Casey Abrams didn't need any help from his friends to shine on "American Idol."
The quirky 20-year-old film camp counselor from Idyllwild, Calif., wowed the judges with his energetic take on Joe Cocker's rendition of "With a Little Help From My Friends" during the Fox talent competition's first round of finals Wednesday. "Idol" judge Jennifer Lopez said Abrams' stellar performance made her forget where she was for a moment.
"You are a rainbow of talent," Steven Tyler added.
Abrams wasn't alone in earning praise on the idol-centric episode. The judges were also pleased with Pia Toscano, the 22-year-old make-up artist from Howard Beach, N.Y., who soared with Celine Dion's "All By Myself," as well Jacob Lusk, the 23-year-old spa concierge from Compton, Calif., who infused R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" with his own gospel style.
"It's anybody's game," said Lopez. "That's how good everybody is this year."
Stefano Langone, the 21-year-old unemployed singer from Kent, Wash., was lauded for his bold decision to put a new spin on Stevie Wonder's "Lately," while Scotty McCreery, the 17-year-old high school student from Garner, N.C., was praised for staying true to his country roots with Garth Brooks' "The River." Tyler told him he "did the Garth justice."
Some singers remained in the middle of the pack. Ashthon Jones, the 24-year-old retail manager from Nashville, Tenn., was called "safe" by Randy Jackson for choosing Diana Ross' "When You Tell Me That You Love Me." Lopez wanted more energy from Lauren Alaina, the 16-year-old high school student from Rossville, Ga., who sang Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine."
"This is it," Lopez warned. "The competition starts today."
Jackson described two of the night's performances as sleepy: the growling take on LeAnn Rimes' "Blue" by 20-year-old college student Haley Reinhart of Wheeling, Ill., and the breathy rendition of Selena's "I Could Fall In Love" from 21-year-old college student Karen Rodriguez of New York. Jackson told Rodriguez it felt like she was "fighting the song."
This season's two oldest crooners used dance moves to try to win over the judges. Paul McDonald, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn., trotted around the stage during Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up," and Naima Adedapo, the 26-year-old dance instructor from Milwaukee, broke out into choreography for her take on Rihanna's "Umbrella."
"You got fire, girl," exclaimed Lopez.
Thia Megia, the 16-year-old high school student from Mountain House, Calif., didn't earn many smiles for her jazzy version of Michael Jackson's "Smile," but James Durbin, the unemployed 22-year-old wailer from Santa Cruz, Calif., amazed the panel with his softer side on Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." The top 13 singers will face dismissal Thursday.
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