We get two songs from each contestant -- no duets like last year at this time -- the first an inspirational song (please, Jeebus, no "You'll Never Walk Alone" or "My Heart Will Go On"), the second, one from the catalog of some old guys who wrote songs before I was born. I did say old.
Tonight's show had drama (Haley talking back to the judges), comedy (Scotty worrying that hanging with Gaga was going to condemn him to Hell), tragedy (Haley's hair, Lauren's outfits) and horror (Casey Abrams and Paul McDonald back on my TV screen).
First up tonight is James Durbin. James is the most recent unfortunate beneficiary of the tabloid attack dogs who decided yesterday to put a salacious, and misleading, headline on their rag. Did he know and did the pressure get to him? Well, he certainly didn't look like he was stressing as he dragged out the most overplayed song of this and the last century, "Don't Stop Believing." James did not let last week's vocal stumble shake his confidence and he was all cocky bravado and rock star moves as he took on the Journey classic. He approached the song a la Paul McDonald, like we were popped into the middle of his concert (Cmon, James."Anyone know this song?" Really? There's cheesy and then there's taking a mozzarella stick, dipping it in Velvetta, then plunging it into a simmering fondue pot of Gruyere.)
At least his vocals were solid and he has enough youthful enthusiasm and unbridled joy at performing to almost make up for the silliness. James doesn't need the shtick and I hope someone tells him that soon. He actually has the best natural voice in the competition and the more stripped down it is, the better it sounds. Anyone can scream, yell, shout, screech. If that's all it took to make a good record, you'd lock your singer up in a room of wasps. The power is in the sublety and there was nothing subtle about this performance.
James was followed by Haley Reinhart who has defied all expectations by making the final four. I hate the judges' critique that a contestant doesn't know what kind of an artist they want to be, but it almost fits here. Haley annoyed me when she was the growling sex kitten, yet the last few weeks I've found myself strangely impressed by her confident vocals. But tonight, to quote my least favorite AI judge, she took two steps back. Her take on the Michael Jackson weeper "Earth Song" was strained and weak.
She had no breath to speak of and the only time you could hear her was when she was screaming tunelessly at the end. She sounded like that nasty old codger in the neighborhood always yelling at the kids to get off the lawn. That wasn't a vocal, it was an aural assault. But when two of the judges pointed that out, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, Miss Reinhart got all "oh no you didn't" and copped enough attitude that I wanted to send her to her room.
He didn't sing the opening from Mighty Mouse ("Here I Come to Save the Day"), but Scotty McCreery might as well have, because his emotional, tender take on the Alan Jackson 9/11 tearjerker, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning") brought the show back on track. He picked the perfect song (it had God AND Jesus in the lyrics -- score), was playing his guitar (so no awkward poses with the mic) and his voice was as pitch perfect as ever. How he managed to get the Navy SEALS to take out Osama bin Laden to make this song even more timely is impressive! The only question lingering after this performance is how long before he is the next country music superstar.
Last up for the first round was the effervescent Lauren Alaina. I'll admit it, I have a soft spot for this girl. She's adorable, talented and totally unaware she possesses the first two traits. She gave Scotty a little competition for the Bible-belt vote with "Anyway" by Martina McBride. While I appreciate that Scotty is the real deal, I can't see myself ever buying one of his albums. While I don't break out in hives when he sings, it could be because I take a Claritin ahead of time, just to be safe. But Lauren is more current country than Scotty and I think she has great crossover potential. She's a little bit Dolly, but also a little bit Carrie.
After the break its time for Lady Gaga to mentor the Idols. She dresses conservatively for her. No pants, natch. But at least she's not wearing food. And none of her body parts appear more altered than normals. If she goes outside, the black under the eyes will make it easier for her to catch a pop up, so it's nice to see she comes prepared.
Haley is up first this round and she's singing the rather intense Lieber and Stoller song "I (Who Have Nothing)". She sounds amazing in rehearsal and the suggestions Gaga gives her (make it more dramatic...imagine that suggestion from the lady who goes on stage covered in blood!) are right on. Haley does a great job on the show, though her voice was a tad too shaky and thus lacked the punch it could have had. And she missed the last note by about a mile. But the judges, feeling guilty or worrying that Haley may be armed this time, lavish her with praise. I'm sure that won't confuse the young lady at all.
So what happened when Scotty met Gaga? The queen of the monsters told seventeen-year-old Scotty McCreery to pretend his microphone is his girlfriend and "Put your mouth on that microphone or that... is going to leave you." She also suggested sticking his tongue down the girlfriend's throat. Well, that certainly wasn't awkward at all! He later kisses his cross and says, lord, this is not my doing. I'm sure God already got the memo on Gaga, kid. No worries. Scotty took a hokey song and had some fun, but it paled by comparison to his first song and seemed like a wasted opportunity. But Scotty is golden, so he can afford a silly number like "Young Blood".
Lauren is getting down and dirty with the song "Trouble." It didn't suit her. I'm no prude, but I don't like seeing sweet, seventeen-year-old girls romp around the stage telling us how evil they are. Lauren didn't even feel comfortable with the lyrics. Good lesson for her...trust your instincts! Betty White exudes more naughty sexiness than Lauren. It's just not who she is. I'm starting to wonder whose idea Lieber and Stoller night was because we have one overwrought song and two silly ones -- not really the body of work you want to pin your entire future on.
The last performance of the night was James doing "Love Potion Number 9." So Gaga was digging James' vocals, but not so much his lack of sexiness. So, while his eyes are closed, she goes around behind him and plants a hand on each hip and starts showing him how it's done, Elvis style. Well, that was less awkward than her moment with Scotty!
I'm not used to James being off key, but I had plenty of opportunities to experience that in the first minute of the song. But I love the way he finished up the song, holding the audience in his hand and toying with us like we were his little plaything. The guy can control a stage.
I'd say Scotty and James are locks to make it to the final three and it's between the girls. I worry that Lauren splits her votes with Scotty and that Haley fans would not likely be fans of anyone else still in the running. But her feisty verbal altercation with Randy does not always sit well with the audience. Conversely, after watching Haley batted around by the judges like Lenny playing with a puppy, the audience may actually come to her defense. We'll see. I'm still betting on a Haley ouster tonight.
Who do you think is going home...and not to homecoming?