So it wasn't a train wreck and two of the contestants actually had something approximating a "moment" which only goes to show you just how good a songwriter Carole King is. We actually had nine total performances tonight as there were three duets along with the six solo numbers (no, I didn't have to use my fingers to do the math...I have a calculator).
We begin with Jacob who found himself in the bottom two last week and needs to do something big this week to stave off elimination. Jimmy Iovine tells him that the judges want him to soar and go off. If any of that involves him leaving the stage and not returning, then sign me up! He's singing a song I'm not familiar with, "Oh No, Not My Baby." He started out well -- for all of one line. Then it all completely fell apart. The vocals were rough and all over the place, almost bad enough to distract from one of the more unfortunate wardrobe decisions this side of Paul McDonald -- Bill Nye the Science Guy meets Pee Wee Herman (thank you to the chat room for the PWH suggestion).
When Jacob wasn't emulating Paul's dud duds, he decided to channel Casey Abrams and start scatting...because, when I think of what the show needs, the first thing that comes to mind is -- more scatting! He bounced around on stage like an apoplectic toddler who needs to go RIGHT NOW. I couldn't tell if it was an American Idol performance, or an outtake from the latest Tyler Perry movie -- Medea's Big Happy Karaoke. Of course, the judges were hard pressed to say anything negative, though a little truth started slipping out as they mentioned some wonky notes.
Next up was Lauren Alaina and she chose "Where You Lead," which was the theme song to the Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite TV shows. Except for the last year which I will never buy on DVD and have to pretend never happened. How they could continue the show without its creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, is beyond me. She was the heart and soul of that show and without it, it lost its way. Not that I liked her decision to give Luke a daughter in season six; I really hated that story line. But the last year was even worse, and how it ended, with Rory moving away to become the next Christiane Amanapour and Lorelai and Luke not officially together, was awful. Is this a digression or a whole new post? Back to American Idol.
Lauren is still struggling with her confidence, but will a surprise visit from role model and occasional salvia smoker Miley Cyrus help her believe in herself? I'd say yes. Because while I wasn't blown away by her vocals, Lauren did seem more at ease and more in control on the stage. But her voice took a weird Dolly Parton quiver and was weaker than in past weeks. The song really started off strangely, she seemed off beat and somewhat unconcerned with the melody.
There was a lot of screeching thanks to the background singers and more wayward notes, till the last "I'm gonna follow where you lead" which was really nice and ended with the cutest little laugh. At the end of the song, she sat down next to some random boy from the audience. Ryan brought him back up on stage to get to the bottom of the story and found out that he was three years older than our 16-year-old contestant. That was awkward. I'm concerned may move what he's thinking from a misdemeanor to a felony, but Ryan scooted him off stage before the authorities had to be called. Meanwhile, I have no idea what the judges told her. The vocals were not perfect but she brought it, she had swagger but her voice broke. I'm not sure they know if they want to promote her or not.
The first duet of the evening were the little lovebirds, Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams, singing "I Feel the Earth Move." This is probably the only opportunity Haley will ever have to say that to Casey. Haley pulled out the growl and the jazzy vibe she's been working recently, Casey comes in and throws her off since he's incapable of singing. He talks through his part of the song, while making random scary faces when he's supposed to be sexy. In fairness, that's probably as close as he can get. I think finally, now that the judges can hear the difference between Haley's singing and Casey's talking, they'll tell him he has to stop faking it...but no such luck. They love everything about him including that performance which would have been gonged back in the day.
Steven, forgetting this is a competition, then discusses the not-so-secret nature of their relationship, asking Casey how much in love with Haley he is. That wasn't uncomfortable at all! For the record, I get partial credit in predicting Casey would sing this song, writing last week: "When I suggested what I thought what Casey Abrams, our band camp nerd cum ladies' man, might take on, I thought it would be I Feel the Earth Move as it seemed to have more than its share of growling opportunities." Well, with all the feral sounds coming off the stage, I think I can say, Nailed it!
But I knew with complete certainty what Scotty McCreery would pick, writing "I will bet the farm that Scotty will sing You've Got a Friend." When I mentioned this to my husband tonight, he asked in the future I not risk something we don't actually own. But I knew this was a mortal lock. What I didn't know was what a fine job Scotty would do with the song. The mentors, Jimmy and Babyface, convinced him to de-twang himself just for this week. And it worked like a charm. It was restrained yet moving. It gave me and at least one other member of the chat room chills (and it was 80 degrees here in LA, so that wasn't an easy feat).
At first, I just listened a la The Voice, without looking. I didn't want to be distracted by Scotty's inability to carry a mic one-handed or his skeevy looks into the camera. But you know what? Someone taught that boy how to hold the microphone and introduced him to all sorts of fun things his other hand can do rather than provide counterbalance. And he even cut down on the smarmy grins and held cocking. But most importantly, he brought lovely tones -- in a higher than usual register -- and knocked it out of the ballpark.
