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Janell reports on last night's American Idol:

The Top 12 are performing tonight, and the theme is not "whatever you want," for a change. It's "Song From the Year You Were Born" night, a theme which will make the viewing audience feel old and make this recapper have many musical flashbacks. The songs tonight will be available on iTunes and all the proceeds will go to the American Red Cross to help people in Japan.

Naima Adedapo is first, and she was born in 1984. I was in 4th grade then, and for some reason that year has always stuck out as a musical highlight for me. 1984, for me, was about big hair and androgyny from Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Culture Club, Eurythmics. Yeah, I was kind of new wavey. My best friend Abbey and I had a sleepover and called MTV a gazillion times to ensure that Duran Duran's "The Reflex" video won the Video of the Week contest (they totally needed our support) and this was a time when those phone calls were not free. That was $80 my parents never got back. So I was all psyched for 1984. Naima is singing Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Not on my playlist that year, but whatevs. She starts halfway up (or is it halfway down?) the stairs, then walks down in precarious platform boots. She's wearing a bright yellow tank top under some layers, with a matching yellow feather in her hair. Which reminds me -- do they ever do Barry Manilow night? Should they? I'm digressing so much because the performance is just okay. No dance breaks in it, nothing really new about it. Steven Tyler, sexy-rock-god-turned-cuddly-grandpa-teddy-bear, says that she has a sorcerer's grasp of melody, then says that she's wearing his shirt. Jennifer Lopez gets real, though. "Last week I gave you a pass on the pitchiness [because of the dancing], now I see you're consistently pitchy." Ouch, J.Lo is worried. Randy says that he rewatched last week's performance and kind of hated it. After the commercial, on the backstage interview-cam, Naima says, "I feel it too much sometimes, it messes with my pitch." She does feel it.

Paul McDonald was also born in 1984. Do you look at him and Naima and see the same age? He used to dress up as a cowboy, but apparently did not grow up to be one. He's singing "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" by Elton John. He's had a cold all week. You know, he still sounds like Rod Stewart sometimes, but also just sounds crazy. He doesn't change up the song so much as he just sings it with his wonky voice, and that is enough of a difference. Jennifer Lopez Singalong Shot Count: 1. She says she feels him, knows he was struggling with his voice from the cold, but he has soul and star quality and he overcame it. Randy Jackson's not giving him a pass because of the cold and says he was off in the beginning. Then he namedrops "new ingénue" Ray LaMontagne as someone else who takes anything and makes it his own. Someone go listen to Ray LaMontagne and tell me if he reminds you of Paul. Steven Tyler calls Paul a cool dude with a loose swagger.

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Let’s go way back now, to 1995, the year

Thia Megia

was born. I was very busy taking a summer bowling class via correspondence course so that I could graduate college before starting law school that year, so I don’t remember much about the music. Yes, bowling. I passed. Thia is singing “Colors of the Wind,” by Vanessa Williams. You know, the song that was in the Pocahontas movie. Did you know Christian Bale’s voice was in that movie? Thia is wearing a floor-length woven goldish sheath dress. She’s a little too smiley, and too quiet on the low notes, but she does better when it gets higher. I still don’t think it shows her range or her flavor. Randy Jackson is still not happy, he says the vocals were okay, but he’s bored with the ballads, he feels like he’s at a beauty pageant. Steven Tyler says she sang it beautifully, but asks if the song is who she thinks she is. Thia gives a pageant-y answer about “what’s going on in the world today,” and says it was the best song out of her choices (see? Nothing memorable in 1995). Jennifer Lopez says it was a little safe, and her vibrato needs work, and she needs to switch up the style.

