- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - The “American Idol” judges are willing to give Anoop Desai one more chance to keep them satisfied.

The 21-year-old college student from North Carolina impressed tough critic Simon Cowell and the rest of the panel with his soulful cover of “Always on My Mind” during Tuesday night’s Grand Ole Opry-themed performance show.

Cowell _ who criticized Desai’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” last week _ changed his tune, saying Desai “managed to go from zero to hero” thanks to stellar vocals and choice of the song. “Always on My Mind” has been recorded by Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley and others.

Desai, who prefers R&B; music, told Ryan Seacrest he wasn’t surprised by the positive response. He said he expects “to do the best” he can.

Kris Allen, Megan Corkrey and Matt Giraud also received unanimous love from the judges. Cowell told Giraud, the 23-year-old dueling piano player from Kalamazoo, Mich., that he outsang front-runner Danny Gokey on the top-rated Fox singing contest with his heartfelt take on a Carrie Underwood tune.

“I don’t think you’ve had enough credit, actually, for your vocals in this competition so far because everyone’s been talking about Danny and Adam (Lambert),” Cowell told Giraud, comparing him to pop-and-standards singer Michael Buble.

Not all of the contestants scored such strong reviews. Michael Sarver, the 27-year-old oil rig worker from Jasper, Texas, disappointed judges in a genre he might otherwise have nailed. Rating Sarver’s rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” Cowell said the unassuming singer came across not as a star but “a likable guy who likes country music who is a bit clumsy.”

Lil Rounds fell off her A-game a bit by performing a straightforward cover of Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” Randy Jackson said that song wasn’t a good fit for the bubbly 23-year-old mother of three from Memphis, Tenn., who usually gets high marks for her raw R&B; edge that was missing this week.

Guest mentor and country singer Randy Travis did not know quite what to make of Lambert, 26, of Los Angeles, who put his own theatrical spin on “Ring of Fire,” giving the Johnny Cash gem less of a country twang and more of an exotic Middle Eastern vibe.

Cowell said Lambert’s performance was “absolute indulgent rubbish” while Paula Abdul praised him for staying true to who he is. Kara DioGuardi said his Cash cover left her “confused and sort of happy.”

One of the 11 finalists will be sent packing on Wednesday’s elimination show _ unless judges act on the new rule that allows them to save a favorite contestant they feel has been unfairly booted by voting viewers.


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