Contrary to what many thought, the songs of Sir Elton John did not create a “snoozefest” on Idol last night. I think that’s because this is the best group of competitors the show has put together to date. Sure, there have been some really talented singers and performers on the show in the past but not all at one time. In the past, each year had a few standouts and a few “duds” who somehow slipped into the competition for reasons other than talent, but this year marks the first time that each competitor is as good as the next. For fans of American Idol, this makes it very difficult to choose a favorite or to find one whom you wish would, well, leave already. Personally speaking, my favorite changes from week to week, though one does stand out for me as always consistently grabbing my attention, making me smile, and making me really root for him: Scotty McCreery. I know. What a shock, right? I’m definitely no country music fan, but I am a fan of a good artist. Scotty McCreery is a very good artist.

He performed “Country Comfort,” and I found much humor in the song as his choice because it had the word “country” in it. He had not even heard the song yet, but because it contained that word, Scotty knew it was meant for him. He’s very astute for a 17-year-old. What I really like about him, however, is his obvious comfort on stage. He’s a natural. Have you ever heard people say that someone is “born” to do something? That would be Scotty McCreery and country music. He was born for this purpose, and that is very obvious in his performance. As the judges pointed out, he came across as a professional performer, with the “shout out” to grandma and never missing a beat. A star might just be born.

Another artist in this group that I really like is Naima. I’m not Reggae fan either; she seems to like it, and I like watching her do it. She turned “I’m Still Standing” into a Reggae song, similarly using the technique she used with “Umbrella,” except the entire song was put to a Reggae beat this time around. Naima wins the award for most colorful artist of this season. She is really special and unique, and more important, she’s a real artist. She’s very creative with complimenting her performances with instrumentation and dance. I disagree that her performance was “corny.” I think it was “different.” I like different, but that’s just me. Most of the artists I like in “real life” tend to be male. Very few female artists make it to my CD player. For me to like Naima says a lot about her. The one with whom I least connect of this group is Paul.

I have heard Paul compared to Ray LaMontagne. I’ll maybe agree with the beard and the acoustic guitar. For me, the comparison ends there. Paul seems to lurk just outside of the right key on his performances. Previously, I credited that to me not liking the “raspy” voice, but that’s not it. Ray LaMontagne and Rod Stewart (another erroneous comparison) both have “raspy” voices, but I don’t hear them being off key. Again, this is my interpretation of Paul; you are free to choose your own. Last night Paul performed one of my favorite Elton John tunes, “Rocket Man.” The producers advised him to treat it like an encore performance. It fell flat in that respect. Most artists don’t put me to sleep with their encores; they leave me wanting more. In Paul’s case, I had all I could take. Speaking of having all I can take, Paul was followed by Pia.

Not only does Pia bore me to tears with her power ballads, but there’s something “plastic” about her. Surprisingly (not), Pia chose “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” For the umpteenth time, yes, Pia can sing, but I feel like Simon: “So what?” There’s absolutely nothing interesting about her, and she sounds exactly the same every week, regardless of her song choice. BOR-ing. I take back my characterization of Haley as “Karaoke Barbie” (for reasons I’ll later reveal) and now dub Pia “Ballad Barbie.” When Pia gets eliminated, and, eventually, she will, party at my house. I can’t take much more of her; it won’t be long before she becomes my bathroom break. Another contestant that is wearing thin with me is Stefano.

Like Pia, Stefano can sing, and also like Pia, I find myself thinking: “So what.” He was better last night on “Tiny Dancer,” but you could tell he was struggling to keep his eyes open, which affected his performance. I do like that he stayed in a lower range and saved the power notes for effect. That’s exactly how power notes should be treated. I will say that this performance was better than his last two and that I liked the “soft” parts. Take note from your own performance, Stefano: Power notes make that portion of the performance more important, more powerful. Use them sparingly, and they will enhance rather than take away.

