After finally getting with the times last week with a Songs Of The 21st Century theme, this week "American Idol" hosted...Carole King Night. You know, because Carole King is all the rage with the kids these days. My conspiracy theory regarding this odd theme was it was the producers' attempt to keep this season's lone two remaining female contestants in the game. But as it turns out, of this evening's performances--six solos, plus three duets--one MALE contestant was the standout. James Durbin was in fact so stunning that Randy Jackson flat-out declared him the Season 10 winner, even running onstage to give him a congratulatory hug. It remains to be seen if The Dawg's prediction comes true, since almost all of the contestants gave winning performances this week. But James just may be the King of this competition, pun intended.
Here's how everyone did...
Jacob Lusk - Jacob chose to sing "Oh No Not My Baby," and at first I thought, oh no, indeed. His screechy rehearsal did not go well; Jimmy Iovine predicted Jacob was the contestant most in jeopardy this week; he was singing in the first kiss-of-death spot; and whichever stylist put him in that plaid golfing jacket pretty much needs to be fired. (Only Andre 3000 could get away with that ensemble!) But once Jacob got into it, so did I. After so many weeks of Jacob doing his stuffy evangelical shtick, it was refreshing to just seen him having flamboyant FUN, cutting loose, preening like the plaid peacock he truly is. I wished he'd flaunted more of this side of himself earlier in the season, honestly. "We all knew you could sing, but it's about time you shook your tailfeathers!" exclaimed Steven Tyler. "You're bringing that performance, you bring everyone home at the end, and you just killed it," agreed Jennifer Lopez. And Randy said, "You really brought yourself back. Hopefully America will give you some votes and you'll stick around, baby." I am afraid that Iovine's prediction will come true and this will be Jacob's final week, baby (he's been in the bottom three multiple times already), but this was a good week for Jacob. If he can keep performing like this, I wouldn't mind him sticking around.
Lauren Alaina - After a pep talk from special guest Miley Cyrus--who, ironically, was unflatteringly compared to Lauren just a couple weeks ago, when Jimmy said Lauren sang "The Climb" so much better--Lauren once again gave another safe performance. This was no party in the USA. Sure, she walked into the crowd a bit and Nigel Lythgoe provided a random boy for her to flirt with, but otherwise it was the same old Lauren, different dress. The judges loved her version of "Where You Lead," however. Then again, they love everything. A teary-eyed J.Lo actually praised Lauren for "pushing" so hard that her voice cracked, and Steven said, "I saw you shine tonight when your voice broke." Huh? Since when is a cracking voice a good thing in a singing competition? Randy was also pleased, telling her, "You came up there with a vengeance" and praising "extra swagger." But will this be enough to get Lauren extra votes? She's never been in the bottom three before, but as the competition keeps getting whittled down, her odds of ending up on one of those stools go up. Maybe this will be the week.
Scotty McCreery - After receiving his first actual criticism of the season last week, this golden boy finally mixed it up on "You've Got A Friend." Instead of his usual corny hat act, with his weird sideways mic-holding technique and constant mugging and wiggly eyebrows, he toned everything down and delivered a touching, truly heartfelt performance that was his finest moment to date. It felt intimate, authentic, and not at all hokey, and he showed off a whole new "buttery" (Randy's term) range and tone to his voice. (He was also sporting a much cooler haircut than before, so maybe the "Idol" stylist doesn't need to be fired after all.) Randy called parts of the performance "flawless." Steven called this Scotty's "just-right song" and said, "I don't think you ever sang better." And Jennifer said, "When we hear you sing like that, that's why we couldn't let you get away with what you did last week." You know, the judges should be hard on Scotty every week; tough love seems to bring out the best in him.
James Durbin - That James is full of surprises. One week he's hyper-macho, brandishing a riding crop or rocking out with Ozzy's axeman or literally playing with fire; the next, he's offering an interesting gender-reversal take on "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," as he did this evening. I love the way James always keeps me guessing...and if I had to guess, I'd say America will definitely still love him tomorrow after this great number. James remade the song so that it sounded like an outtake from Guns N' Roses' GNR Lies acoustic EP, and it was just very COOL. Jennifer called this performance "totally magical" and predicted, "You are going to be the star of the night with that one!" Steven babbled about how the song reminded him of his first teenage makeout session (in a bowling alley, yet), which I imagine is the highest form of praise a contestant can receive from Steven. And Randy was the most enthusiastic, howling, "You proved you're not just a great rock singer, you proved you're a good singer!" Then he hopped onstage and they hugged it out. Randy also said James is "in it to win it," but he says that about all the contestants...and let's face it, who's in it to come in sixth? But Randy's prediction that James "just might win the whole thing"? That was much harder to dismiss.
