The top 13 "American Idol" contestants performed songs by their favorite artists Wednesday night. We saw footage of them working with music producers while preparing their performances.
Who stood out? I ranked Casey Abrams and Pia Toscano as the night's best singers -- not too much of a surprise, since they were the standout singers last week as well.
Here are my rankings (best to worst); share your picks in the comments section.
1. Casey Abrams, "With a Little Help From My Friends"
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2. Pia Toscano, "All By Myself"
3. James Durbin, "Maybe I'm Amazed"
4. Scotty McCreery, "The River"
5. Naima Adedapo, "Umbrella"
6. Haley Reinhart, "Blue"
7. Jacob Lusk, "I Believe I Can Fly"
8. Paul McDonald, "Come Pick Me Up"
9. Lauren Alaina, "Any Man of Mine"
10. Stefano Langone, "Lately"
11. Thia Megia, "Smile"
12. Ashthon Jones, "When You Tell Me That You Love Me"
13. Karen Rodriguez, "I Could Fall in Love"
Thursday's performance show airs 8-9 p.m. on Fox. Thursday's episode features performances by Adam Lambert and Diddy-Dirty Money with Skylar Grey. Here's a full recap of the performance show:
Lauren Alaina, "Any Man of Mine" by Shania Twain
This is the second week in a row that Lauren has really played it safe. She has a strong voice, but seems to value a song's energy more than its ability to showcase her voice. I'd mainly describe this performance as "fun." It's fine and she clearly has a fan base. However, I'm not sure if she's entered "artist" territory yet. She didn't do much to make it her own.
Steven: "I love that song, but I wish it would have been just a little bit more kick-ass."
Jennifer: Tells her to kick it up a little
Randy: Says she should sing something that lets her "shine beyond belief."
Casey Abrams, "With a Little Help From My Friends," Joe Cocker version
Casey demonstrates what was missing from Lauren's performance. He has tons of emotion and adds elements of his own artistry to the song. I'm entertained. Plus, Casey is pretty solid vocally, too. I'm still not sure where he fits in the musical landscape, but for now I'll enjoy temporary membership in Team Casey.
Jennifer: "Wow...Blew me away."
Randy: "You hit all the notes, always."
Steven: "You are a rainbow of talent, man."
Ashthon Jones, "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" by Diana Ross
Probably the worst song choice so far. For somebody who barely made it into the Top 13, she should have picked a better-known song tonight -- maybe a fast tune. Yawn. I'm not an Ashthon fan, and this performance doesn't do anything to change my mind. It just seems like she's trying too hard. Not impressed. Move along.
Randy: "I actually liked it...I think you actually did yourself some good with that."
Steven: "I've got confidence in you."
Jennifer: "We are seeing what a professional you are already." Tells her to pick better-known songs.
Paul McDonald, "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams
Another quirky song choice. But Paul gets away with it better than Asthon, thanks to his quirky personality. The beginning of the song is a little rough, but it grows on me. And of course, we're treated to Paul's manic dance moves. I'm a fan. As I've said in the past, he looks like he's genuinely having fun -- which is rare on "Idol." Plus, he's an Auburn University alum. War Eagle!
Steven: "A little pitchy...I love your voice, man."
Jennifer: "You're just so unique...I hope America gets it." Says she doesn't know the song.
Randy: "I love who Paul is and I love Ryan Adams."
Pia Toscano, "All By Myself," Celine Dion version
Pia has a great voice and from what we've seen so far, she seems pretty consistent. That said, she's going to run into problems if she keeps choosing ballads. Big notes alone can only get you so far. Personality-wise, she still seems a little cold. And these adult contemporary ballads aren't doing much to prove her marketability as a young artist.
Jennifer: "We love you, Pia."
Randy: "I'm in awe every time...Very hot, dope, cool performance."
Steven: "Happy International Women's Day." Hmm...
