'American Idol' Season Nine Vs. Season Eight: How Do They Compare?

After a rocky start to the semifinals, we take a look back at this stage of the competition last year.

After two nights of middling top 24 "American Idol" performances — from Tim Urban's bleated butchering of OneRepublic to Lacey Brown's drearily clichéd "Landslide" — a consensus seems to be forming that this year's talent pales in comparison to that of last season. But are the season-nine crooners really that much worse at this stage in the competition than contestants that came before them?

We took a look back at the first live shows of season eight — when the show featured a top 36 rather than a top 24 — to reacquaint ourselves with past performances and provide a little context as the new season pushes forward.

In February 2009, we hammered Anoop Desai for croaking his way through Monica's "Angel of Mine," and he was actually sent packing — until the judges rescued him with one of their wild cards. 'Noop Dog went on to show off some admirable R&B skills and finished sixth in the competition. That first live show didn't represent who he truly was as a singer.

Conversely, Alexis Grace delivered a soaring take on Aretha Franklin's "Never Loved a Man," earning comparisons to Kelly Clarkson and making us think she was a serious contender; she didn't even make the top 10. The point is, the first live show is not the most accurate indicator of performances to come.

That being said, there's no denying this week's "Idol" offered up some wicked stinkers and very few breath-takers. When he wasn't being ogled by Kara DioGuardi, Casey James sauntered through a fine acoustic version of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" and Lilly Scott surprised us with a reworked take on the Beatles' "Fixing a Hole." Yet with the possible exception of Andrew Garcia (who made an odd song choice with Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down" but is nonetheless a front-runner), this season has given us nothing like the breakout talents from season eight.

Back in '09, Danny Gokey blew the audience away with Mariah Carey's "Hero." Allison Iraheta immediately called to mind a gruffer, more authentic and more talented incarnation of Avril Lavigne. And after Adam Lambert's glammed-up take on the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," it became clear he was unlike anyone the show had ever seen. All these top 36 contestants went on to sign major-label deals.

And this season? We've got some hopefuls, but no one who wowed us.

Does that mean we won't be wowed at all this season? Will the contestants step up their game in the weeks to come? Let us know what you think!

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