‘American Idol’ Top 13 Preview: Will Pia Toscano And Casey Abrams Deliver?

We take a look at what the semifinalists need to do to stay in the race.

Word on the reality-show street is, Wednesday’s (March 9) “American Idol” theme will have the top 13 contestants singing the tunes of artists they worship, but that’s the farthest we’ll dive into spoiler territory.

Producers made the decision to pretape the performance episode , and while the Web is rife with info about what went down during the show, we’ve chosen to avoid all that. What’s the fun in reading about a reality competition before actually seeing it?

So diving into the upcoming episode with only past shows to inform us, let’s take a look at each singer: who we’re excited about, who we honestly don’t care for and who better step it up or risk getting the boot on Thursday night.

Ashthon Jones
The 25-year-old has a whole lotta potential, but as someone wiser than us once said, potential just means you ain’t done sh– yet. Jones displayed boatloads of confidence and stage presence last week, yet never set sail toward the front of the “Idol” pack. She’s got some R&B gifts, but something about her take on Monica’s “Love All Over Me” felt too self-consciously like she was reaching for a diva moment. Ashthon, you’re not quite there yet. There’s a reason the judges had to use a wild card to save you. Show us your fun, energetic side first. Win some voters over. Wait a few more weeks before going diva again.

Casey Abrams
This kid has two things going for him: a free-wheeling, blues- and soul-infused instrument and a likable, everydude demeanor. Whether he’s too quirky to win the whole shebang (see: Bowersox, Crystal) is an open question. But there’s no doubting he’s a fan favorite, and even if his new performance doesn’t even approach his eyebrow-raising take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” Abrams will be safe. We think we can count on him bringing the blues on Wednesday. Let’s see if he can tone down the growls a bit.

Haley Reinhart
Hey, we didn’t feel her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” but America clearly did, voting her through to the next round. If she delivers another performance with notes that ping-pong across the musical scale, she might be in trouble. Like Jones, we encourage Haley to dial back the diva-tude and realize she’s never going to out-belt someone like Keys. Song choice will be the key to her survival, or lack thereof.

Jacob Lusk
Last week, we argued that while Lusk is potentially on the brink of a breakout performance, he’s not quite there; there was something simply too old-fashioned about it. Though a Luther Vandross tune is already on his “Idol” résumé, we can’t say we think Lusk will take on a song penned in this century. And that’s fine. We can only hope the 23-year-old morphs a tune from whatever throwback artist he idolizes into something contemporary and relevant.

James Durbin
Confession time! We just don’t get this guy. He’s apparently a hair-metal devotee, but last week’s performance reeked of wannabe-rocker artifice. We encourage Durbin to slow it down, turn down the volume and showcase his vocals. But not that scream. Please not that scream!

Karen Rodriguez
Based on her English/Spanish mash-up last week, we’re pretty certain the New Yorker will opt for a tune by a Latina chanteuse on Wednesday. The key will be which one she chooses and if her vocal chops can compare to her artistic idol. And after going for a ballad, we’ll be looking for Rodriguez to pick up the tempo. Regardless, she won’t be in danger of going home. According to our “Idol” poll, she’s a fan favorite.

Lauren Alaina
Speaking of favorites! Lauren is clearly an artist who the producers themselves idolize — and it’s rubbed off on voters. But let’s be honest: At this point, she’s neither Kelly Clarkson nor Carrie Underwood, despite the judges’ commentary. She does, however, have the makings of an “Idol” finalist, with that country/rock vibe. Our only request is that she not deliver another Red Bull-ified performance. We want Lauren to slow it down and show us those killer vocals.

Naima Adedapo
Naima enters Wednesday in serious danger, if only because she’s only around due to a judges’ wild card. In a new promotional video, the singer cited India.Arie and Erykah Badu as her favorite artists. Either would be an apt choice for the new performance. We’re just not sure she can do anything to steal away votes from the fan favorites — which is a shame, because she’s one of the more unique talents this season.

Paul McDonald
No one seemed to be having more fun onstage last week than McDonald. Gospel-tinged Southern rock is his sweet spot, and we definitely dig it. We see McDonald reaching back into the ’70s this week, and we expect another top-notch performance. Anything less would be a let-down.

Pia Toscano
Toscano, too, has almost nowhere to go but down this week, so astounding were her vocals on the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You.” And therein lies a potential pitfall: We hope she doesn’t try to deliver another standing-ovation-worthy vocal performance. Show us some artistic range to match those vocal chops!

Scotty McCreery
The North Carolina boy has cornered the traditional country-crooner corner, and he seems to have little interest in stepping outside it. He’s cited George Strait and Randy Travis as influences. Either one’s discography would make sense for Scotty to plumb this week. And since both those guys have sold millions of records, how can we advise against the choice?

Stefano Langone
He squeaked through last week via the judges’ wild card, so the pressure’s on. He’ll have to do far better than that brutal rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” to continue on. Here’s the thing: We liked the song choice and hope he stays with such radio-friendly material. He’ll just have to knock the vocals out of the auditorium if he wants to assure himself a spot on next week’s show.

Thia Megia
The 16-year-old apparently listens to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé on her iPod. Steer clear, Thia! Luckily, she also has an affinity for Duffy and Adele. In fact, plucking something like “Someone Like You” off of Adele’s #1 album would be an inspired choice. As with Alaina, though, nothing short of having a temper tantrum onstage can keep her from advancing.

Don’t miss “Idol Party Live” every Thursday on MTV.com, following the “American Idol” results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke — get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page , where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.