After last week's dramatic save, eleven Idols were singing for nine spots this week. With the theme of Elton John, who would have a moment akin to Aiken? Would anyone attempt "Circle of Life" after Jennifer Hudson "blew it out the box" on Season 3?
After a brief history of the rise of Sir Elton and clips of the Idols getting the star treatment at an Entertainment Weekly photo shoot, we were ready to go!
Kicking off the night was Scotty McCreery who was able to find a country song by Elton John, "Country Comfort." Jimmy Iovine called Scotty a one-trick pony, but explained that it's one of the best tricks he's seen a seventeen-year-old have. Scotty took the stage with his guitar and countrified "Country Comfort." After the lyrics in the song that state, "I saw Grandma yesterday down at the store," Scotty gave an "I love you Grandma" shout out to his own nana in the audience. He made it his own--it didn't sound like Elton at all--and the note at the end was very low, the way the judges like their Scotty! Steven Tyler continued to love Scotty's old fashioned voice, Jennifer commented on his performing instincts and encouraged him to stay grounded, and Randy felt like he was at "Scotty's Place Bar and Restaurant" listening to a Scotty concert. Scotty introduced us to his new baby, Scarlett, a guitar with a red frame.
Naima Adedapo planned to put her own reggae stamp on Elton John's "I'm Still Standing." She relates to the lyrics because she was a wild card pick and she's still in the running. Naima interviewed that she thinks she's the first person to bring reggae swag to an Elton song. And I think she's the first person to bring reggae to Idol. Naima took the stage in a Rastafarian pantsuit and revealed a new accent. I was surprised she was "still standing" in those red stilettos! Jennifer loved Naima's reggae swag, but she wasn't sure the Elton song was meant for it. Randy loves reggae, but he thought this performance was kind of corny, and that Naima is far from corny. Steven gave her a "Boomshakalakalaka baby" and he was glad to see her pick a song that fits.
Idol paired up with Coke to host a songwriting collaboration with Taio Cruz called "Perfect Harmony." That's "Dynamite!"
Paul McDonald went from touring the country in a van to spending this summer on tour in style with the Idols. His band covered "Rocket Man" once...five years ago. He's bringing it back tonight. This song is covered all the time, but Paul's voice is unique enough to create a different version. Jimmy Iovine encouraged Paul to perform as if it were an encore at a concert for 20,000 fans (only this performance is being beamed out to around 30 million fans!). Paul took the stage with his guitar in his white suit with roses AGAIN! He wore it when he sang for his life in Hollywood, he wore the blazer on the Top 24 results night, and he wore the full suit again tonight. It is flashy like Elton. Instead of using his clothing stipend on a new wardrobe, perhaps he's using it on teeth whitening strips. Appropriately, there was a red piano behind Paul as he lent his unique vocals to the song. Paul gave shout outs to the crowd, and by the time he ended, his singing was barely audible. Randy described it as "a quiet comfort." Jennifer encouraged Paul to push in his upper registers. Steven said he likes the character that comes out in Paul's notes.
Pia Toscano went from working photo shoots as a make-up artist to being one of the subjects of a shoot. She went with another ballad this week, but said it's because "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" is one of her favorite songs. Sunset imagery was projected on the stage walls, and they split apart to let Pia walk out on stage. She sang and did her Pia squat with one arm up as she nailed the notes of the Elton John staple. Pia wore the highest pair of heels I've seen on this show--aside from Adam Lambert and KISS's platform boots--and she was joined by a choir. So many finalists have covered this song on American Idol, but Clay Aiken's version always sticks out in my mind. However, I think Pia's version could give Clay a run for his money. And this is extra crazy because her voice was hoarse. Sensitive rocker Steven said there were certain notes that made him cry inside. Jennifer goes to an other-worldly place when Pia sings. She recognized that Pia is trying to break that barrier between her and the audience. Randy didn't mind that Pia sang a ballad since she slayed it and said, "That was unbelievable once again. I heard Whitney, Mariah, and all of Pia."
When Jimmy Iovine met with Stefano Langone, his goal was to the make the Top 11 finalist give the audience goose bumps. Stefano selected Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" which makes me think of Tim McGraw, Almost Famous, and Tony Danza. When Stefano performed live on the Idol stage, he made sure to keep his eyes open and look into the camera, taking the judges' advice that he needs to connect more. Last week Jennifer said he needs to connect more with the lyrics, so at the end of the song Stefano walked up to tiny dancer Jennifer and took her hand, only he was intercepted by Randy. Jennifer felt that Stefano really moved the crowd this time. Randy also noticed that Stefano connected and kept his eyes open, and he stated, "When you hit the money notes you were right on." Steven appreciated the sweet quality to Stefano's voice and that he is able to connect with the song even though he's "crazy young." Howie Mandel and Mr. Langone look exactly alike and had some fun joking around with each other in the audience. As long as you keep Gordon Ramsay away from Mrs. Langone and her pasta!
