‘American Idol’ Report Card: James Durbin Joins Pia Toscano At The Top

Many of the top 13 stumbled this week, and we're not grading on a curve.

Listen up, “American Idol” students! You’ve got to show up to class every single week, and by that we don’t just mean filling a seat onstage and snoozing through the competition. We mean coming prepared. We mean building on previous performances, displaying artistic growth, and wowing us anew.

Alas, that’s not what happened with most of the “Idol” contestants on Wednesday’s (March 9) show, and all we have to say to those slackers is that we’re not upset, we’re just disappointed. After generally strong performances last week, many of the top 13 stumbled. Now, it’s report card time, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Excellent
Pia Toscano: First, the excellent news: Pia’s got the best set of pipes on the show. Anytime she steps up to the mic and belts out a ballad, she’ll sound great, as was the case during her take on Celine Dion’s version of “All by Myself.” That’s why she again stands at the top of the “Idol” class. Now, the tough love: We’re honestly wondering if Pia has any setting on her vocal chords other than “wail.” She’s got to show some artistic range in the coming weeks if she wants to keep earning high marks.

James Durbin: We’re as shocked as anyone that Durbin killed it with Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” We never saw the appeal of this kid up until now, especially after his messy Judas Priest, look-ma-I’m-a-rock-star shtick last week. This time around, he lost the scarf-tail-thingy and embraced his sensitive-rocker side. Who knew it ever existed? More of this, please.

Good
Casey Abrams: A pattern is beginning to emerge with Casey’s performances. They start out ordinary enough, then unleash themselves with growls and feelin’-it-dog gyrations. There’s a certain predictability to Casey at this point, which is the only reason he misses out on a higher grade. That being said, he’s so comfortable onstage, is simply a pleasure to watch and has a voice capable of great phrasing and greater emotive power.

Stefano Langone: This wild-card kid had a lot to prove on Wednesday. And he had a lot to overcome, thanks to a hammy arrangement marred by a Bee Gee-esque backbeat. Nonetheless, his vocals were on point and pleasingly reminiscent of Stevie Wonder during a cover of “Lately.” We agree with Jim Cantiello’s mother-in-law: Stefano is this season’s heartthrob, and he won’t be going home this week.

Naima Adedapo: OK, her take on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was kind of a mess. And it was far removed from the jazzy-pop vibe we think is her strength. So how did she make it into “good” territory? For simply being intriguing. She took a big risk — reggae breakdown, people?! — and we sat up and noticed. For every rushed vocal line, there were some nifty dance moves to compensate. We hope this wild card gets to stick around for a while, because in a season filled with predictability, Naima has the potential to surprise us every week.

Satisfactory
Paul McDonald: No one disappointed us on Wednesday like McDonald. He looked borderline creepy up there during Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up.” He’s got such a beautiful tone and is perhaps the season’s most fully formed artist. But this was not McDonald at his finest. Not that you would get that sense from the judges, who uttered the word “love” about 204 times in 203 seconds.

Lauren Alaina: The gal who could seemingly do no wrong on “Idol” was finally dinged by the judges, and she seemed absolutely gutted by the disses, however apologetic they were. The fact is, Lauren’s performance of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” — while a very savvy choice — felt flat. There was something missing that we can’t quite put on finger on. Maybe she was just tired? She’s not going anywhere, though, fan favorite that she is.

Haley Reinhart: Just because you make a strong vocal choice, that doesn’t mean it was a wise or ear-pleasing one. The yodels? Not a good call, unless Haley was actually attempting to sound like a beached whale.

Thia Megia: The teen took Michael Jackson into Billie Holliday land, and while we did, as always, enjoy her beautiful tone, “Smile” just seemed like the wrong song choice. The arrangement, too, was all sorts of wrong, once the tempo sped up. Thia should’ve embraced someone like Adele, as we previously suggested .

Scotty McCreery: Though Scotty stood on the “Idol” stage like everyone else, this performance felt phoned in. Dare we say there was something almost lazy about his croon-by-numbers rendition of Garth Brooks’ “The River”? Show us something new, Scotty, because we’re getting a bit bored.

Unsatisfactory
Ashton Jones: She’s in big trouble this week. After getting a wild-card berth in the top 13, she slipped badly while doubling-down on being a diva. Diana Ross never warbled like this. Ashton opened her arms wide while singing, as if to hug the home audience, and we have a feeling the voters will not be returning her embrace.

Jacob Lusk: We were hoping for a breakout performance from Lusk ; what we got instead was a breakdown. He zoomed from 0 to 60 without pausing long enough to let us strap on a seat belt. Perhaps his strategy was that if he shouted long and loudly enough, we wouldn’t realize what a terrible arrangement he had to contend with, complete with a low-rent, drum-machine effect. Well, we did. Jacob’s not going anywhere— he remains too likable — but he’ll have to step up next week.

Karen Rodriguez: Might this be the end of the line for Karen ? There were pitch problems galore, especially, but sadly not limited to, her lower register. Jimmy Iovine was worried about her vocal strength for good reason: She simply didn’t have the power to take on this Selena song, and she might be going home because of it.

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