American Idol Recap: The Top 12 Sing The Year They Were Born

Songs from the year the contestants were born: This should be depressing

Last night the show kicked off with a few ways that American Idol is going to help Japan...or more accurately, help its audience help Japan. It was certainly a nice touch to acknowledge that, even though it lasted about 30 seconds.

Yes, it didn't take long to dive right in, and this week's theme was sure to freak out those of us born before 1985 (the year I graduated college, yo!). Yes, the baby contestants were singing songs from the year of their birth. Really tired songs. Oh. Did I say that out loud?

And it is becoming clearer that JLo may indeed be the best judge on this panel. If you don't mind her incessant calling the baby contestants, well, "baby," then she's your gal for both praise and constructive feedback designed to help them be better performers. STy is a little overly positive -- he may be the new Paula! Randy is Randy, whose comments still mostly seem to simply build on what someone before him said.

So, let's dig in:

1. Naima, born in 1984, sings "What's Love Got To Do With It" (Tina Turner)

Naima is one of the most interesting Idols. She and Casey seem most likely to surprise, most likely to personalize. Naima also has the most physical comfort and musicality when she performs. But JLo rightly brings up the pitch issues, and this is her big problem. The problem is that she looks like she's way better than she sounds. It's not just the pitchiness, it's the flatness of her tone.

Bottom line: It was a much more obviously lackluster vocal performance this week, and I'm afraid she may be at risk.

2. Paul, born in 1984, sings "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" (Elton John)

I want to like Paul...he's exactly the kind of quirky, raspy, soulful singer I like. And he's got the lanky, easygoing approach I find charming in folks like Pat Monahan of Train. But he goes beyond easygoing and becomes The King of Aimless Walking. And the much-referenced cold had a severe impact on his voice. He went beyond sounding just hoarse, and achieved the kind of vocal strain that sounds painful. Ouch. I love this Elton john song, but it was a little painful to watch him struggle through.

Bottom line: I think Paul has a pretty strong following, but there were plenty of strong performances last night, so will it be enough? I'm not sure.

3. Thia, born in 1995, sings "Colors of the Wind" (Vanessa Williams)

Pretty pretty voice, but OMzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. yeah, I'm 100% with Randy on this one. Bo. Ring. My viewing companion, however, thought this was the first decent performance of the night. She does indeed have a sweet tone, and her vibrato doesn't bother me the way it does JLo. But: Hope she breaks out of the ballad mode next week.

Image courtesy FOX

Bottom line: Because I do think she'll be back next week.

4. James, born in 1989, sings "I'll Be There For You" (Bon Jovi)

As you may have noticed, I ding James often for being a poor man's Adam Lambert. I think he does way WAY too much...and the screaming isn't his strong suit. He has a great voice...and an only average scream. Choosing a lesser-known Bon Jovi song was a risk, and it didn't sound like it was going to pay off with an off-key beginning. I don't think it's the strongest Bon Jovi song ever, and generally the melody was hard to discern. But then the break got good and the whole performance improved. It's just that the screaming wasn't on key. And if you're gonna do it? Do it perfectly like Adam. [Yes, I'm an AdLam fangirl, whaddya want from me?]

Bottom line: I think James is really popular and really safe.

5. Haley, born in 1990, sings "I'm Your Baby Tonight" (Whitney Houston)

There is no denying Haley is talented. I rolled my eyes at choosing a Whitney song, but she traversed this difficult song easily, and sounded great. And, in addition, she made it sound like it was now, and not then. This was, by far, the best performance Haley has done, and even my viewing companion, who has not been a Haley fan, liked this too.

Bottom line: I feel like Haley should be safe, but I don't think she's quite the fan fave, so we'll see.

6. Stefano, born in 1989, sings "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes/Simply Red)

Well, I didn't know Mr. Adorable is from San Jose! Hmm. So, as to the performance: Most of this was really good, really passionate and heart-felt, and again, like Haley: He made it feel modern. The last note was painful and not a good way to close it out, but overall this was good. [And I appreciated randy giving a shout-out to the original artist...per my teachable moment form last week.]

Bottom line: Well, I hope everyone keeps him around...I mean isn't he the most eye candy for the young girls that there is right now?

7. Pia, born in 1988, sings "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" (Whitney Houston)

She has a great voice, but she plays it safe, and this was, unsurprisingly, boring. And so rote. Nothing about this performance stood out or impressed. Except she sounded pretty damn perfect. That's a bit of the Carrie Underwood effect, I think...that was always my rap on her: Perfect voice, boring performer. She's certainly come a long way, so let's hope Pia does too, only quicker.

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

8. Scotty, born in 1993, sings "Can I Trust You With My Heart" (Travis Tritt)

Scotty actually did a really good job. This performance showed more range and more energy than he usually shows. He sang up in a higher register; he sang something upbeat; he showed some emotion. Nice job.

Bottom line: He was safe before; he should be safe now.

9. Karen, born in 1989, sings "Love Will Lead You Back" (Taylor Dayne)

Dressed like a mod '60s Star Trek chick, Karen bounced back from last week's mediocre performance. Nice job. The Spanish she added seemed like a bit of a throwaway, but overall, big improvement vs. last year.

Bottom line: Well, obviously being in the bottom three last week doesn't spell security, but she oughta be safe.

10. Casey, born in 1991, sings "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana)

So. I didn't start out thinking he was going to pull it off, but in the end, I think he did. I liked the bass; I liked his wild expression; I liked the gruffness. And I think I disagree with JLo: If Casey had sung it as melodically as Kurt Cobain, he wouldn't have really done more than a copycat version, which would likely not have lived up to the original. By gruffing it up, he made it his was Kurt Cobain via Tom Waits.

Bottom line: He's on pace to be in the finals, don't you think?

11. Lauren, born in 1994, sings "I'm the Only One" (Melissa Etheridge)

Unlike some other folks, I don't think Lauren really stepped it up from last week. This was mediocrity personified to me. Just kind of same as original, with more yelling. Yes, Lauren has a great instrument, but I didn't see any spark, and I didn't hear anything unique.

Bottom line: I think I'm less on the Lauren bandwagon than the average viewer, but if it were me? Two strikes you're in the bottom three

12. Jacob, born in 1987, sings "Alone" (Heart)

And another case where I just do not understand the love. All I wanted to say throughout this performance was "Stop yelling at me!!" Blurg.

Bottom line: Oh, I would totally put him in the bottom, but is anyone with me?

Bottom line for the Bottom Three:

The bottom three should be: Naima, Paul and Jacob. Personally I'd send Jacob home, but I think there's almost no chance that will happen. Instead...

The bottom three will be: Naima, Paul, Karen, with Naima going home.

But what do you think?

And how are you liking this season? I was hoping that there would be more GREAT people, not just consistently good people, and I was hoping STy would be a bit more actually useful as a judge, but other than that: Don't miss Simon, don't miss Ellen, don't miss Kara, and am perfectly fine with the season so far.


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