‘American Idol’ Top 11: Crystal Bowersox, Aaron Kelly Find Hits On #1 Night

Katie Stevens gains confidence with help from Miley Cyrus.

With Tuesday night’s (March 23) broad theme of #1 Billboard hits to choose from, “American Idol” contestants had the opportunity to choose the perfect vehicles to establish themselves as artists worthy of making the top 10 — and the lucrative Idols Live! summer tour. But several stumbled anyway, leaving the judges baffled by their wrong or too-easy song choices. Only Crystal Bowersox, Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens earned praise across the board.

As this week’s mentor, Miley Cyrus offered some generic praise and suggestions for the contestants to push themselves a little more. But she did offer some valuable support and advice to a handful of hopefuls.

First up was Lee Dewyze, with “The Letter” by the Box Tops (the group with which the late Alex Chilton , who died last week, got his start as a teenager). Miley said she tried to help Lee with his stage presence, and he did have a more relaxed posture as he grooved to a bluesy, upbeat version of the song. Ellen DeGeneres and Randy Jackson loved it, and Kara DioGuardi observed that he was “finally owning the stage.” But Simon Cowell disapproved of the “quite corny” song choice and arrangement.

Paige Miles had been worried about her super-high strappy heels, but from the first notes of Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” it was clear she had bigger problems. Randy bluntly called her out-of-tune performance “honestly terrible.” Ellen didn’t even want to comment on the music, but Kara and Simon thought it seemed like Paige had stopped competing weeks ago.

Not suffering from a lack of confidence was Tim Urban, who seemed to embrace his teen-heartthrob image with Queen’s ’50s-retro tune “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” While moving into the audience, pointing at the fans and sliding across the stage, Tim actually managed to stay in tune. But his efforts earned him the label of “bad karaoke” from Randy, a comparison to a “High School Musical” audition from Ellen, and another Zac Efron reference from Kara. (It was fitting, since “Hairspray” director Adam Shankman was in the audience next to Miley.) Then Simon ripped into Tim for giving yet another “silly” performance.

Aaron Kelly managed to get over the triple obstacles of a crush on Miley, laryngitis and tonsillitis to deliver a solid rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Ellen and Kara praised his song choice; Randy blamed a few bad notes on the laryngitis; and though Simon thought it was “old-fashioned,” he admitted that there was zero chance Aaron would be going home this week.

Odds were pretty good that Crystal Bowersox would do a Janis Joplin song at some point in the season. But the dreadlocked singer’s rocking gospel take on “Me and Bobby McGee” (a version that Simon noted was very similar to Pink’s cover) was the night’s highlight. After dishing out grumpy critiques all night, Randy declared, “I’m so happy now,” after Crystal sang. Though Ellen and Kara urged Crystal to connect more with her audience in the future, Simon disagreed, saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.”

Michael Lynche rehearsed “When a Man Loves a Woman” staring straight into Miley’s eyes, making the 17-year-old confess, “I’m falling in love with you.” His soulful take on the song was without noticeable flaws, but Ellen called it “safe” and Kara pointed out that he got too “lounge-y and overindulgent.” Simon repeated what he told several other contestants and wished that Big Mike had done a more contemporary arrangement.

Miley’s advice to Andrew Garcia to put down his guitar for “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” seemed like a good idea. But it just led to a lot of awkwardly emphatic hand gestures during his pitchy rendition of the song, and Kara said he looked like a puppet onstage. Inevitably, the judges brought up his “Straight Up” performance, and Simon wondered if “maybe we overrated that moment.”

Katie Stevens seemed to gather strength and confidence from her conversation with Miley about how to react to criticism. She also took the judges’ advice and picked a more current song, Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Though her rendition sounded more adult-contemporary than teen pop, the judges praised her choice. “This is the lane for you,” Kara said.

Casey James did a dead-on Huey Lewis impression for “The Power of Love,” hardly changing a note from the ’80s tune. While Randy, Ellen and Kara loved it, Simon called him out for being too identical to the original.

Didi Benami tried to show her range with Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good,” and she said talking to Miley about stage fright helped her. But her sultry, forceful delivery didn’t do much for the judges. “It felt like you were playing a character,” Kara said, and Simon agreed that it didn’t sound like Didi was being herself.

Siobhan Magnus closed the show with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” with her trendy outfit and flashy fauxhawk belying a very faithful rendition of the original. She, of course, screamed out a climactic high note at the end, earning praise from Randy, Ellen and Kara. Simon thought the performance would divide fans, however. He ended the night with a warning for Siobhan and all the other contestants that they’d need to start pushing themselves a little harder in the coming weeks.

Who was your favorite of the top 11 performances? Share your comments and predictions in the comments below!

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