Wednesday was Movies Night on "American Idol," and while sadly no one did anything from Nigel Lythgoe's 1980 cult flick The Apple and Clint Gamboa wasn't around to reprise his soundtrack to The Room, at least no one did "I Believe I Can Fly" (oh wait, Jacob Lusk already did that this season) or Steven Tyler's done-to-death Armageddon theme "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing." And the one upside to Pia Toscano's recent elimination was she wasn't there to sing the inevitable "My Heart Will Go On." But Movies Night was still way too heavy on schmaltzy balladry. Only James Durbin--who eschewed safe silver-screen fare for some righteous rock that even movie metalheads Bill & Ted of Wyld Stallyns would appreciate--put on a real show. In a night of mostly box-office bombs, Durbin was THE bomb.
Still, with a couple of exceptions, Wednesday's episode felt like a sleepy rainy-day matinee, not a main attraction. Here's how everyone did:
Paul McDonald - While Dancin' Paul's song selection, Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'N' Roll" as popularized by Risky Business, guaranteed a good time, I'm not so sure this was the best choice for him. First of all, he didn't slide onto the stage in his tighty-whiteys a la Tom Cruise--or a la David Cook, for that matter. (Nice suit, though.) Second of all, the frat-boy singalong anthem showcased Paul's class-clownish side, and we've seen enough of that from him already. There were so many other songs he could have done--from Nashville, Crazy Heart, maybe even Saturday Night Fever's "How Deep Is Your Love," or something off Elliott Smith's Good Will Hunting soundtrack, or the appropriately raspy "Pretty In Pink." All of these would have better showcased his true talents. Well, at least he didn't beatbox, as Jimmy Iovine suggested. (Only Blake Lewis can beatbox on "Idol" and get away with it.) The judges went really easy on Paul, however. (Of course they did. They're like the opposite of that old Life Cereal spokes-kid Mikey. They like everything!) Steven, after flirting with Paul's blonde sax player, raved, "I love your crazy, wild abandon, how it transcends to an audience." Jennifer Lopez, aka the World's Most Beautiful Person according to People, compared Paul to one of her favorite things: diamonds. And Randy Jackson shouted, "America, you just witnessed the first number at a Paul McDonald concert!" I just hope America hasn't witnessed his last number on "Idol," because this was not Paul at his best.
Lauren Alaina - I cringed when I learned that teen sweetheart Lauren would be covering teen sensation Miley Cyrus's straight-to-video sapfest "The Climb"--and my uneasiness was not alleviated when Lauren gushed, "Everything about that song just screams 'Idol'!" Well, it made me want to scream: NO MORE BALLADS! Why not "Flashdance (What A Feeling)"? Or Paramore's "Decode" from Twilight? Just something with some oomph? But vocally, Lauren was pretty much on point; I at least agreed with Jimmy, that Lauren can sing circles around Miley. Weirdly, though, Steven and Randy continued to reference her first audition that was filmed many months ago. ("The Lauren that we first saw in Nashville is roaring back," Randy claimed for the umpteenth time, and Steven echoed, "You were the first Idol we thought of when everyone was trying out in the beginning.") Then J.Lo advised Lauren to "go further" (which, in this kinder and gentler "Idol" season, is as close to harsh criticism as the judges get.) Um, that's what J.Lo told Pia, too. Is Jennifer TRYING to get another girl sent home? I wonder.
Stefano Langone - Stefano was in the bottom two with Pia last week, and this week he faced a backlash of Sanjaya-esque proportions as he tried to prove that he deserved to take "Pia's spot." Ironically, and perhaps foolishly, he went with the prophetically titled "End Of The Road" from Boomerang. I suppose for a boy-bandy singer like Stefano, a ballad by ultimate boy band Boyz II Men was appropriate. And he didn't mess it up. But the judges went way overboard trying to create some sort of comeback-kid story arc for him, with Randy declaring it Stefano's best performance to date and Jennifer telling him, "You finally got it!" Added Steven: "This is so not the end of the road for you; it's just the beginning." Really? I'm not so sure.
Scotty McCreery - At first Scotty was going to do an old-school country number, Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" from Midnight Cowboy, which actually would've been the perfect song for Paul McDonald. But then good ole Safe Scotty decided to play it Strait, so to speak, by doing country king George Strait's "Cross My Heart" from some movie he found in a Redbox one-dollar rental machine in Garner. It was, in a word, boring. The judges didn't have many words, either; they just gushed and fawned like stage parents at their own kid's ballet recital. "Everyone wants us to be tough with you guys, but the truth is, you're all so damn good!" laughed Jennifer. "All I want to say is wow!" And while Jimmy had disagreed with Scotty's decision to switch to the Strait song, easy-to-please Steven just said, "You did it again; you picked the just-right song." And Randy said: "I love that song for you, I love it when you stay at your roots....If it ain't broken, don't even consider fixing it!" Hmmm...isn't Randy the same guy who kept telling Pia to mix it up every week? Just sayin'.
