'American Idols LIVE!': Which season 10 contestants did best? Who was the worst?

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Image Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

On Saturday night in Atlantic City, 11 finalists from American Idol‘s 10th season gathered in front of an audience — which, interestingly enough, skewed much older than former Idol concerts — to prove what they could deliver when not at the mercy of Fox’s HD cameras and a panel of judges with vocabularies smaller than a shopping list. During the two hour-plus showing of American Idols LIVE!, nearly every contestant managed to surprise: When not limited to a weekly genre and schmaltzy group numbers they need to learn in the course of two days, the contestants can truly rock.

Yes, per usual, there were plenty of group songs during the live concert — but, this time around, the cheese factor was more brie than Kraft singles. Since this was the fourth American Idols LIVE! concert I’ve been to since the show’s inception — I also attended shows for season 1, season 2, and season 8 — I was fully ready to sit through a terrible Stevie Wonder medley, but, lo and behold, the group numbers were fun, well-executed, and more entertaining than whatever it is Steven Tyler is imagining in his brain right now. (Speaking of whom, the Aerosmith rocker provided a video introduction during the show that saw him mistakenly refer to the singers as season 11 contestants before correcting himself. So awesome to have such an in-touch panel again!)

Haley, Thia, Naima, and Pia opened the show on a high with a fluid performance of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Paul, Casey, James, and Stefano showed that they could sing Neon Trees’ “Animal” far better than they did for the ever-so-embarrassing Ford commercial. And the entire group — sans Lauren and Scotty — somehow eked in a performance of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” that was artistic and had the crowd clapping, despite the fact that you’ll likely hear the overplayed ditty right now if you turn the radio.

Though the group numbers were the bread and butter of season 1 and 2’s concerts, American Idols LIVE! began highlighting contestants’ solo numbers a few years back. So which contestants impressed the most, and which failed to get folks on their feet? A rundown of the contestants, from best to worst:

Scotty: The first piece of good news about Scotty? He’s dropped the burrito microphone act. But not only can he properly hold a mic, but he also proved that he’s season 10’s rightful winner. Astonishingly comfortable on the stage, the 17-year-old was in tune, played to the large crowd, and placed his aw-shucks demeanor center stage. (He introduced “I Love You This Big” as his current “hit,” before backing up and charmingly telling the audience — who cheered for the winner more than any other contestant — he meant “song.”) Plus, his sense of humor was on full display. Scotty’s first song of the night? Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” Nashville, (un)lock them doors — Scotty’s coming your way.

Casey: Talk about an Idol flame-out. I almost felt angry watching Casey display his awe-inspiring talent during the American Idols LIVE! concert. Where was this guy when we watched him stumble through performances like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” this past season? During the concert, the sixth-place finisher returned to the prime form we saw early in season 10. (Aaaaand this gives me yet another reason to watch his mind-blowing “Georgia On My Mind” from Hollywood week.) Beginning a short set with just a bass, Casey delivered a jazz version of half of Rob Thomas and Santana’s “Smooth” that I’m dying to download to my iPod. (If only he chose not to switch to a straight-forward version halfway through the song!) Add to that an encore of his incredible “Moanin'” duet with Haley and a fun cover of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe,” and Casey, appropriately, took the audiences’ breath away.

James: It made sense that the contestant who most enjoyed playing to the crowd began his first performance in the crowd. How ballsy James was for beginning a slammin’ cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” on the floor of Boardwalk Hall?! Somehow managing to not get mauled, the contestant brought his act onto the stage in time to finish the song in a logic-defying back-bend and begin Muse’s “Uprising.” His commitment to his numbers was so strong, an overweight gent a few rows ahead of me was reduced to air guitar. No joke.

Pia: The girl deserves that record deal. Pia whipped out the most original version of “Empire State of Mind” I’ve ever heard. So original, I could not even discern what song she was singing until the chorus. (That’s a good thing.) Also, Pia turned out to be one of the night’s most valuable players, providing backing vocals for several of the contestants, including Lauren and Jacob. But she also got plenty of time in the spotlight as well — not only did she get a chance to duet with Stefano on Rihanna’s “California King Bed,” but she also was given the time to perform her first single, “This Time.” Maybe next time, she’ll be headlining her own concert.

Stefano: Shocked to see him here? So am I! Who would have known that the seventh-place finisher would be one of the most entertaining presences at the concert? Exhibit 1: He took his shirt off. Yes, you read that right. During a spirited performance of Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling In Love,” he dropped some hilariously awkward dance moves before ripping his shirt off and throwing it to the crowd. Give Stefano credit for keeping the energy high during the first half of the concert — his vocals soared during a cover of Bruno Mars’ “Grenade,” and, like Pia, he provided background for the majority of the contestants. I can’t shake the feeling that this is the last we’ll see of the poor heavily critiqued lad. Still, props to him for proving his top-10 finish.

