"American Idol" kicked off its Top 13 on Tuesday (March 10) night with an episode dedicated to Michael Jackson, but littered with bombshells. Two singers are going home tomorrow?!? There's a big shocking twist that will change the format of the show?!? Michael Sarver worked on an oil rig?!?!?

Along the way, the night featured some spectacular performances, some very good performances and several performances that the judges just tore to shreds...

[Recap after the break...]

Singer: LIL ROUNDS
Song: "The Way You Make Me Feel"
My Take: Lil has many, many, many children. That's what we learn from her clip package. I'm pleased that Lil starts Michael Jackson Night with old-fashion up-tempo Jacko, rather than doing a diva-style ballad. It's a great idea, because she doesn't want to only be known exclusively as an R&B belter. It's the sort of song choice that the judges will call safe, but I actually think it's exactly the opposite. She could have found a slow song, stood in the middle with the spotlight and shouted. She does something that requires a week bit of dancing and that requires her to play around on the Big Stage. She makes sure to throw in a little grace note at the end. Some people will make jokes about the tight white pants and weird frilly pink top, but she looks fine.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Alright, so... Check it out... This is the way Randy wants to kick off Season Eight. You know what's great about Lil? She made the song new again for Randy. Kara suggests that Lil has challenged everybody else to step up their games. Paula Abdul's car seems to have hit a dove on her way over and she didn't have the time to clean the debris off her chest. She predicts that Lil is "the force to be reckoned with, saying she's "like angels singing." Simon thought it was a lazy song choice. I'm disagreeing with Simon from the get-go.

Singer: SCOTT MACINTYRE
Song: "Keep the Faith"
My Take: God, I would have loved for a Scott clip package that never mentioned his blindness. If he's trying not to be defined by his handicap, he's doing it wrong. Now this is a safe song choice. Sitting behind his piano, Scott starts off warbling and unsteady, looking for the melody. He does get better in the middle, as the background music nearly overwhelms him and drowns out the piano entirely, until a shrill falsetto that did little for me. Behind him, the crowd is waving their arms and swaying along. The crowd is enthusiastic far out of proportion to the performance.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Kara's glad we've gotten to see him with the piano and she likes that he stayed on message. This is pathetic. She admits it wasn't a dynamic performance, but she loved it anyway (because he's blind). Paula thought it was beautiful and magical and lovely (because he's blind). Simon hated the song because nobody knows it. "He's fine being artistic, just not on this show," Simon proclaims. Here's the deal for Randy... He thought the performance was good (because he's blind), but he thought it was safe.

Singer: DANNY "THE REDEEMER" GOKEY
Song: "P.Y.T"
My Take: Anybody else astounded that The Redeemer didn't get the Week One pimp slot? Could it be that "Idol" didn't want to run the risk of giving Danny the potentially confused unlucky 13 call-in number? But is it even more shocking that Danny isn't doing an inspiration song? Good on Danny! This is the most I've ever liked Danny and, like Lil, this is an amazingly savvy song choice because it instantly cuts off any accusations that he's become too familiar, too sentimental, too earnest. Folks have compared him to last season's pre-ordained "Idol" Finalist David Archuleta, but David Archuleta wouldn't have *dared* this kind of performance. Danny's a bit spastic, but he's having a tremendous amount of fun and he sounds good, darned good. [Also, forgive me for mentioning this at all, but it's *healthy* that no mention was made of Danny's wife in the clip package.]
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Paula breathlessly thinks Danny is on his way to the Finals. Yikes. "We're only three contestants in on the first show and you've already won," Simon is amazed. Simon compares him to Michael McDonald and calls him a white boy with soul. Simon insults the dancing, but nobody cares. You know what's so amazing about Danny for Randy? Danny showed range to Randy, who loved both the dancing and the singing. Kara felt Danny's joy.

Singer: MICHAEL SARVER
Song: "You Are Not Alone"
My Take: Did anybody else know that Michael worked on an oil rig? I did. I'm not giving anybody credit for singing maudlin Jacko tonight. If Danny and Lil can take on the up-tempo challenge, Michael gets no points for doing the bland and straight-forward "You Are Not Alone." I just want people to swing for the fences tonight and Michael's a big guy who was satisfied to get to first on a hit-by-pitch. He seems to be forcing all of the notes and the words. He hits some big notes, especially at the end, but it's a safe and dull performance.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Simon tells Michael that he isn't the best singer in the competition, but that he made up for it with passion and heart. "I just wish we knew what you did for a living," Simon dead-pans. You know what Randy's happy about, man? Randy's telling Michael that he's definitely one of the best tonight. [I concur. Absolutely Top Four so far, Randy.] Tonight showed Kara that Michael can sing, that he can hit those notes. Paula thinks the song was "instinctually perfect" for Michael and that he sounded lovely.

