American Idol Season 10 - Top 11: March 23, 2011

Top 11 - Motown Night - March 23, 2011

As Randy might say, "we got ourselves a competition dawg! That was hot!" And honestly, it was. I don't think I have been this impressed with a collective show of performances since Season 8 and maybe not even then.

1. Casey Abrams - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" A-

I loved his take on this. A lot of soul and I heard a bluesy quality in his voice I had been missing in last week's performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". He is a real performer and someone that is always entertaining to watch. Unlike some of the other contestants, I feel that he really connects through to the lyrics of the song and incorporates some emotion. Unfortunately, Casey's last note sounded a little painful to my ears, but all in all, a fun performance. Good way to start the show.

2. Thia Megia - "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" B+

Oh Thia. Finally proof you are not a robot!! I thought this day would never come. I'll never be a big fan of Thia. But this performance was the first (and only) one I've really liked by her. It was a fun uptempo song. She looked cute, and age appropriate. (If only Ryan would stop reminding us at every chance that she and Lauren are 16 years old.) There was one moment where she turned away from the camera a bit and seemed to stumble over her words, or at least pause in a way that suggested she was going to, but kept it together.

3. Jacob Lusk - "You're All I Need To Get By" B-

I do not, and will never, understand the judges eating up every word Jacob sings. He is killing every overwrought syllable he sings with his cheese-drenched delivery. That said, this was probably his best performance since Hollywood Week. It wasn't the hideous mess that was "Alone" and yes "I Believe I Can Fly" (I really don't want to go down that road again). I was surprised by Jacob tonight exercizing a little restraint...oh wait, there goes the crazy-ass notes at the end of the performance. Ouch. He makes weird faces as he sings which bothers me more than it should, I suppose. Every performance he has, he turns into a gospel song. Which is great, I suppose, if you are singing gospel songs. "Alone" by Heart is a heartbreaking song of "desperate desires and unenviable plans", with credit to Brand New. It's not a Hallejuah chorus with the nuns from Sister Act dancing around in the background. Oof.

4. Lauren Alaina - "You Keep Me Hanging On" A

A very fun, upbeat performance. Lauren brought a lot of attitude to the song, which it definitely needed. I loved her zebra print dress and basically everything about this performance. She has been fairly consistent so far with selecting good songs, which is key to navigating the Idol experience. I loved how she started off the song slow, under the spotlight, before the song got more uptempo. I didn't necessarily like the posturing off of and singing to Randy Jackson though. Always so awkward. Why do it?

5. Stefano Langone - "Hello" B-

Stefano's performance was perfectly competent. But this version will forever be hiding in the shadows behind David Cook's entirely perfect version in the semi-finals of Season 7. David Cook had a true "IDOL MOMENT (TM)" in that instant, and continued to do so throughout the season ("Billie Jean", "Always Be My Baby", "The Music Of The Night", etc.). There was a sexy, stalker, desperate edge to Cook's performance which changed the meaning of the song in that instant. But that's Cook and not everyone is going to interpret the song that way, which is fine. Stefano needed to sing the song like he was telling a story, writing a letter (as J. Lo said) and something was off. Stefano has a great voice and I do like him, but this performance fell way short of the high expectations set by Cook in the stellar Season 7.

6. Haley Reinhart - "You Really Got A Hold On Me" B

I cringed when I heard Haley was selecting this song, one of my favorites both in the Beatles version and in the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles version. Yet, she managed to do much better than I could have expected. For some reason, Haley's performances always remind me of a girl doing a last-call karaoke song, lots of slurring, wobbling around, and flashing some leg. Yet she can obviously sing better than a typical karaoke singer. There were parts of this performance I loved and other parts that went off into an alternately growling/screechy mess. Haley is this week's most improved.

7. Scotty McCreery - "For Once In My Life" B+

I loved how Scotty turned a song we've all heard many many times into his own country version. The arrangement was pretty decent and suited him very well. His voice cracked a little bit on one of the notes however. I love Scotty and I think he will go on to have a huge career in the country music world.

8. Pia Toscano - "All In Love Is Fair" A-

A very haunting, emotional performance by Pia. She is always stunning, both in her looks and her voice. I felt like she was telling a story with this song. I really felt the sadness in this song. She has the kind of voice most people dream of having and I love watching her sing.

9. Paul McDonald - "Tracks Of My Tears" A

The first time I heard this, it gave me chills. I felt it, I loved it. I would love to go to a dark club and see Paul up on the stage singing and playing guitar. One of my favorite Smokey Robinson & the Miracles songs of all time. I could not agree more with the excellent Michael Slezak over at that had he stripped the song down to just him and his guitar (forget the band and their always cheesy arrangements) he could have had a true Idol moment, David Cook style. Even still, a great performance and one I will be listening to over and over on iTunes.

10. Naima Adedapo - "Dancing In The Streets" C

This is the kind of Motown song that always puts a smile on my face no matter what. I absolutely adore this song. I guess the best thing I can say about Naima's interpretation of it was that it was "creative". Very very 70's, from the bell-bottom-three-piece suit-whatever-that-was, the four hundred bracelets on her arm, the drums, even the lighting.

11. James Durbin - "Living For The City" A-

Can I just say how much I love James's voice, his look, and that awesome jacket with the skulls and chains on it? If there was any American Idol contestant that was tailor made for me, it would be James Durbin. He has an infectious quality when he performs. I didn't love the song as much as I loved "I'll Be There For You" last week, but I liked this week's performance by James much better.

Best of the night: Lauren
Worst of the night: Naima