Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler took their seats at the judges' table. Jennifer had a white rose fixed to her head, and at first I thought it was a fascinator in honor of the Royal Wedding. Randy was looking sharp in a gray blazer. Peaking through Steven's jacket were the letters "OV," and I wondered if it said "LOVE?" in honor of Jennifer Lopez's new album.
Now & Then was the theme of the night, and it didn't mean the songs from the 1995 movie starring Rosie O'Donnell and Christina Ricci. The Top 5 would each sing two songs: one from "Now" (which seemed to be defined as the past seven years, which was basically the theme from two weeks ago) and one from "Then" (which meant the 1960s & 1970s).
Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow assisted Jimmy Iovine this week; so, we essentially still have celebrity mentors, but they just assist Jimmy, who observes and instructs the Idols' progression each week.
With the Now songs up first, James Durbin met with Jimmy and Sheryl to rehearse 30 Seconds To Mars' "Closer To The Edge." In what was quite possibly the cutest mentoring session ever, James sang a duet with Sheryl, and Rock Mafia head-banged along with the song. The duet sounded great. Can Sheryl please be a back-up singer tonight? A giddy Sheryl, obviously an Idol fan, said, "I sang with James! I can officially retire now." James responded back by singing, "I sang with Sheryl." James took the stage on Wednesday night in a sleeveless "Give Metal" denim vest and took on the rock song. He didn't have pyro or descend on wires, but he walked around the audience and gave high fives to everyone, which is almost as awesome as Casey Abrams kissing everybody. Steven Tyler thought that James "kicked that song's @$$!" Jennifer could tell that James wants this, and Randy thought James did a good job showing what kind of artist he is. Then Randy gave his first, "James is in it to win it!" of the night. That only took one performance!
Jacob Lusk feels like an underdog, but he is proud he's making something of himself and he's proud he got out of Compton. It'll be interesting if Jacob makes Top 3 and Idol goes to his hometown for his local celebration. He's got to get through the next two weeks first, though. For his "now" performance, Jacob decided to tackle "No Air"--the duet by Idol's sixth winner, Jordin Sparks, and Chris Brown. Boldly, Jacob decided to sing both parts of the song. I was skeptical, but quickly remembered that last week Jacob said that he discovered his range when he sang alto, soprano, and tenor parts in church. "No Air" writer and producer Harvey Mason joined Jacob, Jimmy, and Sheryl this week, and Jacob shared that this is the type of song he would like to release. Jacob walked through the parted stage doors and began the song at least an octave above Jordin. I love how Jordin's voice goes from low to high in the song, and Jacob had to attempt going from high to higher to show the lift at the chorus. For the second week in a row, he had some fun dancing. Jennifer Lopez loves Jacob's showmanship, but she noticed how he's struggling with song choice. Randy observed that most of the song was sharp and said, "I don't think anyone should try and sign duets and sing both parts." Steven elaborated on the previous judges' comments and said he loves where Jacob goes with his voice, but "I'm waiting for you to find that niche."
It was a night of bold song choices, as another Idol winner's song was performed--Lauren Alaina selected Carrie Underwood's "Flat On The Floor." It's no secret that Lauren loves Carrie and wants a career like hers (who doesn't?!), but she needed to differentiate her performance from the Carrie one to avoid being compared to her. In rehearsal this week, Lauren seemed way more confident than she was last week. Sheryl Crow suggested that Lauren stand still when she performs the song. As soon as Lauren took the stage, she instantly moved around with her feet everywhere but flat on the floor. The girl has so much fire! Jennifer Lopez had an approving stank face on and bobbed her head from side to side. Randy Jackson agreed 100% with Lauren heading musically in this direction, and stated, "Lauren is in it, y'all!" Steven said Lauren is as good as it gets and "The sky is the limit." Jennifer loved how Lauren "ate that up" and said that this is what the judges have been pushing her to do.
