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American Idol Top 12: Downloads to help Japan

American Idol announced Wednesday that they will contribute to the relief efforts in Japan. Meanwhile, American Idol contestants Haley Reinhart, Naima Adedapo, and Thia Megia struggled. Will one of them go home tonight?

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American Idol judge Steven Tyler poses at the American Idol Finalists Party in Los Angeles on March 3.

Chris Pizzello/AP

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This week, American Idol gave back early. In response to the devastating disaster in Japan, American Idol is donating 100 precent of the proceeds from the music downloads of Wednesday's performances to The Red Cross. Thursday night, Idol will give viewers details on how to donate additional monies by text messages.

The performances available for this download will be songs from the contestant's year of birth. Apparently, it isn't hard enough for viewers to hear contestants say things like, "I have been watching this show since I was seven," or "I have never even heard a Beatles' song."

No, American Idol needs to make sure they drive their message home loud and clear: "Our contestants are young with their entire lives ahead of them and they are living their dream. You, on the other hand are old and sitting in front of the TV." Perhaps that's why we tune in to watch them get voted off one-by-one?

Of course, Wednesday night it was evident that some of them deserve to go home.

Such was the case for the second week in a row with Naima Adedapo. Naima chose to perform Tina Turner's 1984 hit, "What's Love Got to do with it." Like last week, she struggled with the pitch and the dance moves. While people poke fun at Paul McDonald's unique movements, Naima is certainly giving him a run for his money. Has no one else noticed her very distinctive stagger? (Yes, stagger - not swagger.) Steven Tyler said she had, "a sorcerer's grasp of melody." But Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson said she was consistently "pitchy" throughout both weeks.

Next up was Paul McDonald, also born in 1984. Paul decided to perform Elton John's, "I Guess that's why they Call it the Blues." In the video clip, record producer Jimmy Iovine could be heard telling Paul that he was a musician who was made to sing his own original songs. (Anyone who has listened to his band The Grand Magnolias - knows this is true.) But after rehearsals, Jimmy corrected himself saying that Paul was obviously born to sing his own music and music by Elton John. This week, Paul was struggling with a cold and his usually crystal clear voice was a bit raspy and he struggled to hit notes that in the past have seemed like second nature to him. But the judges (and me) still loved Paul's performance. Steven described him as "a cool dude in a loose mood," and Randy loved that Paul makes the songs his own.

It was a decidedly low blow when Ryan Seacrest announced that Thia Megia would be singing Vanessa Williams, "Colors of the Wind" from 1995. 1995?! If that wasn't hard enough to hear, Thia made it difficult to watch by trying to show some personality in her interview. It was sad because conveying personality is obviously something that Thia struggles with and her smile only made things worse, especially when she started singing. "Colors of the Wind," an Oscar-winning song from a 1995 Disney movie that conjures powerful images of Pocahontas standing majestically on a cliff's edge, her dark hair buffeted by the same wind of which she sings. It is a song about our environment and the delicate balance of nature, not a song to be sung with a pageant-like smile. Thia continued the pageant theme when Steven asked her if that song demonstrated who she thinks she is and she gave an interesting response, "Ummm, I - I thought it suited perfect with what, what you know, is going on in the world today so I thought the lyrics suited very perfectly with the, you know, but it was 1995, I thought it was the best song out of all the choices that I had." Yeah, stick with the 1995 excuse, Thia.

James Durbin. Oh, James Durbin. How he toys with our emotions. Last week, he made all the naysayers stand up and take notice. He took on a song with depth and emotion and performed it with restraint and some of his best vocals to date. Wednesday night, choosing Bon Jovi's 1989 hit, "I'll be there for you," he took a major step back. Despite the judge's exuberance, James just didn't do himself or Jon Bon (as Randy so intimately refers to him) any justice. Randy said there were pitch problems but James made it his own. (Being "pitchy" is apparently only bad when you are being "pitchy" like someone else.) Steven Tyler warned James not to get "too poppy" on him and James answered that he was saving Aerosmith for the finale. What is more annoying? The re-emergence of James's arrogance or the fact that he and Steven act as though Aerosmith is alternative indie music?

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Next up was Haley Reinhart, who is one of those contestants who has the potential to deliver a great vocal but somehow keeps missing the mark. She sang the 1990 hit, "I'm your Baby Tonight," by Whitney Houston. Haley's performance was like her lipstick; it had the potential to be beautiful, but it just missed the intended target. (Ryan helped clean it off her face after she sang . . . the lipstick, not the performance.) JLo continued to complain about Haley's unnatural movements on stage and Randy admitted to being confused, saying he didn't know who Haley was because of her variance in song choices. This is a weak argument; If Randy had enjoyed Haley's performances, he would have dubbed her versatile, instead, he insists she doesn't know who she is. Steven suggested that Haley take advantage of her "sweet and tough" vocals and tackle more blues. Finally, a sage comment by Mr. Tyler. But will Haley get a chance to sing the blues after this week?