Let me take a moment to correct Randy Jackson. The phrase "to turn the other cheek" does not mean to change things up. It means to not meet violence with violence. I'm a heathen and I know that. But three separate times Randy used the expression as if it meant to do a 180 or switch things up and it was really annoying. Someone take him aside before the next show and fix that.
While James Durbin has sung ballads before, it still seems always newsworthy (at least to Ryan) when James takes it slow. Maybe if Ryan spent more time paying attention to the performances, and not so much on makeup retouches, he'd realize that. Anyhow...James takes on "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." At first, I don't get his choice. It's outdated and corny. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Before he sings, however, James pimps Scotty -- and is even more adorable for it. He seems oblivious to the fact that this is a competition...or he's the wiliest person ever to compete.
James decides to go this week with just his guitar and is going to sing without bells, whistles or pyrotechnics. And it's a brilliant move, because he has by far the best voice in the competition and he needs to let people hear it in its purest, unadulterated form. He starts out with a nearly a cappella rendition and his voice is exquisite. Then the band comes in and we're transported to the 50s, yet it's not hokey or old fashioned. Okay, I'm a fan. He sings the hell out of the song. He does soft, he does loud, he croons, he screams, he even channels Axl Rose at one point, yet can turn on a dime (while keeping his cheek in the same place) from one vocal trick to the next. Jennifer correctly points out that James has been consistently excellent and nailed it again tonight. When Randy goes nuts and declares him the winner, I can forgive his exuberance.
For the third time, the producers put Lauren and Scotty together for a duet. They're about the same age and they both sing country, so how did they ever come up with that pairing. Did it strike anyone else that Lauren likes Scotty but that her feeling is not reciprocated? Will that upset his little girl fans, or give them hope that he's saving himself for them? The two twangers take a song that is risky choice, "Up on the Roof." The song is all one long buildup to the big payoff at the end. But since neither of them go for the glory note, it's pretty monotonous, all set up and with no happy ending.
Vote for the Worst pick Casey Abrams is up next with "Hi-De-Ho," a song most famously done by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Unlike James who takes an old song and makes it relevant, Casey takes a less old song and makes it sound ancient. I cannot think of someone more out of touch with popular music than Casey Abrams. Is every station on his car radio set to Swing music? I am more than ever convinced that Casey has no interest in the music industry and his goal in going on American Idol and his planning behind every performance has been to further an acting career. He wants to be Jack Black, not Jack White (see what I did there, one is an actor, the other a singer, but they have the same first names and their last names are opposites. Okay, not impressed? You know I just got lucky? That's fair).
So this would explain why Casey doesn't sing so much as talk through most of his songs. It explains the menacing stage stalking. The creepy facial expressions and camera stares. The growls and grunts placed where notes should be. The intentional, planned nature of his every move and utterance on stage. It is one long audition not to cut a record -- under no circumstance could he record an album anyone but his parents would buy -- but to get on stage as a performer. I'm sorry, I almost did a spit take when JLo said to him "You're such a great vocalist." I think she accidentally shuffled the yellow notes she invariably refers to during her critiques.
The last solo of the night has Haley singing "Beautiful." I had originally written that I'd like her or Lauren to sing the song, then decided it would better fit Lauren. I still stand by that. This is a really emotionally challenging song and if you don't believe it or can't convey it, it saps the song of what makes it special. Part of the fault lies in the arrangement, it's too bouncy, too 50s. She also takes too many liberties with the melody which really doesn't need her help. I've really enjoyed Haley the past two weeks and thought she did fine in her duet, but this didn't work for me.
The cameraman came very close to getting the show a parental advisory and needs to be careful taping her when she's wearing a super short dress. Steven says he saw God, I think it might have been some Victoria Secret instead. Randy correctly mentions that this wasn't a great performance and gets shouted down by JLo. Please, Randy is so rarely right, don't interrupt when one of those magical moments comes along.
Doing the math, there were two people left who had yet to duet...James and Jacob. Well, this should be good...it's in the name of the song after all. So they do "I'm into Something Good," and, call me insane, but I didn't hate it. Jacob was actually dressed normally for a change, James looked cute in his outfit and they seemed to have a blast. Usually, I find the old standby "we had fun" the ultimate cop out, but when you're two guys, with completely different styles, singing a duet, that's about all you can hope for. They had fun, and so did I.
My favorites: James and Scotty
My bottom three: Casey, Jacob and Haley
Predicted bottom three: same (though I wouldn't be shocked to see Laurent there instead of Haley)
Going home: Jacob, I bet the... chair in the bonus room
What say you?