After a chill-inducing cold opening that reminded us that tonight's votes determine who will go on their hometown visit, the four finalists emerged from the parted doors and James Durbin tripped over Lauren Alaina's dress train. The dangers of live TV.
Ryan Seacrest introduced the judges and the theme. For the first half of the night, the Idols would each sing an inspirational song, a theme usually reserved for Idol Gives Back week. Then, for their second song of the night, the contestants would perform a song from the Leiber & Stoller songbook that they perfected with the help of global superstar Lady Gaga.
James Durbin kicked off the night with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," and I hoped the Journey selection would get the producers to put up a picture of Journey's Randy Jackson with his flat top and colorful jackets and bass guitars. No such luck. While riding on the electric staircase, James encouraged Randy to sing along because he knows the words. All of America knows the words! James had fun with the song, and fun songs like this one called for random flames shooting up on stage. If Constantine needs a Rock of Ages understudy, James could be his man! Steven Tyler kicked off the critiques by saying James "couldn't pick a more popular song for right now," or for 1981. Jennifer Lopez loved when James went into his upper-register and she loved his vibrato. Would Randy think James is in it to win it? He talked about how Journey and Aerosmith are the greatest bands ever and that James nailed a song with the highest degree of difficulty. Singing that song never seems too difficult to me at a karaoke bar after a cocktail.
Haley Reinhart is inspired by Michael Jackson's "Earth Song," because of its beautiful message and melody. That's a tough song. I was inspired by the "Earth Song" tribute to MJ at the 2010 Grammy Awards by Idol alumni Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood, with Idol mentors Usher and Smokey Robinson, as well as Celine Dion. Those are incredible shoes to fill! Haley began her performance on the detached stairs and with her hair in an updo. She stood up for the impactful chorus, and as the stage doors parted, a giant choir was pushed out on stage while sitting on the electric staircase. Is there a maximum capacity on the stairs? I'm sure we were pretty close to exceeding it. After Haley's performance, Casey Abrams and Julie Zorrilla were cheering in the audience. The judges didn't appear to be as moved. Jennifer felt that the song inspired Haley, but she didn't think the performance lived up to the bar set earlier in the evening. Randy didn't think the song suited the top range of Haley's voice, and he said it felt more like she was screaming than singing runs. Steven disagreed with his cohorts and said that Haley "nailed it with feeling and pushed it over the top."
Scotty McCreery gets inspiration from Alan Jackson's 9-11 tribute song, "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)." This was a really smart song choice, and better than the American Idol go-to, "God Bless The USA." When he took the stage and began playing his guitar, I thought for a second that Haley Reinhart was sitting on the steps and playing the violin, but it was someone with a similar silhouette and ringlets. Scotty doesn't bring out the guitar often, but I thought this was a perfect time for it. When the cameras cut to the judges after Scotty's performance, I noticed Paul McDonald with his arm around Nikki Reed. Randy thought it was the perfect song choice and stated, "I think you set your mark on this stage this season and are set for superstardom!" Steven liked when Scotty almost lost it in the middle of the song because of the emotion and passion he had while performing. Jennifer said she's in love with Scotty, his music, and how he's able to touch people with it.
The fourth performer was Lauren Alaina, and due to the impact of the tornado, Lauren selected Martina McBrides' "Anyway" as her inspiration. The lyrics are almost hauntingly fitting. She stood on stage in another one of those half-dresses, and it looked like she was going to fly home to Rossville after her performance to attend her high school prom. Lauren really connected with the song and she reached way up in her register and delivered that climactic moment that Jimmy Iovine and the judges have been wanting so badly from her. Steven told her, "Your voice is so pure and perfect, and you deliver it all like a blue plate special." Jennifer was glad that Lauren did exactly what they've been asking from her, which gave way to a great vocal performance. Randy gave his first "In it to win it" and said he would change absolutely nothing about that performance.
Switching up the theme of the night, it was now time for songs from Leiber & Stoller, the songwriting duo that put out many big hits in the 1950s. So who better to mentor the finalists on these classic songs than the most modern, edgy singer around, Lady Gaga! The woman does know how to be a top performer and make a name for yourself. And she's young enough to be an Idol contestant. I thought Lady Gaga would show up to the rehearsal session with a more casual look, but who was I fooling?! With dramatic eye makeup, no pants, and 8 inch heels, Gaga made quite an entrance. She may have a unusual look, but she gave out some good advice.