As opposed to “taking away,” Lauren is running her way to the top of the pack with each performance. She chose “Candle in the Wind,” another personal favorite of mine. Lauren used her both her soft voice and her power voice at appropriate times. Like Scotty, Lauren is very astute about her talent. She was the only contestant to induce Goosebumps for me last night. She is quite poised for her age, and I love when she shows her age during the judging process. She’s like a split personality, but that’s not a bad thing. With respect to Lauren, it’s quite endearing. I have enjoyed Lauren’s performances virtually every week, but I find that with some of the contestants, my enjoyment is waning. James falls into the latter category for me.

Choosing “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” James is quickly getting into a rut. Don’t get me wrong: James is very talented, and he belongs on a stage. After a while, though, I would like to see him do something different from screaming out a song and running through the audience. Been there, done that. I would like to see him go “soft” again, as he did with “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Scotty is a one trick pony? What does that make James?  You’re brimming with talent, James. Show us the variations to that talent every now and then.

We now know that Thia’s breakout last week was a fluke, as she returned to her ballad-based, boring performances last night. “Daniel” is another of my favorites (okay, so I like most of Elton John’s songs), but Thia failed to do it justice. The judges told Thia her performance was “safe,” but is she really being any more “safe” than Pia or James? I think the judges are judging Thia more harshly than the others, and she’s the youngster with more to learn. Hey, you chose her. I wouldn’t have. She’s not ready yet.

The judges also chose to save Casey last week, and it appears they made the right decision. I was frankly surprised when I found out that Casey chose “Your Song.” Never before portraying himself as a balladeer, I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation, wondering how Casey would fare. I liked the softer side of Casey. Casey is a performer, plain and simple. He can rise to the challenge, and he has a lot to offer. I still wish he had taken off a bit more of the beard, but less hair didn’t affect his performance.

Yet another classic balladeer, Jacob sang “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” Jacob is a stellar vocalist that I suspect most viewers of this show don’t “get.” I do, and I love it; however, Jacob is also becoming a one-trick pony, and if he’s not careful, that pony is going to ride him right off of this show. The final note of his song was pretty incredible, but again, I’m feeling like saying, “So What.” If he makes it to next week, Jacob really needs to change things up.

This week, Haley got the “pimp” spot, as Idol viewers call the last performance. This spot and the performance redeemed Haley with me. She was a real performer last night, using her signature “growl” to full advantage and making full use of the stage. This was the best I’ve heard Haley to date, and I found myself agreeing with Randy and Jennifer that it was the top performance of the night. The singing was good, the performance interesting and exciting. Haley needed this performance badly.

Because of the talent of these 11 performers and the fickleness of music audiences, it is very hard to tell who will be in the bottom three tonight. I believe there are several from whom America might choose: Thia, Stefano, Naima, and Jacob for starters. Jacob is a cross between R&B and gospel, and I don’t see this audience latching onto him for long. Naima is an acquired taste, and likewise, I don’t see the voters on this show hanging onto her for much longer. Thia has visited bottom three before, and I’m sorry, she’s boring as hell. I won’t at all be surprised to see her there tonight. Casey will survive because of all the drama surrounding his elimination last week, though Stefano may also be in real trouble. Though I find Pia completely boring, the voters on this show apparently don’t. More power to them. Again, musical tastes run the gamut, and the tastes that can dial the most, text the most, or vote online the most will determine these competitors’ fate. Either way the audience votes, they can’t go wrong with who they keep, as, again, all 11 are quite talented. American Idol has reinvented itself this year by choosing real talent for the stage and judges who entertain as much as the contestants. Steven is “out there” but is very likable and fun. Jennifer actually gives very useful criticism while displaying her genuine warmth toward the contestants. Randy, who now holds Simon’s seat, has also become a real critic rather than boring us with his former, “Dude, that wasn’t good” comments. Overall, the show is a good source of entertainment and should continue to prove interesting each week.