IDOL Judges Rave Over Contenders As Top 9 Perform


AMERICAN IDOL: The Final 9: Clockwise from bottom right: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery.


LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Simon Cowell is most definitely not in the house.

The “American Idol” judges had nothing but praise, praise and even more praise for the Top 9 contenders, who performed songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Wednesday night.

Based on just the judges’ comments alone, it wasn’t easy to identify the best or the worst of the night, something Ryan Seacrest noted at the end of the evening, asking judge Randy Jackson how America should decide how to vote.

“Dude, this is gonna be so hard because they were all so good tonight,” he said.

“Vote for your favorite,” judge Jennifer Lopez chimed in.

Everyone received a host of compliments, but perhaps one of the first contestants to really surprise the judges on performance night was teenage country crooner Scotty McCreery, who opted for Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama.”

Randy complimented Scotty for not sticking to his usual modern country faire, and instead rocking his tune up a little bit, complete with an energetic stage performance.

“Scotty is in it to win it,” Randy raved. “This is like new Scotty. We’ve never seen this side.”

Pia Toscano put in another strong performance, this time with the Ike & Tina Turner classic, “River Deep, Mountain High,” and once again, Jennifer peppered her review of the song with suggestions for improvement.

“You are really, really special out there… What I want you to do is start researching some of the great performers like Tina Turner,” Jennifer said of how Pia could amp up her stage moves. “Those are the things you need to do to go to the next level.”

Teenager Lauren Alaina appeared to be the only contender who found herself with mixed praise – being told by Randy that her version of “Natural Woman” (a song Kelly Clarkson performed during Season 1 of “American Idol”) was just “good,” while the rest of the table said she was “great.”

Rocker James Durbin took things down to a different level as he road-tested The Beatles’ song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and while he definitely hit some bum notes, the judges didn’t seem to notice, praising his artistry.

“I loved seeing the real, true, emotional side of James Durbin,” Randy said.

Here’s how the rest of the pack did:

Haley Reinhart performed Janis Joplin’s “Peace of My Heart,” and Jennifer said it made her a “contender.”

Casey Abrams whipped out his stand-up bass to sing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” which Randy said was “Revolutionary!”

Stefano Langone tackled Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman,” which judge Steven Tyler said he “nailed.”

Paul McDonald brought his flavor to the Johnny Cash classic, “Folsom Prison Blues,” which both Randy and Steven said they “loved.”

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