Lauren Alaina was only 2.5 years old when Elton performed "Candle in the Wind" at Princess Diana's funeral. She felt connected to the Marilyn Monroe tribute song and met with Jimmy Iovine, who said that Elton's songs go great with Lauren's country voice. Opposite of Pia, Lauren has only performed up-tempo songs this season, so she let her vocals shine with a ballad this week. And shine they did! I think this was one of Lauren's best performances and she took her time with it. The song still sounded like "Candle in the Wind," but there were small changes in the notes that were really beautiful. To top it off, I loved Lauren's dress. Randy called this "one of the greatest Lauren Alaina performances on the stage!" He encouraged her to "Just believe." Steven joked, "Keep singing like that and you'll be able to afford the rest of that dress." Jennifer was glad that America got to hear what they heard in Lauren and said it was "The best of the night!"
James Durbin came into his rehearsal with Jimmy and Rodney Jerkins knowing exactly what he wanted to do for his performance of "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)." On Wednesday night, James became the first contestant to start in the balcony above the stage and head down the stairs to the stage. But James didn't just walk down the stairs, he got to the bottom and did a toe-touch jump. With sky-high hair, James ran around and interacted with the musicians, danced on the piano, and got on his knees and laid backwards as the red piano went up in flames. The most impressive part was that he didn't sound out of breath at all. He will be fun on tour! Steven Tyler said that James has a really good rock voice and can go where no man can go...and that's coming from the guy who brought us "Dream On." Jennifer said it feels like "The James Show" not a competition show when James performs. Randy was glad to see James having a good time.
Thia Megia's brother moved away when she was young so she connected with Elton John's "Daniel." Jimmy Iovine and Jim Jonsin encouraged Thia to sing from the heart and stray away from what she learned growing up doing school recitals. This was another ballad for Thia, but she did turn up the tempo last week. She was surrounded by smoke on the stage, and this was definitely the most emotional we've seen Thia. I was wondering if she would shed a few tears at the end of the performance. It wouldn't hurt in the vote-getting category! Jennifer thought it was a beautiful moment when Thia internalized the song. Randy liked seeing the relaxed side of Thia, but he brought up some pitch issues and thought the performance was too safe. Steven thought this was a great song choice and a great performance.
Casey Abrams got the save, a haircut, and a shave! During the EW photo shoot he said that he wants to prove that big dudes with beards can model. Jimmy made Casey re-watch his performance form last week, and although I didn't find anything wrong with it (hence, why the results were surprising), Jimmy and Casey said that everything was wrong with it. Jimmy wants him to be humble and interpret the lyrics of Elton John's "Your Song" (one of my favorite Elton hits). Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins' only advice was for Casey to shave the beard. Casey went to a barber shop for hipsters, and when they spun the barber chair around for a reveal, they had a towel on Casey's face. You could tell he was laughing, and I was glad to see him having fun after last week's dramatic results! Sitting on a stool next to the red piano--which was no longer in flames--Casey took his time with "Your Song." The set looked like a planetarium, and the performance confirmed that the judges used the save at the right time. Randy said, "One of the greatest saves we've had on the show was saving you." He described Casey's performance as brilliant and tender. Steven said putting Casey through was one of the finest moments of the show, and a few of Casey's notes really struck a chord with Steven. Jennifer said that saving Casey was one decision she never lost sleep over. She loved the character in his voice and the choices he made with the song.
The first time Jacob Lusk heard "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" was the Mary J. Blige version. So imagine his surprise when Mary J. was coincidentally in the same studio at the same time Jacob was laying down the track for iTunes! He got a picture with the American Idol Season 9 guest judge, but it was kind of unfortunate that his eyes were closed in the snapshot. Once again, Jimmy Iovine encouraged Jacob to not over-dramatize his performance. I was kind of surprised that Jacob chose this song since Robbie Rosen sang it twice this season, but when Jacob took the smoke-filled stage, it was clear that this Elton song worked perfectly with his soulful vocals. It wasn't over-the-top, but you can't completely strip Jacob of emotion! Steven said, "The first half just blew me away and the second half was equal." Why even divide it into halves, then? Jennifer remembered that Robbie sang it and gave him props, and she complimented Jacob on the end of his song: "That last note--you don't see that every day!" Randy talked about how Jacob has the resource to really shine at certain points in the song, and that he doesn't need to hold back the entire time. The tenth performer, Jacob held up his hands in a 0-1 instead of 1-0. How very sweet of him to support Scotty!
Haley Reinhart was the last performer of the night. During rehearsal, Jimmy Iovine had the pianist slam on the keys as hard as he could to give a hard-hitting impact to Haley's "Bennie And The Jets." Haley started her performance while sitting on the red piano in a dress and heels. Jennifer always talks about how Haley needs to get out of her head when it comes to moving around the stage, but last week Haley had to traverse a staircase in heels and this week she had to hop off a piano in stilettos! Haley's voice really made the song earthy and gritty, and Jennifer had her stank face on as she rocked out. It's a good stank face though, like Jacob's "Lusky stank" he talked about a few weeks back. Haley's a good mix of being super cool and sexy. A happy Jennifer exclaimed, "That's what we've been talking about! It all came together--the voice, the moves, the confidence." Randy thought it was the best performance of the night and Steven told Haley, "You sing sexy!"
Alright America, with the judges' save out of the picture it's all up to you. Who are you voting for? Head over to the forums and tell us who had the best performance of the night, in your opinion.