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Image: Paul McDonald
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We get it, "Idol" judges. Paul McDonald has a unique voice. But how about giving him — and the other hopefuls — some real criticism?
By
TODAY contributor
updated 3/23/2011 11:46:05 PM ET 2011-03-24T03:46:05
Recap

After the first nine singers had performed to near-unanimously positive feedback on “American Idol’s” Motown night on Wednesday, host Ryan Seacrest asked the gushing question, “If you’re at home, how do you vote?”

It’s hard, and not because people don’t know how to call, text or go online to support their favorites. It’s that the judges critiqued the singers as if they were scoring a high-school talent contest: Everyone was great, and the only criticism took the angle of how the singers could be even greater!

Story: Vote: Rate the 'Idol' performances

That’s where the show still misses Simon Cowell, or at least his crankiness. It needs someone who would have told Haley Reinhart, “I think you’re going home,” even though she sang much better this week. She had too much ground to make up and didn’t do it with her version of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold On Me."

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And Simon would've slammed Thia Megia for flubbing her lyrics. The judges were so excited to see her do something up-tempo with Martha & The Vandellas' “Heat Wave” that they didn’t pick up when she let the band and backup singers have some extended time in the spotlight. To her credit (or detriment, depending on how the voting goes) she admitted the mistake to the "Idol" cameras afterward. But isn’t that something that Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez should have caught?

And shouldn’t someone have asked Scotty McCreery, “What was the deal with those facial expressions and the dance moves? Was that supposed to be a comedy bit?” Instead, they gave him credit for “taking a chance” with Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." (Like he had any choice on Motown night.)

'Idol' hopefuls flee their 'haunted' house

Or noted to Paul McDonald that his performance of Smokey Robinson's “The Tracks of My Tears” got off to a rocky start instead of just complimenting him on his unique voice? We get it. Paul McDonald has a distinctive tone and has sewn up the role of “Young Rod Stewart” in the eventual biopic. At this point of the competition, praising him on that is like complimenting his hair color.

And someone should've told Stefano Langone his version of Lionel Richie's “Hello” was self-indulgent. Instead, the most criticism we heard was J.Lo doubting his connection to the audience and Gordon Ramsey dismissing his mother’s pasta leftovers as “fine.”

Or heck, even suggested to Lauren Alaina that she needed to quit complaining about the very tepid criticism she received a couple of weeks ago and let it go? Or told James Durbin that it would be interesting to see him clean up and take on a ballad now that he's proven he can wow everyone as a rocker?

Why didn't anyone ask Naima Adedapo whether she wanted to be a singer or a performance artist? Or asked Casey Abrams whether he wanted to be taken seriously or like a comedian? Heck, nobody was perfect, but it was tough to gather that from what the judges said all night.

Don’t get me wrong: The top 11 all performed reasonably well, and this was a lot better than the annual tribute to Detroit usually is. Ryan might actually be right when he calls this the most talented group ever. But still, it’s not like we’re in May. If being a little more brutally honest is this hard now, it’s tough to imagine what the compliments will be like when we get closer to the finale.

Maybe Ramsey needs to come out of the audience, put down the Tupperware and try passing a judgment on singers instead of food.

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Here’s how to get better
Ironically, while the judges are very bad at telling singers when they haven’t hit the mark, they’re very good at offering constructive feedback.

Pia Toscano, for example, had another strong performance with “All in Love Is Fair” by Stevie Wonder. She’s been the queen of the ballads so far, and her results make its hard to fault that. But doing so risks viewer fatigue and the judges quite reasonably suggested she sing something a little peppier next week.

“You can’t live on ballads alone,” Randy said.

And J.Lo had the right tip for Langone in asking him to focus on telling a story with the lyrics rather than staying inside himself. His vocals on “Hello” were fine, but he again looked like he was singing for himself instead of the crowd.

Story: Inside 'The Voice's' assault on 'American Idol'

“I don’t want the intensity to come because you want to do well. I want the intensity to come because your heart is breaking,” she said.

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Hugfest!
As if the lavish compliments from the judges weren’t enough, Jacob Lusk got some physical affection after his performance as well.

