Tonight the race tightened, as the 11 finalists took no chances in establishing their credentials.
Last week’s surprise elimination—and subsequent save—of Casey Abrams was obviously on everyone’s mind on Elton John night, with the only real risky move that of Naima Adedapo, whose spirited reggae version of “I’m Still Standing” drew the most tepid response from the judges, even if it fit her situation perfectly.
Otherwise, it was pretty much business as usual, with front-runners Jacob Lusk and Pia Toscano nailing a couple of ballads, Scotty McCreery finding “Country Comfort” and Haley Reinhart suddenly jumping herself in the race with the pimp position closer, “Benny and the Jets.” Lauren Alaina also chose a ballad for a change, with a lovely “Candle in the Wind” that did nothing to hurt her chances.
James Durbin didn’t disappoint with a fiery version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” that literally ended with the piano in flames, while Paul McDonald hauled out his good-luck Gram Parsons roses and thorns suit for a very laid-back “Rocket Man.”
Of last week’s bottom three, Abrams seemed to redeem himself with a haircut and beard trim, and a seated, un-screechy “Your Song,” while Stefano Langone and Thia Megia looked to remain in the race.
As for the law firm of Tyler, J. Lo and Randy Jackson, they were mostly positive, making sure to take credit for saving Casey, with Randy forced to counter the criticism that he kvetches whenever Toscano and Megia do ballads.
Tomorrow night, there will be a double elimination, and, with the judges having used up their one save per season, America will send two of the contestants home. It won’t be an easy choice.
Now for the play-by-play:
Scotty McCreery, or as one wag put it, a dead ringer for Alfred E. Newman of “What, Me Worry” fame, once more went the obvious route with “Country Comfort,” which he admitted choosing because of its title. Don’t count this 16-year-old with the basso profundo voice out. He shamelessly gave a shout-out to his grandma in the audience, while a fan in the audience held up the sign, “Scottty be my cowboy.” Even Jimmy Iovine was forced to confront the perception McCreerey’s a one-trick pony. “It’s still one of the best tricks I’ve seen,” he said. Tyler remains smitten, too. “Nothing I could say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled cowboy boots wouldn’t fix.” J. Lo agreed: “You have amazing instincts about what’s right for you.” Randy Jackson said: “You have seasoned so fast on this show. You re so comfortable and in the zone. That song could be on your first album.” Look for Scotty to keep riding the horse that brought him.
Naima Adedapo went for “I’m Still Standing,” a nice nod to her own shaky position, and unfortunately, the risk didn’t earn her any points with the judges. Jimmy Iovine called it a “very brave thing to do,” but the panel demurred. “I’m not sure this song was suited for that,” stated J. Lo, while Randy offered, “It came off corny.” Tyler let out a “booom shacka lacka, baby,” before adding, “Good for you for picking out a song that fits you.”
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Paul McDonald hauled out his lucky roses suit for a quiet version of “Rocket Man” that fit his quiet style perfectly, but did nothing to leap him up the ladder. “Sing it as if it was your encore,” counseled Iovine. “Like you own it. He’s not getting away with just his smile this time. He needs to bring his charisma and intensity.” Randy saw “some quiet comfort… When you get into that tender zone, it’s infectious.” J. Lo remains smitten, though she wondered aloud if he was holding back, and not aware of the power of his voice. Steven asked if he’d been watering that suit, because he sees the flowers growing, then admitted he likes the rough edge McDonald brings to the table. “When you come out singing and hit every note, that’s when I won’t like you anymore.”
Pia Toscano risked the judges’ ire by tackling yet another ballad, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” but she reasserted her position as a favorite with a knockout performance.. Jimmy Iovine suggested she had to position the song “between Fergie and Axl Rose and just crush it,” which she did, thanks to a gospel choir. Tyler said her singing “makes me cry inside… That was as good as it gets,” while J. Lo said, “The notes take us to another worldly place. I feel you trying to break the barrier. A slightly defensive Randy admitted whenever Pia sings a ballad, “she slays it every time… I was just trying to get you to shift gears a little bit,” before comparing her to Whitney and Mariah. Toscano will be around for a while, so we might as well get used to her.
Stefano Langone finished in the bottom three, and despite a performance of “Tiny Dancer” in which he followed the judges’ suggestions to keep his eyes open and connect, it may have been too little, too late for the Italian crooner. At the end, he put out his hand to J. Lo, while Randy tried to intercept. “You’re back to the Stefano we know and love,” said Lopez, while Tyler added, “Being so crazy young, you can get that sweetness. You nailed it.” As good as he was, Langone may be on thin ice moving forward.
Lauren Alaina decided to slow it down for a moving “Candle in the Wind” which kept her solidly in the running. “Your voice sounds magnificent on this,” said Iovine. “Hit that switch right now.” It’s hard to believe, with her poise and ease on-stage, that Alaina is only 16, and the judges were clearly in her corner. “That’s one of the greatest performances on this stage. Just keep believing you can do anything,” said an admiring Randy. “I’ve loved you since the first moment you laid eyes on me,” joked Tyler (again), adding, to her embarrassment, about her strapless gown: “You keep singing like that and you’ll be able to afford the rest of that dress.” J. Lo added. “That’s the first time everyone in American heard what we did.”
