do what you wanted to do and you did it.
(Wildcard) Ashthon Jones – When You Tell Me That You Love Me (Diana Ross)
Diana Ross has had a big career. She can’t wait to sing Diana’s song. Her mentor, Rodney Jerkins, takes her to high notes she has never sung before. He tells her to “open it up” which to me she should have done for all the notes, not just the high ones. However, Jimmy was excited after watching her dress rehearsal and invited Barry Gordy from Motown Records to hear her audience performance.
In a long, sleek silver gown, she doesn’t move around the stage much because she wants to show her soft, elegant side.
Randy: Yo! I liked it. (He points out Barry in the audience seated next to Jimmy.) It seemed like a safe move, but I saw you grow a little more as a singer. You paid attention to the notes. You pulled any flat or sharps back in with a vibrato. I liked it.
Steven: I agree with Randy. I think there is a lot more in there than you’re showing, but you’re going to because I’ve got confidence in you.
JLo: You are so elegant up there and we are seeing what a real professional you are already. There were times when it was getting away from you and you pulled it back in. You kept your composure. You’re amazing, you’re awesome.
Paul McDonald – Come Pick Me Up (Ryan Adams)
Slotted into the Alt. music genre, Paul wants to be an artist like Ryan Adams. Also working with Don Wes, who has had experience producing in that genre, Paul says it was cool working and vibing off of him. Jimmy tells him that he has to nail the chorus.
Jimmy: Paul’s a voice that Idol has needed for a long time – understated, powerful rasp.
He starts off in a range low enough to be a whisper and wearing skinny jeans and pointed toe boots, he hits the bridge to chorus, sliding and skipping all over the stage in a weird dance.
Steven: `I love the rasp in your voice. A little pitchy; be careful next time. Find a song where the chorus is in your key. Nail it next time. I love your voice, man.
JLo: I watched the audience members when you moved and they were smiling. You’re so unique, I hope America gets it. I really think that you’re great.
Randy: Yo; let me say that after Rod Stewart last week, it probably wasn’t the most exciting thing for people, but I love the character for who you are. I’m a huge fan and I hope America gets it. You’re different and I love you for the show.
Pia Toscano – All By Myself (Celine Dion)
She gets to sit on a stool in front of the Coke Ad with Ryan so she can dish on all of the contestants living together in a mansion. Pia: It’s a big house.
Pia loves Celine because she is very family oriented as is Pia. She can connect with the emotional song and with rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal (instilled by her dad) she is ready to take it on.
She works with Ron Fair to get it just right. Jimmy tells her to sing it just like she did in the recording studio and she’s home.
Also dressed in a sleek silver gown though short in the front and long in the back, she starts soft and builds to Celine range as she repeats the tag line with upper range notes over and over again. She held one note in the stratosphere long enough to make the crowd wild with cheers.
JLo: We love you Pia. A lot of people were thinking…what you were going to do to top last week – there it is. Really, really beautiful.
Randy: Yo; in ten years we have always told people to steer clear of the Mariahs, Whitneys and Celines, but you hit the notes dead on without even thinking about them. You have such a natural gift, that I am in awe. Dude, that was hot, dope.
Steven: That was the sum total of all the work you’ve done up to now; polish that apple. Happy International Women’s Day today, by the way (yes, it is… Google made it official by honoring it with a graphic in their name.) You just slammed it; that was beautiful.
James Durbin – Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
James got a shave and a haircut – 10 cents! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) He also lost the scarf tail hanging down his backside. I guess he doesn’t feel the need to stand out so much this week.
Paul McCartney is his idol because he is so versatile. He looks up to Paul for being one of the greatest musicians, writers and singers that there’s ever been and there ever will be; and he hopes he can get that way as well.
He meets with Jim Jonsin in the studio and, with Jimmy looking on, they take the song in a direction that combines visions of Paul, Jim and James.
Jimmy Iovine: Here’s the great thing about American Idol this year. There’s so many diverse voices you can hear. A voice like James could finally get heard which is very difficult in the record business. I didn’t even know there were people out there singing like that.
James takes the stage and the song to his upper register then moves into a hip hop beat for the middle and ends it soft and sweet.
