"American Idol" opened up its stage to inspirational songs, in 2007 and 2008, as part of its "Idol Gives Back" charity show. Those theme weeks gave us performances that were either uplifting (Jason Castro's ethereal "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") or left us in the reality-show doldrums (Michael John's "Dream On," which got him the boot).
After taking a year off during a recession-afflicted 2009, "Idol Gives Back" and inspirational songs are back — this time led by mentor Alicia Keys. The wide-open theme will give contestants the chance to go old-school (Frank Sinatra) or contemporary (Kelly Clarkson), youthful (Jordin Sparks) or mature (Susan Boyle), country (Rascal Flatts), soul (James Brown) or rock (Queen). In short, "Idol" hopefuls can take their song selections in any direction they choose. Here's where we'd like to see them go.
MamaSox is season nine's front-runner. Nothing's changed on that front. Yet, after a string of so-so (for her) performances in recent weeks and the revelation that she considered quitting "Idol", she's got something to prove. How to do that? Return to the kind of song that first established her as the finalist to beat: her gospel-infused, screw-my-hospitalization take on "Long As I Can See The Light." Bowersox should ride the gospel/soul train again with Billy Preston's "That's The Way God Planned It." Crystal, don't you go nowhere, ya hear?
The 24-year-old has weaved back and forth between rocker and singer/songwriter personas all season, seemingly reluctant to embrace either one too fully. If we had to compare the overall impression of his sound to that of a successful band on the scene right now, we'd have to go with Train. And guess what? Train's "Calling All Angels" is on this week's approved song list. Dewyze's voice undoubtedly struggles far more than it should, but when he's on, we do hear something similar to Train's frontman, Patrick Monahan.
James likes to rock out, and who are we to dissuade the guy from letting his hair down and trying to go all Zeppelin on us? Only problem is that it doesn't always work. A restrained Casey is a far more pleasing creature than a wild-child Casey. Case in point: his slow, growly rendition of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy." So how about we split the difference? A slow, bluesy, acoustic rendition of Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes' "Up Where We Belong."
Like Andrew Garcia before her, Siobhan has found herself boxed in by her past performances. And if there's one thing we've come to learn about this 20-year-old, it's that she does not like to be boxed in. We've got the perfect song for her to burst forth from those confines: the Pretenders' mournful, sonorous "I'll Stand by You." The song just fits, and trying on a bit of a Chrissie Hynde rocker persona this week might do Magnus some good.
Should Urban quit while he's ahead? Because his take on Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" last week was his finest performance of the season, and we fear he has nowhere to go but down. In the weirdest way, we've come to appreciate our dose of Teflon Tim each week: You really never know what you're going to get. And we won't complain at all if we keep getting a Tim who can deliver such ear-pleasing tuneage. We encourage him to stay on the same pop-rocky track with Five for Fighting's "World."
Big Mike! You escaped with your life last week — now learn your lessons well. Ditch the guitar, indulge your R&B instincts and keep it ... slooow. Because it's the strength you showed during your take on "This Woman's Work," more than anything else, that has kept you in the competition. Here's the song we keep coming back to for you: Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It's got the right tempo, and with a soul-infused arrangement, this could become a memorable performance for you.
Sometimes we have cerebral reasons for suggesting song choices; others are based on "Idol" history. And then there are the times when a song suggestion just feels right. Thus we submit Enigma's "Return to Innocence." It would just be so ... perfect! Is there any chance he'll pick this tune? Nope. But as long as we're asking questions, is there any reason to explain how he's stuck around the "Idol" stage this long?
What are your suggestions for inspirational-songs week on "Idol"? Tell us in the comments!
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