James Durbin

has a stool chat with Ryan, where they discuss Kate Hudson being in the audience. Yes, there she is, feeding Cheetos to her son. Hi, Kate! James was born in 1989, and he’ll be rocking the Bon Jovi tonight, singing “I’ll Be There For You.” It’s a slower, shriekier song. His scarf tail is off-center. He carries the microphone stand for a bit, then walks behind the judges. Jennifer Lopez Singalong Shot Count: 2. He’s throwing in all the rock star moves, but it’s not as new or awesome as I‘d like. He does end with a burst of fireworks, though. Steven Tyler: “Don’t get too poppy on me.” Yes! Exactly! A useful nugget of wisdom, thanks, Steven. James mentions that there was some Aerosmith from that year, but he doesn’t want to “spoil” it until the finale. Steven says he’d sing with James, and they shake hands on the deal, Steven bleeping over what he’s just agreed to. Jennifer says James brings her joy. Randy says a couple spots were pitchy, but it was tastefully done. Then, instead of asking why the tail is still there, he asks what is up with the boots. The boots have studded bandanas and dog collars on them, that is what is up with the boots. Trying too hard! Ryan asks Steven to confirm that he has agreed to perform on stage, pointedly leaving James out of the equation. Steven keeps James in, though, saying “That man has a rich vein of inner crazy, I’ll join him.” I like that the inner crazy reaches out to the other inner crazy.

Haley Reinhart

was born in 1990. Her parents are in a band. Hey, my dad is in a band! If you’re in the Greater Salt Lake area, have the Reunion 65 Band play at your next neighborhood party or school fundraiser! Help my dad pay off the phone bill from 1984! My dad’s band does not play Whitney Houston songs, so we’ve got Haley to give us a Whitney fix. She’s singing “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” wearing a bright red top, red lipstick and tight black pants. She does her growly kitten thing, which I kind of like. But some of the fast sections get lost. I think she tries to make it bluesy, but I don’t know the blues well enough to make that call. She got some lipstick on the microphone, which has now transferred to her chin and cheek. It is not a good look. Jennifer Lopez is too far away to see it, so she says Haley looks beautiful. She critiques the forced performance moves. Before Randy starts, Ryan runs onstage with his handkerchief to wipe Haley’s chin. Haley is laughing and calls it her first red lipstick massacre. Randy says it wasn’t great, and he’s confused by the different types of songs she’s been singing. Steven says it was sweet and tough, but he wants to hear more Janis Joplin, more blues. I think that’s good advice.

Stefano Langone

is another 1989 baby. He sarcastically mentions some of the great song options from 1989, including Milli Vanilli. Oh Stefano, you adorable puppy, I love you. I sort of dated a guy back then, and we discussed what music we liked. I was all, Depeche Mode! And he was all, Milli Vanilli’s cool! I knew at that moment that we could never be together. Stefano will be singing “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” as released by Simply Red (

not as ruined by Michael Bolton

). You know what? He is killing it. He’s emotional but nails it, I am totally feeling it like I haven’t felt it all night. Jennifer Lopez Singalong Shot Count: 3. Randy Jackson has a huge smile. He calls it the best performance of the night so far, I agree. He said the song had the highest degree of difficulty (out of his choices), and he slayed it with hot vocals. Steven Tyler compliments the beautiful phrasing, and shouts that it was over the top. Jennifer says it was the perfect song, and he could possibly win if he keeps that connection with her and the audience. Then Ryan comes out and makes Stefano go hug his mom.

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Pia Toscano

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was born in 1988. Her mom says that she was a diva at a young age. Pia is singing “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” by Whitney Houston, because we needed another Whitney song. She’s wearing a white jumpsuit, and I guess she’s pulling it off as much as anyone can pull off a white jumpsuit, but that does not negate the fact that no one should wear a white jumpsuit. (

SKK: Especially a high-waisted one with pleats. That is like three different trends having a culture war with one another

.) The backing music is kind of faster, like they’re trying to disco it up. J.Lo is moving her head but not singing along. Steven: “You are why this show is called American Idol.” Because she’s American? I don’t get it. He says she took the song over the top and nailed it. Jennifer Lopez was glad to hear Pia sing something up-tempo, she calls it perfect. Randy says every week is amazing vocals, “Pia is in it to win it!” Ryan makes fun of Randy’s excited gesticulating index finger.