James Durbin, "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
I was never a die-hard Durbin fan, but he's really impressed me lately. This week is no exception. He tones down the heavy metal screaming and delivers a nice performance that even exudes some emotion at times. Like Casey, I'm not exactly sure where James would fit in the current music landscape. At least he's taking some risks, though.
Randy: "You're one of my favorites in this whole thing."
Steven: "You did such a good job."
Jennifer: "You have such a quality...You can really actually sing."
Haley Reinhart, "Blue," Leann Rimes version
The song's opening is a bit rough, but eventually Haley gets into her groove. I'm sure plenty of people will hate this performance, thanks to Haley's awkward facial expressions. Yes, she often tries a bit too hard to be sexy. Still, would you hate me if I admitted I like Haley? I think she's unique, and fortunately lacks the pageant vibe that characterizes many women this season.
Steven: "That was beautiful."
Jennifer: "You really do really special things...Good job tonight."
Randy: "I like that you can do anything...For me, it was a little boring."
Jacob Lusk, "I Believe I Can Fly," by R. Kelly
Groan. I'd be OK if this song was permanently banned from "Idol." Too bad that won't happen. This performance is classic Jacob, tons of big notes and emotion. He struggles a bit on the early verses, but redeems himself on the chorus. The gospel choir doesn't hurt, either. I won't argue against Jacob's powerful voice, but I still worry that "Idol" might not be the best avenue for his talent. It seems like he's trying too hard to have a "moment."
Steven: "Pure passion, pure music."
Randy: "I love you."
Thia Megia, "Smile," Michael Jackson version
When somebody tells Thia that Charlie Chaplin originally composed this song, she calls him "Charlie Chapman." Haha. Thia starts the song in ballad mode, then gets a jazz accompaniment as the tune progresses. It's just OK. Thia's very similar to Pia because she has a strong voice, but relatively little personality. She just seems so serious all the time.
Randy: "I loved the intro...it got a little pitchy in spots."
Steven: "I liked it all in all."
Jennifer: "You sing like an angel."
Stefano Langone, "Lately" by Stevie Wonder
Oh man. This performance would have been OK...if Stefano hadn't opted for the dance floor remix of "Lately." Seriously. There's an awkward techno beat in the background and I really can't take the performance seriously. Stefano's voice is fine; he just seems a little bland. I sense an early elimination.
Steven: "You pulled it off...That was beautiful."
Jennifer: "You sounded great."
Randy: "You slayed it...Very nicely done."
Karen Rodriguez, "I Could Fall in Love" by Selena
Welcome back to pageant land. This is very similar to Karen's performance of "Hero" that we saw last week. Boring. Plus, Karen's vocals are totally off tonight. I'd label her one of the night's weakest singers. She adds absolutely nothing new to the song. Yawn.
Jennifer: "It was just not like you...but you're one of our strongest girls."
Randy: "It felt like you were kind of fighting the song...It was a little sleepy for me."
Steven: "I know you can sing so much better."
Scotty McCreery, "The River" by Garth Brooks
Unlike "I Believe I Can Fly," this is an inspirational song I actually enjoy. Go ahead and judge. Here's something else to judge: I really like Scotty. He knows his musical identity and doesn't get too flashy. He does a great job with this tune. It's also nice that he doesn't go on stage always expecting to have the elusive Moment. Well done.
Randy: "This is exactly where you belong."
Steven: "You did The Garth justice."
Jennifer: "You sing the country songs right spot on."
Naima Adedapo, "Umbrella" by Rihanna
Naima demonstrates some pretty funky dance moves and -- wow! -- she even busts out a reggae rap in the middle of the song. However, "Umbrella" isn't exactly a singer's song. It doesn't do much to showcase her vocals. I guess it mainly served to highlight Naima's performance skills, which really isn't a bad thing.
Steven: "You're crazy good...I love you."
Jennifer: "You got fire, girl...You need to work on the control."
Randy: "I love the whole reggae thing."