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Round of 9: American Classics - April 3

Tonight, the top nine are schooled on the music of the age of legend Tony Bennett, but who'll emerge as top shelf, and who'll just be standard issue? The fight for your votes begins now...

History lesson. Tony Bennett, an American Idol in every sense of the word, has a career spanning sixty years, charting hits in every decade since 1950. He's released more than 106 albums, with his worldwide record sales totaling more than 50 million. During such time, he's also racked up a whole mess of hardware including 15 Grammys, and at 80 years young, he's still at the top of his game. His latest effort, "Duets", was his best-selling and highest charting effort EVER.

For more information, do a wikipedia search on "Tony Bennett".

What does the man have to say about the top 9? "They're all very confident. This is a rare group. I like every one of them."

We're getting it started with Blake Lewis, who'll sing "Mack the Knife".

What they say: Randy thought it was a good way to start the evening. A couple of pitch problems aside, it was a good choice for him. Paula thought he was a hip cat. Simon gives him 7, and the band 8.5. Good choice of song and good performance.

What we say: It's a little too cool for his own good. This is meant to be a peppy song from the start, but it takes him a bit to get the hint.

Next, Phil Stacey was looking forward to this week more than any more. He wants to go with "Night and Day". Tony wants him to put a beat behind it.

What they say: Randy thought it was interesting, but it felt disconnected. "It just didn't really hit me." Paula likens him to a young Frank Sinatra, but he needs more warmth, more joy. Simon: "It had all the joy of someone singing in a funeral parlor. It was completely and utterly gloomy and slightly dark."

What we day: Booooooring.... Boring. Sounds like he's taking this number a lot more seriously than he should.

Next up, Melinda Doolittle. She's "Got Rhythm." Tony says she's got a big chance in the business.

What they say: Randy says she interpret the lyrics. "This is how you do it right here." Paula calls her a masterclass. "You got rhythm, you got CDs. You got concert halls." Simon thought it was a bit cabaret in the middle, but the first and the last parts were full of personality. It's a problem for Simon, because he likes being mean occasionally.

What we say: Another star performance by another star.

Next, Chris Richardson. Ask-an-Idol: Leann of GA wants to know what he considers into choosing a song. He goes himself first, then audience, then judges. Tonight's choice... the Duke Ellington number "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." It's hard for him to memorize the lyrics.

What they say: Randy thought it was one the best performances from him through the whole season, injecting his youthful vibe into the song. Paula agrees. Simon also agrees, calling it very agreeable. "Probably one of the strongest tonight."

What we say: A few pitch problems, but he's got the tone and the timbre down pat. His best part, as is the issue with previous numbers today, is the ending.

Jordin Sparks is next with "On a Clear Day". Tony likes the way she improvises

What they say: Randy sees some fire in Jordin, control at such a young age. Paula calls her a magnet of joy. Simon thought it was well, but not young and currently like Chris.

What we say: That was dead on the money. Her best effort to date.

Gina Glocksen is next with a song written by Charlie Chaplin. It could only be "Smile."

What they say: Randy thought it was nice and controlled. Paula calls it flawless. Simon can't rave about the vocal when two girls beforehand stomped her.

What we say: Once again, it was a good song effort... clashing with an image that says otherwise.

Get ready for two legends to collide. Tony Bennett... meet Sanjaya. This week, he's slick back with "Cheek to Cheek", trying to prove that he actually can sing.

What they say: Randy likes that he's an entertainer. Paula calls him charming. Simon, in a different tactic, goes with "Incredible."

What we say: Tone... there. Pitch... sorta kinda... volume... as usual... lacking. But I suppose it doesn't matter what I say at this point, does it? Certainly better than his usual effort... but that isn't saying much.

Time to Ask-an-Idol with Haley. Christy from LA asks which is more nerve-wracking, singing in front of a crowd or hearing what the judges say. She goes with "Ain't Misbehavin'" tonight.

What they say: all three judges are pretty much at a loss for words...

What we say: ... which speaks deafening volumes. As for the way she sings it... She's all boobs and no balls. She has the voice, but no strength behind it, resulting in a fake-sounding voice.

One more for the road with LaKisha Jones. The closer tonight... get ready for "Stormy Weather."

What they say: Randy thought it was rough to start, but set it off in the middle. Paula loves her. Simon: "Back on form, that was a sassy, great performance."

What we say: ¡Ay que robusto! That's how you close a show with American classics. But of the three strong female soul voices, LaKisha is the most resistant to diversification. That could be a worry later on.

Okay, let's see what the performances say...

Classic: Blake, Melinda, Jordin, LaKisha
Classy: Chris, Gina
Back of the class: Phil, Sanjaya, Haley.

But what do the votes say? We'll find out in 24.


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