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3 YEARS

'American Idol' Guest Blogger Kimberly Caldwell: James Durbin Made Muse's Matt Bellamy Proud

kimberly caldwell publicity 2011
Ari Michaelson

You could say Kimberly Caldwell started work on her debut album eight years ago this week -- that’s when the Houston native ended her American Idol run with Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” leaving in seventh place. It’s an appropriate bookend, really. Caldwell, whose smoky vocal style distinguished her from the rest of the Season 2 pack right away, continues on her own musical path delivering Without Regret (out April 19), an album chock full of raw emotion and hard-driving hooks that bring to mind Pink and Caldwell’s personal idol, Melissa Etheridge. “It really is the culmination of what I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” she says. “I can’t describe the amount of support and loyalty that I’ve received from people who’ve hung in there with me for so many years.”

    And when it comes to looking back on her American Idol experience, it’s all part of the big picture. “Like every former Idol, I think, ‘If I only knew then what I know now,’” she says. “But why live with that mentality? That’s why I named my album Without Regret. I take all of my life lessons, which some people might call mistakes, and apply them to my future so that I keep growing. And every time I step on stage, I learn a little bit more about myself. It’s why I keep stepping back up there.”   Also known for several television hosting gigs, Caldwell will next be seen on on VH-1’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp and a new E! pilot called Foursome, in which she co-hosts with Neil Patrick Harris’ boyfriend David Burtka. But first, she breaks down our favorite TV show as only an Idol alum can...    I spent American Idol Wednesday with some of my former favorite Idols: Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Michael Johns, Brandon Rogers and Didi Benami, among others. Put us all in a room together and the energy turns explosive, because we all know in a very personal way what it feels like to be in the Top 7’s shoes.    But I have to say, it’s like the season finalists are already on their own tour with a full band, the lights, in-ears. I wish our season had a Jimmy Iovine, too, because it’s like having a judge before the judges. You get all the critique of a pro before you ever step on the stage. It gives you time to make all the fixes that you would’ve made after you heard the critiques. I’m jealous to say the least, but proud to say that we still pulled it off all those years ago.    OK, let’s get to it. Idol opinions starting now…   I’ll open by saying something that might get me in trouble, but it’s what you’re all thinking: Pia Toscano makes me horny. Looking at her makes me uncomfortable because she’s so hot. No wonder Pia’s new boyfriend, who I like to call Mark Balls, was in the audience -- he needs to keep an eye on her! Girl is breaking hearts! As for the group number, I loved it. A bunch of hot chicks in black leather? What more could Paul McDonald ask for? He is one lucky dude.    Before I get to the contestants, I want to go ahead and say that the change-up of the judges this season was brilliant on the producers’ part. There’s no doubt Idol knows what it’s doing to have kept this show alive for the past 10 years. I agreed with every comment that came out of Steven Tyler’s mouth and his wardrobe choice, as usual. When I grow up, I wanna be Mia Tyler. The hair, the lips, the tats, the everything…    As for Jennifer Lopez, she literally looks as like she has angels flying around her, highlighting the aura coming from her hair and flawless skin. I swear she’s not one of us. And Randy Jackson is our official O.G. who always brings it, dog, with the realness.    Scotty McCreery (“Swingin’,” LeAnn Rimes): Scotty has grown a lot since I first saw him on week one. And the country folks are so loyal that I feel like he’ll have a career after this no matter what happens. Now, I grew up on country so I’m a fan of 80s and 90s songs from that genre, and I think he did everything he could with the song he chose. But I would’ve liked to hear his vocals soar a little bit more because we’re really down to the wire now. But, I definitely think he has that special thing. As for how he holds the microphone, everybody has to have a signature style — Steven Tyler and his big gorgeous mouth, J. Lo has her hair, Scotty has his mic.    James Durbin (“Uprising,” Muse): I like his black strait jacket and I’m also a fan of the scarf in the back pocket. In fact, I’m gonna start rocking that look. To James’s credit, I really like that he’s wearing this outfit and the outfit is not wearing him. And his black whip (or was it a cane?) whipped us all into a frenzy. I like that he sings with everything inside of him from head to toe. He must have made his idol Matt Bellamy pretty proud with that performance. Most importantly, he made sure it was unforgettable and that’s the point of the whole show: making them remember you when they go vote. He definitely stuck out in my mind.    Haley Reinhart (“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele): First off, I want her hair, I want her hair, I want her hair! Literally my eyes were filled with tears and I didn’t even tap my foot because I was so mesmerized. This girl was on par with Adele. That is a feat. I completely disagree with Randy when he said Haley was flat. There was not a pitchy moment. Why bring her down when she just gave probably the performance of a lifetime? Whenever she went off of the original Adele melody is when I was sitting here with my jaw to the ground. This chick has something special, all the girls wanna hang out with her and all the guys wanna make out with her. You go, girl!    Jacob Lusk (“Dance With My Father,” Luther Vandross): Jacob has been one of my favorites since the beginning. He takes me to church every time and I can relate to the sentiment of the song and why he chose it because I don’t have a father in my life, either. But the music totally overpowered his vocal and that’s what I was sitting there craving. His emotions are priceless, but I wanted him to stand up -- he’s feeling it too much to stay seated. Still, I thought the performance was spectacular. I could feel everything he was feeling. It was real, he didn’t have to try and feel it. He was singing from where it hurts. Randy said he needs the old church Jacob back, but I thought he was already there.    Casey Abrams (“Harder to Breathe,” Maroon 5): My first thought was, he’s so skinny now! Like, almost half of Casey Abrams. It’s the stress, for sure. The beauty of Casey is how perfectly awkward he is. He’s the epitome of why this show is a success because the dude went straight from the dive bar stage to the biggest stage in America. His version of "Harder to Breathe" was the s--t, and he is so freakin’ lovable. Casey is the most unconventional Idol we’ve ever had that’s actually really deserving. I’m a true fan now. As for Steven’s F-word outburst, everybody looks so shocked but come on, the F-word needs to be used sometimes when you’re trying to make a point, and this was the perfect moment. Rock on, Steven. Rock on, Casey.    Stefano Langone ("Closer," Ne-Yo): Let’s be honest, the girls have to be going wild for Stefano. He is precious and I think the song choice was really smart because it’s really “now.” And the people that are voting are the ones that are listening to the music of today — 14 year-old girls who know how to text faster than most adults can sign their name. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he could just stand there sometimes, tone down the theatrics and let his vocals be the focal point. It would have more of an impact and really cement the idea that he could be the next pop-R&B superstar. And OMG, did he give us the Constantine look at the end? And can I please squeeze his cheeks right now?    Lauren Alaina ("Born to Fly," Sara Evans): I almost look at Lauren as the next Kellie Pickler. What I like about her is that she picks songs as a fan not so much as a contestant, but I agree with Steven Tyler that Allison Krauss would be perfect for her! And I think the judges are right: Lauren has no idea how great she is. And that’s because she’s 16 and who the hell knows who they are at that age? I didn’t know myself when I was on American Idol and I was 20! So all in all, I give her props for getting out there and doing her thing but if she takes the constructive critiques and gives us all of her goods, she could end up at the top.    OK, let’s wrap this up: Scotty is not going home because of the country vote. Yee haw! James is safe in my book and was the best of the night, next to Casey, who is my new favorite. Haley, I want her album now. Jacob not only brought tears to his eyes, but to the rest of us, so I think he’s safe, but Lauren might be in trouble because of the judges’ comments. And we might be losing cutie Stefano this week. Sniff.   Twitter: @_kimcaldwell