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HOME > American Idol > American Idol 8

'American Idol's Top 11 finalists take to the stage and perform live


By John Bracchitta, 03/18/2009 

American Idol's Top 11 eighth-season finalists took to the stage and performed during last night's live broadcast of the Fox reality competition's second finals round.
 
The Top 11 -- consisting of Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver, Danny Gokey, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert, Lil Rounds, Scott MacIntyre, Megan Joy Corkrey, Anoop Desai, and Matt Giraud -- all sang Grand Ole Opry songs for the competition's sometimes infamous "Country Week," with country superstar Randy Travis serving as the week's mentor.

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Prior to the first performance, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest asked judge Randy Jackson if he felt the finalists had evolved at all since the beginning of the competition.

"Let me tell you something man, they've all come up pretty big right now," he responded. "But this week is always the tough week. And Country Week could definitely spoil a little flavor for some of them."

Seacrest also joked to judge Simon Cowell about his feelings for country music.

"You know, I don't think two hours is enough actually," Cowell responded sarcastically.

Before bringing out the finalists, Seacrest also noted that the 10 contestants to make it through to the next round would all get to be part of Idol's summer concert tour.

The following is Reality TV World's recap of the performance broadcast in the order which the finalists sang.  Also included are comments from each of the four judges -- Randy, Simon, Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul -- as well as additional information about each performance. Barring the use of the new The Judges' Save twist, one finalist will be eliminated at the conclusion of tonight's results show broadcast.


Michael Sarver, a 27-year-old from Jasper, TX

Song: "Ain't Going Down 'Till the Sun Comes Up" by Garth Brooks

Jackson said: "I mean it was a cool song choice because it showed a fun side to you. I'm just not sure it brought out some different things in your vocal capabilities. I'm not sure it showed us that. It was fun and I love the song, but I don't know."
DioGuardi said: "We got to see a lot of your personality, I liked that spot down there with the [harmonica player], but it's the big notes that I missed from you this week, we didn't get to see that this week. It's impressive though that you were able to remember all those words, I mean, there were a million. How did you do that?"
Abdul said: "It's a great Garth Brooks song and I gotta tell you that it, to me, allowed [us] to see you having fun, which made us have fun. And your artistic ability to take a harmonica player, it added charm, it boosted your confidence and you're fun. I thought this was the genre that suits you so well."
Cowell said: "Yeah, it shoulda been good because I always thought that this kind of music would suit you. Actually I couldn't understand a single word you were singing by the way... not a single word, you could've been singing in Norwegian. I thought it was a bit clumsy... the point is, let us remember what this is about at this point, it is about you coming over as a star. You came over as a likable guy who liked country music, who's a bit clumsy, and this could've been karaoke night at a country and western club.

Additional info: Sarver was told by Travis to make sure he remembered all of the words to the song. Sarver had witty responses to the comments by DioGuardi and Cowell, telling DioGuardi that while singing is important, "country music's about having some fun," and telling Cowell after his criticism that "if we were all perfect we wouldn't need this show." Cowell responded that on a scale of 1 to 10, he gave the performance a 1.2

Allison Iraheta, a 16-year-old from Los Angeles, CA who currently resides in Downey, CA

Song: "Blame it on Your Heart" by Patty Loveless

DioGuardi said: "Wow. Allison, I am starting to think that you could sing the alphabet and sing it well. You just bring your own spin to everything and you really made that song your own and that's not easy to do. For me every week you're just getting better and better and you just keep going. I thought that was a really solid performance."
Abdul said: "Another rock solid performance from Allison, and I gotta tell you something, no one will ever be able to take away the power of your voice and the rock edge that you bring to this competition. I know that after this competition you're going to be heading into the business and I think you'll go really far if you also start experimenting with all sides of your vocals and maybe in the way you choose some of your songs that allow you to be vulnerable and build because I think you're an amazing artist."
Cowell said: "I thought it was good. I thought it was a little bit tuneless in parts and it was like you were struggling with remembering the words, that's what it looked like to me... It was good, like the girls said you're rock solid, verging on precocious in a little bit."
Jackson said: "I didn't think it was precocious at all, I thought it was dope!"

Additional info: Travis said he had never heard the maturity in the voice of a 16-year-old that he heard in Iraheta. She also denied Cowell's comment that she had forgotten the words to the song, saying she had known it since she was 8-years-old.