Scotty McCreery

was born in 1993. He liked to dress as Elvis as a kid, and there’s a great Halloween Elvis picture that is beyond awesome. I would love to hear him sing some Elvis, but I guess it won’t work tonight. He’s singing “Can I Trust You With My Heart” by Travis Tritt. And, it’s a country song, so he nails it. He even sings a little higher on the last verse. J.Lo is staring in concentration, not singing or dancing, so I worry that she doesn’t like country this week. Nope, I was wrong. She says he pushed it out a little more and she liked it. Randy tells us that he’s BFFs with Travis Tritt, and says Scotty can sing anything. Steven says, “Keep knowing who you are.”

Karen Rodriguez

is another 1989 baby. She’s wearing a silver minidress and tall black boots, with a semi-beehive hairdo, so she looks more '60s. She looks good. She’s singing “Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne. She’s not so good on the lower notes, kind of has good and bad points, and she throws in a Spanish verse. Randy says she started rough but was better in the chorus, and better than last week. Steven: “I love when you break into your ethnic what-it-is-ness.” Jennifer advises that “if you’re nervous about notes, don’t go there, don’t expose your weakness.” Have I mentioned how smart she is this week?

Ryan sits in the audience briefly between Tamyra Gray and Mary Murphy. You know who’s on the other side of Mary Murphy? That Irish girl Carly who has the face tattooed on her shoulder. She smiles at the camera, Ryan doesn’t acknowledge her. Did they bring her in for some Irish flair?


Casey Abrams

was born in 1991, and he’s singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I was so excited to hear this. He plays the electric bass, his “hello hello’s” are a little warbly, then he screams. He’s working the crazy eyes. I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but it wasn’t terrible. At least he went for it full-on. He even jumps at the end, but does not get the rock star fireworks like James did, because Casey is not a rock star. Steven says he’s good, crazy, and talented, “goop that great stuff is made from.” Jennifer says the song was a risk, and some parts were “screamy screechy,” not quite pleasant, unlike Kurt Cobain’s pleasant screams. She’s right again. Randy Jackson tells us that he himself is a musician, producer and writer, and that he likes Radiohead, Muse, and Lykke Li. I wonder if he’s trickling out his resume for when he needs a new job? Then he remembers that he’s a judge and says it wasn’t the best performance or vocals, but he loves the risk and the fearlessness, and Casey put art first before commerce. Oh, them’s fighting words, right? But, yes, about the risk. I would rather hear a so-so Nirvana song than another Whitney Houston ballad any day of the week.

Lauren Alaina

has the flu. This is what happens when everyone lives in the same house. She was born in 1994, and is singing “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Etheridge. Jennifer Lopez Singalong Shot Count: 3.75. It’s a big song, and Lauren keeps it big, with a few extras thrown in. Jennifer says it was nice, she stayed true to the framework but made it her own. Also, Jennifer Lopez is a big Melissa Etheridge fan. Randy advises Lauren to have a cold every week because he liked it. Steven says she did it again.

Finally, it’s

Jacob Lusk

. He’s a 1987 baby (another good music year, I think), and he’s singing “Alone” by Heart. It’s nice to hear a guy singing this. He changes the key up during the song, and he never gets lost in the backing vocals. I think it’s pretty darn good. Randy thinks it was genius to go big with it and then bring it back quiet at the end. He declares that Jacob is also in it to win it. Steven tries to say something about gospel having a baby. Jennifer has quickly learned to let Steven say one thing and then just jump in before he derails into rambling-ville. She says that Jacob gives himself completely to every performance, and she agrees that the competition is hot. I debated whether to include this, but here it is: Jacob put his “Lusky stank” on the song. He says that someone twittered that to him. Is it the new catchphrase? I don’t know.

Tomorrow night last season’s winner Lee DeWyze will be there, along with the Black Eyed Peas. I need someone to go on iTunes and tell me which song has sold the most by now. I’m going to say it’s between Stefano, Lauren, and Jacob. What do you think?

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