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'American Idol' recap: Top 7 perform

It's Idol Gives Back night on American Idol. Well, at least it is inspirational songs to get us all in the mood for tomorrow night's Idol Gives Back extravaganza.

The week's mentor is Alicia Keys. Her goal is to help the Top 7 bring out the emotion and truth in each of their songs. 

Casey James is first, and his song choice is "Don't Stop." Alicia talks to him about upping his personality so people are like, "I love him," instead of, "I love that song." During the performance, he sounds good, but there is so much going on with the band and the backup singers and the electric guitar that it kind of is about the song instead of him. Not that he sounds bad or anything. Randy Jackson says it was a good performance, but not his best. He wants to see something a little more special. Ellen DeGeneres loved the guitar playing, but she says she needs to be a little tougher, and she doesn't think it was great or that people will be talking about it tomorrow. Kara DioGuardi says it felt like jam-band and didn't distinguish him at all, but she still believes in him. Simon Cowell says that wasn't particularly inspiring and that there was no emotion at all. He thinks it was a lazy song choice. 

Lee DeWyze has chosen Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer," and he's hoping people find it inspiring. Alicia tells him to keep his sights on what the song is about. He has a lot going on on the stage with him, but it's still kind of about him (unlike what happened with Casey). I feel like he kind of mumbles his way through the lyrics, but he is showing emotion in the lai-lai-lai parts. Randy says the show is about artists this year and he thinks Lee is going to have a big career. Ellen says it was a beautiful song choice and he is showing more and more soul each week. Kara thinks he just had his "moment." Simon says that was the best of the night so far, but the difference between him and Casey is staggering. 


Tim Urban is performing the Goo Goo Dolls' "Better Days," and Alicia gives him some pointers on feeling the music a little more. He starts out really shaky and then warms up a little and it works a little better. It's not phenomenal, but it's better than he's been at times this season. Randy says this was an interesting song, and it was just "OK good karaoke." Ellen says he's like the soup of the day, sometimes she likes it, sometimes not, today was a not. Kara says he found his lane, but this wasn't the best execution tonight. Simon says if this was the first time they'd seen him, they would have liked it, but in general he's improved, though it was a little bit of a letdown.

Aaron Kelly is taking on R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Alicia says it's a challenge because he has to 100 percent believe in it, otherwise it won't come across.  He goes big in the performance, and I'd say just about carries it off. Randy says he picked a giant, giant song, and he did a good job with it. Ellen says she believes he can fly and he handled it "real good." Kara says watching that was like taking off in an airplane. Simon says they need to judge this in two parts -- that yes, they like him, the believe in him for taking on that song. But he says if he had heard it on the radio, he'd have turned it off.

Siobhan Magnus is taking on "When You Believe." Alicia talks to her about her "money moment" in the song. She sounds for the first half like she is trying to be restrained, and it's not very exciting, but it gets better in the second half, and her high notes at the end are really nice -- and not screamed! Randy says she picked the toughest song of the night, and it was just OK for him. Ellen says she disagrees and that this was just more confirmation for why she is here. Kara says technically it was well-sung, but this isn't a musical. Simon says this wasn't the right song and the arrangement was really old-fashioned.

Michael Lynche has chosen "Hero," which was in his playbook of songs he's been compiling and working on for the past couple of years in hopes of making it onto Idol. See, that is smart. Anyway, he sings it big, and it works pretty well. Randy says he was a little worried by this choice, but he held his own with it and it worked out. Ellen says he did a great job. Kara says it wasn't her favorite performance, and it was all over the place. Simon says he sang it pretty well, but the theme is inspirational songs, and this was about Spider-Man.

Crystal Bowersox is singing "People Get Ready" -- without an instrument. Alicia says Crystal is one of her favorites, and she talks with her about bring the passion for the song. In fact, she starts out with no accompaniment at all, and she is phenomenal. She finishes really poorly because she actually starts bawling, which might be a first. Randy says that was unbelievable and gives her a standing ovation. Ellen says she keeps evolving and growing and getting better and better. Kara thanks her for taking a risk and putting down the guitar. She says Crystal just schooled everyone. Simon says it was inspirational, and it was good to see her getting so emotional because she has been so walled off. She cutely takes Ryan's pocket square and dabs her eyes. 

What did you think of the performances? I'm still thinking Crystal is in some other level than everyone else. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out.

Interestingly, when they show the numbers at the end, Crystal sings her last note instead of crying through it. It never occurred to me that they put that footage together from the dress rehearsal, but I guess they do!

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