The TV Column: Top 13 perform on 'American Idol'

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 8:18 AM

The 13 Idolettes sing tunes by their personal idols Wednesday night. Or, tunes by people the judges told them they were just like, during previous weeks of American Idol" 2011.

In honor of the first actual night of finalists competition, "American Idol" in-house mentor Jimmy Iovine is unveiled. Iovine, CEO of Interscope record label, has brought with him his merry posse of celebrity producers, who plan to foist their various visions on the Idolettes.

Judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler have carefully coordinated their outfits this week; they're all dressed in black and white, and they clutch each other around the waist for support as they walk out on stage. When Randy bought his black-and-white high school letter jacket, he was much thinner than he is now.

Special congrats to Jennifer Lopez -- her single is No. 1 on iTunes, says show host Ryan Seacrest. JLo graciously extends her arms outward, by way of acknowledging all the little people in the studio audience who bought that download and made it possible.

Teenager Lauren Alaina does Shania Twain tune "Any Man of Mine" just fine, though she doesn't make it her own, in the usual sense of "Idol" judging - i.e. hamming it up. She's not trying too hard on the choreography - more like she's strolling back and forth at the mall on a Saturday afternoon. But she's just a comfortable kinda girl and that comes through. Sadly, it's not what the judges are looking for. The notes have barely died in the hall when Tyler hits her with a wish that "it'd been a little more kickass." Can he say that to a 16-year-old on national prime time TV? JLo and Randy echo the sentiment.

"Ah mean, ah had a good taahm," Lauren drawls when Seabiscuit asks how she thinks it went. She adds a pouty look as Seabiscuit reads off her viewer voting number. Girl knows her stuff.

Casey Abrams's segment kicks off with Joe Cocker's name being plentifully invoked as Casey's role model - he loves him from "The Wonder Years" and, besides, Cocker's "got that growl in his voice, and he doesn't look that hot either," Casey explains.

But when Casey hits the stage, his voice turns out to be more like Cocker's after a quart of hot lemon tea. The Iovine Posse-produced arrangement is a screamer, however, and drowns out Casey's finale, which was probably just as well because he's sounding kinda pitchy, as near as we can make out. Man, we are disappointed after Casey's performance last week of "I Put a Spell on You." He's got a lot of range but the producer's didn't even try to release it. It was like--Joe Cocker? Got it.

Ashthon Jones has got her act down --she's the diva. Actually she's a semi-diva. Make that a hemi-semi-diva. On an earlier episode of "Idol" she was told she should be Diana Ross. So this week, she's doing Diana Ross. Specifically, Ross's "When You Tell Me That You Love Me." She's got the Diana Ross arm action going, like she's blessing the crowd. We're indeed grateful to be in her presence -- it's not often you see such a thoroughly inaccurate performance, pitch-wise. This is like Diana when your iPod is fading.

The judges take the attitude of, "You're a diva, don't bother me with the details." They go out of their way to be nice to her. Randy says that when she was "going a little sharp or flat you pulled it back in with the vibrato" which proves what a professional she is. Say what? Is it because Jimmy Iovine invited Motown founder Berry Gordy over to hear this performance tonight that they have to be nice? Let's hope Berry didn't have to drive far.

Paul McDonald is back -- the quirky one. His quirky voice is way underpowered tonight, so he's left with all the static and not much of the tone. And no wonder, he's putting all his energy into his quirky dance moves; he dances like a member of the cast of "Riverdance" on Day 3 of a three-day bender.

The judges are just determined not to show any signs of anti-quirky prejudice, so they're very nice about his rendition of Ryan Adams's "Come Pick Me Up." Tyler says he's sure Paul will "nail it next time," and JLo says, in reference to America, "I hope they get it because I really do think you're great."

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