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'American Idol': Top 9 perform

On tonight's American Idol, it's an open kind of theme: The Top 9 can pick any song as long as it's a popular download on iTunes. Hmmm ... interesting. Now we'll see what they're really made of! Or something.

Anoop Desai is first, and he'll be singing "Caught Up" by Usher. It seems like a good idea in theory -- it's more upbeat, and more his style, I guess, but something about it doesn't quite work for me. I feel like he thinks his stage persona is a little stronger than it actually is, and that makes it a tad bit awkward. Vocally, it seems good, though some of the runs are a bit overdone. The audience is behind him 100 percent. Randy Jackson said he "picked up your swagger" and he thought the vocals were good, but the song choice was a little off, so he's torn. Kara DioGuardi says if you pick Usher, you have to do crazy riffs, and she says it feels like "a bunch of frat guys dared you to get up and sing Usher or something." Paula Abdul says he needs to work on his stage presence and "create some signature stabs with the band." Simon Cowell looks as perplexed as I am by that. He says, "It was a complete and utter mess. ... You came over as a wannabe. I didn't see any originality. ... It actually gave me a headache." Ryan gives Anoop a chance to talk back, and that was probably not a good thing. He gets mouthy with Kara about how he wants to be an R&B artist and he disagrees with her. Special guest visitor, my mom, says, "It was boring, Anoop, and I like you." Word.

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Megan Joy Corkrey plans to sing "Bob Marley/Lauryn Hill's 'Turn Your Lights Down Low.'" She says she's excited to sing something she absolutely looooooves. While this seems like it suits her voice better, it's just not working for me. I think she's out of her league. But it's way better than "Rockin' Robin"! Kara says, "I really like you, but I think you're in trouble. ... I want to hear Adele, 'Chasing Pavements' ... That part of your range was getting irritating." Paula says at this stage, she needs to "take us by surprise and dig deep to an area that might not be comfortable." Simon says the problem is that the song was boring, indulgent and monotonous and that everything they liked about her is disappearing. Randy says it was like watching paint dry, even though he loves the song. He calls out Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele as people whose songs she should be singing.

Danny Gokey is next. He's taking on "What Hurts the Most" by Rascal Flatts. It's clear he's chosen the song for the meaning of its lyrics, but he's having trouble vocally. He's uncharacteristically shrieky at times. Paula says she would hit repeat in her car. Simon says they weren't on the same page last week, but this, he believes was his best performance of the competition. Really? Randy says tonight's show starts right here. Kara says he moved everyone emotionally and that she had some goosebumps. (I believe Simon asks her, "Where?" Classy.) Guest mom is with the judges on Danny, so maybe I'm just out of sorts tonight?

Allison Iraheta is busting out the guitar for No Doubt's "Don't Speak," which she says she "grew up listening to." Oh, yes, she is so young. For the first part of the performance, she plays guitar and sings it quietly, and she rocks every second of it. The second part is a little rough, but still good. Randy says she got a little ahead of the beat and talks about the performance, "but, dude, what are you wearing?" Kara says the rock comes out of her no matter what's she's wearing, so she doesn't have to "put all that on yourself." She closes saying it was a good performance, but not her best. Paula is glad to see her guitar and that she has great vocal prowess. Simon says they can't ignore the outfit because it made her seem like a precocious daughter trying to dress and act like a rock star, which overpowered part of the performance. He adds that she shouted the song, but the other judges aren't with him on that.

Scott MacIntyre is going to sing Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are." So I really think Scott is out of his league here, too, though he has some decent moments with the song. But overall, not fab. Kara says he made some smart decisions by picking that song, stripping it down and just singing it from an honest place. She also loves his look, including his big hair. Paula says she is most proud of Scott, "and it has nothing to do with your challenge." She says it was a risk without the orchestra, but it paid off. Simon says this was his best performance so far "by a country mile." Randy calls him one of the best of the night.

Matt Giraud is going to sing The Fray's "You Found Me," the most current song we've heard on Idol in a long time. He's on the keyboard off to the side surrounded (like really close) by audience members who, by the way, can't figure out which beat to clap on. He mixes the song up a little so note-wise it doesn't sound exactly like The Fray, but somehow, his enunciation sounds very, very similar to the original, which is a strange choice. Paula says she appreciates the contemporary choice, but he didn't riff or use his falsetto enough. She says it was a soundalike to the singer. (Hey, I agree with Paula for once.) Simon says he should be happy they don't like him this week since that usually means he's safe. He says it felt put on, especially "the gravel in your voice." He says he should have chosen a great song and done what he did best, it would have worked. Randy says it isn't "you. ... You aren't a rock kind of singer." Kara says he's going back and forth between the rock and R&B sides of pop, and they are confused about what kind of record he would make. That said, she says, he doesn't deserve to go home. Guest mom says she thought he sounded like the lead singer of The Fray, but he still sounded pretty good.

Lil Rounds says she had a hard time picking this week because she's gotten dinged over and over again on song choice. So she's going to sing Celine Dion's "I Surrender." WHAT? The judges want her to be like Mary J. or something, so I think they are going to slaughter her for this choice. The fact that she's off-pitch for part of the song doesn't really help. Big song, but not the right song. Randy says this wouldn't have been his choice for her, but he thinks she did well with it. Kara says she was surprised, too, that Lil was better than she expected when she heard the song choice. Paula says she doesn't want to see an adult contemporary Lil Rounds. Simon says this was her singing to stay in the competition with a safe song, too soft. Ryan asks one of Lil's daughters what she thought about Randy being mean, and she doesn't know what to say. Her other daughter volunteers to go over to him, and she gives him a giant hug. Awwww.

Adam Lambert is next with Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," which he intends to make current. Hmm. OK. He slows it down some, including the first part of the chorus, and then goes back to regular speed for the rest of the chorus, and he brings back his shriek-rock vibe a few times (Note: Not a plus, as far as I'm concerned, regardless of how technically proficient he might be). The audience goes bananas. Paula says true genius shatters expectations and then she compares him to Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. Simon says it got rid of some of the karaoke nonsense from earlier in the day. Randy says he was afraid it would be corny, but he is "definitely in the star zone." Adam thanks Ricky Minor and the band for the arrangement. Kara says she can't wait to see what he's going to next every week.

You know, without all that mentor footage, the show goes a lot faster. More than half an hour faster, even. I wish it was always an hour and 25 minutes. Sigh.

Kris Allen says he likes to make old songs current, and he's going to try to do that this week with "Ain't No Sunshine." He says he's trying to create "one of those moments." Also, he's playing piano instead of guitar this week, and he's accompanied by a string section. He does, I have to say, a great job with the song. We'll see what the judges say about his taking on an iconic song. Randy says he's loving him. Kara says she has three words for him: "That is artistry." Paula says he made a 30-year-old song sound new and it was his best performance so far. Simon says it was a good, clever arrangement and agrees it was his best.

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So what did you think? Who's in trouble? Who's got it made? Who'd you vote for?

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