Last week on "American Idol," it was all Elton John, all the time. On Wednesday (April 6), the contestants get to open up more than one songbook, because this week's theme is based on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll exhibit. They'll be able to cover everyone from Jefferson Airplane to Jane's Addiction, the Moody Blues to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the 5 Satins to the 4 Seasons, plus Kings B.B., Carole and Ben E.
But with great variety comes great responsibility. Here's what we'd like to hear from the remaining nine hopefuls:
With a cleaned-up beard on his face and a fire lit under his butt following a near-exit, Abrams stormed back into the mix with last week's most emotionally resonant take on Elton. We pray he learned his lesson and will show similar vocal restraint Wednesday. He's got a lot of soulful singers to choose from — Sam Cooke, Ray Charles — but one tune jumped out to us: Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" could turn into a much-needed "moment" for Abrams.
Will she pull a Jacob Lusk, or can Haley build on her showstopping performance last week and stake a claim as a potential dark horse? A few weeks ago, Lusk busted out a stunner then followed it up by regressing back to the barely controlled eruptions he calls singing. Haley will once again have to show off those growls, but she can't over-rely on them. The perfect song for her is the Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post" — except instead of going with intense Southern rock, à la Bo Bice in 2005, she should slow it down and go super-bluesy.
So about Jacob. Perhaps his best bet is to have a good long cry before the show goes live so he doesn't look like he's on the verge of bursting into tears while onstage. There's a difference between being an emotive singer and being one who looks to be in need of some Zoloft. Our advice is for Jacob once again to rediscover the art of restraint and deliver a low-key, heartstring-tugging take on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me."
Heading into Wednesday's show, we're most worried about James because a chance to attack some of the greatest songs in rock history might lead the 22-year-old to embrace his arena-rock-star impulses. And that never turns out well. He's at his best when he dials down the theatrics and introduces some subtle artistry into his singing. So please, James, recall Danny Gokey's disastrous take on Aerosmith's "Dream On" and go for something mellower. Keying off his stellar take on Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" last month, we'd suggest something like the Beatles' "Hey Jude."
Lauren had arguably her finest performance since making the top 24 last week. Why? She plucked out a ballad and let her vocals shine, rather than going uptempo and getting lost in a country-fried shuffle. This week we could see her taking on some Bonnie Raitt, though we think an inspired choice would be to plop some country twang on Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky."
The guy looked shocked — as in, "You've gotta be f---ing kidding me, America!" — when he ended up in the bottom three last week. Paul, let this be your wakeup call. Also maybe down an espresso shot before you hit the stage, because while we dig the hipster-lullaby tones you give voice to, last week's "Rocket Man" was downright slurry. Now's the time to step up; do it with Al Green, "Let's Stay Together."
She's promised to avoid a ballad this week. We're not sure that's a good idea, if only because we're not certain she'll be comfortable singing a song with a pulse. We'd love to be surprised. The key for Pia will be to pick an uptempo song that's not too speedy and still gives her killer vocals room to soar. The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love"? Come on, it's hard to have a bad time listening to that one.
The question won't be if Scotty sings a Johnny Cash tune. The question will be which Johnny Cash tune he picks. "I Walk the Line" is the obvious choice, but we think the swinging "Folsom Prison Blues" is a savvier pick. But hey, since when did Scotty avoid the obvious choice?
With Thia Megia and Naima Adedapo out of the way, the pressure is on Stefano to give voters a reason not to send him home. Last week he took on a song, in "Tiny Dancer," that he didn't have the vocal or emotive power to nail. This week, he should dial it down and do something that's not so darn serious. Say hello, "Baby I Need Your Loving" by the Four Tops.
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