Kris Allen, a 23-year-old from Jacksonville, AR who currently resides in Conway, AR

Song: "To Make You Feel My Love" by Garth Brooks

Abdul said: "Well I'm surprised, and I'm pleasantly surprised. I think it was a real honest, pure and vulnerable performance, and without your guitar it allowed me to remember just how nice your vocals are. There were some notes that you throw away that were low, you gotta make sure they're on pitch, there were a few pitchy moments at the end, but overall I think that this was a really smart choice for you to do this and to see you without the guitar and just focus on you."
Cowell said: "Kris, I thought that was terrific, really, really good. It was a great, great, great choice of song. I thought that the way you kinda took it all back you were completely in control of the song, you just concentrated on you, you didn't go over the top, very smart choice of song. That, in a way, probably is the first time I've actually heard you perform where I'm genuinely beginning to think you've actually got a shot of doing really well in this competition."
Jackson said: "Like Simon and Paula just said, you know what I think is really cool for me is that you really went out  on a limb and you took that chance just to showcase your vocals and I was like 'Wow, tender moments from my dawg Kris, who knew?!' Who knew you had those tender moments. You're a tender dawg."
DioGuardi said: "And I didn't even know that it was Opry land when I was hearing that song, it wasn't even country. It just was beautiful and it was very Kris Allen. It was, very good."

Additional info: Travis called Allen's ballad singing his strong suit and complimented him for making the song his own instead of simply copying Brooks' version. Allen called the judges' comments "amazing" and said that "Good comments are always good."

Lil Rounds, a 24-year-old from Memphis, TN

Song: "Independence Day" by Martina McBride

Jackson said: "That was a very interesting, ambitious song choice, and I think the front part of it I found myself struggling a little bit. When you hit your power zone and by the time you hit your chorus and you opened up, because you're a big power singer you got that big 'ol range, it got a little bit better. But I don't know, it didn't feel comfortable for me on you. I'm just keeping it real, it was just kind of alright
DioGuardi said: "Here's the thing. We all know you're a great singer, you'd have to be deaf not to know that. The second half we [started] to get the Lil that we all fell in love with, the girl who's hitting those notes that are in the sky, and we kinda missed that at the beginning. And there were other songs you could've chosen, but you know what, you did what you felt, and that's part about being an artist is standing your ground. So I give you props for that. Is it your best performance? Not your best, but good for standing your ground."
Abdul said: "Lil I think everything's gone right for you tonight. I think your vocals were spot on, I think that the hair, the makeup, the clothing is beautiful. The only thing, in reference to what these two are saying, it would've worked better if you didn't sing two verses, and you only sang one verse and then went straight to the chorus so that your vocals could go piercing through. You know that because your voice pierces through, that's why you are one of the obvious favorites."
Cowell said: "Look, 'Little" or 'Lil,' it's the same thing... For me it kind of came over as if you were one of those girls who have to sing at a wedding and are forced to sing a song somebody's requested and felt and looked uncomfortable, because we were comparing you -- when we first met you -- to someone like [Mary J. Blige] who had a kind of a rawness... There are a million, billion songs... you could've done something like when an R&B singer takes something like a John Montgomery song and turn it into something that will suit you. I thought that  just wasn't you."

Additional info: Before her performance, Rounds told Seacrest that she planned on holding back her R&B side to "honor" the country genre. Travis called "Independence Day" a "big song" to undertake and encouraged her to slow down the song a little in order to relax her a little. After receiving the criticism from the judges, Rounds defended her choice by saying that she "Wanted to try something different" and "Show everybody that R&B isn't the only thing I can sing."

Adam Lambert, a 26-year-old from San Diego, CA who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA

Song: "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash

DioGuardi said: "So, Adam does country music, that's very interesting. I've never quite seen that sort of country-type of rendition. But you know, the fire, the Egyptian thing, all a little strange, I don't know what to make of that. I got my drama that I love from you, I got those eyes that were very fabulous. But I, it was... it was strange. It was strange, but I kinda liked it! Strange but I liked it, it left me confused and sort of happy, I don't know."
Abdul said: "I find this truly amazing about you, you are really someone who stands out who is true to who you are as an artist. Although it's country music week, the choice of song was a great song, I loved the middle eastern sitar sounds and it sounded a little bit like a "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin kinda feeling to me, and I think that's what makes you... You're either a quick study or a born natural, I think you're both and you're raising your own bar each week and we're gonna keep expecting more and more great things out of you."
Cowell said: "I think what [Kara] was trying to say was 'What the hell was that?' Sorry, but I would never go to Nashville if I were you Adam, because a lot of people are throwing their television sets out the window at this point because I thought it was absolute indulgent rubbish if you want my honest opinion. I mean really, really horrific."
Jackson said: "No, no, no. I think the greatest thing about it is if you could imagine Nine Inch Nails doing a country song that's what it was. It's current, it's young, it's fresh, it's hot!"

Additional info: Lambert admitted to being initially worried by Grand Ole Opry week, while Travis admitted to being thrown for a loop by both Lambert's appearance, which included fingernails with nail polish, and his rendition of "Ring of Fire," which featured a Middle Eastern vibe to it. After Cowell told Lambert that he shouldn't ever go to Nashville, he responded "I don't plan on it."

