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On “Idol,” country night takes down frontrunners

March 18, 2009

USA/“Country Week” is always a mixed bag on “American Idol”, alternately filling viewers with anticipation and dread.

Tuesday night’s tribute to the “Grand Ole Opry,” with country icon Randy Travis as guest mentor, certainly didn’t buck that trend, taking several of the show’s frontrunners down a notch and allowing dark horses to emerge.

“Anoop Dogg” delivered the night’s biggest surprise when his version of Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” received universal praise from the judges. And yes, that included Simon Cowell, who last week said Anoop didn’t deserve his coveted spot in the Top 13.

“Glad to have you back, Anoop,” Cowell said.

Kris Allen was also a fave, earning the title “Tender Dog” from Randy Jackson for his version of the Garth Brooks ballad “To Make you Feel My Love.”

Matt Giraud’s rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “So Small” also made him one to watch in the competition, the judges said.

“Everyone’s been talking about Danny and Adam,” Cowell said to Giraud after USA/his performance “I think you are quite similar to Danny. Tonight, I think you outsang him.”

Indeed, Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert and Lil Rounds, the show’s biggest stars until now, received less-than-stellar reviews from the judges. Lambert’s Middle Eastern-flavored version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was panned by Cowell as “really, really horrific,” though Jackson said it was “current, it’s young, it’s fresh, it’s hot.”

Contestants with across-the-board lukewarm marks included Alexis Grace, who sang Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and Scott MacIntyre, who performed “Wild Angels” by Martina McBride.

The frontrunners at this point are certainly up for debate. Did Danny, Lil and Adam peak too early? And who could get the boot on Wednesday night?

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