This week's "Idol" theme was the 1990s, a decade that brings to mind Seattle and the whole grunge movement.
Well, maybe for most, but not for the 10 remaining 'Idol' hopefuls.
Only Bo Bice sang a true rock song, and he was the first to perform. After that it was a night of country songs and ballads. It got to the point where Constantine Maroulis, he of the New York rock band, sang a country love song — and one by Bonnie Raitt, no less.
Maroulis made the judges happy, however, and that's what it's all about. Carrie Underwood continued to impress as well, and Nikko Smith and Vonzell Solomon seem to win more and more praise each week. But while Maroulis' makeover as a sensitive balladeer may have won over some hearts, and Nadia Turner got back on track with her old hairstyle, not all the contestants were as fortunate. Taking the glasses off couldn't keep Anthony Fedorov from attracting Simon's critical barbs, nor could Jessica Sierra's turn as a country girl.
Bo Bice, 29, Helena, Ala.: Bice opened the show with "Remedy" by the Black Crowes. The vocals weren't as good as some of his previous efforts, but he performed like … well, like a guy who's been rocking onstage since the 1990s. He dragged the microphone stand into the crowd, stood on the judge's podium, put his cowboy hat on Paula's head … it was quite a show.Grade: B+The judges: "I would love to see a rocker win this this year. I think you're on the right track. That was hot." – Randy Jackson Stay or go: Simon sounded a slight note of discord, hesitantly saying that it sounded like something you might hear at a wedding. It would have to be a mighty out-of-control wedding, though. Bice is in no danger.
Jessica Sierra, 19, Tampa, Fla.: Sierra brought the show from rock to country, with her version of LeAnn Rimes' "On the Side of Angels." It continued her string of inconsistency — after her stellar performance of a week ago, this one was average at best. She had a hard time hitting the glory notes, and got the ubiquitous "pitchy" comments from Randy Jackson.Grade: B-The judges: "Coming off of last week, when you really blew me away, this song didn't really showcase how good your vocals are." – Paula Abdul.Stay or go: Sierra was in the bottom three two weeks ago, and may find herself there again this week. It wasn't a great effort, and happened early enough in the show that it made her more forgettable than most.
Anwar Robinson, 25, East Orange, N.J.: Robinson may have the best glory note of any singer in the competition, and he used that to great effect in R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." He needed it — the rest of the song was off. Neither Randy nor Simon were impressed, though Paula said it made her love the song again after having it ruined for her by years of bad impressions sung by "Idol" wannabes.Grade: C+The judges: "If we're judging you on the first half of the song, it's just not good enough. But you rescue yourself with the big note at the end." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Robinson hasn't been in the bottom three yet this season. That may change this week, since it wasn't his best showing, but he'll probably be safe because others were more disappointing.
Nadia Turner, 28, Miami, Fla.: The Mohawk was gone, and perhaps not coincidentally, so was the judges' criticism — for the most part. Turner sang Melissa Etheridge's "I'm The Only One," and worked that fine line between passionate performance and screaming words into a microphone. The judges loved it, though they also worried that the song selection wasn't likely to send fans racing to text in their votes.Grade: BThe judges: "A thousand percent improvement over the horror we saw last week." — Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Turner may have been the second-lowest vote-getter last week, but her performance this time around was a lot better. She can't rest too easy, but if she gets voted off the show it won't be because she was the worst of the contestants this week.
Constantine Maroulis, 29, New York: Last week, it was the Partridge Family. This week, Bonnie Raitt and "I Can't Make You Love Me." It's like Maroulis is determined to shed the rocker label by any means necessary, and this week the seemingly random song selection paid off. It was by far his best vocal of the competition, and the judges and the audience ate it up.Grade: AThe judges: "I think you were better than Bo tonight, and I'll tell you why. You were kind of like a classic pop star." — Simon Cowell Stay or go: Once again, the rest of his bandmates in New York must be reaching for the airsickness bags, but Maroulis will be laughing all the way to the bank if he keeps this up.
Nikko Smith, 22, Town & Country, Mo.: Smith broke out the Tevin Campbell and "Can We Talk." The vocals weren't anything extraordinary — Simon had it right when he said it sounded like a "quite good" copy of the original — and the performance was just OK. But the judges' comments made clear that they love him, and judging by its reaction, the audience does as well.Grade: B-The judges: "You blew it out tonight!" – Randy Jackson.Stay or go: The judges love them some Nikko, and could not have made it more clear that they were happy he got a second chance in the competition. If they have their way, he'll be back. Based on the performance itself, however, he's not a lock.
Anthony Fedorov, 19, Trevose, Pa.: The glasses were gone by the time Fedorov got up on stage to sing Elton John's "Something About The Way You Look Tonight." It didn't seem to help. Fedorov sang fine, but didn't do much to separate himself from the pack, and based on last week's stint among the bottom three, he probably needed to do better in order to feel safe tomorrow night.Grade: C+The judges: "I want to be nice, because I like you. But I think in parts, that was absolutely excruciating." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Fedorov was in the bottom three last week following a better performance; it's tough to see how he can avoid that again this week. He may be the latest teenager sent packing.
Carrie Underwood, 21, Checotah, Okla.: Underwood had a tough act to follow after all the accolades she received last week, but she didn't disappoint. She went back to country with Martina McBride's "Independence Day," and was great once again. She also said that before her first date, her father was in the living room cleaning out his shotguns, which only feeds the Country Carrie persona. It also might cut down on the number of fans attempting to google her home phone number.Grade: AThe judges: "Great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great. That was the best performance of the night." – Randy Jackson.Stay or go: Just go ahead and pencil Underwood into the competition until at least mid-May.
Scott Savol, 28, Shaker Heights, Ohio: Brian McKnight's "One Last Cry" may not have been the greatest song choice for Savol, who also didn't benefit from his spot in the draw immediately after Underwood. It wasn't a great performance.Grade: C+The judges: "Honestly, based on that performance, if I were sitting in the karaoke bar, I'd be switching the microphone off." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Savol may be in trouble. He's avoided the bottom three so far, but may need some fans with quick dialing fingers to avoid possible elimination this week.
Vonzell Solomon, 21, Fort Myers, Fla.: At one point, Solomon was even money not to make the final 12. But she gets better every week, and continued her string of impressive outings with a rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing." Whitney may not have anything any more, but Solomon sure does — the judges did everything but throw roses at her feet after she finished.Grade: AThe judges: "I gotta tell you, Vonzell, America's falling in love with you. You gave one of the top-notch performances tonight." – Paula Abdul.Stay or go: Solomon's gone from the danger zone to title contender in just a few weeks time. It would be a major surprise if the voters sent her home so soon.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.