By Mark Shimabukuro
March 17--It wasn't Paul McDonald's best night on American Idol, but based on the judges' critiques of the other contestants, it isn't likely to be his last.
The Nashville singer-songwriter, who like other contestants was under the weather leading up to the show, was noticeably hoarse -- raspier than usual, that is -- and unable to hit a few of the higher notes as he sang Elton John's 1984 single "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." (Each finalist had to perform a song from the year he or she was born.) Still, he battled through, kept the energy level high and still managed a few moments when his voice rang clear.
"I know you felt like you were struggling up there," Jennifer Lopez said. "But you know what, it sounded good, you have so much soul, and so much star quality, it overcame that."
Randy Jackson wasn't as enthusiastic, but he did praise McDonald for his ability to put his own spin on material, comparing him to indie singer Ray LaMontagne.
"For that, dude, I love you more than anything." But, Jackson advised, "get the notes right."
Steven Tyler told McDonald he liked the singer's swagger, adding, "You define a cool dude in a loose mood."
The judges were definitely harder on others, particularly 16-year-old Californian Thia Megia, who sang Vanessa Williams' "Colors of the Wind" ("I felt like I was at some pageant somewhere," Jackson said) and Naima Adebapo, who was considerably off-key on Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It."
The standouts: Stefano Langone doing the souful "If You Don't Know Me By Now" popularized by Simply Red in 1989; Pia Toscano going uptempo and singing Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"; and Casey Abrams playing bass and gamely pulling off Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.