Live notes after the jump. Big show, because they're eliminating two contestants this week.
[All of what follows was written during the show except for some bracketed extra notes.]
Fancy judges introduction and entrance, and more of the same for Ryan. Big staircase for people to fall down. Ryan says this is the moment we've been waiting for. Well, actually I'm waiting until it's the final two. Ryan shows off the humongous stage and "500 screaming fans." Blather with judges: Kara says "one or two or three" of the contestants could end up on the radio. And then lose their label deal six months later! Simon and Paula bicker.
Top 13 introduced: Lil Rounds first, Alexis Grace last.
Simon says two contestants will go home tomorrow. In other words, they're not extending the season for the sake of 13 performers. And the song catalog, as has been said, is from the archive of Michael Jackson. Which leads into the requisite kissing up to the artist being showcased. But no Jacko.
Lil Rounds video. Song: "The Way You Make Me Feel." Odd outfit. Keeps it comfortably in her range, soulful and no falsetto -- but she hits a high note just in case people think she can't. Paula not only up and dancing, we get a closeup of Paula up and dancing; this will be the last time I mention Paula's dancing in this post. Good start. B plus. Randy praises. Kara says the other contestants are worried and "I hope we get to hear you on the radio." Calls the last note "sick." Paula likes the softness of her look, and "you are the force to be reckoned with." Simon thought it good but was a lazy song choice and he hates what she's wearing.
Next: Scott MacIntyre. "Keep the Faith." Accompanies himself on the piano, which the judges have indicated is the most comfortable thing for him. MOR-gospel thing, with some Elton thrown in, especially in the way they're using strings. But he isn't hitting some of the higher notes and squawking in spots. C. The crowd goes wild. Kara asks if he just learned it on piano this week; she is still glad to see him with the piano and that he didn't go with an obvious Michael Jackson song, and that it's uplifting. Still, buried in the feel-good is an admission that it "wasn't the most dynamic performance." Paula thought it was magical and points out Siedah Garrett, who wrote the song, in the audience. Simon hated it "because nobody knows it." Scott says he wanted to be artistic. Simon says "not on this show." Noisy crowd, Paula argues, but Simon insists he didn't like the song. Paula brings up that Simon claimed it was the biggest selling song in Norway. Randy thought the performance was good but safe. Simon says it was old-fashioned.
A lot of hectoring and arguing already, and the singer placement appears to be designed to bracket the show with the early faves, so the audience starts happy and ends the same way. But they've done that before.
Next: Danny Gokey. "P.Y.T." Awkward little start before going uptempo. Almost as if Danny is trying to co-opt some Matt Giraud votes. I like his style, but the vocal's only fair. C plus/B minus. Paula is pretty much weeping and says he is on his way to the finals. Simon laughs; Paula says she made the call early on Carrie Underwood. Then says "the vocals were brilliant," recalls Michael McDonald, and "the dancing was hideous." Danny admits it's difficult to combine the dancing and singing. Randy loved it all and the dancing was "passionate." Kara says "you have joy when you step onstage."
Michael Sarver. "You Are Not Alone." Sitting down. Wobbly vocal at first, improving, then not. Shouty. Least impressive so far. C/C minus. Simon says he's not the best singer in the competition but made up for it with passion, and makes a snide remark about all the oil-rigger hype. Randy says he's one of the best in it right now. Eh? Kara said tonight showed Michael really could sing and "you did a great job." Paula says "you sounded really lovely."
Jasmine Murray. "I'll Be There," reaching into the J5 archive. Pretty, kind of, but bland and she is also botching the big stuff -- very shouty. C. Randy recalls recording a remake of the song with Mariah Carey, that this blended Michael and Mariah but "it wasn't that bad, it was pretty good." Kara went "whoaaa" on some notes but she might have tried a half key down. Paula talks about composure and poise, with "some bright moments" and other places where she was "under," as if she couldn't hear herself on the monitors (Paula's theory). Simon calls it "a good attempt," and says big notes "are always gonna trouble you," and it was "robotic at times." Wants her "to act your age a little bit."
Kris Allen. "Remember the Time." Kris with guitar. This is a pretty sexy song, and Kris has leached all the sex out of it. He's trying, but I'm not feeling it. C. Kara says "the girls love Kris," and she is happy to see him with his guitar, although "there were a few notes that were off." Kara, continuing her offering of comments that have no relation to the vocals, adds that Kris helped the other contestants this week. Paula says he was helping because "no one knows Michael's catalog better than you." And calls him "adorable sexy." Simon called it "interesting" but not sure it worked with guitar, but says he should have kept the wife out of his performances for a couple of weeks. Randy says -- seriously -- "very well job done."
