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'American Idol': Top 9 perform

Tonight on American Idol, it's American classics with Tony Bennett as mentor.

Blake Lewis is the first contestant, singing "Mack the Knife." Tony says he is singing it well, but he really needs to think about and deliver the meaning of the song. This swinging song is a good match for his personality. Randy says it was a good way to start off the evening, despite a couple of pitch problems. He says he always looks forward to seeing what Blake's going to do. "I liked it, dude." Paula say he "personified pizazz; you're a hip cat ... you're just cool." Simon says, "Good choice of song, you performed it well. I give you 7/10, I give the band 8/10. " Ryan asks him if it's hard to go first, but Blake says it's fun to get it out of the way. Ryan then alludes to him having trouble with the lyrics during rehearsal. Nice!

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Phil Stacey says he has been looking forward to this week because Tony Bennett is his hero. Tony tells him he needs to put a little beat behind it and that he is one of the best singers he's ever heard. Yes, seriously. Phil's singing "Night and Day." He starts out weirdly, as per usual, and warms up in the middle, but then he starts to sound like he's trying to copycat Tony Bennett. Strong final note, though, which gets him a standing ovation. Randy says the big notes were good, but he didn't feel any passion, that it was disconnected. Paula says he's reminiscent of a young Frank Sinatra, but that he needs to have more joy and warm the vocals up not only in the chorus. Simon questions Paula about the Sinatra thing, then says it "had all the joy of somebody singing in a funeral parlor." Questioned by Ryan, he says he appreciates everything Randy says, but that he was trying to focus on his wife. Which is kind of awkward, since the comments were about his lack of passion and darkness and disconnectedness from the song. Really, the best comment was from Paula about needing to really hit the notes right beyond just the chorus (except she couched it in terms of "warmth," which wasn't exactly direct).

Melinda Doolittle is shocked, just SHOCKED, when Tony tells her she was the best singer all day. Girl needs to learn to accept a compliment, because they are going to keep coming, and this whole "WHAT? Little old me?" thing is starting to not be that believable. (Though it is sweet when she tears up talking about his comments.) Anyway, she sings "I've Got Rhythm." Seriously? Flawless. Randy says every week she gives everyone a lesson in singing; "this is how you do it." Paula says she's a master class: "You've got rhythm, you've got CDs, you've got No. 1s, you've got concert halls. You're it." Simon says he didn't like the first part of the song because it was too cabaret, but the second half was good, with personality. He adds, "I don't think we're ever going to be able to criticize you. This is a problem!" Ryan asks why. He says, "Because we like being mean to people occasionally." You heard it here first!

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Chris Richardson takes a viewer question about how he chooses a song. He says you pick what you're comfortable, then what the audience will like, then the panel. He's going to sing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Tony is a little concerned because he hadn't learned the lyrics yet. I haven't been a huge Chris fan, but he does right by this song, in my opinion. Randy says he came out with a vengeance and that this was one of his best performances, and that he injected his own style in. Paula says made it hip and cool and that it was his best performance, bar none. Simon says it was very good and "very believable," and that he made it kind of hip and worked it out very well, and "probably one of the strongest tonight." (After only four, though.)

Jordin Sparks is (of course) really, really excited to sing "On a Clear Day." Tony likes her because she sings in tune, "which is rare these days." He also likes the improvisation she did, changing some of the notes here and there. It is in tune and rather adorable with a killer final note. Randy says there is some heat and some fire in this competition. He says she's like a pro even though she's only 17. The microphones do some unfortunate squealing (ahhh, live TV), and Randy adds, "It's the heat, man, it's the heat!" Heh.) Paula says she is a "magnet of joy," and Simon is just giggling at her over his shoulder. She says she is proud of her. Simon says, "Well, Magnet of Joy ..." He says he sang well, but unlike Chris, did not make the song current, and did not enjoy it quite as much as "Squiddley and Diddley over there."

Gina Glocksen is going to sing "Smile." Tony says the song "gives you hope in your darkest moment," and that when he sings it, "he thinks of 9/11 and soldiers in Iraq and praying that they come home." He cries. (OK, so do I. Thinking of you, little brother!) So, back to Gina. She sings it very well, but for a little bobble of the rhythm toward the beginning. Not uber-current, but still strong. Randy says it was a "nice, controlled performance from the rocker girl." Paula says it was nice, understated and sentimental. Simon says he can't "rave about the vocals" because two girls before her outsang her.

Sanjaya Malakar meets Tony, who says he's interesting and "a big fan." He says his goal is to show America that he really can sing. He (with slicked back hair that looks to have been cut, just for the coif record) sings "Cheek to Cheek." He dances with Paula in the middle of the song. It's not that his voice is really that bad, it's just that he isn't a strong performer. He's been worse, though. Randy says he can't even comment on the vocals anymore, but that he is an entertainer. Paula says he's charming, and that the vocals are a little off, but she gets why people like him. In talking about the dancing, she says she's not sure if it was Dancing With the Stars or American Idol, but at the exact moment she says that, my Tivo interrupted to say it was time to change the channel to DWtS. Not yet! Simon says he's going to try a different tactic: "Incredible!" Sanjaya says: "Thank you! Welcome to the universe of Sanjaya!" Ryan tells him he does a good job staying under the radar.

Haley Scarnato takes a viewer question about whether she's more nervous singing before the crowd or waiting to hear from the judges. She says both are hard, but waiting for Simon is worse. She sings "Ain't Misbehavin'" and takes a hit when she sings the line, "I'm savin' all my love for you ... and you ... and you" as if it's directed at several people. He tells her she's ruining the story of the song. Ow. She definitely takes that into account in her performance, which is pretty strong. I still think she's kind of boring, but the singing is still good. Randy says he thought this might be a good week for her, but defers to Paula, who says that green is a good color for her, and they pass it to Simon. Simon says they are rude and should tell her what they think of the performance. Paula: "She wants to know what you think." Oooh, the nice judges are mad now! Simon says she has great legs. He says it was a good style of music for her, if a little pageanty. That whole thing was a little odd.

LaKisha Jones is closing the show with "Stormy Weather." Tony tells her to hit the big note at the end and ignore the little "tag." She sings it big and strong, but does ignore Tony's advice. Randy says it started roughly, but the middle and end were the bomb. Paula says she looks gorgeous and that she did a great job. Simon says: "Back on form, LaKisha, that was a sassy, great performance." They are running out of time and rushing. So much so that I don't see the recap.

My take: I predict Sanjaya, Phil and Haley in the bottom three, with Phil out.

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