American Idol: Rating the Top 8's iTunes Recordings from Movie Week

We’ve still got more than 24 hours before the American Idol season 10 finalists tackle the controversial “Songs from the 21st Century” theme — hopefully the House That Kelly Clarkson Built won’t collapse upon experiencing an entire evening’s worth of modern music — but in the interim, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to rate the iPod worthiness of the Top 8’s Movie Night studio recordings. Without further ado…

Paul McDonald: Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”
Without a doubt, Paul is one of the season’s more artistically capable finalists — when I interviewed him yesterday, he whipped out his guitar and played a remarkably catchy ballad called “Just Lettin’ You Know” (which, alas, reps from Fox and 19 wouldn’t let me record) — but this particular track sounds like pure karaoke-bar drek. Paul’s only real contributions here are changing the pronunciation of old-time to “old-timey” and shouting random sentiments like “feel good! yes I do!” as the whole sad affair comes to an end. If you’re jonesin’ for his vocals, download his prior works with the Grand Magnolias instead. Grade: D+

Casey Abrams: Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”
Casey benefits from the audio-only iTunes medium, where his tendencies to pull faces and achieve “sexy moments” don’t get in the way of what’s actually a sweet, restrained vocal. Better still, Casey also dials back on the affected exhalations and peculiar pronunciations for this brief (2:22) recording, which features a stripped-down arrangement of piano, bass, and percussion. Grade: A-

Scotty McCreery: George Strait’s ” I Cross My Heart”
The ham and cheese sandwich of this week’s Idol recordings: It’s plain and square and decidedly hokey — but satisfying to those with an appetite for unabashed sentimentality and twang. Grade: B-

James Durbin: Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal”
If you rocked out to Top 40 metal back in the day, then James’ latest recording will tickle your fancy. The vocal is robust and playful, and unlike a lot of Idol-studio rock tracks, the guitars here actually have some oomph. Grade: B+

Stefano Langone: Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road”
I know the Idols are allegedly working with name-brand producers on their tracks this year, but “End of the Road” sounds like it was cut in one of those shopping-mall recording kiosks which were popular for a minute back in the ’80s. Brace yourselves to either laugh or cry when Stefano makes a misguided attempt at a spoken-word interlude at the 2:55 mark. To quote the singer himself, “Yes, I feel pain too!” Grade: Sadness

Lauren Alaina: Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”
To all three people who balked when Jimmy Iovine talked about how Lauren can sing circles around Miley, the proof is in the recording. Lauren’s live version had a few pitch problems and felt a little light in the passion department, but this rendition is all kinds of gorgeous, with some pumped-up guitar and drum action to add to the overall sense of drama. Grade: A-

Haley Reinhart: Blondie’s “Call Me”
As an increasingly enthusiastic member of Team Haley, it pained me that the spunky underdog fell a little flat last week tackling a stylized Blondie track on the Idol stage. Her studio version, on the other hand, benefits from an aggressive synth line that propels Haley’s distinctively raspy vocal to repeat-worthy heights. Seriously, Haley doubters, this woman sounds pretty stellar coming through one’s headphones. Grade: A-

Jacob Lusk: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
If you always felt like Simon & Garfunkel’s sublime original didn’t have enough “on the brink of tears” vibrato, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. One question, though: How come Jacob pronounces “sail on, silver girl” pronounced “salon, serble”? Uff da. Grade: C

What were your favorite and least favorite Idol iTunes recordings from Top 8 week? Did any of them end up on your iPod? Sound off below, and for all my Idol coverage, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!