Allison Iraheta. "Give in to Me." She rocked in the semifinals but this is already making her seem like a one-vocal-trick pony. But she's got a style that works well on stage. C plus/B minus. Paula thinks she's a rock star. Simon thought it was good and she knows what kind of artist she wants to be, and "very good." Randy says "you can sing anything" and she is the one to watch in the competition. Kara tells her to keep being the rocker girl.
'Noop. Anoop Desai. Ryan brings up the ending of the show last week WHICH MILLIONS OF DVR USERS MISSED BECAUSE THE SHOW RAN LONG. "Beat It." Trying to be more macho. And he can sing. But it's a terrible version in all respects, including the guitar backing. Still one of my faves, but not because of that performance. C plus, but that's a fan grade. I think he should have stayed the smooth-love god instead of shifting gears. Paula and Simon argue over who will go first, with Simon telling Paula to go. Paula thinks the song is untouchable and anything else sounds karaoke. Simon thought it was horrible and "it looked a bit stupid." Randy says it was the wrong song choice -- "very karaoke." Kara also not impressed. 'Noop promises to do better next week. If he gets next week.
Jorge Nunez. "Never Can Say Goodbye." More J5. Never was a big fan of this song. (Sorry, Clifton Davis.) And while Jorge's got a voice and uses it well, I'm just left blah by the performance. C. Randy says it wasn't the song he would have chosen. Kara says he's one of the most emotionally connected people on the show but not with this; odd comment about "a different language." Paula says he wasn't himself, and gives him an out by letting him explain his song choice. Simon says "it was corny and you were out of your depth," and thought the arrangement "awful."
Megan Joy Corkrey. [Late note: She has apparently dropped the Corkrey, since the Idol website is now billing her as just Megan Joy, but her forums still have the Corkrey. I will abide by the show's official naming in the future, since other contestants have undergone moniker changes during the show.] "Rockin' Robin." Which the J5 covered from Bobby Day. indicating a real lack of depth in Jacko's solo work where this show is concerned. Bizarre choice. Bizarrrrre choice. Odd stage movement. Scary bad. I have no idea what she was thinking. D. Kara goes in the tank, saying Megan injected her personality while noting flaws in the song. Paula likes her quirky and unique tone. My goodness, the Megan crush has gone beyond all reason. Simon, please, Simon! "What a stupid song choice!" THANK YOU. Also knocks the vocal and the movement, and he is right. Randy also critical. Brief blatant plug for Gordon Ramsay, who is in the audience but -- perhaps fortunately -- cannot be heard and has no mike.
Adam Lambert. "Black and White." [OK, "Black or White." Was writing on the run.] I may just have to check out whenever he sings. Don't like him. Although I might see him play Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar." But I have to assign a grade, and since I am just unimpressed, I'll drop him a C. The crowd of course goes wild, and Paula is euphoric. "My eyes are transfixed on you," she says. Adam is moved. She predicts he will be "running all the way to the end." So I guess we can all take a break, since Paula has now declared a Danny-Adam final. Simon is also impressed. Randy says a record by Adam would sail right to the top of the charts. Kara says he hits notes she didn't even know existed.
Paula raves some more, and Simon feels compelled to remind people that there are 10 more weeks of the show.
Matt Giraud. "Human Nature." At the piano. See, this is a song I think is hard to duplicate/replicate/improve on/cover Tricky arrangement and a distinct Michael vocal. This is OK, but nothing I'm heading to iTunes before. And he screeches in the high parts. C plus. Randy favors. Kara wants to see him for many more weeks. Paula blown away. Simon calls it meat-and-potatoes solid.
Alexis to close. But I am pausing because Akron is in overtime in the MAC tournament. Akron wins! No, wait, a review! Radio announcers going crazy. (No TV.) Basket counts. Half a second left. Zips win.
And now back to our regular programming. Alexis Grace closes with "Dirty Diana." She's OK except that it's not a great song and she has this weird spasm-like move. But a B minus and the second best perf of the night after Lil. So the show at least bracketed properly. Kara says "you're back." Paula says "watch your oversinging." Simon calls it "very over the top." Randy says something, but I'm still thinking about the game. Ryan warns people to dial very carefully (there's an issue with sex-phone lines because of the final 13.)
Simon and Ryan vaguely discuss a rules change for tomorrow night that involves the judges. Sounds suspiciously like a sing-off. [Or -- this has occurred to me a bit later -- the judges will be able to exercise a veto of the vote and save contestants they consider worthy. Which would be quite a twist but also in keeping with the greater control the judges have been exercising this year, such as with the extensive wild-card picks.]