“You have to go for it this week,” Jimmy Iovine told Jacob Lusk, but he may as well have been speaking to all six “American Idol” finalists as the competition heats up. “You have no choice.”
And indeed that was the message for the remaining contestants—to push themselves beyond their self-defined comfort zones and surprise us with a side we haven’t seen before, digging into Carole King’s songbook to do so.
So tonight, we got Lusk, one of last week’s bottom three, strutting on the stage, with an ill-matched plaid jacket, canary-yellow shirt and bow-tie, killing “Oh No Not My Baby,” a song written by King with her husband Gerry Goffin that was originally covered by Maxine Brown. We saw country heartthrob Scotty McCreery change up a little, exploring his high register on “You’ve Got a Friend,” while James Durbin abandoned his metal roots for a touching “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” he dedicated to his wife-to-be Heidi. The always-unpredictable Casey Abrams donned a fedora for a scat-singing take on “Hi De Ho,” a King number covered most famously by Blood, Sweat and Tears, while the two remaining females, Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart stuck to their strengths with a heartfelt “Where You Lead” and “Beautiful” respectively.
One of them will exit tomorrow, and at this point, it’s anybody’s guess who it will be. The contest is way too close to call, and everyone seemed to bring their A-game this week, so tomorrow night’s bottom 3 will include exactly half of the survivors. Let’s take a closer look at the individual performances.
Jacob Lusk may suffer from being in the lead-off position, but he rebounded from a desultory performance last week by taking Jimmy Iovine’s advice and proceeding to “soar and riff and go off.” With nothing to lose, he performed as if a large weight was off his shoulders, and it worked. Along with Durbin—the two sang a ramshackle “I’m Into Something Good” as a show-closing duet—the gospel-trained vocalist has the best voice of all the remaining “Idol” hopefuls, while proving he has some stage presence, too. Whether it was enough to keep him in the contest is another story. “I think I gave the judges what they were looking for,” said Jacob. We’ll see if the public agrees.
“We all knew you could sing,” acknowledged Steven Tyler. “It’s about time you shook your tail feathers. When you strut like that, it’s magic.” “You brought everybody home in the end,” admired J. Lo. “You killed it.” Randy agreed: “You really brought yourself back. The scatting was incredible.”
Lauren Alaina’s problem has been self-confidence, and both Jimmy Iovine and guest mentor Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds tried to pump her up, bringing in Miley Cyrus, whom Iovine insisted wasn’t as good a singer as she was. “You have to do it for yourself,” said Cyrus, which Lauren took to heart on her version of “Where You Lead.” And when her voice cracked during the performance, it just endeared her to the judges even more.
“I felt you pushing and those boundaries are tough to break for a performer,” said J. Lo, who enjoyed hearing her voice crack a little bit in the process. “You came out with a little extra swagger, a vengeance” said Randy. “We’re looking for someone who’s going hard for it.” Tyler also liked the vulnerability in the vocal. “You keep shining,” he said. “It shows the character of your voice.”
Scotty McCreery also recovered from a shaky performance last week with “You’ve Got a Friend,” showing, country or no country, he’s an effective balladeer. Jimmy Iovine suggested he start out softly, “deliver that subtlety and poignancy so the song will have some impact.” Turns out he was right. “What’s cool is you turned the other cheek,” said Randy. “That buttery tenor was flawless. I didn’t know you had that range.” Steven Tyler liked the way he went up in the high register. “I don’t think you ever sang better. You took it someplace else.” J. Lo agreed: “Your strength is in the storytelling and you told that story beautifully.”
It was left to pre-emptive favorite James Durbin to prove he was more than a heavy metal howler. Without a marching band or a flaming piano, strapping on a guitar for a soulful version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” he wowed not only the judges and the audience, but the notoriously hard-to-please Iovine, who gushed: “Carole King and James Duirbin were made to come together… The sound, the feel, that’s why I got into music. The rehearsal was so intense and exciting, I just hope it happens on the show tonight.” Steven Tyler was sold from the beginning. “That’s the first song I ever made out with a girl to. It was in a bowling alley, and, no, Randy, I did not strike out.” “Totally magical,” marveled Lopez. “He has not blown one week, and consistency will win it.” Randy was impressed, too. “You are not just a great rock singer, but a great singer. This guy might just win the whole thing!”
Casey Abrams is truly the wild card in this competition, and he proved it again with a typically idiosyncratic, ambitious version of “Hi De Ho,” a King composition that was most famously covered by Blood, Sweat and Tears, and as Randy acknowledged, David Clayton-Thomas. With fedora on, Abrams leaned into the song, which is little more than a jam, but a showcase for his own jazz-like riffing. “A difficult song to sing,” acknowledged Iovine. “It takes 100% pure personality. Casey thrives on the edge of creativity. You can fall on your butt or rise to the heights.” With this performance, and the will of the voters, Abrams’ ultimate “Idol” result could go either way. Randy remains impressed with his fellow bass player. “You always bring in a different thing,” he said. “This time, you took me back to New Orleans. It’s like the Casey show and review. I know I’m going to see something new.” Tyler said, “It the best motherloving show… You made my scalp itch.” J. Lo wanted to see him loosen up his legs a little bit, but otherwise admitted, “The whole thing works.”
Haley Reinhart, who was also in the bottom 3 last week, continued her impressive late surge with “Beautiful,” as Jimmy Iovine instructed her on the right way to sing the word “get.” Added Babyface: “She caught on pretty quickly and that makes a true artist.” Steven Tyler, who has had a thing for Haley from the start, remained smitten, quoting Marianne Williamson’s line about her arms being too short to box with God. “I just saw God. You nailed it.” J. Lo said “You have one of the best voices in this competition.” Randy didn’t love the beginning, but was shouted down by the crowd from adding anything else.
The evening ended with a wobbly duet of “I’m Into Something Good,” a song covered most famously by Herman’s Hermits, by Jacob and James, with the highlight when they wheeled Jennifer around and began serenading her. “If you’d like to vote for Jennifer’s legs,” said Ryan Seacrest before giving the numbers for the finalists. Tomorrow night, six will become five. Who will go?
1. James Durbin: This heavy metal kid is proving he can do more than just rock, with a touching performance of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” that put him in the lead.
2. Casey Abrams: He just keeps on pushing the envelope of what an “American Idol” can be. Is America ready for a Seth Rogen lookalike as a pop star? We’ll soon see.
3. Scotty McCreery: Rebounded from a lackluster showing by showing he can sing anything with his now-distinctive style. Can he continue to prove he’s more than just a country crooner with a basso profundo voice?
4. Lauren Alaina: Didn’t exactly kill it this week, but American’s girl next door continues to overcome her demons, with a rabid following that won’t let her lose.
ONE OF THESE WILL GO
5. Haley Reinhart: Will her late rush be enough to keep her in it another week? If not, she and Casey are destined to be the next Sonny & Cher.
6. Jacob Lusk: He showed what he can do this week, but this field is a tough one. If he’s not out this week, surely he will be next.