Singer: JASMINE MURRAY
Song: "I'll Be There"
My Take: Sure. Go for it. Cover the Michael Jackson song that Mariah Carey made her own. Yawn. If you do this, you're inviting the Mariah comparisons. You're begging for them. And if you can't quite nail the big notes -- and Jasmine can't pull them off without sounding strained -- it just makes you look bad. Jasmine's blended the Jackson version with the Mariah version to avoid Carey's pyrotechnics, so she's doing a dumbed down Carey performance and she still isn't quite hitting the notes on the chorus. It's all coming from her head, not her diaphragm.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Check it out... You know what? Randy recorded the Mariah Carey version and he was actually impressed by Jasmine. Kara thinks the song was a bit high for Jasmine. Look at Paula! She's correctly calling Jasmine on being just under some of the notes. Simon praises the control, but calls it a little bit robotic and tells her to lighten up and act her age.

Singer: KRIS ALLEN
Song: "Remember the Time"
My Take: Kris already did a boring Michael Jackson cover and it somehow got him into the Top 13. I'm not sure that musically the guitar is adding anything to Kris' performance, but he looks a bit more confident. Once again, Kris is denying us the allegedly remarkable voice the judges keep going on about. This is mid-tempo, so I can't criticize him too heavily for song choice. He's made the song is own and, in the process, he hits a couple rough parts, more and more as he goes along, but it's certainly a more memorable performance than his first.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Kara thinks the girls love Kris. She's happy to see him with his guitar and, for that, she's willing to forgive the few notes that were off. Kara also tells us that Kris spent the week helping the other contestants. Paula calls Kris "adorable-sexy." I guess it's been long enough since Corey Clark that this is now acceptable? She doesn't mention his performance or voice. Simon didn't understand what the guitar had to do anything. Randy compares Kris to Jason Mraz. Seacrest, you idiot, Simon's comment was about how Kris might have turned off the gals by revealing his wife. He wasn't giving relationship advice.

Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
Song: "Give Into Me"
My Take: Allison Heart-izes this one, which is probably what's going to become her trademark. She's going to owe Ann Wilson royalties by the end of the season. Allison starts off mumbly and quiet and too-low, but then when she gets to tear into the song, it suddenly becomes a solidly brassy girl-rock anthem. It took her a bit longer to hit her sweet spot with this than on "Alone," but the end is impressive. The most impressive part? This is one of those songs where the "Idol" band is far too loud and where any lesser a vocalist would be drowned out and get lost. Allison never wavers for a second.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Paula's mind is boggled by Allison's youth and by her hair. Simon's happy that he knows who Allison is, praising her confidence. Allison can sing, Randy announces, warning that she may be one to watch. Kara urges her to keep being a rocker girl.

Singer: ANOOP DESAI
Song: "Beat It"
My Take: Yeah, I'd have preferred if Anoop had done "Thriller," but this is my clear second choice. He's Got The Matrix flashing behind him and he's taking it marvelously serious. His vocals aren't quite there, especially when he goes down to the audience and tries to bring them into the party. Actually, if I'm being honest, there are almost no vocals here at all and his commitment to the dancing isn't very involved either. At this point, though, my enjoyment of Anoop is so total that I don't care he's letting me down a little. Do I wish he could have been audacious and also good? Yes. But I'll settle somewhat for the audacity.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Paula thought the song was untouchable and sounded karaoke to her. Simon goes further, calling it horrible, lightweight and karaoke. For Randy, it was just the wrong choice. and that Anoop could have done more. The biggest problem for Kara is that they didn't get to hear any variation, that she was disconnected to him. Simon actually says he regrets putting Anoop through.

Singer: JORGE NUNEZ
Song: "Never Can Say Good-Bye"
My Take: Jorge's dreamy, sure. But he's in danger, if he makes too much eye contact with the camera, of seeming cheesy. Tonight? Very corny. He never loses track of the camera. He's almost like a predator following the camera, like a flirtatious raptor. Maybe it's the venue and the technology distracting him, but his enunciation is dreadful and his pitch is iffy.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Randy has mad love for Jorge, but the song was too old-fashioned for him and not challenging enough. Kara wasn't feeling the emotional connection, even dropping the "Second Language" card. Paula also has mad love, but she didn't feel the performance either. Jorge says he didn't have a choice. "I wasn't going to sing 'Bad' by Michael Jackson," Jorge says. Simon says, "Well, you sortta did." Simon adds that he couldn't wait for it to end.

