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"American Idol" Top 11: Sounding Good on Motown Tunes

Jenny Chen |
March 23, 2011 | 10:24 p.m. PDT

Associate News Editor


Top 11 (Michael Becker/FOX)
Top 11 (Michael Becker/FOX)
Motown shook up the contestants on “American Idol” Wednesday night as the contestants searched for some extra soul to take on music from one of the most influential record labels in history. 

First founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959, Motown Records has churned out acclaimed and successful artists including Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. The label pushed R&B into the forefront of the music industry and the Top 11 contestants sought to channel the smooth and fearless style of Motown.  

Casey Abrams – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye

During rehearsal, mentor Jimmy Iovine told Abrams to tone down the growling and screeching in the middle of the song. With his hair slicked back and decked out in a suit, Abrams didn’t really listen, continuing his growling as he played up to both the audience and the camera. While Steven Tyler praised him as a “perfect entertainer,” it’d be nice to see Abrams leave his signature sound behind for a week before it becomes tiresome.

Thia Megia – “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas

After the judges asked her to move away from ballads, Megia did just that by taking on this uptempo number. Her tone suited the song nicely and exhibited more stage presence than usual. Jennifer Lopez was excited to see Megia scratch the surface on her potential but still wanted more connection to the lyrics. 

Jacob Lusk – “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrell

Although Lusk is already known for his runs and gospel background, Iovine wanted Lusk to strip it down for a more controlled performance. Classy in a cream suit jacket and a pink candy striped tie, Lusk was still over-the-top, but in a toned down manner, interspersing the low notes with a couple key moments of falsetto. Randy Jackson called Lusk a “true professional,” adding there was nothing wrong with the performance. “You made us beg for those notes,” J.Lo cried. “You moved me.”

Lauren Alaina – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes

Alaina picked a song full of personality and exuded just the right amount of confidence strutting around the stage. Her breathy vocals in the beginning were a little distracting, as was her floor-length zebra-print dress. Still, Alaina presented a strong vocal performance that had J.Lo bobbing her head the whole time. “You threw your head and neck into it,” J.Lo said as she praised Alaina’s attitude on stage. 

Stefano Langone – “Hello” by Lionel Richie

Despite growing up on Motown music, Langone picked a song he hadn’t heard of before. Iovine warned Langone to keep his eyes open and avoid over-doing it, but Langone completely changed up the Richie song until it was unrecognizable at times. The runs and altering of the tune was a little off-putting, particularly since it looked like his take on the song came at the cost of emotional connection. “You’re writing a letter, you’re telling a story,” J.Lo said. “I want the intensity because your heart is breaking.” Jackson concurred and said the only thing he was lacking was the emotions. 

Haley Reinhart – “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

Reinhart certainly needed a good week after suffering two weeks in the bottom three. Unfortunately, she screamed to be heard over the backup singers and hit a few bum notes. When looking into the camera saying “Come on baby, come and hold me,” Reinhart looked more awkward than seductive. Jackson said the beginning was rough, but likened her to Janis Joplin and said her bluesy growling was reminiscent of why the judges initially had fallen in love with her. 

Scotty McCreery – “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder 

The deep-voiced singer countrified the popular tune accompanied by a sweet harmonica. It was an okay performance, but his vocals were not extremely strong, save for the few on his lower register. The low notes are a “young lady killer,” Jackson said. Meanwhile, Tyler compared him to Glen Campbell and said McCreery “ripped it.” 

Pia Toscano – “All in Love is Fair” by Stevie Wonder

In a long sleeved black floor-length gown, Toscano looked stunning and dazzled vocally as she transitioned seamlessly between falsetto and her bigger bolder notes. Still, she continued to lack an extra spark to actually make her performance interesting. The judges collectively urged her to perform something other than a ballad and J.Lo said with a bigger performance, she could have a career like Celine Dion. 

Paul McDonald – “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

McDonald took on the stage armed with his guitar, taking the song in a more country and folk direction. His perpetual grin was enjoyable (although occasionally disconcerting) to watch and his whispery and scratchy voice worked well on the song. Jackson said he was worried when the song started but liked the Rod Stewart style it ended in.  

Naimo Adedapo – “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas

Iovine stressed that Adedapo’s presence be extremely visible and infectious. Her performance was one to watch as she pulled in an African dance break that was sandwiched between strong exhibitions of her vocals. It was apparent that Adedapo felt the song she was singing and was actually enjoying herself. “E to the Z o twiddly dee,” Tyler said in response, whatever that means. 

James Durbin – “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder

Durbin commanded the stage from the very beginning, dancing around the stage, spinning and kicking up his feet. Interacting with the musicians on stage, Durbin performed as if he were already at a concert. Although his screams may occasionally verge on annoying, it suited this song well and his vocals at the end were very reminiscent of Adam Lambert’s signature vocals. “You are serious business up there,” J.Lo said, complimenting him on his backstep movement before adding that Durbin had left her speechless. 

Reach reporter Jenny Chen here.

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