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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What the Idols Should Sing in Elton John Week

Eight years ago, American Idol had its first-ever Elton John night, celebrating the catalog of one of the greatest singer-songwriters to top the charts. That night brought us highs like Jennifer Hudson's outstanding "Circle of Life," lows like Camile Velasco's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and oddities like John Stevens' "Crocodile Rock." But that was one of the weaker and stranger casts in Idol's history. This year, singers like Stevens, Velasco, Jasmine Trias and Jon Peter Lewis wouldn't even stiff the Top 24, let alone make the finals.

So, what should this year's crop of finalists sing? Here are some thoughts about what they should and should not do:

Casey Abrams, "I'm Still Standing." Diana DeGarmo tried this in Season 3 to mixed reviews, but for Casey, this song would be a crowd-killer. A week after narrowly avoiding elimination, Casey's performance of this 1983 top 20 hit would be a rallying cry for fans. Not only would he still be standing at the end of this week - he'd also likely jump up into contention for the Final Four. An alternative would be "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," but we've had enough of the Angry Idol.

Haley Reinhart, "Something About the Way You Look Tonight." No doubt that Randy Jackson would bring up comparisons to Season 3 champ Fantasia Barrino's performance of this song, but few fans will remember that night. More likely they'll remember only what Haley does Wednesday night. She needs a powerhouse performance to make people stand up and take notice. This song would do that, as would "I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)," but that tune, though a top 20 hit for Elton, is much less known.

Jacob Lusk, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." Danger! This is probably Elton's best-known song, and it's been performed six times on the Idol stage. Four of those were well-received. Considering that Idol all-stars like Clay Aiken, Bo Bice and David Archuleta have tackled it, whoever takes it on has to absolutely nail it. Jacob has the pipes for the challenge, and I think he's probably up to it. He really has to avoid being planted at the mike, though, and needs to make a big connection with the audience, even moreso than last week. An alternative would be "Believe," but the better-known song is almost always the better choice.

James Durbin, "Burn Down the Mission." It's hard to believe that this song has never been performed on Idol, but it should be this week. The soaring high end on this song is perfect for James, and it's been covered by the likes of Toto and Phil Collins. James is now the front-runner in this pack of very talented singers, so he needs to keep reminding people why he's moved all the way to the top. Another possibility would be "Bennie and the Jets," but that's a bit more campy than James needs to be.

Lauren Alaina, "Daniel." Another song that has never been covered on Idol, "Daniel" is a tricky song in that it isn't immediately a vocal powerhouse number. However, it can be a blank canvas for a strong vocalist like Lauren. Wilson Phillips covered "Daniel" on the "Two Rooms" tribute CD in 1991, and that version, in spite of significant vocal differences, still holds up well 20 years later. I could also hear Lauren singing "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," but that number heralded the elimination of both Von Smith and Robbie Rosen. Best not to go there.

Naima Adedapo, "The Circle of Life." Yes, this was Jennifer Hudson's best and most powerful performance in Season 3, but I don't think Naima is crazy enough to go toe-to-toe with Idol's only Oscar-winner. For heaven's sake, she Africanized "Dancing in the Street," and has turned into one of this season's more unpredictable contestants. I have no doubt she'd change it considerably to fit her gifts, and it really is the song that would provide her with the most inspiration. My other pick for her would be "Tiny Dancer," but without the dancing.

Paul McDonald, "Border Song." Yes, I really do like picking songs that haven't been tried before, and this is yet another. It's incredibly easy to hear Paul's raspy voice on this one, and he'd probably do it justice (though I'm still not a fan). The other choice would be "Your Song," and if you listen to this Rod Stewart cover from "Two Rooms," you might think it's the better choice. (And can you believe it's never been done on Idol?) I'd pick "Border Song" simply because it's a more rousing number.

Pia Toscano, "The One." Not only does this song have complete originality on Idol, but it's practically also never been covered outside of the show. OK, so it's yet another Pia ballad, but the problem this week is that Elton's only fun upbeat songs are things like "I'm Still Standing" (chosen for Casey), "Honky Cat" (chosen for Scotty) and "Crocodile Rock" (chosen for Thia). Those songs really don't fit Pia anyway. She's better off sticking with another powerhouse, but this time moving from behind the mike stand and working the stage a bit. My other choice for her is "Empty Garden," but that's not as positive (as it's about the death of John Lennon). Better for her to stick to a love song.

Scotty McCreery, "Blue Eyes." I've gone back and forth on this one. I initially had Scotty singing "Honky Cat," and I'm certain that he could kill that number. But the more I thought about it, the more it seems like he needs to drop back a notch and sing a slower song that lets him croon his way even further into people's hearts. Last week, Scotty revealed a tendency to smirk and mug a bit too much. There's no way he'd be able to do that on "Blue Eyes." Watch Elton's version, and I'm sure you'll agree.

Stefano Langone, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." I've also struggled with Stefano's selection, because he is in a critical situation. At one point he was ascending up the ranks; after last week, he's now in danger of elimination. There's "Philadelphia Freedom," his but that song has some double-meanings that could be embarrassing later (like, "Philadelphia Freedom took me knee-high to a man"). There's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," but it's best to avoid songs with words like "goodbye" (as Camile Velasco discovered). Perhaps because of the title, and perhaps because it's a strong vocal number, I'd stick with "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." He also might consider "Rocket Man," but it seems like a weaker option.

Thia Megia, "Crocodile Rock." Thia's fans might be the most devoted on the Internet, and they seem committed to voting until their fingers bleed. For that reason, Thia needs to pump them up with a energizing number like Nelly Furtado's cover of "Crocodile Rock" for "Gnomeo and Juliet." When Thia gets a recording deal, it will be something geared toward a younger audience, so she really should start to target that right now. This song would absolutely nail that market. If she wanted to slow it down, she could sing "Sacrifice." I'd suggest staying up-tempo.

What do you think? Let me know if you agree with this choices, or if you'd chose something different. Please remember to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Also, please check back tomorrow night at 8 p.m. when we will have a live blog of the performance show!

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