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Round of 12: Stevie Wonder - March 9

There's an old business adage that American Idol has started to adopt this year... Stick with what works. Case in point, this year's live stage... recycled from last year. That said...

And then there are 12.

From here one, each singer will perform, and you will ultimately send one home each week until there are only two at the Kodak. For now, though, let's go live to Television City in Hollywood, 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90036, where the hardest working man in showbusiness presenting today and the toughest crowd to please (Randy, Paula, and Simon) are ready to hear 12 singers compete to the music of... Stevie Wonder. Now a Stevie tune is exceptionally hard to pull off without sounding like a carbon copy, and it's going to be a challenge to determine which of this lot will have the pipes to pull it off.

But because this is a two-hour show, thank you Fox, we start with filler! First up, the journey from tens of thousands to just 12. And speaking of 12... heeeere they are!

Ace Young
Kellie Pickler
Elliott Yamin
Mandisa
Bucky Covington
Melissa McGhee
Lisa Tucker
Kevin Covais
Katharine McPhee
Taylor Hicks
Paris Bennett
Chris Daughtry

Your top 12, America. Paula says this is the most unique, most talented, and most talked-about top 12 had. "It's anyone's game." Randy feels that his dawg pound got bigger. Simon thinks that breaking out of the comfort zone will either make you or break you.

First, your semi-educational moment. Steveland Morris was signed to Motown at age 10 and quickly given the nickname of "Little Stevie Wonder" because of his ability to play, write, and sing even though he was stricken blind at an early age. He has sold over 100 million albums and has more Grammys on his person than any other solo artist. He even won an Oscar for Best Song ("I Just Called to Say I Love You" from "The Woman in Red"). His new record, "A Time to Love", is one of my faves to spin on occasion. More info on the all-man, no-myth legend can be found at Wikipedia here.

"The great thing about this show is that you bring lots of people together in the spirit of song. Isn't that wonderful?"

Yes, Stevie. It is.

And here's one of those lots of people... We're starting with Ace, who will sing "Do I Do". "I am overjoyed and overwhelmed and totally satisfied with my life."

What they say: Randy was excited and worried at the same time. He likes his energy, but the beginning and the end were just too much for him. "Stevie's hard with all these changes. It was just alright." Paula totally disagrees, saying he was fantastic. Now the other slice of bread in this sugar sandwich... "This audience is very easily pleased." Simon agrees with Randy. "It was a bit manic. You're gonna have to do better than that."

What we say: A weak beginning... A weak middle... This song is just too broad for him. The stage presence may save him, but it'll be a close shave. He has yet to pull off two consecutive good performances in a row. Did I mention that this was a bad choice?

This stage can make or break you. Ace just proved the point. Next up, Kellie Pickler is on with "Blame It on the Sun". "In all honestly, I'm not that familiar with Stevie Wonder's music." But you do know who Stevie Wonder is...  Anyone believe that one? Show of hands... Now! Stevie thinks she'll have a lot of fun with it.

What they say: Randy thought it was an interesting song choice, calling it "a non-event." But he likes the shoes. Paula could tell that she was nervous (shut up, Pickler). Simon? "Everything went wrong tonight." The song was boring, completely outside her comfort zone, and almost "Dolly Parton"-ish. "It's all safe, boring... your WORST performance so far."

What we say: I'm not a fan of the voice, and Kellie's incredibly pitchy at times, but believe it or not, this was her best performance. Again, not saying much from Kellie, but if she can build from this, maybe she may yet be a force to be reckoned with. MAYBE. ... No, not really... And I (^_^)ing hate those shoes. Black dress.. orange stiletto heels... Somewhere out there there's a stylist that's about to lose her damn job.

What Kellie says: Sorry.

Next, Elliott Yamin... a BIG fan of Stevie. Big to tears, this man is. He's going to attempt to sing "Knocks Me Off My Feet". Stevie called his rendition "believable."

What they say: Randy didn't think this was his best performance, but "you see how hard it is to sing something new to something that's always great"... with a note run added. Paula calls him inspired and passionate. "I think we're going to see so many weeks of you, it's not even funny." Simon: "Best so far, BUT that did not have the WOW factor." It's important to show a bit of originality.

What we say: You can tell Elliott's a studied fan of Stevie's work... It sounds JUST LIKE HIM! I mean, it's good... but Elliott needs to infuse himself into the performance. As it is right now... It's a good "studio" performance (meaning he's just singing well, not actually performing). But still... We'll see him next week.

Little downtime, little real time with Mandisa before performing, who says that the judges are hard to please tonight. "Comfortable is not really the word. My dogs are barking." Ryan thinks that Mandisa would sing better with her shoes off. "I didn't offer to do this with Bo Bice." First thing he notices... moisturized ankles. He's metro... and he has a foot fetish, but back to Mandisa. She'll be singing one of MY favorites, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing".

Don't mess up. Stevie says you can sing anything.

What they say: Randy says she was amazing... last week, but this week, not so much. "For me.. Best so far." Paula agrees with Stevie. Simon: "Now we have a competition, best so far."

What we say: First crack. First note. Otherwise, very sassy... And the octave change in the middle is the perfect weapon that she can use in this song... And she uses it twice! Methinks Elliott may have been dethroned as the biggest Stevie singer tonight.

Next, Bucky Covington, who HAS heard of Stevie, but he hasn't owned a record by the guy. But he did become a fan when he heard "Superstition", which he'll be performing tonight. Stevie says to remember the intonation...

What they say: Bucky had a good time. Randy said it was the right choice, wasn't the greatest vocal, but was enjoyable. Paula wanted him to get out of his comfort zone a bit more. Simon thought it was one of his best, but says that the Jessica Simpson hair is off-putting.