Casey Abrams - Casey flip-flopped between Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" (as featured in Moulin Rouge), and Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" (as featured in another famous Risky Business scene featuring, er, people in their underwear.) Either prospect sounded more interesting than the songs that had come before him. Going against Jimmy's wishes, Casey went with Cole song, and it was probably a wise decision. The dark and evil Collins song probably would've brought out Casey's snarly side and scared away all the grandmas and little girls who power-vote for this show, but "Nature Boy" allowed him to showcase his jazzy, snazzy side. Randy loved it, crying out for an encore, calling it a "Grammy kind of performance" (ease your jets a little, Randy), and declaring: "It makes me proud to sit here and judge artists as well as pop stars." Steven concurred: "You're an artist in the truest sense of the word." Jennifer seemed overly worried that America wouldn't "get" Casey's jazzy vibe, but I think it's only when Casey does nasty Nirvana covers that he alienates the audience. I think Casey will be just fine; his teary-eyed backstage interview about his "sense of accomplishment" only sealed the deal. Take that, Mr. Iovine!
Haley Reinhart - Haley finally brought the sass and spunk with "Call Me," Blondie's hit from American Gigolo. I never thought I'd type this, but...thank heavens for Haley! A sexy song like this was perfect for her, and finally there was some sign of life onstage. Her "Call Me" made me want to call her voting line for the first time this season. But bizarrely, two of the judges didn't like her performance, giving their first--and ONLY--real criticism of the night. Randy called it "very karaoke," and Jennifer said it was a bad song choice--though she added, "But I'm so afraid [to criticize], because I don't want any girls to go home!" I'm actually not so sure J.Lo meant that. Haley, and to a lesser extent Lauren, were the only contestants who actually received negative feedback this evening. Insert your own conspiracy theory here...
Jacob Lusk - Jacob sang Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which apparently was on Will Smith's The Pursuit Of Happyness soundtrack. (The "movies" theme was pretty loosely defined this week, I guess.) "Bridge," of course, was Clay Aiken's signature song in Season 2, and that was a while ago, but Claymates have very good memories. So I pretty much expected Clay's fans to storm the Fox gates, flaming pitchforks in hand. However, Jacob sang it as well as Aiken (please don't give any Claymates my home address), and the judges unanimously praised him. Steven adored Jacob's "crescendos and innuendos" (isn't that the title of an Aerosmith song?), J.Lo got chills, and Randy non-condescendingly called Jacob "special." But still, this performance was a little dated and snoozy. Where would Jacob fit in today's pop landscape, if he got a record deal out of this show? I suppose the judges don't need to worry about that. That's Jimmy's problem.
James Durbin - Finally! A reason to pass the popcorn and enjoy Movies Night! James begged the audience to "give metal a chance" before his performance, after bickering with Jimmy about his adamant choice to cover Sammy Hagar's Heavy Metal movie theme from 1981. I'm glad James stuck to his guns ('n' roses). I'd been waiting for James to bring back the metal since his blazing Judas Priest cover from earlier in the season, and he sure brought it tonight--Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, Zakk Wylde, even joined him onstage! (Yes, that seemed like an unfair advantage. It was still awesome.) Randy--after howling "Durbin rocks!" and giving him the horns--predicted James would be on the Ozzfest tour in 2012. Steven deemed the performance "excellent" in a Bill & Ted voice. Jennifer said the performance "felt really, really real." For once, I wasn't annoyed that the judges were so positive. This was a fun, vivacious performance that stood out like a metal-spiked thumb on an otherwise mellow night. All that was missing was the "Pepsi moment" pyro.
So now it is prediction time. Stefano didn't quite stage the killer comeback the judges might have us believe he did, so I think he will be in the bottom three again. Haley absolutely doesn't deserve to be in the bottom three this week, but since she was the only contestant the judges actually criticized, and she's a girl, she's probably in trouble too. But...as much as it pains me to say this, I think Paul is probably going home. I love the guy, but he sang first (always a tricky spot for even the best of contestants), and with his silly Seger cover, he squandered all the momentum and goodwill he gained after his fantastic Johnny Cash performance last week. So this Thursday, don't expect to see Paul's megawatt smile when Ryan Seacrest reads the results--and Paul's exit is soundtracked by another movie song, David Cook's Breakfast Club cover of "Don't You Forget About Me."