Randy: YO! James – you are one of my favorites in this whole thing and I’m going to tell you why…I love the kind of voices that can sing anything. Last week you rocked Judas Priest, and now you sing Paul McCartney and slay it. Dawg, dude – you showed a sensitive side with the falsetto and all. I’m going…this dude can do anything. James Durbin is dangerous, America. This man can sing!
Steven: James, you have taken everything you learned and kicked it into next week. You did such a good job.
JLo: Seriously get used to the applause because you have such a quality; you have what the greatest rock singers have – a melodic quality. It’s just everything.
Haley Reinhart – Blue (LeAnn Rimes version)
Another aspirant to Country stardom, Haley takes on young country star, LeAnn Rimes, with a cover of a Patsy Cline classic including the trademark yodel on opening word, Blue.
The song takes her back to her childhood where she started singing when she was eight. She worked with Rock Mafia – a duo who pushed her out of her comfort zone and she pushed back with a great vocal, according to them. They think she can re-invent a nostalgia record. Jimmy tells her she sings the difficult song so convincingly, so powerfully.
In a strapless blue gown, she takes on the torch song with a bit of gravel to finish it off.
Steven: That was beautiful. If you listen real close you can hear Country-Western America roaring how great that was. So, so fine. Thank you very much.
JLo: You, more than anyone in the competition, do things with your voice that are so diverse; a really, really special voice.
Randy: The good part is that last week you do Alicia Keyes and you do LeAnn Rimes. I like that you can do anything. But, for me, it was a little boring.
Jacob Lusk – I Believe I Can Fly (R. Kelly)
He also gets to sit with Ryan onstage in front of the Coke Ad and they talk about him being a spa concierge. He misses the people, but not his job.
R. Kelly is one of his favorite singers of all time. He meets with Rodney Jerkins and Jimmy in the studio. He sang a lot of songs, but connected with this one from the closing credits of the movie, Space Jam.
Jimmy Iovine: Jacob has a real gift and there is only one way you can get that gift – you are born with it. He reminds Jacob to breathe during his performance.
Even Jacob’s soft start sounds powerful and when he moves into the bridge, he draws out the twelve back-up singers, this time dressed in choir robes, to reinforce his gospel voice. (Another “hit me over the head” moment.) He ends in a power falsetto which brings cheering Whoas! from the audience.
Steven: Pure passion, pure music; I can’t even judge you, that’s how good you are, man.
JLo: It is very hard to judge you, Jacob, because you make us feel so much when you sing because you feel so much when you sing. It’s anybody’s game. That’s how good everyone is this year.
Randy: When you start, you have such a signature sound and that’s what singing is about. You kind of lost it in the middle, but by the end – unbelievable. I love you; I’m excited every time you hit the stage.
Thia Megia – Smile (Michael Jackson)
Randy said last week that her tone reminded him of Michael Jackson, which is maybe why Michael is her idol. Working with Ron Fair, she discovers that the song, “Smile”, goes back to Charlie Chaplin, who made movies during the Great Depression. Jimmy tells her that he wants the beginning to be soft and more intimate.
Jimmy Iovine: If she feels her spot and ignores everybody else, I think she is going to pull off a magic thing tonight.
In a long chiffon gown of white/gray, she does start off with intimacy then the beat kicks in and she moves up register to add riffs.
Randy: I loved the intro with guitar. It was so beautiful. It got a little pitchy when you started with the band with the jazzy arrangement; but all in all, it turned out to be good. I loved the beginning more than the end for me.
Steven: I gotta agree. A little pitchy there in the middle, but you are so new and young and you sing so good. You have such a great future in front of you. I liked the front more than the end.
JLo: The beginning of it reminded me of what you did last week a little bit. Obliviously that’s where your strength is. I did like seeing you move. It doesn’t matter – you sing like an angel.
(Wildcard) Stefano Langone – Lately (Stevie Wonder)
He chose Stevie Wonder as his idol just because of the way he has carried himself throughout his career. He chose the song because it tells a story and that is what music is about. He and mentor, Polow DaDon, bond and when Jimmy enters the studio he tells Stefano that he is glad he is here because he belongs in this thing.
