"American Idol's" top 7 night began with a performance not by any of the actual top 7, but by a reunion of the other contestants already cut from the top 13. You know, because Ashthon Jones, Karen Rodriguez, Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia, Pia Toscano, and Paul McDonald have been gone for sooooo long. Seriously, kids, how can we miss you if you don't go away? And Paul, you could have at least worn a different suit than the one you wore just last week.
The entire performance just seemed like another stunt to push Pia's career (she'll be back on the same soundstage next week to perform on "Dancing With The Stars," synergistically). And while I appreciated the sentiment behind their song, Pink's "So What," I wasn't all that convinced that they were "still rock stars" after this mess. This chaotic group number only made me consider that America had been to right to vote these people off in the first place. So what, indeed.
Anyway, then it was time for the people still in the competition to prove they deserved to be onstage instead of contestants 13 through 8--which wouldn't be that hard, after that debacle. And really, all seven singers did very well. One of them, Casey Abrams, even accomplished the admirable and unthinkable: "I kissed Jennifer Lopez and made Steven Tyler swear!" Yes, that's the mark of a true rock star, right there.
So this week's theme was Music Of The 21st Century, which actually allowed the contestants to sing something CURRENT for a change (as opposed to, say, Elton and Motown oldies). This was refreshing. But considering that they could choose any post-2000 tune, it was pretty surprising what some of them went with. Here's how they all fared...
Scotty McCreery - After a pre-performance vignette in which his fellow finalists good-naturedly mocked his flute-like microphone-holding technique and smirky facial expressions, Scotty came out smirking with sideways mic in hand, and delivered another solid if unexciting performance. (His song, of ALL the songs released in this new millennium? LeAnn Rimes's "Swingin'." Which is actually a cover of a John Anderson song from 1982!) He did nothing wrong, but there was no element of surprise (unless you count the keytar player who backed him). With contestants like Casey Abrams, or James Durbin, or recent castoffs Paul and Naima, there's always been that anticipation, that curiosity as to what they'll do next...but not with Scotty. What you see is what you get with him. The judges, who apparently got the memo that they ought to be tougher on contestants and not just tell them they're all "amazing" and "beautiful," criticized Scotty for the first time this season, and finally told him to mix it up. "I would love it if you just boot-scooted and sashayed a little more," said Steven. "We're getting down to the wire and it's time to pull out the big guns...we were expecting more," said Jennifer Lopez. And Randy Jackson concurred, "You gotta bring it really hard...that was so safe, it was actually kind of boring." I just wonder, why did it take the judges this long to give Scotty this sort of feedback? He's only done the same thing week after week because that's what they told him to do.
James Durbin - Okay, speaking of excitement, that's exactly what James brought to the stage this evening, as he always does. Brandishing a vaguely S&M-ish riding crop, wearing an epaulet-bedecked tuxedo coat, and flanked by a marching band for no reason other than just because it was awesome, the show's only real remaining rocker strutted out to Muse's "Uprising," the first Muse song ever performed on "Idol." (Yes, Adam Lambert did the Muse version of "Feeling Good" once, but this was the first Muse original.) Adam's past professed fondness for Muse probably only aggravated those Lambert/Durbin comparisons that have dogged James from day one, and I don't think James should have taken on Muse singer Matt Bellamy's challenge to elevate the song's octave (he got so screechy in parts, I thought my face was going to blow back like the guy in those old Maxell ads). But I still appreciated the rock 'n' roll drama. "That is going to be, theatrically, the best performance of the night," predicted J.Lo. Randy went even further and said, "I think this is probably gonna be the best performance!" And Steven dubbed it "Mad Max meets stormtroopers on Melrose," which I assume was high praise coming from him. Perhaps Stormtroopers On Melrose can be the name of James's new band.
Haley Reinhart - Haley marvelously showcased her jazz skills during her results-show duet with Casey last week, so I was pleased that she went with Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" this evening. It was a risky move, considering how amazing a vocalist Adele is, but Haley surprisingly nailed it. The only thing that bothered me was her occasional smiling, which was so disconcerting and inappropriate during such a vitriolic breakup song. But at least her trademark growl made sense in this context. Randy called it "the perfect direction" for her. Jennifer praised her "guts" for taking on such a popular, recognizable song, and said it was as good as or better than Adele at times. (Well, no. Cool your jets, Jenny. No one is better than Adele.) Steven called it "beautiful," of course. For the most part, he was right. Haley did a nice job.
