I had earlier heard (and hoped) that Idol was “ditching” the theme nights this time around. When I found out last week that they were doing “Motown,” I was prepared for a proverbial train wreck of epic proportions. Fortunately, I was wrong, and it’s a pretty close competition right now.

Casey kicked off the show with his rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Casey is no soul singer, but I knew if he chose Marvin Gaye, he’d be fine. Marvin was so much more than a soul singer, and I’m not at all surprised that Casey could do him justice. The thing I like most about Casey is that he knows who he is musically, and no one is going to change that. Like Casey or not, you’ve got to admit the importance of knowing who you are musically if you’re going to be successful at this. I appreciate that quality so very much.

Following Casey was Thia, who finally chose an upbeat number, “Heatwave,” originally sung by Martha and the Vandellas. Like the judges, I knew Thia had that in her. This was her best performance to date. I do agree with the judges that she has more to give, and I’m ready to hear more. She changed the song up a bit and made it her own. Good job! She even had on a short dress for a change, looking more young, playful, and fun. That look and sound both worked for Thia. I hope she keeps what she did last night going.

Just when I think Jacob is verging on becoming the “boring ballad boy,” he blows me out of the water. He sang “You’re All I Need to Get By,” another hit by the great Marvin Gave with a little help from Tammy Terrell. Again, Jacob sings everyone’s vocals. This performance showed, once and for all, that Jacob has incredible control when it comes to his vocals (though he couldn’t resist the scream at the end—that’s just Jacob; I’ve accepted it). Jacob is so very talented, and what’s scary about his talent is that it’s raw, completely raw. Anyone who doesn’t like Jacob doesn’t know talent, period. Style and genre aside, that young man can “sang.” Jennifer is right—Jacob moves us. I loved the hugging too. That was so fun.

Lauren seems to be maturing before our eyes on this show. She chose “You Keep Me Hanging On,” originally sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes (and yes, I remember the original version). I love Lauren. She’s very mature but more important, she knows who she is, and she revels in it. You’ve got to love a show of confidence, especially in a 17-year-old. She may be only 17, but she owns that stage like she’s been doing this for 20 years. She really did have the right attitude for the song, which is what helped her to carry it. She has a ridiculous amount of talent for her age. Again, I shudder to think what she’s going to be as she continues to mature. She also has great vocal control and a very strong, melodic voice.

Stefano chose “Hello” by Lionel Richie. I wasn’t that impressed with Stefano (again) this week. As with last week, he’s an octave too high for us to really experience the flavor of his vocals. Just sing the damned song, man. Power notes are better when they are few and far between, and a song performed completely in power notes is just a bit much and tends to go over the top. Jennifer Lopez is one of the best things that happened to this show. She really knows the right things to say to the kids, and she is always right on. It’s as if she knew what I was thinking but articulated it better. Stefano can sing, but he’s not “feeling” the songs. That feeling is everything. Hopefully, he will learn before the season is over, though I think he has a chance at being in the bottom three tonight.

Haley, who has struggled mightily to this point, sang “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” by Smokey Robinson. I’m sorry, but I’m in disagreement with the judges about Haley. She’s my Karaoke Barbie. Don’t get me wrong: ALL of the kids this year are talented, but some are better than others. I put Haley in the “others” category. Like Stefano, she doesn’t appear to really feel what she singing but instead attempts to play a role. That’s not what’s going to get her there. The Motown songs came from the gut, and to really put those songs out there, you’ve got to sing them from the gut.

Of all the contestants tonight, I felt most for Scotty being forced to do a Motown song. Scotty is pretty savvy for his age and chose “For Once in my Life,” the Stevie Wonder version. He managed to keep his country flavor while paying homage to the night’s theme. You’ve got to love this kid. Talk about being out of your element; talk about making lemonade from the lemons life dealt you. Scotty is pretty amazing. I look forward to whatever he does every week, and again, I am NOT a country music fan.

Like Jacob, I have been concerned that Pia would be “boring ballad girl.” In this case, she is very much just that. Choosing another Stevie Wonder tune, Pia performed “All In Love is Fair.” Pia is boring me to tears. I’m tired of “SOS” from her (same old sh*t). She’s a good singer, but there’s a whole lot more to being successful in this business besides being a good singer. Look at Jennifer Lopez. Her vocals are fairly mediocre, but she has a number one hit with “On the Floor.” That’s because she sings, she dances, she looks hot, she has what people in the music biz call “the whole package.” That package is more than just a beautiful voice, but that’s all Pia has shown us so far. For me, she’s not “going for it,” though she has the talent to do just that.

I said last week that Paul sounded like a cartoon character who has sucked on helium prior to taking the stage. Later, I thought I wasn’t giving Paul the benefit of the doubt because of his illness. Nope. I was right. The judges keep comparing Paul to Rod Stewart, but I don’t hear that beyond the rasp. Paul sang “The Tracks of My Tears,” another hit by Smokey Robison. While I tried my best not to cringe and really give Paul another listen, I still hear nothing different than I heard last week except this time, his background singers out sang him. I just don’t like Paul’s singing, and I have no shame in admitting that. His vocals just are not pleasing to my ears (and he forgot some of the lyrics).

Each week, I worry about Naima. She’s not the strongest vocalist of the bunch by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s just something about her. She chose “Dancing in the Street,” which was a huge hit for Martha and the Vandellas back in the day. Whether you think Naima is the best singer in the world is completely irrelevant; she is an artist. Again, I point to judge Jennifer Lopez as an example—somewhat of a weak singer, a killer body that she knows how to dress to maximum effect, dances her butt off. Those things help her to be successful with her music. Naima is that type of artist. As they pointed out, she brought in the drums, the African dance, the whole nine. I was quite impressed. I just hope America “gets” it. Otherwise, Naima may return to the bottom three.

James closed the night with “Living for the City.” For me, James was far and away the best of the night. James is another guy in this competition that is so freaking talented. 22 years old. Just wow. James seems very astute musically. He’s a natural performer, his vocals are good, and he is personality plus on stage. When he began, I was afraid he started out too high in his range. Silly me. This boy can “sang” too. I very much appreciate his style, the way he attacks a song, and the way he delivers. His dancing added to his performance and made it appear that he was really getting into the song. That’s the way you do it. I might be ready to put money on him for the finale.

The way things are going, this season promises to be a great “comeback” year for Idol, as the show fights its way back to the lofty position it held in prior years. Even though I’m not crazy about Paul, he’s entertaining. All of these kids are talented. So, how do you choose who goes? Do you punish Scotty for being a country singer who was forced to do Motown? Please. Scotty likely has a huge fan base of female “tweens,” so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Believe it or not, I’m pretty speechless on the bottom three. My bottom three are Stefano, Pia and, of course, Paul. But, that’s who I would choose if I made the final decision. Who do YOU choose, and more important, who will America choose to eliminate by withholding votes? That’s an idea—maybe Idol should allow us to vote for who we don’t want on the show, but that’s another debate for another time. The “problem”—if you can call it that—is that all eleven of these singers are so very talented in their own ways. I will, however, go out on a limb and say this will be another “boy” year. The guys, as a group, are more charismatic than the girls and are out-performing them overall. Of course, I could be dead wrong here. Because all eleven contestants are so talented, I have a feeling it’s going to get very interesting this year.