First, Ryan had him go out into the audience and give his grandmother a hug. Then, Ryan had pretty much the entire first row come up onstage and give him an embrace.

That might be taking this whole “kinder, gentler ‘American Idol’ ” thing a bit too far.

Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com.

Want the latest reality television and TV news? Follow us @TODAY_Clicker.

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  1. 'American Idol' season 10

    The final two

    16-year-old Lauren Alaina, left, and Scotty McCreery, 17, will compete for the "American Idol" crown on Tuesday, May 24. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Getting the bad news

    A stunned Haley Reinhart, center, learns from Ryan Seacrest, right, that her "American Idol" run is over on Thursday, May 19. Lauren Alaina, left, advances to the final. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Si!

    Italian singing sensation Il Volo perform on "American Idol" on Thursday, May 19. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One more time

    Haley Reinhart sings her farewell song, "Bennie and the Jets," after being eliminated on Thursday, May 19. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Unlikely duo

    Nicole Scherzinger performs her new single, “Right There,” with 50 Cent on the show Thursday, May 19. Scherzinger will be one of the hosts on Simon Cowell's new show, "X Factor." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Hometown girl

    Lauren Alaina appears at an AT&T superstore in Chattanooga, Tenn., during the homecoming celebration for "American Idol" finalist on Saturday, May 14. (Chris Mckay / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Smile, smile, smile

    Lauren Alaina waves to her many friends, fans and supporters as she rides by in a red convertible during a parade in Rossville, Ga., on Saturday, May 14. (Jenna Walker / Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. She holds the key

    Finalist Haley Reinhart was given the key to the city of Wheeling, Ill., during her homecoming celebration on Saturday, May 14. (Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Center of attention

    "American Idol" finalist Haley Reinhart is welcomed by her hometown with a parade and ceremony during Haley Reinhart Day in Wheeling, Ill., on Saturday, May 14. (Paul Beaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Get to work!

    "American Idol" finalist Scotty McCreery bags groceries at Lowes Food Store in Garner, N.C., on Saturday, May 14. (Steve Exum / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Any requests?

    Scotty McCreery performs at an outdoor concert for local fans at his homecoming celebration at Buffaloe Park in Garner, N.C., on Saturday, May 14. (Steve Exum / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The final 3

    After the Thursday, May 12 elimination on "American Idol," Haley Reinhart, left, Scotty McCreery, center, and Lauren Alaina remain in the competition. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The bad news

    Ryan Seacrest, right, tells James Durbin, left, that he has been eliminated, as Scotty McCreery learns that he is safe for another week. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Last song

    Following his elimination on Thursday, May 12, James Durbin sang the Paul McCartney song, "Maybe I'm Amazed," which he sang during the second week of the live finals. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Enrique Iglesias

    Enrique Iglesias performs his new single, "Dirty Dancer," from the "American Idol" stage on Thursday, May 12. The singer announced his new tour, in support of his album, "Euphoria." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jordin Sparks

    Former winner Jordin Sparks performed her single, "No Air," on "American Idol" on Thursday, May 13. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The final four contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," from left, Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin and Lauren Alaina. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Out of Lusk

    Jacob Lusk hugs judge Jennifer Lopez onstage after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 5. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Look who's 'On the Floor'

    Jennifer Lopez shows the hopefuls how it's done as she performs her single "On the Floor" on Thursday, April 5. Her new album "Love?" debuted this week. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Time to go

    Jacob Lusk sings his farewell song after being eliminated. CTODAY.com's Craig Berman says, as Mentor Jimmy Iovine saw it, Lusk looked and sounded nervous, and "when you lose confidence, everybody knows it." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Lady night

    Country trio Lady Antebellum performs the new single "Just a Kiss" on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 5. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. High five

    The final five contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from top left, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Jacob Lusk, Scotty McCreery and Hayley Reinhart. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Leave 'em wanting more

    Casey Abrams, left, gets the word from Ryan Seacrest that he's been eliminated from "American Idol" on Thursday, April 28. The recipient of the only judges' save this season, Abrams went out in style with a rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" that ranks as the best exit number ever, says TODAY.com's Craig Berman. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Knock their Sox off

    Season nine runner-up Crystal Bowersox performs her new single "Riding With Radio" on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 28. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Let's get 'Lazy'

    Singer Bruno Mars performs "Lazy Song" on 'Idol" on Thursday, April 28. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Six shooting for the top

    The final six contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," from left: Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Last of the wild cards

    Stefano Langone sings his final song after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 21. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. What planet ... ?