Scott MacIntyre, a 23-year-old from Scottsdale, AZ

Song: "Wild Angels" by Martina McBride

Abdul said: "To me tonight was another impressive, lovely performance, and you work harder than most people on that stage. I really do feel though that the piano may be a bit of a crutch now and that it separates you from the audience. I think that people need to see you as a showman as well... I just don't want your performances to be similar to any week and I just want you to mix it up a little bit so that there's a great connection."
Cowell said: "I think it's a bit of a stupid thing to say that... He's very comfortable behind the piano, there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with sitting behind a piano if that's what you wanna do... I'll tell you what I think, for me both performance last week and this week were very, very similar in terms of the song that you chose. I don't think yet [that] you're choosing good enough songs to make you feel that emotional...  But as I said, I like you a lot, but I think you're choosing songs which are just going over my head and I forget them afterwards."
Jackson said: "For me, I think it's not so much the songs that you're choosing, but I'm looking for those hot, crazy, unbelievable vocals from you, and the last two weeks I haven't seen that, it's all just been a nice kind of good performance. I'm just looking for the standout vocals because this is a singing competition."
DioGuardi said: "What everyone's saying is I think we want you to up your game a little bit. Really go for those high notes, show us, wow us a little more. But you know what the good note is, you bring class and poise to that stage."

Additional info: MacIntyre had an easy suggestion after Abdul said that he should try to connect with the audience more and step away from the piano. "We can move it closer," he said with a smile. Travis initially felt MacIntyre's song choice was "not good," but had him pick up the tempo through the verse and eventually was "surprised" with his performance. MacIntyre said that he had lost a lot of "hat picks" in recent weeks after Cowell criticized his song choices. Abdul and Cowell bickered throughout the judges' comments, with both saying that the other was not being respectful with their comments.

Alexis Grace, a 21-year-old from Memphis, TN

Song: "Jolene" by Dolly Parton

Jackson said: "It's a great song, I'm just not sure that you just hit the notes quite well. There was a bunch of pitch problems so you tried to bend it a little too much in a bluesy sort of way that sometimes didn't quite work. I just think it was a good song choice for you, I enjoyed that, but it just wasn't a great performance for me."
DioGuardi said: "I think you lost your edge a little bit, that's what was a little disappointing for me. I could've see [Carrie Underwood's] "Last Name" or "Before He Cheats," that kind of edgy that brings out that angst in you that we all fell in love with in the beginning. It was just a little flat for me."
Abdul said: "I think that song was more effective than maybe the others think for you, and I'll tell you the reason that I think that is because we're used to you going all out with the down and dirty vocals and powering through. You took an artistic approach by showing different sides of your vocals and I think that by doing that you're able to tell a story from beginning to end. I don't care about pitch problems, I really enjoyed the vulnerable, soft side of you."
Cowell said: "I thought it was okay. I thought it was a little bit sound-alike... so I didn't hear an awful lot of originality. I thought the vocals were okay, I think it is one of those performances tonight where we're gonna forget about it in about 10 minutes time."

Additional info: Travis felt that Grace "did a great job" with Parton's song. Grace later said that she chose the song to show off her softer side, but added that she may have added a little bit more "dirty" into the song if she could go back and do it over.

Danny Gokey, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee, WI  

Song: "Jesus Take The Wheel"

DioGuardi said: "You know Danny, when you hit your stride it's like none other. The front half of that performance for me was not spectacular, but halfway through it was like 'Here comes Danny.' Danny came out of his shell and went straight up and I wish I'd had 10 minutes of that and not the front half. Because when you get up there and you hit those powerful notes it's a connection that's unlike anything, so when you pick those songs  be careful that you're picking them in that range."
Abdul said: "I kind of disagree in the sense that I love when artists build a story... and that if it was always at that notch we'd love it but it would fall a little short of appreciating you. I think you were brilliant, so much so that I think Carrie Underwood would not only approve but she would go out and buy that record."
Cowell said: "I don't think she'd rush out to buy it, but I do actually agree with Paula because I'll tell you why. You don't start that song full on, you've got to have a little bit of light and shade, you can't scream the song from the beginning. My only problem Danny is what you're wearing, it's like you're going on some sort of polar expedition or something and it's 80 degrees in Los Angeles today."
Jackson said: "I actually today agree with Kara. The problem with yo and the verses, the rest of the song you blazed, it was crazy. but the verses, you've got to support those enough, you're a great singer and you wanna get better on this show. The verses were a little pitchy, just support them better, but you're a great singer."

Additional info: Gokey admitted to being nervous while singing in front of Travis and messed up the lyrics numerous times. Still, Travis said that Gokey had "a soulfulness that most of us who make a living as a singer wish that we had." Gokey's wore a white army jacket for his performance, and said that said that Matt Giraud had told him he looked like he was getting ready to jump out of an airplane.