What we say: Everyone's right here. This is a case of originality. He nails the song, and adds himself into it. Whether that's a good or bad thing... I'll leave to personal taste, but for me, he got the job done. And he remembered the intonation.

Next, Melissa McGhee, the chick that delivered Ayla Brown's first failure in life. She calls the last few days "unbelievable." Her voice is also a little bit rough. She's tried gargling everything. Will it help with "Lately"? Not if she can't remember the damned lyrics. Stevie's VERY particular about that... And rightly so. Watch out... here comes Melissa in a dress... singing a ballad.

What they say: Melissa calls Randy calling Melissa on the lyric flub, something she attributes to a last-minute change in song. "But you definitely got pipes." Paula says that she should wear dresses more often... then calls Melissa on the lyrics. Simon: "In my opinion... that was your best performance so far. Wasn't perfect, but it was edgy, it was contemporary."

What we say: Not much need be said. Melissa, with two lyric flubs and a pitchy vocal, you ARE the Weakest Link... GOODBYE!.

Plug the website, my puppet. Next, Lisa Tucker, who'll sing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"... hopefully without the nerves of meeting with Stevie for the first time.

What they say: Randy liked the end of that song more than anything, but elsewhere, he was bored. Paula calls the nerve, but says she shines when she goes outside the melody. Simon said this was one of the best, because she took control of the stage.

What we say: She got a straightening iron over the week! That's always the first step... Give it to Lisa for stage presence and singing a Lisa performance, but it seems like she's trying to do too much with it. That can be dangerous when you get into the later rounds, and everyone starts to sound the same and everything...

Next, the young'un, Kevin Covais, with his fan base... preteen crumbsnat... err, girls. He calls meeting Stevie Wonder incredible. "My heart kinda sank." Stevie tells Kevin to relax himself. He let the nerves go and sang his song... "Part-Time Lover". Kevin's going to try and sexify it for us tonight... Scary thought, I know.

What they say: Randy wasn't expecting much, but he sang it in tune.. while dancing... and wearing makeup. "It was definitely interesting. Not the best we've seen, but definitely enjoyable." Paula sees another sign: Kevin is my heaven. She agrees with Randy. Simon calls it appalling.

What Kevin says: "I wasn't expecting much from you anyways, so..."

What we say: A 16-year-old geek pretending to be a 21-year-old Chippendales dancer. But the vocal was on and off. It wasn't like bang, on the money, but it wasn't outrightly terrible either. It was fency. I agree with all three judges in some aspect.

Next, Katharine McPhee wanted to work with Stevie the most.. Even though she tried Stevie before and it didn't work. But she gets another chance with a song Stevie wrote for Aretha, "Until You Come Back to Me".

What they say: Randy: "The Katharine McPhee that I saw when you first auditioned, when we first met you... America, she's back tonight, and she's off the chain. We got a hot one tonight!" Paula calls her piercing. Simon.. just calls her good, reminding him of Kelly Clarkson.

What we say: Again, probably the best Aretha performance I've ever heard a white girl sing. Now let's hear the white girl sing it. Then we'll have something. She can sing, but she needs to infuse more Katharine. Remind me why I love you!

Next on the stage is Taylor, who calls Stevie Wonder "an American idol". Tonight, he'll be "Living for the City", 1974, from the Innervisions album.

What they say: Paula's clapping like a 2-year-old. Randy liked the performance, saying that he was "fearless". Paula says that he brings smiles to everyone's faces... and he has a harmonica. Simon says that he's akin to every dad that ever got drunk at a wedding, getting on stage. "The difference is.. You can sing."

What we say: Reminds me of Michael McDonald. The performance was good. He commands the stage.. Vocally, it wasn't his best, but he's dead on it, at least. Should be enough to get him to the next show.

Next, we go to Paris, who belts out emotions to Stevie, who believes that there's nothing wrong with that, but that there's a time and place for it. He sees Fantasia in Paris. She will deliver her rendition of "All I Do".

What they say: Randy once again relives the greatness of when we first met. "You were unbelievable tonight! Another hot one! Effortless!" Paula: "Seasoned veteran! You could teach a lot of performers how to do it right." Simon says we're watching two competitions. "The first half was alright, and then the second half is brilliant! You're like a performing little doll!"

What we say: This is the performance that Lisa should've delivered. Commanding of the stage, dead on pitch, owning the song. She needn't shout all of it, though.

One more, and then it's your turn. We finish with Chris Daughtry, who was worried that he couldn't find the right song. But then he found "Higher Ground" from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "He sounds sincere." So Stevie plus Kiedis equals....

What they say: Randy: "You know what's cool about you? Every week you figure out a way to make it your own. I love that! Dude, you worked it out!" Paula just enjoys it. Simon... "Thank God for Chris. We had some good performances tonight, but I actually could imagine you having a hit with that record. I hate it when people don't take risks." Good choice, infusing, and it stands up in the real world.

What we say: He's doing the thing with the mic stand! Seriously, though. He mixed the soul and the rock and got something totally different, more than the two combined. This was one of the six highlights tonight. This was THE highlight. Interesting placing tonight. We have the six that could take this home... and then there's everyone else.

I Just Called to Say I Love You: Elliott, Mandisa, Paris, Katharine, Chris, Taylor
Part-Time Lover: Bucky, Kevin, Lisa
Love's in Need of Love Today: Ace, Kellie, Melissa
Stick to Hosting: Ryan

There's going to be five of one group and one of the other going to the final six. Just watch.

There you go, 12 essentials for your iPod. Go to iTunes and go nuts.

Meanwhile, we're going to go nuts trying to pick out one of these jokers (Melissa) to go home. We'll see you tomorrow for that! Right now, stay tuned, your local news is next.

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