American Idol Recap: The Top 11 Tackle Motown

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And it's true: The word "pitchy" wasn't heard once!

Last night was Motown night, which means that the producers of American Idol are still somehow loathe to let their 20-something and younger contestants at all act their age.

Steven Tyler may not be the bestest judge, but he does sometimes come up with, if nothing else, the headscratcher of the evening, and last night it was his description of Motown as "The Rhythm of the Kiss."

Ryan was quick to point out that more than a kiss was likely involved, and "Ladies and Gentlemen, Liv Tyler!!" <rimshot!>

The key thing to know about last night is that these contestants are all talented. While I may like some more than others, most had their best night yet last night. Most acquitted themselves very well, and none had a truly bad performance. While we're still waiting for someone to be the breakout star (and remember, Kelly Clarkson didn't really shine until several weeks in) we're not agonizing over someone, wondering how they've made it this far. There's no Sanjaya, or, for that matter, no Lee DeWyze (Yes, ouch! I know.)

So, how did they do then? Let's get started.

1. Casey sang "Heard it Through the Grapevine"

Having the contestants work with professional-grade producers -- and showing it to us -- is one of the good innovations from this season. "Contain the growl" was the best advice Casey could get at this point, and it did have some positive impact on his performance. He didn't take it 100% to heart and kept trying to screech a bit too high, but in general I liked his emotional intensity, which did have the sense of being all about holding back and feeding us just enough. And he certainly brought new meaning to "I'm just about to lose my mind."

Bottom line: I think Casey is going to be safe, but I also think he needs to find something new -- something heartfelt and a little more bluesy-tender -- if he wants to stick around for the duration.

2. Thia sang "Heat Wave"

Thia really has a great voice. It's smooth as butter. It's pretty and strong without being harsh or weak. She has a slight physical awkwardness, the hallmark of which was repetitive hand gestures without meaning, and I think she actually forgot the words at one point. But all in all, it was good for her to do an uptempo, and she did it nicely.

Bottom line: This wasn't a blow-your-mind kind of performance, which is the only reason she might be at risk, after a weak performance last week.

3. Jacob sang "You're All I Need to Get By"

Well, I'm gonna say it: I actually liked this Jacob performance. First time ever. He really reined it in (as advised by his producer), and only let his freak flag fly on some really big moments. And even then, he kept it more in control. OK, the very ending was NOT super stellar, no matter what Randy said; it was, rather, a little indulgent and icky But ending aside, it was his best performance. He's so much better when he dials it back.

Bottom line: He's safe, because he was safe before when he was really really bad, so how could he not be now?

4. Lauren sang "You Keep Me Hangin' On"

Lauren definitely has a great voice. An effortless voice. Seriously, if you close your eyes and listen to these gals, Lauren and Thia and Pia, they are just so pleasant, so melodious, so right on pitch. But. And you knew there was a "but" coming, I'm sure: She didn't bring any depth to this song. She had so much spunk in her initial audition, and I feel like she's lost that spunk. This was better than the last week or two, but it still didn't bring the level of sass I would hope for. Nor did she go the other way and play up the pathos. She was just sort of middle of the road with it.

Bottom line: Nevertheless, I think she's safe.

5. Stefano sang "Hello"

I cringed when he chose this song. And I continued cringing when he started out. Now, it got better. But man, I don't know why he picked that song, especially after David Cook really made it his own a couple of seasons ago. Stefano is still an adorable boy that I want to carry around in my pocket, and he definitely has vocal chops, but JLo demonstrated why she is on fire with the good feedback. It is absolutely true that he needs to make the intensity come from heartbreak, not from wanting to do really well.

Bottom line: The beginning was so strained and desperate that I think he's at risk, much as it pains me to say it.

6. Haley sang "You Really Got a Hold on Me"

My first thought when she finished: It's over for her. She seemed almost like she'd given up...her physicality was constantly like she was just throwing up her hands. She actually has a really nice instrument. Really nice. But part of her problem is how over the top she is with trying to be sexy. I really don't think people want to see a 16-year-old ho-child on AI.

Bottom line: I said it before: I think it's over for her.

7. Scotty sang "For Once in My Life"

Well, Scotty was better than expected. He's got two really bad habits he needs to break: 1. Stop doing the pointy finger thing. And 2) Stop adding weird consonants in front of words that start with a vowel. But he's definitely likable. He sounded good, and he pushed the boundaries of his comfort zone just enough.

Bottom line: I think he has a strong fan base and will be just fine.

8. Pia sang "All in Love is Fair"

American Idol Motown Pia
Image courtesy FOX

Pia is definitely striving for perfection, so if she really wants to know what to fix: She needs to figure out what to do with her arms. She, like a few folks before her, had another perfect, effortless vocal. And JLo, like with several contestants before Pia too, was so constructive and specific...great feedback. That Randy just agrees with. 'Cause that's how he rolls.

Bottom line: Does perfection get boring? Yes, it does, but I still think she's safe for now.

9. Paul sang "The Tracks of My Tears"

Well, the best thing about this performance is that I finally realized exactly where Tom Petty cribbed Free Fallin' from. But seriously, this was Paul's best performance. He's much better with a guitar on him, so he doesn't wander around aimlessly. I liked this. And I actually haven't said that about Paul since Hollywood Week.

Bottom line: His quirkiness has brought him through to this point. Hard to imagine giving his best performance would land him in the Bottom Three.

10. Naima sang "Dancing in the Street"

Despite all the talk of breath control, Naima was out of breath before she even started dancing, so it was a good thing there wasn't much dancing, or actually: There wasn't much singing after the dancing. Naima did a nice job and was definitely the most on key she's been. But she continues to be someone who looks like she'll be way better than she turns out to be.

Bottom line: And I think that last point adds up to her being in the Bottom Three again.

11. James sang "Livin' for the City"

Another best performance for another contestant. My only quibble was that his expression during this performance made this seem like an upbeat ditty about poor people. A little too much inappropriate smiling for my taste. And the last note, again, was bad, Randy, not good. BUT. Otherwise his best performance ever, mainly because he didn't over-scream.

Bottom line: Oh, definitely safe.

Bottom Line for the Bottom Three:

Should be: Haley, Stefano and Naima, with Naima going home

Will be: The same...I think this bottom three has got to be how it turns out. But I think Haley will go home.

But I want to reiterate again: These are talented kids. No one was really bad...some just weren't as on fire as the others.

But what did you think?

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