Anoop Desai, a 22-year-old from Chapel Hill, NC

Song: "Always On My Mind" by Willie Nelson

Abdul said: "Anoop is back! He's back everybody. I'm so proud of you for picking a song that allowed you to have your interpretation of it, and it fit you like a glove as opposed to last week where the glove didn't fit you. But this one, it really did, and I'm really proud of you because your vocals when you are allowed that space in between, you got tender, honest, amazing, sweet vocals and you touch my heart."
Cowell said: "Anoop, you've just managed to go from 'zero' to 'hero.' That was a good choice of song. Actually, in a way, that was one of my favorite performances of the whole night. Good or you that you can take a bit of a kicking last week, which was thoroughly deserved. By the way I take back what I say, you definitely deserve to be in this show. But you didn't whine about [the criticism], you just took the good advice, did something about it, chose a great song, delivered a great vocal, glad to have you back Anoop."
Jackson said: "This is the reason that we really wanted you in this competition Anoop dawg, you can really sing and you proved it tonight. It wasn't a Bobby Brown thing, it wasn't you jumping around just having a great time, you can do that too but you really showed your vocal skills. And let me just say something, I like the arrangement. The band, you, whoever came up with that arrangement, it was dope."
DioGuardi said: "Very hard for you to do what you did tonight. That was a classic song, untouchable almost, and to do what you did tonight is amazing. For me, probably the best performance of the night. It was the biggest surprise."

Additional info: Travis said it was initially hard to forget Nelson's version of the song, but was very complimentary of Desai and said the performance would be "the best anyone has heard from Anoop." Following the judges' comments, Desai said that he wasn't surprised by the positive remarks because he "expects [himself] to be the best].

Megan Joy Corkrey, a 23-year-old from Taylorsville, UT who currently resides in Sandy, UT

Song: "Walking After Midnight"

Jackson said: "You're glad that one's over right? You've been a little ill. I thought it was gonna kinda be a little bit of a train wreck, but I must say I was quite impressed. I thought it was actually pretty good, and I thought kinda being the rocky, bluesy, country, soul, jazzy kinda Megan thing it actually all really worked. It was a perfect choice for you. Good work."
DioGuardi said: "Perfect song, perfect look, and here's the thing, you're a winner because not a lot of people with the flu would be able to get up in front of 25-30 million people and do what you did tonight. That shows you are serious, and I like that about you, because being an artist is hard work and that's great spirit."
Abdul said: "And I'm gonna say on top of that, people don't know she's been to the hospital and back and didn't get to do the run through, and I gotta tell you Megan you're a fighter. You're the consummate professional and if this is what sick brings about, than have at it, keep being sick because you were fantastic."
Cowell said: "I was gonna say that, you should have the flu every week because you were better this week than you were last week, and you look gorgeous. The only thing is that whoever's styling you at the moment is kind of sucking away some of the quirkiness that we liked about you. It's all a little bit like 'I'm going to the prom tonight.'"

Additional info: Travis initially said that he felt the song Corkrey chose had been done so many times that it would be tough to stand apart from the other contestants with the song, but said later that her performance was "totally unique." Corkrey coughed repeatedly as the judges gave their feedback and was brought tissues by Seacrest after.

Matt Giraud, a 23-year-old from Ypsilanti, MI who currently resides in Kalamazoo, MI

Song: "So Small" by Carrie Underwood

DioGuardi said: "There ain't nothing small about you, that's for sure. You're an artist, you're a true talent, your heart pours on that piano, you worked the dynamics of that song. Amazing, I love you, I just do."
Abdul said: "What I applaud you most about is the authenticity, you're an authentic performer and the honesty that you bring with your delivery is really unparalleled tonight. I gotta tell you, you're piercing through so many people's hearts and you certainly have pierced mine. And one more thing, it shows you what a great song, because a few people sang Carrie Underwood, but Kudos to Carrie Underwood for allowing these kids to sing her songs."
Cowell said: "Yes Matt you are a heart piercer. I don't think you've had enough credit for your vocals in this competition so far, because everyone's been talking about Danny and Adam. I think you're quite similar to Danny, tonight I thought you out sang him, I genuinely do. It was a great performance, you remind me of Michael Buble, you're very comfortable, so I thought that was a terrific performance, one of the best tonight. Well done."
Jackson said: "For me it was my favorite performance of the night because I've been saying every week, I love your vocals, you've got mad skills. And you know what's interesting, you here Michael Buble, you hear me say Justin Timberlake, look at the mile between those two, you've got it going on baby.

Additional info: Travis called Giraud's song choice "an interesting choice" but eventually warmed to his soulful version of the song, which Travis said was much different than Underwood's version. Giraud used a piano onstage during his performance.

(Photo credit Fox)


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