On a night when Thia Megia gave a quiet, confident performance well beyond her 15 years and teen Lauren Alaina was compared to both Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, it was nevertheless Pia Toscano who stole the show on Wednesday's (March 2) "American Idol."
Toscano, who anchored the episode with the final performance of the evening, took on the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" and knocked it out of the park, building to a series of powerful glory notes in the closing moments that brought the entire studio audience — her fellow contestants and the judges included — to its feet.
The soaring anthem, from the Pretenders' 1994 album Last of the Independents, has a bit of "Idol" history of its own: Gina Glocksen sang it as a contestant back in season six, but more memorably, Carrie Underwood sang it during the "Idol Gives Back" special that same year. The song became a top 10 single for Underwood, peaking at #6 on Billboard's Hot 100; it remains her second-highest charting Hot 100 single to date. (Underwood took it higher than even the Pretenders did; their version topped out at #16.)
Toscano, the 21-year-old New Yorker who tried out for "Idol" during the New Jersey auditions, was resplendent on Wednesday in a sleek, black mini-dress. Following her performance, which was as assured as it was controlled, she held her hands in front of her mouth as Randy Jackson reminded her of the standing O she had just received and then told her that her performance immediately ranked among the best performances in the show's history. "That was unbelievable," the Dawg told her. "That's how you do it!"
Steven Tyler, after invoking one of his more nonsensical Tyler-isms ("You know, after Monday and Tuesday, even a week says WTF" — WTF??), agreed with Jackson's assertion that she was "unbelievable," adding as well that it was "gorgeous." Jennifer Lopez kicked it up a notch, calling the performance "out of this world." "You were saving that for when it counts!" she teased her.
Heading into the show, Toscano wasn't necessarily a name on the tip of the tongues of many viewers, but it definitely was afterward. And on a night when she needed to bring it, she brought it, and in doing so brought the house down with her.