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March 18, 2009
'American Idol' goes a 'Little' country


Why on earth do we need - once again! - the formal introduction of the four "American Idol" judges, especially when Simon Cowell still chooses to wear a T-shirt that's about five sizes too small?!

Last night was the country music hoedown, and I think fans were probably both pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked. Grand Ole Opry member Randy Travis was around this week to mentor the contestants. And there were a couple of unusual song choices - and arrangements - but getting 11 contestants to keep it somewhat in the musical ballpark was pretty amazing, considering there really isn't a country-esque crooner, except for perhaps Michael Sarver of Texas.

As it happens, Michael, 27, sang first, tackling Garth Brooks' "Ain't Going Down 'Till The Sun Comes Up," a song with about a kazillion words! Simon said he couldn't understand a single word. "You could have been singing in Norwegian." Michael retorted with, "Country music is about havin' some fun."

Allison Iraheta, 16, blew both Randy T. and Randy Jackson away with her super updated version of Patty Loveless's "Blame It On Your Heart." This season, instead of "That was dah bomb," Jackson has a new accolade: "That was dope!"

Cute guy Kris Allen, 23, put down his guitar and sang one of my favorite Garth songs, "To Make You Feel My Love." Randy called him a "tender dawg." Paula Abdul thought it was "vulnerable," and Kara DioGuardi said the performance "wasn't even country. It was very Kris Allen."

Lil Rounds, 23, however, struggled - probably for the first time - because she tried to stay true to the musical genre instead of her R&B riff. She tackled the monster Martina McBride song "Independence Day." Simon said she reminded him of someone forced to sing at a wedding, performing a song she didn't want to sing. "It just wasn't you." But the night will be remembered for his ridiculous mispronounciation of her name. It's "Lil" - not short for Lillian, Lily and certainly not "Little."

And then there was Adam Lambert, 27, channeling Elvis Presley via Alice Cooper. Sorry, but he's starting to creep me out big time with the sneer and the heavy foundation and the fingerless black leather gloves. And he had poor Randy Travis scratching his head with the black nail polish and a bizarre sitar/Egyptian/crypt-inspired version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." If Adam was trying to do what Season 7 winner David Cook did with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," he should be tossed into a ring of fire. Kara thought it was a little strange, and Randy said it was like Nine Inch Nails doing country." Simon, of course, called it "absolute, indulgent rubbish."

My least favorites? Unfortunately, it was Scott MacIntyre, 23, performing another Martina hit, "Wild Angels," which sounded exactly like last week's song, which I can't remember. Paula worried that his piano was becoming a crutch and that he might need to be closer to the fans. "I can move the piano closer," quipped Scott.

My other concern was Alexis Grace, 21, who has always been a popular contestant. She tackled Dolly Parton's "Jolene." The thing is, Alexis looks like a younger version of Dolly (minus the bustline), but there wasn't a lot of her own twist on the song. It just sounded like Dolly singing it back in the '70s. The ill-fitting dress didn't help much, either. If she stays, she promises to bring back "the dirty."

Neither I nor Simon could get past Danny Gokey's white Michelin Man coat. Danny, 28, also wrestled a monster with Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel." Randy thought it was pitchy in spots. Kara and Simon disagreed on Danny starting the song slow and building. But Simon had the best line: "It's not about the vocals, it's what you're wearing. It looks like you're going on a polar expedition, and it's 80 degrees outside!"

It was redemption week for "Snoop" Anoop Desai, 22 (pictured). Maybe it's because his UNC Tar Heels got a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Anoop - the balladeer - had me clutching a hanky with his rendition of the great Willie Nelson classic, "Always On My Mind." "Anoop is back everybody!" shouted Paula. But it was Simon, of course, who found himself apologizing to Anoop for saying last week that he didn't belong in the Top 13. "You've managed to go from a zero to a hero. And you deserve to be on the show."

OK, so I'm guessing most viewers didn't know how sick Megan Joy, 23, has been this week. She's been battling the flu and made at least two trips to the hospital. But last night, I actually appreciated her raspy, rocky, bluesy version of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight." Kara said it was the perfect song and the perfect look. Will there be pity votes? Most definitely. But I think Megan should stay. The competition needs her.

Last, Matt Giraud, 23, proved he deserved to get the Wild Card nod from the judges. He also performed a Carrie U. song, "So Small." Simon said his performance was similar to Danny's. "In fact, you outsang him," he said. "You remind me of Michael Buble. Terrific!"

Predictions for tonight's live results show (9 p.m. FOX40)? has Michael near the bottom, and still is trying to keep Megan safe. Talent could be a problem for Michael becauase likeability won't get you into the Top 10. And remember: Only the 10 get to go on this summer's "Idol" tour.

Oh, and guest performers you won't want to miss tonight include Carrie Underwood, Randy Travis and Brad Paisley. It's must-see results!

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