Jacob Lusk - This season's most over-emotional diva did Luther Vandross, on what "coincidentally" happened to be the late Luther's birthday, and he dedicated "Dance With My Father" to his own dad, who died when he was 12 years old. So naturally, Jacob seemed like he was about to cry by the first verse, although that just might have been due to a technical glitch with his in-ears. It was a fine effort, but ironically, on an episode supposedly celebrating modern music, there was nothing current or relevant or hip about this staid performance. Jennifer and Randy appreciated the emotional quality of the song, but J.Lo complained that Jacob that let his emotions affect his vocal control, and Randy was bored, saying, "Vocally it was good, but it didn't make me jump up and down." (Editor's note: Has anyone actually ever seen Randy jump up and down?) Randy basically said he wanted Jacob to not hold back, to "go through the roof." But I'm almost positive he praised Jacob in the past on those rare occasions when Jacob toned it down. These judges are so inconsistent. Except for Steven, that is, who loves almost anything. Steven thought Jacob was great, of course.
Casey Abrams - Casey has seemed a little neutered since Jimmy Iovine called him out on the crazy-eyed Motown performance that nearly got him sent home, then forced him to shave his beard and sing like a nice little boy. Tonight, a bit of the old growly, angry Casey came back, and I must say, I'd missed him. Growling and snarling through Maroon 5's "Harder To Breathe" and playing electric guitar for the first time on the live show, by the end of the song, he was all up in the judges' faces, even nervily stealing a kiss from Jennifer, the World's Most Beautiful Woman. "You did what I've been trying to do for months!" exclaimed Steven over the roaring crowd, then repeating that latest scripted zinger just in case the audience missed it. (It was funnier the first time around.) Jennifer, once she caught her composure, said she liked how Casey "took a very pop/rock song and took it all the way rock." Randy said, "What I love about Casey is it's always surprise, surprise, surprise!" (My sentiments exactly, Randy! Duh!) Steven called Casey a "cult hero," then cursed so much that I expected a test pattern to show up on my screen as skittish Fox producers pulled the plug. Later, Steven appeared with duct tape over his mouth, but he'd made his point loud and clear: This was good.
Stefano Langone - Stefano's never been my favorite in this game, but I will say this about him: He's current. For instance, he's one of the few male contestants this season who actually dances (no, Jordan Dorsey does not count). Maybe he'd be better off in a boy band, but at least he seems like the kind of guy who could be on the radio in 2011. Ne-Yo's "Closer" was a great uptempo choice for him--it was obvious he was trying to channel Ne-Yo during his sped-up Stevie Wonder cover a few weeks ago, but this attempt was much more successful. Randy, who had worried that this performance would be "jerky" or "bad karaoke" (why does Randy always assume everyone will mess up, and why does he always change his mind and think everyone "works it out by the end"?), of course wound up liking it, raving: "You smoothed it out! You took your time singing the verses. I was really proud of you!" Added Steven, "I was hoping you'd dance, and you did!" And Jennifer said, "Speaking for the girls in the audience, I thought it was very, very good. You really had your swag on, it felt like a concert, and you owned the song." This might have been Stefano's best performance yet, but after several weeks in the bottom two or three, it might be too little, too late.
Lauren Alaina - During Lauren's pre-song taped segment, Jimmy pep-talked her, telling her she has more potential than she realizes and shouldn't hold back so much. Then she went onstage and sang...Sara Evans's "Born To Fly," a forgettable midtempo number that seemed to embody the very dictionary definition of "holding back." It just wasn't all that special, and it ended the show with a whimper, not a bang. Jennifer advised Lauren to sing in the shower to test the limits of her range and realize she is indeed capable of reaching those high notes: "Why don't you do that? You can do that! Let it out!" Randy, who has a habit of constantly referencing the Nashville audition that Lauren has never lived up to since, said: "When we first saw you, you were singing back and forth with Steven--you can sing anything!" Lauren acted all aw-shucks-y, but playing the humility card might work for her. Hey, it worked for Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze! This is because America just does not like cocky singers. Still, I think Lauren might become even more humble soon, after she ends up in the bottom three for the first time this week.
So now it is prediction time. Scotty went first and gave a snoozy performance, which would normally land any other contestant in the bottom three, but he seems to be coated in Teflon and has a huge fanbase, so he will probably be safe. I think the singers who ought to be more worried are Jacob, who's been losing momentum for weeks after way too much pimping early in the season; Stefano, who did well this week but whose days seem numbered no matter what; and Lauren, who continues to fall short of her promise. But in the end, I think it will be Jacob who will go. And he will probably cry very hard.
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right! Parker out.