James Durbin remained the rock star with a dynamic version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” that had him entering the stage from the audience, standing on top of the piano which then burst into a fiery climax with one of his patented yowls. It’s a crowd-pleaser and the judges responded. “You brought the heat didn’t you?” teased Steven. “You go where no man can go, but don’t wear out your welcome by staying up there too long.” J. Lo thought: “it was a really full performance of a great song by a great artist,” while Randy offered: “You really enjoy yourself up there. I really felt like you were having a great time.” With all the hairspray, Durbin was afraid of having “a Pepsi moment,” referring to Michael Jackson’s afro catching on fire during the now-infamous commercial shoot, while Ryan quickly jumped in to mention that Coke is an “American Idol” sponsor. “I brought everything and left it all on-stage,” said Durbin.
Thia Megia did herself no favors with yet another ballad in “Daniel,” whose inspiration came from a brother that left home when she was young. “Let’s get away from the dramatic and everything you’ve learned,” said Iovine. “Think about the lyrics and what they say. Sing from the heart…that’s the missing piece.” And it may well be for the technically proficient, but slightly chilly 16-year-old who has the poise of someone twice her age. “That was beautiful,” said J. Lo. “I like the way you internalized the lyrics.” “Very relaxed side of you,” said Randy. “But very safe.” Added Tyler: “When you find the right song, your voice appears.” Will it be enough to stave off elimination?
The center of last week’s controversy, Casey Abrams seemed to be a bit subdued after his brush with elimination, and his seated version of “Your Song,” as well as his haircut and beard trim, seemed to deflate him somewhat. Still, he has the charisma and the sense of humor, and it will be interesting if American reassesses his chances. “He went from killing every week to killing himself,” offered Iovine about his last two performances of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Get rid of the beard,” offered producer Rodney Jerkins. Instead, Jacobs went in for the humble kill. The judges continued patting themselves on the back for rescuing him last week. “Saving you was the greatest thing we’ve done,” said Randy. “You sing different every time and I love that about you,” said Tyler. “It shows a real artist.” Added J. Lo: “We’ve made some hard decisions, but one decision I didn’t lose sleep over was saving you. And you proved that tonight.” Abrams may well have bought himself a few weeks respite with his low-key, but effective version here.
Jacob Lusk stayed in the front-runner spot with a soaring version of “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word,” which he admits was tailored after the Mary J. Blige version, and who shows up in the studio while he’s recording but the diva herself. Lusk didn’t disappoint, hitting a long, sweet high note at the end. “He has a lot of confidence,” said Iovine. “When he goes to that overdramatizing, that’s when he can blow the whole thing.” But he didn’t, and the judges responded accordingly. “I watch how far out there or in there you get,” said Tyler. “You slayed me.” Said J. Lo: “You made it your own. That last note… You don’t see that everyday.” Randy suggested he save his best for that special moment. “You’ve got that race horse in the tank. Always pick that one shining spot.” Lusk remains a strong contender at this point.
Haley Reinhart’s surging performance of “Benny & The Jets” started with her lying supine on the piano and ended with her shaking her moneymaker in a soulful finale that, thrust her, if not to the top ranks, at least back into the conversation. “Best performance of the night,” raved Randy. “You gave it up. You deserve it.” “That was it,” said J. Lo. “It all came together… Voice, moves, confidence. Amazing.” “It just goes to show you what a well-placed chorus will do,” chortled Tyler. “You sing sexy.” Of all the finalists, Haley probably did the most to improve her standing.
1. Pia Toscano: She killed the ballad in an elegant, no-nonsense fashion, putting herself in the top slot.
2. James Durbin: He literally set the stage on fire. This rocker’s in it to win it.
3. Scotty McCreery: This “What Me Worry” cowboy stays in the saddle… and the little girls understand.
4. Jacob Lusk: Still in the top ranks, is he a little too overwrought for the general public?
5. Lauren Alaina: Still America’s sweetheart… Does she have the stamina, and maturity, to see it to the finish line?
6. Casey Abrams: The judges’ favorite, but how long will his shtick go over now that he’s been humbled?
7. Haley Reinhart: Her raspy vocals and shapely legs caught Tyler’s eye… Will it do the same for voters?
8. Paul McDonald: His low-key charm has brought him this far, but is he too understated to go the distance?
9. Stefano Langone: He kept his eyes open and sang to J. Lo. But his chances aren’t getting any better in this horse race.
10. Naima Adedapo: Didn’t help her chances with a risky reggae version… Will she still be standing after tomorrow night? Doubtful.
11. Thia Megia: One ballad too many for this Filipino prodigy, who may well say buh bye 24 hours from now.