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Danny Gokey comes out strong on ‘Idol’

The "American Idol" performance have only sung one song each, but Paula Abdul has made it clear which two singers she's predicting will make it to the finals.
/ Source: contributor

The “American Idol” judges shocked everyone a week ago by adding an extra finalist to the mix, and apparently, the show isn’t finished with the surprises.

The beginning of the March 10 Michael Jackson-themed show brought the news that two singers would be sent home on Wednesday, while the ending promised a rule change that would involve the judges, be revealed tomorrow, and might not be approved of by some viewers.

Hopefully that rule change won’t involve more commentary from Paula Abdul, because she was in rare form on Tuesday. Anyone who doesn’t like spoilers had to be disturbed when she announced that both Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert are both bound for the May finale. With 10 weeks to go, Abdul has everyone else singing for third place.

It’s a little too early to make that call, but after a night where everyone had to pick from the Michael Jackson songbook there were a few performers that drew special attention.

The show-stoppers Simon Cowell said that Gokey reminded him of “Michael McDonald — you’re a white man with soul.” That came after he remade the beginning of "PYT" into a slow and boring ballad. Just as the show execs were having nightmares about one of their most marketable contestants bowing out early, he broke into rocker mode and rescued the song. “Take it all in … take it all in,” Paula gushed afterwards as the crowd applauded, adding “I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re on your way to the finals.”

If Paula’s right, Adam Lambert will be Gokey’s opponent, as she said “I believe in all my heart we’ll see you running all the way to the end to the finals.” Lambert was awfully over-the-top with “Black or White,”  but the judges ate it up. Simon actually credited Lambert's theater experience as a positive, which is a first for the British judge.

Lil Rounds will not be one of the singers going home either, and not just because she reminded everyone beforehand that she’s a single mother of three who survived a tornado. The most controversial part of her performance of “The Way You Make Me Feel” was her outfit, which looked like white pants and the top half of a pink prom dress. The judges had mixed opinions on that, but not on her singing. “I hope we get to hear you on the radio," Kara DioGuardi gushed. "You are great.”

Safe for another week Allison Iraheta talked about singing in supermarkets, and her video showed her performing in a store before what looked like a good two dozen people. That wouldn’t seem like it was great preparation for the “Idol” stage, but Iraheta once again showed no fear and plenty of attitude with “Give In To Me.” Simon actually told her she might want to lighten up, to which the 16-year-old responded “I’m not dark — I’m not, like, cutting myself or anything.”

Did anyone not know that Michael Sarver worked on an oil rig? If they didn’t, they found out in Sarver’s pre-performance video, when he went back in his fancy new clothes to greet his old co-workers. He picked “You Are Not Alone,” which is not exactly an oil rig roughneck kind of song, but sang it well enough to win the kudos of all four judges, although Simon did snark “I just wish we knew what you did for a living.”

The judges have talked often about how they’d like to see Scott MacIntyre accompanying himself on the piano, and they got their wish when he played “Keep The Faith,” off the “Dangerous” soundtrack. Selecting a lesser-known song was a risk, but the choice of an inspirational tune by the first blind singer in the show’s history made it safe — too safe for some. “It’s fine being artistic, but not on this show,” Simon said.

Kris Allen went onstage with his guitar to sing “Remember the Time,” which looked either “clumsy” (to Simon) or “adorable sexy” (to Paula), or “Jason Mraz-y” (to Randy Jackson). Nobody knew quite what to make of it, but nobody hated it, and he also earned props from Kara for helping everyone out by accompanying them on the guitar during rehearsals.

Alexis Grace probably isn’t in any danger, but it was a strange night for the singer who closed the show. In the past, she’s been praised for her singing, but was asked to show more personality. This week, the judges loved her moxie on “Dirty Diana,” with Kara summing it up by saying “You’re a naughty girl, and I liked it.” But Paula and Simon both thought the vocals were over-the-top, and it might not help that viewers had to dial “IDOLS-36” to vote for her instead of a number that actually made sense.

Singers in dangerIt would have been better for Matt Giraud to have followed someone a bit less dynamic than Lambert. His “Human Nature” was fine, and Kara again showed she was a big fan. “You are a talented guy and I hope I see you for many, many weeks,” she said. But it all seemed a lot duller than it would have without the previous act to compare it to, and that will probably cost him votes.

Jasmine Murray wasn’t bad, but nor was she quite up to the bigger notes on “I’ll Be There." As Randy reminded everyone, he remade that song with Mariah Carey, and that’s a very high bar that she couldn’t quite reach. “It’s a little bit like a little girl trying to be a grown-up,” Simon said.

Anoop Desai was the first singer of the night to draw significant criticism, as nobody liked his choice of the 1980s standard “Beat It.” Paula said the song itself was "untouchable" and every version other than the original sounded like karaoke, while Simon thought it was horrible and lightweight. Anyone who liked Desai before had no reason to change their minds, but as a wild-card pick, he didn’t have as much to fall back on as those who have demonstrated a stronger fan base already.

The judges still really like Megan Joy Corkrey, but they hated that she chose "Rockin’ Robin" instead of something a little more relevant. Like, say, anything else Michael Jackson or the Jackson Five ever sang or covered. “We like you, we’ve established that, but what a stupid song choice,” Simon said. Her vocals and dance moves didn’t do anything to alleviate that criticism.

Jorge Nunez was another singer scolded for song selection. “Never Can Say Goodbye” was too old-fashioned and didn’t give him a chance to show his personality, the judges declared. He didn’t stand out in a positive way, and since most of the other singers were more memorable that places him in big trouble in week one.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.