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'Idol' Recap - Top 11 Hit the Motor City

Posted by Sarah Rodman  March 23, 2011 10:57 PM

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This week's theme was Motown and, for the most part, the classics proved as indestructible as ever for the 11 remaining contestants. Some soared, others coasted, but no one truly crashed and burned.

"You're All I Need To Get By" was far and away my favorite performance from Jacob Lusk thus far. He got halfway down the road to restraint last week and finished the journey tonight, judiciously ladling out the drama. It was also a great song choice. I won't go as far as JLo did and say the audience was "begging" for it when he finally went for the money notes, but the control did create more a dynamic performance.

Pia Toscano and Stefano Langone were so technically apt on their songs -- "All in Love is Fair' and "Hello," respectively-- that the safety and relative lack of pizzazz of their choices probably won't hurt them with voters. It was nice to hear Pia move into her head voice also. But how tough was it watching Stefano fight the urge-- and ultimately lose the battle-- to close his eyes?

Casey Abrams' take on "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" was more or less as to be expected. Growly, endearing, and soulful. But remember when he also threw in a little more pure, simple singing? It would be nice to hear him bring a bit of that back into his performances. And he should let his hair run free, something about the slicked back 'do and beard gave him a goofy teen wolf vibe.

Assessing the rest and predicting the bottom three after the jump.

In an effort to take the judge's advice to heart, Haley Reinhart turned up the growl for "You Really Got a Hold On Me." She's got chops without a doubt, but I think she took it a wee bit too far, to a point where it sounded like an affectation.

If Scotty McCreery is worried about coming off like a lounger singer he needs to stop doing that hokey finger pointing and odd side-of-the-mouth microphone business. He felt a little corny at first on his countrified take on "For Once in My Life," but when he broke through emotionally near the end there was a marked shift, he was really feeling it.

Who annoyed Lauren Alaina? The bubbly, cutesy girl was gone in her one one one video and she tried to bring some strut to "You Keep Me Hanging On." She succeeded vocally but the nervousness in her eyes didn't match her neck-snap swagger.

Whatever the judges heard from James Durbin was not coming through on my TV as he sang "Living for the City." It was a smart choice and it had some good moments but it sounded rough and strained in several places to me.

As for Paul McDonald, his smile did indeed look out of place during "Tracks of My Tears." Maybe it was meant to be a grimace but his grinning mug wasn't working for a song that's supposed to be all about wrenching, inner turmoil. I can't believe Jennifer "It's like acting" Lopez didn't call him out on this. (That said, this might have been her best judging night thus far in terms of actual thoughtful criticism.)

It may just be that Thia isn't a performer. Her take on "Heat Wave" technically satisfied the need to do an uptempo song and she sounded fine. But she just seems to be missing some essential sparkle that makes her presentation feel lively, regardless of how zippy the beat is.

Bless Naima, she does what she wants and that's probably not easy in a competition like this. She really may be the only contestant from whom you don't know what to expect. She had fewer pitch problems this week and gave it her all for "Dancing in the Street" but the African drum retrofit of the song wasn't for me.

Bottom Three Prediction: Paul, Haley, and Naima. I think it actually should be Paul, Thia, and Naima. Even though it was one of Naima's better performances vocally, I just don't picture the majority of voters taking her business. 

So what did you guys think? Do you think the judges went too easy on the contestants? Who do you think is going home? Do you think it's time to start a Facebook page to get Steven Tyler to investigate a descriptor besides beautiful? (Seriously: splendid, terrific, magnificent, excellent, superb, fabulous, gorgeous, whatever, make it happen.)  Can you believe no one did DeBarge?

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Katie McLeod is's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at

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Sarah Rodman is a TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.

Meghan Colloton is a Things to Do and Arts & Entertainment producer at

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.