Too bad Haley wasn't born a year earlier in 1989, then she could have sung, "If You Don't Know me by Now," by Simply Red. Instead it was Stefano Langone who tackled the song. Stefano is a male version of Pia. In other words, he is overrated. After his performance, Randy claimed it was the best performance of the night and Jennifer suggested that Stefano could win the whole thing if he could sing with his eyes opened. Sorry Jen, closing his eyes is the least of Danza's, er Langone's, problems. His voice is average, his looks are run-of-the-mill cute, and his mannerisms are corny.

Speaking of Pia Toscano being overrated, she sang, "Where do Broken Hearts Go," a 1988 Whitney Houston classic and the judges raved about her amazing and consistent vocals. Okay, Pia is consistent but amazing is stretching things. This week she dedicated her song to her late grandfather (You know you want to roll your eyes with me.) Jennifer was happy she chose an up-tempo song over a ballad (For JLo to call that song up tempo, you can only imagine what snoozers Pia chose on previous weeks) and the tempo wasn't the only thing Pia changed. Rather than looking like her typical, stunning self, Wednesday night she opted for a completely unflattering outfit that could only be described as a designer Ghostbusters uniform.

Thank goodness Scotty McCreery was next. Sometimes viewers don't want newfangled. Sometimes viewers just want a nice slice of American Pie. Scotty is American Pie, except this time it was apple pie with a nice surprise slice of cheddar on top. Scotty was traditional (He took on the Travis Tritt song, "Can I Trust you with my Heart," from 1993.) but he added a new complimentary flavor by pushing himself to go a little further with his vocals, which did not go unnoticed by Jennifer, who encouraged Scotty to keep learning and growing.

Karen Rodgriguez definitely fared better with the 1989 "Love will Lead you Back," by Taylor Dane than she did last week. But she still paled in comparison to some of her earlier performances. Even the Spanish lyrics halfway through did not hold the same kind of allure they did in the past. Randy said she started rough but found her pitch by the chorus, and was better than last week, while Steven appreciated her "Ethnic what it is-ness." JLo encouraged her to play to her strengths and to never be pressured to hit a note she can't hit. "If your nervous about certain notes then don't go there, never expose your weaknesses . . .if it's not all the way there . . .then change [it]." (Note the absence of snide commentary here; restraint can be a powerful tool in a writer's arsenal.)

Casey Abrams shrugged off the question of whether tackling Nirvana's, 1991 hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," was too big of a risk. Casey was obviously feeling better this week since he put quite a lot of feeling into his risky performance. Nirvana has never been covered on the Idol stage in the past and Casey seemed, at one point, to be possessed by his outrageous song selection, growling and thrashing like a grizzly. Typically, Casey masterfully dances between crazy good and just plain crazy but this time his toe went over the line. Randy, unable to claim he'd worked with Nirvana, said something silly about art versus commerce and Jennifer said that Casey sounded a little screechy. Aye, Ms. Lopez is correct in her assessment . . . but Casey is still our hero.

Like Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alaina has not been living up to her potential. Lauren desperately needed to show the country why people thought she could win the whole thing because she won't be able to get by on cuteness for much longer. When they announced she was singing, "I'm the Only One," by Melissa Ethridge circa 1994, hope was alive. When she announced she had the flu, the hope crashed to the floor. Stil, some of her notes reminded viewers of what makes Alaina so special and while the performance was not the highlight of her Idol career, it was definitely a step in the right direction. Jennifer loved that Lauren made it her own by adding a little country and Randy announced that Lauren was back. Let's hope she's here to stay.

Jacob Lusk sang the 1987 "Alone," by Heart. Randy said it was a nice performance and Steven said that "Gospel had a baby and named it Jacob Lusk." As illuminating as that is, it was Jennifer Lopez's comment that summed up Jacob. When she said that Jacob "gives himself to every performance," she was spot on. This "giving of oneself': to every performance isn't necessarily always a good thing; let's face it - watching Jacob Lusk sing is exhausting! This man can't possibly feel this passionate about every song. Sometimes simple is better and there is nothing simple about Jacob. The vocal acrobatics and drama that infuse every performance is becoming predictable. Jacob needs to surprise us with a performance like James Durbin's "Maybe I'm Amazed," from last week. Remind us that underneath it all, there is a mellifluous voice and prove that you understand the power of restraint. (See paragraph 13, line 8.)

Predictions:

Sadly the bottom 3 will likely be comprised of all girls . . .

with Haley leaving us.

Come back Friday to determine if there might be a career as a soothsayer in my future . . . assuming this whole blogging thing doesn't pan out, of course.

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