By John Hill
Born: October 14, 1988
Musical Style: Pop/Power Ballads
Audition City: Newark
Backstory: Pia Toscano got her start singing along with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as a little girl, and was encouraged by her family to pursue her music. Prior to auditioning for American Idol season 10, Pia worked as a make-up artist.
Influences: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Etta James, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion
Just like on the Top 24 men's episode, the last performance of the night on the Top 24 women's show turned out to be the highlight. Pia Toscano took the iconic Pretenders hit "I'll Stand By You" and made it her own, prompting Randy Jackson to comment that the performance placed Pia in the same category with the best contestants over the previous nine seasons of American Idol. In the span of two minutes, Pia Toscano instantly became the one to beat of all the ladies in the contest.
There are some songs that have become so iconic over the years that it may be advisable to stay away from them if you are going on a national talent show like American Idol. Celine Dion's cover of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" would fall into that category, as it became a signature song for her when it charted in 1997. However, Pia Toscano did the song justice during Top 13 week, garnering praise from all three judges for her powerful performance. If there was a complaint about the performance, it was that Pia Toscano's version was very similar to Celine Dion's in both phrasing and delivery. Eric Carmen took "All By Myself" to number two in 1976, while Celine Dion's version made it to number four.
Pia Toscano cemented her position as frontrunner during Top 12 week on American Idol with an inspired updating of Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." Instead of following the power ballad arrangement from the original, Rodney Jerkins flipped the script and turned the song into a dance floor filler, harkening back to Deborah Cox's remix of "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" from 1998. In 1988, Whitney Houston was the queen of the ballad, ruling the pop charts with songs like "Where Do Broken Hearts Go", which became her seventh number one record in a row on the Billboard Hot 100.
Viewers watched Pia Toscano sail through early episodes of American Idol season 10 on the strength of classic ballads that suited her powerful delivery. That trend continued during Top 11 week when Pia Toscano selected Stevie Wonder's slowjam classic "All In Love Is Fair," which was never released as a single but has stood the test of time as an R&B standard. All three judges praised Pia Toscano once again, with Steven Tyler stating that she is "the closest star to this American Idol universe." The other two judges did request that she perform something other than a ballad moving forward, which she promised she would do.
For people who watch international talent shows, they sometimes get to see similarities between how things are staged from show to show. In the case of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," the group of backup singers who emerged from the wings to accompany American Idol season 10 contestant Pia Toscano on Elton John week was similar to X Factor series seven winner Matt Cardle's performance of "You've Got the Love" during that show's semi-finals (minus hand-clapping). While Pia Toscano shined singing another ballad, the wish for upbeat material still lingered. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" was a hit twice for Elton John: as a solo #2 pop record in 1974; then as a #1 duet with George Michael in 1991.
American Idol season 10 judges encouraged Pia Toscano to do something upbeat, and she followed their advice during Top 9 week with a lively version of "River Deep - Mountain High." However, Pia Toscano ran into the same problem that James Durbin did with his style change, as Pia seemed stiff despite another stellar vocal performance. Unfortunately, the performance did not resonate with the viewing public as Pia Toscano received the fewest votes for Top 9 week. "River Deep - Mountain High" just barely made it on to the Billboard Hot 100 at #88 in 1966, but has evolved into a pop music classic recognized by the elites of rock and R&B artists.
"Grenade" Bruno Mars (Hollywood Groups)
"Can't Buy Me Love" - Beatles Week
"Doesn't Mean Anything" - Alicia Keys (Top 40)