Singer: MEGAN JOY
Song: "Rockin' Robin"
My Take: What a weird outfit for Megan. She looks almost like a blow-up doll, with a full-sleave tattoo. And is "Rockin' Robin" really a Michael Jackson song in any way, shape or form? Also, who suggested that what Megan needed was to do *more* dancing? But enough of that. She looks beautiful and sounds like Megan, delivering easily her most forceful vocal on a song that doesn't really require all that much force. She isn't singing the album version of the song, but her alterations are small, subtle and distinctive. She also ends with a "Caw-Caw!" How can you not adore that she thinks robins go, "Caw"?
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Kara loves how "Megan" the performance was, though she wants more range and falsetto in the future. Paula didn't get quite the quirky tone to her voice that she wanted. Simon uses words like "stupid," "ridiculous," "awkward." Randy also didn't like the song choice, which didn't let Megan be Megan.

Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
Song: "Black & White"
My Take: A Michael Jackson is a lay-up for Adam, with his upper register. He's overwhelmed by the band and the start and I'm immediately worried. But Adam finds himself as he goes along and the song shifts into a rock-n-roll mode. It starts off as straight-forward Jacko and becomes bigger and bigger until he's practically playing to an arena. He runs all over the stage without ever losing his breath or his rhythm, jumping around and stirring the audience up. Is anybody else ready for Adam's take on Guns 'n' Roses night? I am? I'll bet he does a spectacular Axl Rose. Is Adam theatrical? Yes. Is he frantic? Yes. Is his showmanship off the charts? Yes. His phrasing is better than anything we've seen on "Idol" since Melinda Doolittle. He plays ever word. Also, it's hard not to read at least some political statement into this choice of song.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Paula says they've never had a more comfortable and seasoned performer in the show's history. She's on the verge of tears an it looks like Adam's about to join her. She says Adam's in the Finals also. Well that's it, then. Adam vs. Danny. Simon says it was in a totally different league from anything else we've seen tonight. Randy says Adam could make a record right now and that Adam's got it. Kara has nothing to add. She hopes Michael Jackson is watching tonight.

Singer: MATT GIRAUD
Song: "Human Nature"
My Take: Without his bluesy mannerism, Matt isn't actually a very good singer. He can't just hit notes. Everything needs a trill or a vibrato or a falsetto. Nothing is just steady and on-pitch. First, you have to master the easy stuff, Boy-O. The closing falsetto is horrible, like a child. But I'll say this: Unlike with Scott, I felt like Matt was adding something with his piano, that he was actually steering the music with his instrument.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Randy thought it was a pretty good performance. Kara wants to see him for many, many weeks. Paula is, once again, blown away. Even Simon says it was a "meat-and-potatos" good performance. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

Singer: ALEXIS GRACE
Song: "Dirty Diana"
My Take: Lots of moms crying about their babies tonight. Will they split the MILF vote? Nobody will every say that Alexis took an easy song tonight. Is it the smartest choice? I'm not sure. Allison is this season's rocker-chick. Alexis has to be the "How did that big voice come out of that little girl?" blues singer. This is not that. This is a tiny singer on a big stage trying desperately to put a punky imprint on a song that isn't right for her voice. I can't begrudge her for trying to fiddle with her image and she's definitely doing that. The judges asked for dirty and naughty and this is probably the very best she can do. She's also strained and shout-y, especially as she progresses.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Simon Say: Kara's happy to have Alexis back. Where has she been? Kara says, "You're a naughty girl and I like that." Paula warns her about over-singing. Simon says it maybe wasn't as good as she thought it was. Randy only says it was good. Ryan repeats over and over again that Alexis' number is 36.

TONIGHT'S BEST: Danny and Adam were several steps above everybody else. I also was happy with Lil and Allison. And, I don't care what the judges say, I liked Megan.

TONIGHT'S WORST: Again, I don't care what the judges said, Matt and Scott were the night's worst. OK. Fine. Anoop was also really bad, as was Jorge.

IN DANGER: This is the wrong night to be doing a double-elimination. Much has already been made of the phone sex confusion with the addition of the 13th number. You don't run the risk of eliminating somebody whose vote total could be skewed by the confusion of stupid viewers. Alexis wasn't good, but she doesn't deserve to go home. Will voter confusion put her in the bottom group? Will Lil be in trouble because she started the longest show in "Idol" history? As I look back on the performances, there are a lot of OK performances in the middle by contestants who may get forgotten if they aren't lucky. Kris, Michael and Jasmine didn't make my list of the night's worst, but they weren't memorable, which could be just as bad. I think Kris, Jasmine and Anoop could be in the Bottom Three.

What'd you think? Who shined? Who faltered? And what's the twist tomorrow night?


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