The order of the performers was slightly altered. Haley Reinhart was hoping to have a moment with Jordin Sparks' Season 6 moment, "I Who Have Nothing." Lady Gaga and Haley had a strong connection, and she had a posititve reaction to Haley's performance. The co-mentor mentioned that Haley should bring drama to her performance by having her gasp for air mid sentence. Backed by a dramatic orchestra, Haley took her time with the song and I held by breath and sat on the edge of my seat. This show is taxing! I'm exhausted. When Haley was done performing, the judges gave her a standing ovation. Just like last week, she bounced back from her first performance with a vengeance. Jennifer explained that this is why they're so hard on Haley; they know what she's capable of. Then, Jennifer called Haley's performance, "One of the best performances of the year!" Randy thought this was one of Haley's best vocals ever, which puts her back in it to win it. Steven said, "Classic moment, classic Haley. You just Reinharted your way into next week."
You don't see people like Lady Gaga in Garner, NC every day, so watching Scotty McCreery interact with Lady Gaga was priceless. Gaga had Scotty pretend the microphone was his girlfriend who he can't pull away from his mouth or he'll be dumped. I loved seeing the way this country boy and edgy pop star interacted. May I request a Scotty-Gaga duet for finale night? Scotty kissed his cross and took the stage. He put his humorous twist on The Coasters' "Young Blood," and his dancing eyebrows told many jokes. At one point during the performance, as Scotty was moving about the audience, he stopped at Casey, put his hand on his shoulder, and sang really deep notes. Once again, Randy felt like he was at Concert Scotty and said that this seasoned professional is ready. Steven had the statement of the night with, "Dude, you made Gaga's yaya go lala." I wasn't sure what it meant, but I don't think Steven did either. That's what makes it great. Jennifer noticed that Scotty's hitting his stride, and she'd like to see a different side of him next week. May I suggest, "Born This Way."
Lauren Alaina selected Leiber & Stoller's "Trouble," the Elvis Presley song. When Lady G met Lauren she said, "When I was 16, I was way too weird to be on American Idol." Gaga loved what Lauren did with the word "evil," but Lauren hesitated on singing that she's the 'e' word. Lauren began her performance with her back to the audience and sang over her shoulder. She exuded confidence and energy. Lauren had fun with the song and wasn't afraid to reach, even if it meant her voice got strained. I noticed she started to take on some Haley habits, like squatting and raising her left arm. Steven enjoyed seeing the character in her performance. Jennifer noticed a performance quality she hadn't seen in Lauren before, and loved her maturity and total attack of the song. Randy enjoyed seeing Lauren outside of her Pop Country niche and a fun side of her.
Ryan chatted with Mike Stoller in the audience, who explained what a joy it is to see the Idols give a different kind of life to his songs. Unfortunately, Jerry Leiber was sick and wasn't able to make it.
Serving as the bookends of the night, James Durbin was the last performer. When he met with Gaga to rehearse The Searchers' "Love Potion #9," she stood behind him while he sang and she manually contorted his hips so that they shook like Elvis'. He didn't flinch though as Lady Gaga maneuvered him, he just seamlessly adopted the dancing. She said that James sang his pants off. He couldn't sing her pants off because she doesn't wear any. James began his performance in the upper balcony and traveled down the stairs while singing. That takes coordination. Today I tripped in my cubicle--a flat surface in front of zero viewers. He performed up and down the aisles in the audience, and I noticed So You Think You Can Dance's Alex Wong having a good time in the stands. James took his time at the end of the song, allowing the tension to build and creating a space for the audience to interrupt with applause. His ability to make "Love Potion #9" his own and make it modern impressed Jennifer Lopez. Randy said that all four finalists were...drum roll..."in it to win it!" I liked his metaphor of James being a sports hero who peaks at the right time. Steven marveled at the progress James has made on the show.
Gone are the days of "Seacrest Out." Ryan ended the night with a "Goodnight, all y'all!" Scotty and Lauren are rubbing off on our host!
It's certainly a close match. You know Ryan has no choice but to start tomorrow's results show with "Fans will be shocked." So, whose elimination would shock you? Sound off in the forums.
Here's the song list:
James Durbin - "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey
Haley Reinhart - "Earth Song' by Michael Jackson
Scotty McCreery - "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" by Alan Jackson
Lauren Alaina - "Anyway" by Martina McBride
Haley Reinhart - "I Who Have Nothing" by Ben E. King
Scotty McCreery - "Young Blood" by The Coasters
Lauren Alaina - "Trouble" by Elvis Presley
James Durbin - "Love Potion #9" by The Searchers