American Idol: The Iovine Innovationby Stephen Thompson on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 11:50pm

The big ballyhooed change for season 10 was the introduction of uber-producer Jimmy Iovine as the in-house mentor for Idol. Well, for the most part, it looks like if the contestants are up to it they can do rather well when taking his advice. As usual, and believe me I know this from my own job, you try to help people understand something and they refuse to believe you would try to help them.

In my view, we had a few flameouts, several nice tries, and a small group that will probably make up our top five. As always, song choice will be the key.

The Flameouts

13) Ashthon Jones sang When You Tell Me That You Love Me by Diana Ross. This song had absolutely no resonance for me-- and my musical memory is generally rather decent. Just because the judges say your look reminds them of Diana Ross doesn't mean you should try to sing her music. I had no reaction. Nothing positive or negative. Just a vast sea of emptiness. I wonder if other voters felt just as compelled.

12) Karen Rodriguez sang I Could Fall in Love by Selena. Is it just me or does this seem like a huge contrivance on Karen's part? First we have the Spanglish one week-- then we have the Selena song that reminds us that JLo played her in the movie. Isn't this the textbook definition of pandering? Not very impressive.

11) Thia Megia sang Smile. Dear Thea: Charlie Chaplin is an icon. Charlie Chapman? I've no clue. I get that Michael Jackson loved this song, but why does that mean the rest of America has to be taught to hate it? Even Ruben Studdard had one of his weakest nights when he covered this song. I say: put this song out to pasture so it can never harm a child again.

10) Paul McDonaldsang Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams. I'm certain Paul could be in trouble because the audience may not be familiar with the song. I don't care how much critical success an artist has, if America doesn't know the song America may not be tempted to vote. I liked Paul last week, but this was a huge step down for him. If he survives, he may need to rethink his song selection strategy.

Nice Tries

9) Jacob Lusk sang I Believe I Can Fly by R Kelly. Yes, I know he has a superhuman range in his voice and he can sing higher than an angel can fly-- but for Pete's Sake, or for that matter, one of the sons of Zebedee, when you stop singing and introduce a noise somewhat akin to a Yoko Ono banshee wail it may be best to regroup. I'm giving Jacob the benefit of a doubt here simply because he's done well previously.

8) Lauren Alaina sang Any Man of Mine by Shania Twain. Has anyone ever criticized this girl before? Just because the judges are trying to offer constructive criticisms? She acted as if someone broke in to her house and cut the heads off all her Barbies. Good grief! The voters aren't very forgiving if you start acting out with the judges (ask Siobhan from last season) so keep it together.

7) Stefano Langonesang the disco version of Lately by Stevie Wonder. Wait! There's a disco version? Precisely... I'm not sure if turning a ballad into a slightly (albeit slight) up-tempo number is ever a good idea, but it was a nice try. It wasn't awful and it wasn't perfect. Hopefully he'll find his way in the next round.

6) Haley Reinhartsang Blue by Leann Rimes. She was a bit shaky in the beginning, but I thought by the time she got into the spirit of the song it became a decent performance. I never expected her husky voice to produce a mellow sound, so in that respect she did rather well.

Your Top Five (Watch This Space) sang Umbrella by Rhianna. I'll give her the firepower and the energy for her performance even over her singing-- but let's say it again: Rhianna isn't popular because of her singing. Naima did the best she could possibly do-- maybe even sounding better in her own way simply because you could tell she was actually trying to sing and dance at the same time.

5) Naima Adedapo

4) Casey Abramssang With a Little Help from My Friends. I expected something along the lines of the Joe Cocker version, but in many respects, I think I liked Casey's version better. He sang rather early in the telecast and I'm a little worried that might hurt him with the voting public. By the way, I'm no expert. I'm no Allison DuBois... But doesn't a person have to be dead in order to channel them? Note to self: ask Walter Bishop.

3) Scott McCreery sang The River by Garth Brooks. Regardless of how you feel about a Josh Turner sound alike singing a Garth Brooks classic, you can't deny that every record company left in Nashville would love to get this kid for themselves. I thought he did a fine job. He didn't add anything to the song, but when you have a song this well written, you shouldn't have to mess with it.

2) Pia Toscanosang All By Myself. An admission: I used to have the 45 of the Eric Carmen original of this song so I feel like the Celine version borders on the histrionic. That said, I thought Pia nailed the song and brought more to it than Celine could ever hope to do. So in the first two weeks of competition, I have her as either first or second.

1) James Durbinsang Maybe I'm Amazed. Who would've thought this? James sings Paul McCartney and I think even Sir Paul would've been pleased. Someone must have told James he can actually sing without resorting to a glory note once every eight bars. If that was Jimmy Iovine who said it, the man deserves a raise. I've never been a huge fan of this song, but James may have changed my mind about it.

James and Pia were the best in my opinion. As for who gets voted off? I think there's a very narrow margin between #13 and #8. I think it would be an excellent example of karma for the Kendra Chantelle fans to see Ashthon Jones leave Thursday night.

We'll see, won't we?

@March 9, 2011 Stephen W Thompson