    Kanye West, right, joins Katy Perry for her single "E.T." on "Idol" on Thursday, April 21. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Hello, it's 'Goodbye'

    Season seven winner David Cook performs his new song "The Last Goodbye." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lucky 7

    The final seven contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from left: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Stefano Langone, Jacob Lusk, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. First guy to go

    Paul McDonald, center, waves goodbye as he is eliminated on "American Idol," marking the first time this season that a man was voted off the program. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. 'California' dreamin'

    Sporting long red locks again, Rihanna performs her new single "California King Bed" on "Idol" Thursday night. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. The champ is back

    Season one "Idol' winner Kelly Clarkson performs the duet "Don’t You Wanna Stay" with Jason Aldean. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Is this eight enough?

    The final eight contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from left, Jacob Lusk, Haley Reinhart, Paul McDonald, Srefano Langone, Casey Abrams, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and James Durbin. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. One for the judges

    Pia Toscano sings after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 7.

    The judges didn't take the cut from fans well. “I’m shocked. I’m angry. I don’t even know what to say,” J.Lo ranted.

    "I’m gutted. You’re one of the best singers in this. I’m never upset on this show, but this makes me mad. Really mad,” Randy Jackson told the tearful Toscano.

    "A mistake is one thing, but lack of passion is unforgivable. They’re wrong. She’s beautiful when she sings -- she’s a bird,” Steven Tyler added. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Something off his chest

    Iggy Pop struts his stuff in front of the judges' table while performing on "Idol" on Thursday, April 7. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Nine alive

    The final nine contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from bottom right: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Two not for the show

    Naima Adedapo, left, and Thia Megia bid farewell after being eliminated on Thursday, March 31. The first four singers eliminated this season have been women, thanks to the judges’ use of the save on Casey Abrams last week. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Diva style

    Fantasia returned to "Idol" stage and "took it back old school" for a performance of "Collard Greens and Cornbread" on Thursday, March 31. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. 2 of out 3 ain't bad

    Thia Megia, left, Haley Reinhart, center, and Pia Toscano perform on "Idol" on Thursday, March 31. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Oh, 'Rio'

    Jamie Foxx and will.i.am perform "Hot Wings," a song of the soundtrack to the movie "Rio." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Strike up the band

    "Idol" contestants, from left, James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Casey Abrams and Stefano Langone perform on Thursday, March 31. MacDonald was among the lowest three vote-getters this week. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Final 10 plus one

    Usually only the top 10 Idol contestants go on to perform on "American Idol's" Live tour, but this year there will be 11. The singers are (clockwise from top left): James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Pia Toscano, Scotty McCreery, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams, Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart and Thia Megia. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A Hulk-ing announcement

    Pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan makes a surprise appearance on "American Idol" to reveal the fates of James Durbin and Paul McDonald, who were both safe and going on tour. Hogan also gave Ryan Seacreast a pro-wrestling punch to the head, hurling him into the audience. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Jennifer Hudson returns

    Jennifer Hudson was back on the stage that made her famous to perform her new song, "Where You At?" "It feels good to be home!" she exclaimed. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Nail-biting time

    Ryan Seacrest reveals to Casey Abrams, left, and Stefano Langone who must "sing for their life." (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Saved by the judges

    Casey Abrams, who was voted off "American Idol" Thursday, reacts after being saved by judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Sugarland

    "Sugarland" took to the stage to sing “Stuck Like Glue.” (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Happy birthday, Steven

    Stevie Wonder sings to help celebrate Steven Tyler's 63rd birthday. “I’m speechless,” Tyler says. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Eleven sent

    The final 11 contestants on "American Idol," clockwise from top left: Pia Toscano, Stefano Langone, Lauren Alaina, Paul McDonald, James Durbin, Scotty McCreery, Naima Adedapo, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart and Thia Megia. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. No save tonight

    Karen Rodriguez gets the word, alongside host Ryan Seacrest, that she has been eliminated from season 10 of "American Idol" on Thursday, March 17. She did well enough in her last-chance performance to have judge Jennifer Lopez lobby the other judges for her, but not enough to earn the save. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Have a seat

    Fergie and will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas perform on "American Idol." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. DeWyze man said ...

