'American Idol' Top 12: Pia Toscano nails Whitney, Haley Reinhart fumbles Whitney

pia-haley-whitney-american-idol.jpgThe "American Idol" live show kicked off with a tastefully done little PSA for the relief effort for Japan. If you download any of the songs from tonight's show, the proceeds go to the Red Cross, plus there will be a way to donate during the results show tomorrow night. That's cool.

The judges come out and - hey, Carly Smithson is there! Loved her in Season 7. Steven Tyler is dressed especially gypsy-like, while J.Lo is a jungle cat with a mane of hair.

Seacrest tell us that tonight's theme is Birth Year, which is always fun because A) we get to see photos/video of the Idols are babies and B) it's funny that some of them were born in like 2003. Not really, but it kinda seems that way sometimes.

Here are the Idols, from best to worst:

Safe Idols

1. Pia Toscano, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" by Whitney Houston (1988)

Looking super 80s/current hot, Pia gets her diva on, showing Haley how you sing Whitney. The modulation is crazy good, it's a fun performance. It was not our favorite Pia performance, but she really nailed it. The judges agree. Would've love to see her go with "I Get Weak" or "Could've Been," but she was easily the best up to her performance.

2. Jacob Lusk, "Alone" by Heart (1987)

Ballsy choice, fella. But whoa. Wow. Holy macaroni. It's so soulful, yet he still translates the big, yell-y dramatic part of the chorus. And then he has a wonderful modulation into the key change, which he loses for a second, where you even see J.Lo's face go, "Uh oh." It's almost like he got too caught up in the moment and biffed it. It ends with a big screamer, then a nicely brought down final phrase. Very cool. Randy calls him on the modulation, but says it was great. Steven says, "Gospel had a baby and they named it Jacob Lusk."   

3. Scotty McCreery, "Can I Trust You With My Heart" by Travis Tritt (1993)

It turns out Scotty loved Elvis as a kid and holy crap, that is the most hilarious thing ever. He does a current day snippet of "Blue Suede Shoes" and - wow, do Elvis sometime. Please do Elvis.

Anyway, his Travis Tritt is very pretty and the girls go nuts. He's such a country singer! It's nothing flashy, just a nice vocal. I'm so disappointed Scotty wasn't born in 1991 because he would absolutely kill "Anymore" by Travis Tritt. His offering tonight even throws in some high notes (high for Scotty) and they are wonderful. It wasn't perfect, but it was darn good. J.Lo gives him props, Randy name drops Travis Tritt and Steven just says "really good, thank you."

As far as other 1993 songs go, Scotty could've done "When She Cries" by Restless Heart, but that's a little pop-ier than Tritt. We also wouldn't have minded him trying to do a little country thang on "Two Steps Behind" by Def Leppard.

4. Casey Abrams, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana (1991)

Casey has crazy hippie parents, which is awesome. He realizes what a big song he has chosen, but his version is ... hmmm. The verse is ... smoother than Cobain, but then the chorus is ... rougher. It's ... hard to explain. I pretty much liked it, but the kinds of people who vote for this show aren't going to. It's not that Casey's in trouble, but it's not really the target demo for voters. Tyler loves his "goop," J.Lo says he should watch the screamy/screetchy part and Randy talks about himself some more.

5.
Stefano Langone, "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Simply Red (1989)

Oh my goodness, his grandpa had "Langone's Music" store. Too much cuteness, y'all. So this is why James didn't/couldn't pick this song, but that's OK - Stefano does well on it. It's a beautiful song and I would've like to see him do it a little more quietly (less runs) because it's a quietly emotional song. Also, he needs to stop dropping notes and dropping the mic away like some kind of lounge singer, but overall, it was good. Plus, his big ending note was a crowd pleaser (if not entirely perfect). The judges go nuts, which I don't quite see, but it was good.

6. Lauren Alaina, "I'm the Only One" by Melissa Etheridge (1995)

Hmm. There are some changes to the melody that I like. But Lauren isn't digging into the low register the way Melissa does. This version is too pop-ish and not gritty enough. It's still a better vocal than what Lauren did last week and it showed off her talent nice, gave it a country turn, but ... hmmm. She made it her own, but that wasn't a positive thing in this case. But can't fault her for trying something - it was a decent risk to take, just didn't trip my trigger. The judges go nuts.