Haley: Yes, her vocals were amazing. Yes, she looked gorgeous. And, yes, she still is the one contestant I’m most eager to hear from post-Idol. But the singer seemed a bit robotic, running through the motions while delivering two songs during her set that we had already heard: Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” and “The House of the Rising Sun.” Sure, her “Moanin'” duet had us in ecstasy, but, please Haley, offer us something new! It’s all we can do to wait for your album release!

Naima: As soon as Naima hit the floor for her rendition of Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor,” you knew you were in for something at least interesting. (Since that is the adjective that would best describe the contestant during the Idol season.) And interesting is what the crowd got — but it also managed to be downright fun. It was the perfect song for the dancer, who unleashed her moves during the second half of the tune. Naima, like Pia and Stefano, also helped bolster some of the other Idols’ numbers, making audience members eager to see her on the floor throughout the whole night.

Jacob: Haley might be “Moanin’,” but Jacob’s still wailin’, one city at a time. His performance of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” even served as the audience-wide bathroom break. (One of my friends in attendance said there was even a line at the men’s room during the song, which was punctuated when someone waiting called out, “So no one likes this guy, eh?”) Yet, let’s give credit where credit’s due: His encore of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” had the crowd snapping their fingers. Another plus: He wore a pair of snazzy blue shoes.

Thia: The contestant was adorable performing a rendition of Selena Gomez’s “Who Says,” but that’s all you can really say about her. Watching her, I couldn’t help but wish J.Lo & Co. had waited just one more year to send the young singer to Hollywood. She still needs time.

Lauren: The runner-up’s post-intermission set was highlighted with a Jumbo-tron-supported introduction, which, unfortunately, was far more energetic and interesting than the contestant herself. It feels icky to pick on a 16-year-old, but Lauren’s set was the only one to feature off-key vocals. Perhaps she’s overwhelmed by the tour — her first song, Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor,” was barely audible — but Lauren delivered performances more fit for an 11th-place finisher. By the time she started her single, “Like My Mother Does,” and launched into an off-key rendition of The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young,” it was time for bathroom break no. 2.

Paul: Wait, Paul was there? Hardly. Maybe he’s too busy planning his wedding, but the dude barely showed up. His only solo, “Maggie May,” felt like his original performance on the song, with an added dash of Ambien. That’s a contestant the show could have done without.

So those are my two cents, Music Mixers. Have you seen the concert? Who impressed you? Who failed to get you out of your seat (except to run to the bathroom)?

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

Read More:
Haley Reinhart signs with Interscope Records
Pia Toscano signs with Interscope Records
‘American Idol’ finalist Pia Toscano claims her spotlight with debut single ‘This Time’

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Comments (66 total) Add your comment
Page: 1 2 3
  • Templar

    Scotty is incomparable in this group. having said that, Paul knows how to work a crowd.

    • I see…

      …someone looked up the definition of “hyperbole”before writing this article.

  • jj

    Whaaa? Haley, robotic? Oh well. But, yes, can’t wait to hear something new from her in early 2012.
    Also, Pia’s song is kinda growing on me.

    • sure

      They make medication for that.

    • Zach

      I haven’t seen such anti-Haley bias since J.Lo and Randy on the show! Haley is the last person who should be called robotic. At this point, even when she’s just running through the motions, she is such a captivating performer. I went to the concert, and the crowd lit up and cheered when she started to play “Bennie and the Jets.” I can’t wait for new music from her, but I’d rather hear an old standby – and two or three of the season’s highlights – then a misjudged, generic pop song.

      Also agree about Pia’s song. If you like catchy, generic pop songs, then it’s fine, even good.

      • Zach

        *than. oops!

  • hehe

    Anti-fungal cream?

  • Brigette

    I was at the show in Detroit, and I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed EVERYBODY. It’s really hard for me to say who was the “bathroom break” performer, because even those who weren’t my favorite during the season like Stefano, Naima, and Jacob, did amazing. I think Thia’s song was the least entertaining, and aside from “Gone,” Scotty’s songs were too sleepy for me as well. Everyone on that stage was the “real deal,” and I’m really glad I was there to see it!

    • PN

      I don’t like the bathroom break comment about some of the performances. To me, that’s insulting to the singer performing if you don’t like how they sing the songs. You should sit through the show and then go to a bathroom break at intermission time. I prefer continuity and seeing the whole show without leaving mid show.

      • High Horse

        Get off of me, PN.

  • alyssa

    Does the author know that Lauren was sick with bronchitis during the Atlantic City show? She had miss the previous show in Baltimore because she could not sing at all.