    Season nine winner Lee DeWyze performs on "Idol" on Thursday, March 17. Seacrest introduced him by noting that he’d gone from “salesman to superstar overnight.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Dozen done good

    The final 12 contestants on season 10 of "American Idol." Top row, from left: Pia Toscano (holding a Casey Abrams mask), James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk and Scotty McCreery. Bottom from left: Haley Reinhart, Karen Rodriguez, Stefano Langone, Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia and Laurn Alaina. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Glow in the 'Aftermath'

    Former "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert performs "Aftermath" on the show on Thursday, March 10. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A little Diddy

    Diddy-Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey took the stage to perform "Coming Home" on Thursday night. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. First to go

    Ashton Jones, with Seacrest, is elimintaed on "Idol" on Thursday, March 10. Joining her in the bottom three were Karen Rodriguez and Haley Reinhart. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. The finalists

    "American Idol's" Top 13 are (bottom row from left) Paul McDonald, Ashthon Jones, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart and Scott McCreery. (Top row from left) James Durbin, Naima Adedapo, Jacob Lusk, Thia Megia, Karen Rodriguez, Stefano Langone and Lauren Alaina. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Casey Abrams

    Casey, a 20-year-old from Idyllwild, Calif., has fought every step of the way to continue in the competition. He was nearly eliminated during semifinals week when he had to be hospitalized for a stomach ailment two days before taping. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Thia Megia

    Thia, a 16-year-old from Mountain House, Calif., is one of the competition’s youngest hopefuls. During the semifinals, judge Steven Tyler said that her “pitch can be so perfect that it doesn’t matter what song” she sings. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. James Durbin

    James, a 22-year-old from Santa Cruz, Calif., is the only rocker in this season’s competition. His penchant for screams and his big stage personality have drawn comparisons to season eight runner-up Adam Lambert. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Pia Toscano

    Pia, a 22-year-old from Howard Beach, N.Y., got a standing ovation during the semifinals for her performance of “I’ll Stand By You.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Lauren Alaina

    Lauren, a 16-year-old from Rossville, Ga., brought the crowd to its feet with Reba McEntire’s “Turn on the Radio” during the semifinal round. She first ingrained herself in America’s memory by singing Aerosmith -- with Steven Tyler -- for her initial audition. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Jacob Lusk

    Jacob, a 23-year-old from Compton, Calif., has a smooth, soothing voice that judge Jennifer Lopez compared to crooner Luther Vandross’s. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Haley Reinhart

    Haley, a 20-year-old from Wheeling, Ill., sang “Fallin’” well, but J.Lo thought she was too stuck in her head. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Paul McDonald

    Paul, a 26-year-old from Nashville, won high praise from the judges for his version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Judge Steven Tyler loved his style (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. Karen Rodriguez

    Karen, a 21-year-old from New York, gave judge Jennifer Lopez goose bumps with her Spanish version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” It was a move that won America’s votes during the semifinals. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Scott McCreery

    Scott, a 17-year-old country crooner from Garner, N.C., was the first of the guys to become a finalist. He performed “Letters From Home” during the semifinals to clinch his spot. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. Ashthon Jones

    Ashthon, a 24-year-old from Nashville, was one of the judges’ wild-card picks. She performed “I Am Telling You” to win them over one more time. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Stefano Langon

    Stefano, a 21-year-old from Kent, Wash., was the only male singer the judges picked for a wild-card spot. He performed “I Need You Now” for his last-chance performance, and Steven Tyler declared that the young singer “gilded the lily of your own passion.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. Naima Adedapo

    Naima, a 26-year-old Milwaukee native, was the last of the judges’ wild-card picks. Steven Tyler said she was the new Ella Fitzgerald after she performed “Summertime” during the semifinals. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery
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    Above: Slideshow (71) 'American Idol' Season 10 - Top 13
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