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Guest Blogger and 'American Idol' Alum Didi Benami: 'The Show Needed a Naima'

The Season 9 finalist says Casey Abrams is "interesting, mysterious and cool," calls Paul McDonald "Season 10's Casey James" and describes Pia Toscano as "flawless."

didi benami pg portrait 2010
PictureGroup / FOX
Didi Benami

Season 9's Didi Benami appreciates the pressure of this week's American Idol. After all, a year ago, she was thrilled to make it through one more pivotal round -- the Top 10 -- guaranteeing her a spot in the summer tour. But the show's Motown theme would ultimately send her home a week later, giving the Knoxville native a unique perspective into what Season 10's remaining 11 are going through right now.

Not that Didi is looking back too much these days. Currently living in Los Angeles, she's working on her debut album and "staying focused on the mission," which includes performing as much as possible, like her appearance earlier this week at the Cleveland Cavaliers vs Orlando Magic game. Look for Didi at the upcoming Reality Rocks Expo, where she'll join fellow Season 9 alums for a THR-sponsored American Idol panel. For updates, check Didi's Twitter or Tumblr, and read on for Didi's guest blog... 

The Top 11. I remember this week and it was a scary one. Everyone is on edge because, at this point, you really want to make the tour. You want to know that you’ll have a summer job doing what you love. But all you can do is put that anxiety aside and remember why you’re there in the first place: because you love to sing and you love music. 

When you reach this stage of the competition, behind the scenes, they give you a lot of advice about how to work the stage. They tell you to look at the camera and to connect with who’s behind it. That’s really important because the people on the other side are the ones voting. It’s good to show that you can perform in front of an audience, but there are millions of viewers beyond that stage who you also need to impress.    That said, it’s really cool to see these contestants improve so much from week to week. You can tell they are working really hard. They are all incredible singers, with very different tones and qualities to their voices so regardless of who ends up going home, they all can be proud knowing they did an amazing job and they can saaaang. Overall, I think tonight was a really good night.     Starting with…   Casey Abrams ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye): Going first is so hard. He really has to make an impression, which he did. But every time Casey is about to take the stage, I get so excited wondering, “What is he going to do?!” If that’s not a reason to keep voting him through week after week, I don’t know what is. His voice is great, that’s a given, but he’s also a great entertainer. He’s interesting, mysterious and cool.    Thia Megia ("Heat Wave," Martha and the Vandellas): I love this girl. She’s so sweet and you wouldn’t think that voice would come out of that body at all. Vocally, she was on it Wednesday night. She sang every note perfectly. Yes, she does have a tendancy to pick “safer” songs. I’d like to see her come out of her shell even more, but I think Thia will make it to tour no problem. Most importantly, she looked like she had a lot more fun on stage than the last two weeks. I’m glad she enjoyed it. It's what Idol is all about, and when you have fun, everyone does!    One more thing, I’ll attest to this: it’s hard to walk on that stage in heels -- it’s really uneven and easy to trip on, I’ve done it. As a performer, my advice is to pick shoes you can walk in or you will trip on national TV. Just keep it in mind.     Jacob Lusk ("You're All I Need to Get By," Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell): I have to agree with the judges -- that was the best performance by Jacob so far this season. I was actually a tiny bit worried about him coming into this week, and was hoping he would bring it this week and he did. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he will get through. I feel like I’m going to church every time he sings. It’s an experience, not just watching a performance -- he’s got one of those voices that really takes you somewhere. Motown week was a particularly good fit for him, but he has a beautiful voice no matter what the theme.    Lauren Alaina (You Keep Me Hangin' On," The Supremes): I think she has a really good voice and I like her vocal style- it’s very appealing- but I wish she would connect through the camera more. She did a good job with the song, but it would have been cool if she changed it up a bit. Still, Lauren did have command of that stage, which can be very intimidating.   Stefano Langone ("Hello," Lionel Richie): He has a great voice but I think the other performances were stronger on Motown night. And like Lauren, Stefano needs to connect more with the camera. He did at the end when he mouthed "I love you," but the performance still felt mechanical. I didn’t feel the soul in it. I agree with what Jennifer Lopez said, like he was more concerned with making it through the week as a mechanical singer as opposed to bringing the soul -- which is Motown. Soul, baby! It’s about feeling the song and being in that moment with it. It didn’t have enough of that, which is important in order to really connect.    Haley Reinhart ("You've Really Got a Hold on Me," The Miracles): I like her voice personally, and it’s clear that true rhythm and blues music doesn’t intimidate her. Also let me reiterate how hard it is to walk in heels that high. It can affect your performance and she was wobbling quite a bit. Aside from the shoes, the girl can sing. My only advice would be to think about performance beforehand -- you have to be able to move on stage freely or practice the heck out of walking in heels.     Scotty McCreery ("For Once in My Life," Stevie Wonder): I like the tone of his voice. He’s a great country singer. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like he was really uncomfortable on this song. It just wasn’t his best, but perhaps it’s because he’s having a hard time going from country to soul/R&B. If anyone gets it, I do. If you listen to the studio version I did of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” I had a similar issue last season.     Pia Toscano ("All in Love Is Fair," Stevie Wonder): She is so good, I don’t even know what else to say. The girl is flawless. She really does bring to mind Celine Dion or a super mega singing star. Pia has such a universal voice that it would do well in every country. And she looks exotic too. You would almost think she was a pageant girl, but she doesn’t come off that way, which is so important if you’re a girl competing on Idol.   Paul McDonald ("The Tracks of My Tears," The Miracles): Here’s another one where it doesn’t matter what he sings, that smile kills me. Fortunately, Paul can actually sing! He has a really cool tone and I love his voice. Also, he played guitar tonight, but he’s not using it frivolously for every song, he’s showing that he can do both – that he’s a stage performer and not just a musician. Lastly, he wore a cougar pin, which was just hilarious. He’s definitely the Casey James of season 10.    Naima Adedapo ("Dancing in the Street," Martha and the Vandellas): BAM! First of all, her outfit was amazing. I would totally wear that! And I love that she picked a song that was enjoyable for the audience and gave her room to move on stage. Her energy was all there. Naima had this really focused look about her, and even though she was having a good time, you could tell she has been working her ass off every week to better herself. The proof is in the performance. Plus, I love that she broke into dance because American Idol has needed this! But most importantly, you can feel that Naima loves what she does. And she’s nice, too. I met her at the Top 24 party and she’s really cool.    James Durbin ("Living for the City," Stevie Wonder): It takes cajones to get that close to the camera, and he was definitely bringing it. He moved more, he had that intensity, he connected with the people on the other side of the camera. He was “crazy” in all the right ways, but even though his was a great performance, I was still thinking about Naima’s turn just prior.   So no surprise here, my favorite of the night was Naima. She’s got some skills. As for who might be in danger, I think Haley might be, and Stefano. Even though he has such an incredible voice, the fact that he’s almost been eliminated before makes me worry about him. Plus, I didn’t feel very connected to that performance, just like what Jennifer said.    Honestly, all the other performers were so good that it’s hard to choose a third. Then again, this was the week that I went home so I’m probably the last person who should be blogging about Idol, but you’re welcome!