Casey Abrams - Talk about being in it to win it! Casey picked the Blood Sweat & Tears-popularized "Hi De Ho," an ambitious song that Iovine said would take "100 percent pure personality" to pull off. For Casey, that was no problem. This star-making jazz performance was PACKED with personality, along with a bit of piano-playing, a fierce fedora, and some jamming by a hot brass band that included returning "sax symbol" Mindi Abair. This was just flat-out awesome. How was this guy ever in last place? Every week, he proves he deserved to be saved. "It's like this song was written for you! It took me back to New Orleans!" raved Randy. Steven said, as only he could, "You made my scalp itch, it was so good." (Apparently Head & Shoulders is a new "Idol" sponsor.) And Jennifer summed it up, aptly, with: "The whole thing really, really worked." Casey worked it, all right.
Haley Reinhart - After some technical difficulties with her in-ears (what is up with those things?), Haley--who has demonstrated all season that she's certainly one who can overcome setbacks--proved the show must go on and owned the stage during "Beautiful." Her voice was amazing and she'd never looked more, well, beautiful. My only one (minor) gripe would be that the vibe of the song was a little too old-fashioned, but she made something old seem like something new. "Haley, you are as beautiful as all that song is," said Steven (of course he dug it! "Beautiful" is Steven Tyler's favorite word!), adding, "I heard God in your voice!" Jennifer avoided all God references, but she also seemed to be undergoing a religious experience, breathlessly telling Haley, "You have one of the best voices in this competition." Randy did his whole at-first-I-didn't-like-it-but-then-you-worked-it-out-by-the-end speech of his. But I liked the beginning, the middle, and the end. I'm just worried that the end is still near for Haley, since she's been in the bottom three so many times.
Casey Abrams & Haley Reinhart - The rumored lovebirds and this season's resident growlers, who exhibited such hot-jazz chemistry on the top 8 results show when they dueted for the first time, reunited this evening, and it felt so good. "I like growling with her," Casey blurted out, as Haley blushed like a schoolgirl. It was obvious just how much both of them liked it once they hit the stage to sing the earth-moving "I Feel The Earth Move." Then Steven put poor Casey on the spot, asking, "Casey, how much in love with Haley are you? Come on man, it showed!" Then it was Casey's turn to blush. (Casey pleaded the fifth, but his non-answer spoke volumes.) This was just plain cute, and these kids could be the Sonny & Cher of "Idol." Is it possible they could tie for first place, and sign a joint record deal?
Scotty McCreery & Lauren Alaina - Teaming up for the third time this season, "Idol's" two country kids insisted up and down that they're "like brother and sister" (ewww) and denied any sort of backstage romance. (Come on, nosy Ryan Seacrest, that's how rumors get started. Save your gossiping for Casey and Haley or Pia Toscano and Mark Ballas.) I did enjoy watching these two tease each other, especially when an interviewer asked them how they complement each other; Lauren whined, "Scotty never gives me compliments"; and Scotty totally schooled her regarding the difference between the two words. Hey kids, "Idol" is educational! Anyway, onstage they were also cute doing a country-ish "Up On The Roof," although they weren't nearly as exciting as Casey and Haley. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing these two duet on the Idols Live Tour. If Casey and Haley are "Idol's" Sonny & Cher, Scotty and Lauren are this season's Donny & Marie.
James Durbin & Jacob Lusk - After James openly bawled like a baby when his BFF Stefano Langone went home last week instead of Jacob, it was sweet irony that he and Jacob were forced to put on matching ice-cream-man blazers and sing a painfully cutesy cover of Herman's Hermits' "Something Good." But any tension between them was quickly defused by them spending much of their duet serenading J.Lo, and while this "wasn't their most award-winning performance," as Steven put it, it was adorable and fun and not at all the disaster I assumed it would be. And as the top 6's most over-the-top showboaters, they were actually well-matched.
So, now it is prediction time. This is a real toughie, perhaps the toughest call of the season. With half of these singers headed for the bottom three, it really could be anyone who gets sent home Thursday. Based on this week's performances alone, I'd say Lauren deserves to get the boot, and I do think she will finally be in the bottom three this week...but I believe she has enough of a fanbase to survive. I think the bottom three will be rounded out by Jacob and Haley, not because they gave bad performances, but just because that seems to be the trend this season. And of those two, I think Haley's final pimp-spot and excellent pairing with Casey will save her. Jacob will likely be the one to go, but at least he'll go out on a high note. Literally.
Tune in Thursday to find out if I'm right! Until then, Parker out.