    • Anonymous

      Oh please, she’s always sick. Perfect vocals still would not make her interesting.

      • JackieB

        Agreed. I can’t even believe how far she got on AI.

  • Violet

    This review is a fail. You failed to point out the fact that Haley didn’t get to choose her songs. Or the fact that Lauren was very sick, or the fact that it’s not Paul’s faul that he’s not on stage a lot. Also, Pia is less robotic than Haley and Lauren? Smh…

    • Violet

      You also failed to mention “Tightrope”.

      • Brigette

        LOVED “Tightrope!”

    • petra

      Haley ultimately does own her set. The producers DID want her to do three huge Haley performances from the elimination weeks that would work well in an arena. She went along with that, but could have dug her heels in and insisted on a new song…Perhaps the words “pending album deal” made her most agreeable to what the producers wanted.
      “Tightrope” was a great number. Agree.

      • PN

        She should have recorded a new song before the tour. Maybe they didn’t have anything ready before the tour, so we’ll just have to wait for her full length album. I think the producers need to back off and let the singers sing what they want, not the songs they performed on live TV.

  • Kari

    @alyssa. It’s not the author’s job to know if Lauren was sick with bronchitis before hand. The author was there to simply rate the show based on what he heard. If Lauren wasn’t 100% well to perform, she should have sit out the show until she felt better. I hate when artists use the “i’m sick” excuse to justify a poor performance.

    • alyssa

      Lauren did not want to disappoint her fans, which is why she decided to perform. The author pointed out that she was the only one who sang off-key. I think that’s an unfair assessment since she had bronchitis. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. She was sick.

      • matt

        showing up and performing poorly is pretty disappointing to her fans, I’d say.

  • BrandoC15

    This may be the WORST review yet. Really, your calling Haley robotic, yet Pia moves 3 feet during her whole set? I hope you know Haley didn’t pick her songs. TPTB just like screwing her over… Haleys the one that moves around the most during the concert other than Naima & James. & that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact.

    • Casey

      YUP. Pia really just cannot move on stage.

    • Zach

      That is sadly true about Pia. Or, at least, she has a long way to go in terms of performance, and Mark Ballas should be teaching her more if they’re really dating. Pia was actually much more confident in the early Hollywood rounds, though I thought she was improved during the Good Morning America performance I saw the other day.

      Also, I LOVED hearing Haley do her standby performances from Idol. Much more than something like Pia on “Empire State of Mind” even though it was different and current and she has the voice for it. Only thing bad about Haley’s set was that IT WASN’T LONG ENOUGH!!

  • Skye

    Stopped reading after the idiot that wrote this piece suggested that Scotty was the worthy winner. He still can’t sing more than one note, dummy. You’d think people writing for EW would know better. I guess they’re hiring morons now.

    • sure

      What does that make you if you’re responding to the writings of a moron?

    • Zach

      I don’t think Scotty should have won, and though he was competent and charismatic during “Gone,” if you don’t LOVE country (especially male country) music, he was downright BORING for most of his long set. I love how this reviewer says Scotty is the worthy winner and backs it up by saying he sang in tune. I don’t know about Haley outside LA, but she is the one who is astonishingly comfortable on stage, down to every last nuanced movement of her fingertips!

  • legallyblonde

    Scotty, Lauren and Pia are the only true stars.

    James has a future.

    • Anonymous

      Lauren a true star over Haley? Bull.

      • Zach

        I know, right?

  • annie

    Poor old Skye. Still anti-pimping the winner. Sweetie, I think you just don’t appreciate country music. Scotty is great!

    • Skye

      Great to inbred hicks that dont know any better.

  • glamwriter

    Ugh James, he’s so untalented. He is nothing compared to Adam Lambert.

  • Polly

    Lord. Reading these comments it’s nice to know Idol can still bring out the cray cray in people. haha!!!

  • krquet

    In my view:
    There’s Haley,
    A good deal of sunshine…
    The rest of the contenders.
    In that order.

    Good to see, a lot of commentators get that as well.

    • JenniferC

      Underestimate the appeal of Scotty McCreery at your peril. I like Haley, but there are people that seem to ignorantly delight in one performer only at the cost of dissing all the others.
      We had “Adam and the Nobodies on stage with him”, “Crystal of Perfection and the 9 dwarves”. Now you have Pia and Haley fans putting down the others.

      • Doubt it

        Hi Petra!

  • TorontoTom

    Skimming through this review reminded me how much I hated watching this season of Idol. I’ve had it with the glut of “talent shows” flooding the TV schedule. Won’t be watching Idol this coming season. Or The Voice. Or The X-Factor. Or…..or……or…..

    • Elizabeth Black

      You know what we don’t care what you think!!!!!!!!!!!

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