7. James Durbin, "I'll Be There For You" by Bon Jovi (1989)

Toddler James is super cute. His Bon Jovi rendition is good stadium rock, but nothing earth-shattering. I am a big James fan, but it left me a little flat. I would've like to see him try something rock-y with "The Look" or slow it down with "If You Don't Know Me by Now" or "Angel Eyes." Can you imagine him on "Angel Eyes" by the Jeff Healey Band? Amazing. He also had "Paradise City" from 1989, which would've been more in line with his style. Tyler warns him not to get too pop-y and James says he's saving the Aerosmith for the finale, which is an awesome, clever thing to say. Tyler says he'll get up there and sing with him for the finale. I would love to see it.

In Trouble Idols


8. Paul McDonald, "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John (1984)

The verse starts off OK, but a little breathy at parts. And I want to say something about his weird affectations, but I have every week so far, so whatevs. This is what Paul does. The chorus is better, but ... hmm. He just hasn't done a song in his wheelhouse since "Maggie May." It's not that Paul's bad, but he's just so mellow and weird. J.Lo likes his soul, Randy says he was pitchy but compares him to Ray LaMontagne and Steven calls him a cool dude with a loose mood. You know what 1984 song I would've loved to hear Paul do? "Drive" by The Cars. I think that would've been amazing.

9. Karen Rodriguez, "Love Will Lead You Back" by Taylor Dayne (1989)

By her hair, I would've thought she'd have been singing the B-52s (or starring in "Barbarella: The Musical"). But she's got some Taylor Dayne in her and it's perfectly fine. Nothing crazy and nothing outside the box, but not the worst of the night either. Very 2004 "Idol," honestly. A perfectly serviceable cover. Randy says welcome back from last week, Steven loves her "ethnic what-it-is-ness" and J.Lo likes that she attacked it. Wouldn't have minded Karen trying "Lost in Your Eyes" (what, it's still a good song) or the acoustic version of "Listen to Your Heart" for her birth year.

10. Thia Megia, "The Colors of the Wind" by Vanessa Williams/"Pocahontas" (1995)

Thia's footage shows her writing a song as a 6-year-old, so that's nuts. Her Disney song choice is cheesy for sure, but her tone is lovely. I would've liked to hear her get a little bigger on the diva notes, but it was pretty. Safe and boring, but pretty. The thing is - the lyrics can have a huge emotional impact, but there was just no feeling behind them.

Randy calls her on the ballads, felt pageanty. Steven puts her on the spot, asking about if that's the artist she thinks she is  and she says that it was A) apropos for what is going on with the world today (which isn't untrue) and B) the best song of the 1995 choices. That may be true, let's scan the Top 100 songs of 1995. [ scans songs] She could've done "No More 'I Love Yous'" or "Waterfalls," I think both would've better, particularly "No More," but knowing her 15-year-old knowledge of music (hello, Charlie Chapman), it's not surprising she chose Disney.

11.
Naima Adedapo, "What's Love Got to Do With It?" by Tina Turner (1984)

Naima has the cutest parents, just btw.Her making-current version of "Love" is ... hmm. Starts off pretty rough, it's almost like she can't hear her backing music. The chorus gets better, but she's really chopping her words. It would be better to hear some notes sustained. The bridge into the final chorus is better, she really rips it up, but overall - meh. Not that strong and off pitch a lot. Tyler says she has a "sorcerer's grasp on the melody," which - OK. J.Lo and Randy are on her about how off pitch it was.

12. Haley Reinhart, "I'm Your Baby Tonight" by Whitney Houston (1990)

Haley's parents play in a band together - awww. There's a clip of her mom doing "Black Velvet," which would've been a great choice for Haley, especially with the sexpot thing she has going. But she does Whitney instead and ... it sounds weird. She's super nasal and she isn't hitting the high notes entirely. Whitney ballads are hard enough, but her fast stuff is 100x harder. That woman, despite being all crazypants now, can effing sing and Haley does not have the stuff to keep up with a song this hard. This is bad karaoke. Also - lipstick on her teeth (and chin, we find out).

J.Lo resorts to the "you look beautiful" comment, Randy wants to know who she is (since she keeps picking such different styles). Tyler misses the Janis Joplin quality and Haley rightly says they made her pick from 1990, which - yeah. Wilson Phillips, people. But she could've done "Black Velvet" or done something interesting with "Free Fallin.'" Singers like Glambert do not have a monopoly on changing up song styles. Do your bluesy chick thing on some Tom Petty, girl.

So who is going home? I would be shocked if it's someone other than Naima or Haley. But I'm going to throw my vote Haley's way - that was a hot mess.

Photo/Video credit: FOX