"American Idol" producers vowed to shake things up this year, and that's just what they did Thursday night during the revived wild-card round. The eight contestants who got a lifeline from the judges at the end of Wednesday night's show thought they were fighting for the final three spots in the top 12, but in a surprise reveal at the end of last night's show they found out that for the first time in "Idol" history the top 12 would actually be a top 13.
That was good news for Jasmine Murray, Megan Joy Corkrey, Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai, all of whom got to take a seat after performing one more time for the judges, who said that the choice between Giraud and Desai was so hard that they just went with both.
The four wild-card picks join the nine audience-chosen finalists — Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert, Scott MacIntyre, Jorge Nuñez and Lil Rounds — when the finals begin next week, with shows that will feature guest spots from Kanye West and season-one superstar Kelly Clarkson.
Before the judges made their decision, they put all the singers through the wringer one more time. First up was Minnesotan Jesse Langseth, who sang Rufus and Chaka Khan's funk classic, "Tell Me Something Good," while wearing a dangerously short, shiny black mini-dress and giving the sexy tune a slow grind feel that split the judges.
Kara DioGuardi liked her "swagger," and Paula Abdul was impressed with her tenacity and determination. But Simon Cowell thought it was a bit indulgent, even if he was glad the panel had made the last-second choice to give her another shot.
Dueling-piano player Giraud knew he had to bring the blues, so he chose the Jackson 5 version of Smokey Robinson's "Who's Lovin' You," rocking a fedora and pouring all his blue-eyed soul into the tune while throwing in a spin and some gospel ad-libs. Kara loved the bluesy, soulful return of the singer they fell in love with. Paula said Giraud picked the perfect song. Simon called it "a billion times better" than Giraud's last performance, but not before turning the dagger a bit and trashing Giraud's outfit and resemblance to gray-haired season five "Idol" winner Taylor Hicks.
Utah's Corkrey picked a jammer, "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree" by KT Tunstall, again busting out her signature hip-swiveling dance and throwing some jazz grit into the acoustic pop tune. The judges were unanimous in their love for the model-pretty tattooed mom, and all agreed that Corkrey has the contemporary look and sound the karaoke show desperately needs.
Von Smith, 22, who was eliminated just 24 hours earlier, picked the Elton John weeper "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," leaning hard on his feathery falsetto but still looking a bit nervous as he stared intently into the camera. Simon said it was boring and ordinary. Kara said he got too serious and dark, sealing his fate once again.
Another judge favorite, 16-year-old Murray, went the big ballad route, taking on Christina Aguilera's "Reflection" with a powerful, soaring vocal that showed her confidence and range. It paid off in a big way, as Simon gushed about her "brave" choice of song, and Kara marveled at the "really big voice" she'd never noticed before.
It's been a few weeks since we saw Ricky Braddy, but the 26-year-old North Carolina native gave it another shot by biting into Steve Wonder's "Superstition." The latest male "Idol" to rock a somewhat lame faux-hawk, he wore skin-tight black jeans, a white shirt, black tie and gray vest, as he bounced all over the stage. His vocals also jumped all over the place. The judges all praised his energy and personality, but Simon said that in the end, it was all a bit "clumsy" and karaoke.
One of this season's most controversial contestants, Tatiana Del Toro, 24, the Puerto Rican weeper who all of a sudden developed a much thicker accent Thursday night, again chose the fittingly dramatic warhorse, Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You." Wearing a shimmering black-and-silver cocktail dress, Del Toro came out a bit tentative at first but got stronger as the tune went on and proved, despite all the distractions, why she was back in the competition.
The judges' questioned the sudden accent — Del Toro said it creeps back when she's "emotional" — as well as her decision to sing the same song for the second time in a row. That led to a tense, loopy back-and-forth with Simon about song choice that likely sealed the judge's decision.
Up last was Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Desai, who was out to prove that "Noop Dogg" was back by busting out Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." He worked the mic, popped his collar, brought some serious attitude and got the crowd on their feet, even if his vocals were a bit shaky and the backup singers ended up doing too much heavy lifting. Simon compared him to "an enthusiastic dog." The judge also said that while he wasn't the best singer, people clearly liked him, and he might offer the cast of the show some personality. (Has Simon ever referred to the singers as "the cast" before?)
Kara said he made her want to dance, and she's not one to dance. Paula actually did get up and dance during his performance, which she loved. When the judges told Desai he made it through, he covered his face in shock, then gave a shout-out to his college town of Chapel Hill, which was in the news because of a memorial service for University of North Carolina Student Body President Eve Carson, who was murdered a year ago Thursday.
"Idol" settles into a regular schedule next Tuesday, when the top 13 perform during a two-hour show. They face elimination the next night (March 11), when Clarkson will sing her new hit, "My Life Would Suck Without You," and West will perform "Heartless."
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