Jimmy Iovine: No one in America knows how well you sing yet, but they’re going to find out.
Stefano opens soft and low with piano then, as in most every other performance, the band chimes in, though this time with a dance beat that helps him frame the song and where he can build it to an ending riff.
Steven: You pulled it off. It built from beginning to end. By the end it was like a volcano – that was beautiful. The arrangement – double time in the middle – you pulled it off; beautiful.
JLo: You had me dancing there for a minute. It’s not easy to take a known ballad and do the dance re-mix. It wasn’t just a re-mix, it was you and that is what I loved about it.
Randy: It started off rocky for me, but you slayed it. By the middle of the song, you were soaring, dude; very nicely done.
Karen Rodriguez – I Could Fall In Love (Selena)
Selena is the reason she is a singer. Actually, she has been Selena obsessed since childhood. When Jim Jonsin played her track back in the studio, she discovered that it was edgier than Selena; a little more R&B, a little more Beyonce.
Jimmy Iovine: Don’t over sing during dress – save your voice.
Dressed in a Selena/JLo inspired dress, she also starts low and moves in and out of soft and loud taking a high run before ending soft.
JLo: I could tell you were a little bit uncomfortable with the lower end and higher end notes. You’re one of our strongest girls so I hope you make it to the next week.
Randy: I gotta agree. It felt like you were fighting the song. It was a little sleepy for me. It didn’t quite come off for me tonight.
Steven: I feel the same way. The energy it took to ramp up to how you ended the song was just lacking a little bit.
Scotty McCreery – The River (Garth Brooks)
Sitting with Ryan in front of the Coke Ad, he talks about his second love – baseball. He gives a shout out to his high school team, who he misses terribly.
Scotty thinks the best way to show off Country is to sing a Garth Brook’s classic and hopes he does it justice. He loves working with Don Wes because Don knows what he is talking about having worked with Garth and others in the business. Coming from North Carolina, Scotty says you have to be country music, you can’t just sing it.
Don: The great Country singers are story tellers and Scotty knows how to naturally do that.
Jimmy Iovine: You might step out a little bit, try something else?
Scotty: I might step out and change it up a little bit, but for the most part I want to stay true to me.
Wearing a western cut shirt and jeans, he sings in front of a scenic river background. The audience claps along with the beat.
Randy: YO! Scotty! I like seeing you and Jimmy talk about switching up, trying something different and I love your answer, man. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I love it, don’t change it; and I think a lot of people like me love it too.
Steven: You did the Garth justice. You’re riding high – right on.
JLo: What I loved is I saw you open up as a performer. I felt you embrace the audience and bring us into your performance. I love listening to your voice. You sing County, but now you are taking us on the ride with you.
(Wildcard) Naima Adedapo – Umbrella (Rhianna)
Ryan reminds us that not that long ago Naima was sweeping the floors of a music festival, but tonight she hits the big time (AKA the PIMP spot.)
She truly respects and admires Rhianna and discovers that her mentor, Tricky, produced the song,“Umbrella” and he’s going to let her put a little bit of Naima in it. He wants to keep it hot, but put a little twist to it.
Jimmy Iovine: Last week I was scared to death for Naima, but the way she’s doing right now, she could go right to the top five.
Dressed in colorful grunge, she sings against a back drop of streaky rain. A Reggae type beat moves her around the stage. The middle winds up into a rap and then dissolves back to Reggae. Thunder and lightening effects take her to the end.
Steven: You’re crazy good, I love you. A little pitchy, but maybe you couldn’t hear the key. But, you brought flavor tonight that no on else has done and I adore you for that.
JLo: I don’t care about all the pitchy, you got fire, girl! You’re doing like a real recording artist with a record out there does it. You need to work on control, but other than that, I’m glad you came out and did what you did.
Randy: I differ a little bit with Jennifer. I do care about the pitchiness; but she is right in that you have to have control when dancing so you can keep the breaths in place and the notes in tune…also the cut-offs – I was more concerned about those. I loved the whole Reggae thing – give me more of that.
All right! The Top 13 have now performed. How did your votes affect the outcome? Check in with MsFroggy to find out how it all goes down. Oh, you also get a song from Adam Lambert. Results show coming up Thursday night.