It was Grand Ole Opry night on "American Idol," and Randy Travis took some time to mentor the contestants on the night that would likely be most out of their comfort zones. He said the group of singers was as strong as he'd seen since he's been watching the show.
Would they be able to handle it? There were some big surprises, and the biggest was Anoop Desai, who came back huge after a tough week. Here's the scoop:
Best of the night: Anoop Desai said he was nervous about Grand Ole Opry week and he chose to sing "Always on My Mind" by Willie Nelson. Randy Travis said it was tough to get Willie Nelson out of your mind with that song, but he was impressed by Anoop. "This will be the best anyone has heard from Anoop," Randy said with certainty. He sang it purely and gave it just enough of his own twist. Paula said "Anoop is back!" She said Anoop touched her heart. Simon said he "managed to go from zero to hero." He said it was one of his favorite performances of the whole night. Simon took back what he said about Anoop last week and said he certainly deserved to be in the competition. Randy said this was why he was kept in the competition and praised the arrangement. Kara said it was "amazing" to take such an iconic song and make it his own.
Matt Giraud was another one that surprised Randy Travis with his song choice, Carrie Underwood's "So Small." It was another quality performance from Matt on a night that was full of really good ones. Kara said Matt was a "true talent" and said it was "amazing." Paula said she loved the authenticity of Matt's delivery. Simon said he didn't think Matt has received enough credit for his vocals and said that he outsang Danny. Randy said it was his favorite performance of the night.
Allison Iraheta sang "Blame It on Your Heart" by Patty Loveless and Randy said he'd never heard that kind of maturity that came out of Allison at 16 years old. It was a good, fun, solid performance and my favorite from Allison this season. When the applause finally ended, Kara said Allison was getting better every week. Paula called it "another rock solid performance" from Allison. She advised Allison to pick some songs that allow her to be vulnerable. Simon said it sounded like she was struggling to remember the words in some parts. He also said Allison was verging on precocious. Randy "thought it was dope."
Good enough: Kris Allen sang Garth Brooks' version of "To Make You Feel My Love," which was written by Bob Dylan. Randy Travis said he was impressed with Kris' ability to make the song his own. Sitting on a stool at center stage with no guitar, Kris gave a smooth performance that was sprinkled with a couple of falsettos and should keep him around a little longer. Paula said she was pleasantly surprised by the "honest, pure and vulnerable" performance even though there were a few pitchy moments. Simon said "that was terrific" and said Kris was "completely in control of the song." He said it was the first time he thought Kris had a shot at doing really well in the competition. Randy liked the "tender moments." Kara said she didn't know it was Opry night and said it was "very Kris Allen."
Danny Gokey was nervous singing in front of Randy Travis. He sang Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." He kept stopping and starting. Randy said Danny better hope that the night of the show he'd better be 100 percent. It was a solid performance that will play very well with a certain segment of the population. Kara said "it's like none other" when Danny hits his stride, which she said he did halfway through after a shaky first half. Paula said she disagreed, saying she loved watching an artist build a story and said it was "brilliant." Simon agreed with Paula that he sang well, but said his biggest problem was what Danny was wearing -- a big, white jacket that made it look like he was going on expedition. Randy said the verses were a little pitchy, but Danny's a great singer.
Megan Joy (minus the Corkrey, which she explained was her ex-husband's last name) decided to sing "Walking After Midnight." Randy Travis was a little skeptical because the song has been done so many different ways. He eventually said it was "totally unique." He said "you'd have to like it" if she nailed the vocal twists she put on it. She gave a sweet, pure performance of the song with just a few of her signature moves. Randy said he thought it was going to be a train wreck, but he was "quite impressed" and said it was a perfect choice for Megan. Kara agreed it was a perfect song and called Megan a winner for getting up with the flu and putting on such a performance. Paula said Megan had been to the hospital and back. Simon said Megan should have the flu every week because she was great.
Lil Rounds said the only country songs she's heard were in movies. She wanted to honor country music with her performance. She took on Martina McBride's "Independence Day." Lil again proved that even outside of her comfort zone, she was above and beyond the competition. Randy said the first half was a little uncomfortable but it got better toward the end. Lil said she wanted to "give it a go," but said she wanted to try something different. Kara praised Lil for doing what she felt and standing her ground. Paula said the vocals, hair, makeup, clothing was all spot on. Simon said it came over as if she was forced to sing a song at a wedding that someone requested and she "felt and looked uncomfortable." He said the song just wasn't her.
Scott MacIntyre threw Randy Travis for a loop when he chose to sing "Wild Angels" by Martina McBride -- which Randy didn't think would be a great choice. He said Scott surprised him more than anyone with his rendition of the song after a quick tempo adjustment. Behind the piano, Scott gave a captivating performance that kicked into high gear toward the end. He isn't the greatest the singer, but his overall performance is fairly undeniable. He's fun to watch. Paula called it "another impressive, lovely performance." She was concerned, though, that the piano was becoming a bit of a crutch. Simon said "I think it's a bit of a stupid thing to say." Simon said there was nothing wrong with sitting behind a piano. Simon said Scott's last two performance were similar in terms of song choice. Randy said it wasn't song choice, but he's looking for "hot, crazy, unbelievable vocals" and hasn't heard them. Kara summed it up by saying the judges really want him to up his game.
In some trouble: Alexis Grace, who some people think looks like Dolly Parton, took on one of her songs in "Jolene." He said she understood what "telling the story is about." He said Alexis' performance should make Dolly proud. She made it her own and it was a good performance, but Randy didn't like it. He said she tried to make it too bluesy and it "wasn't a great performance." Kara said Alexis lost her edge a little. Paula said the song was more effective than Randy and Kara thought, because it was good to see Alexis take an artistic approach. Simon said it was "OK," but was a little bit "sound-alike." He said it was a performance people might forget in 10 minutes.
Michael Sarver took on Garth Brooks' "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)." The big challenge were the fast-paced lyrics. He seemed a bit nervous the whole time, like he was focusing on not forgetting the lyrics. Randy said it was fun, but it didn't show off Michael's vocal capabilities. Kara said she missed the big notes and said it was impressive that he didn't forget the lyrics. Michael said "country music about havin' some fun" -- so apparently he's now playing the country card. Paula said it was fun and said the genre suits him well. Simon said it should have been good because he expected country to suit Michael, but "it was a bit clumsy." Simon then said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it 1.2."
Worst of the night: Adam Lambert -- who Ryan called the antithetical person to stand across from Randy Travis -- left Randy speechless with Adam's "Middle Eastern" arrangement of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." It was really annoying, actually, and a lot of people probably hated it -- and probably didn't take kindly to Adam blowing off the south by saying he has "no plans" to ever visit Nashville. Unfortunately, Adam has enough fans to keep him around another week or more. Kara said "the fire, the Egyptian thing -- all a little strange," but she said she kind of liked it. Paula said the choice of song was great and she liked the sitar sound and it reminded her of Led Zepplin's "Kashmir." Simon said, "What the hell was that?" He warned Adam not to go to Nashville because, "I think there are a lot of people throwing their television sets out the window at this point. I thought it was absolute indulgent rubbish." He then added, "Really, really horrific." Randy said that it was what would happen if you could imagine Nine Inch Nails doing a country song. "It's current, it's young, it's fresh, it's hot," Randy said. Adam reiterated that he had "no plans" to go to Nashville.