Ryan Seacrest introduced Scotty McCreery as "Scotty The Body" which is what he also called Scott Savol of Season 4. Scotty selected Montgomery Gentry's "Gone," and he also rehearsed it as a duet with Sheryl Crow in rehearsal. I want to duet with Sheryl. That's "All I Wanna Do." Jimmy and Sheryl encouraged Scotty to sing with angst, which seems like a stretch for this all-American teen. Scotty started in the audience and worked the crowd, he interacted with the back-up singers, and the athletic guy jumped over the three steps between the judges and stage. He's always steadfast, but he seemed especially confident tonight. His performance had Jennifer moving about in her chair and she dropped her jaw and was fist-pumping. It took a few seconds for the crowd to quiet down so that Steven could speak. He told Scotty, "Up until now you've been like a Puritan, and I swear to God I saw you dance with the devil tonight." Yes, this was Scotty's "edgiest" performance. Jennifer admitted to getting wrapped up in the performance, and loved seeing him own the stage and hearing him growl (watch out Casey and Haley!). Randy felt like he was at Concert Scotty, and guess what else? "This guy's in it to win it!"
When Jimmy Iovine presented Haley Reinhart with the opportunity to perform an unreleased Lady Gaga song called "You And I," Haley made sure she could get Lady Gaga's blessing, and she did! A few months ago, we didn't know who Haley was, now she's getting one of the biggest current pop star's blessing to cover her song. Over the past few weeks, the judges wondered what kind of artist Haley is, but I think singing an unreleased song will help them see her niche, because it will be hard to compare her to anything else. In Simply put, Haley looked like she was performing at Concert Haley. Often, Haley lounges atop pianos, but this time she was sprawled across the movable staircase. When Haley performs, she does this thing with her left arm that I used to do as a kid in the car--I'd stick my hand out the window and have my arm surf the streams of air. Jennifer loved the way Haley sounded at the end, but she doesn't think this was the best way for Haley to showcase herself. Randy didn't love the song and considers Haley to be more of a Joss Stone type. Steven talked about how risky it is to sing a song that nobody knows, but he said she's "just one perfect song away from being the American Idol."
After three "in it to win it" shout-outs from the dawg, it was time for the Top 5 to bring on the classics. The first part of the night was mostly up-beat songs, and now we were getting into the more emotional segment of the show.
It was James Durbin's turn again, and this time he selected "Without You" by Badfinger, and it's also a popular Mariah Carey remake ("I can't live, if living is without you..."). When James met with Sheryl and Jimmy during rehearsal, he was so overcome with emotion that he had to step outside the studio and cry in the parking lot. He said the song really reminds him of why he's here--to provide a better life for his family--but it's really tough for him to be away from them while on the show. Sheryl mentioned that if he can't hold it together there could be something really beautiful in the performance. I sat on pins and needles waiting to see if he'd hold it together or crack. Throughout most of the song, it seemed like James had a lump in his throat, and it materialized as tears during the end of the song. Quite a different performance from his 30 Seconds To Mars number 40 minutes ago! Randy commented, "This is a mark of a truly great performer. I could feel your emotion." He said it wasn't a perfect performance, but it was emotionally perfect. Steven thought it was beautiful, but he also said, "It was pitchy in a James Durbin kind of way." Jennifer reminded James that everybody already knows he can sing, so it was nice to see the rocker show his heart and soul. She began to tear up, and as Ryan read James' number, the singer's hands shook.
Jacob Lusk was back for his last performance of the night. The mentors encouraged him to go in a different direction with "Love Hurts" by The Everly Brothers/Roy Orbison. Sheryl interviewed that this will be the most interesting performance of the night, and Jimmy had her sing softly along with James during rehearsal. With a harp, but no Sheryl, on the stage, Jacob sang "Love Hurts." There was a subtle echo in the microphone, and at the end of the performance, it appears that he won Hannibal Lechter--audience member Sir Anthony Hopkins--over. Steven admitted to being "a sucker for passion," and although he thought Jacob got lost in the song, he loved his delivery. Jennifer commented that Jacob's vocals take people to another place. Randy said that Jacob redeemed himself with this song and "That might have been the highest note ever sung on this stage."
Lauren Alaina had success with The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" twice before during the audition rounds of Season 10, and this time she was putting her performance out there to be voted on. The teen took the stage in a gorgeous dress that highlighted her figure, and she took her time with the song. "Unchained Melody" is at its best when the singer lets it marinate. Lauren might as well start calling every song her parents' song, because those are the songs she sings best! Jennifer couldn't find anything to judge and said, "It was a beautiful song sung beautifully by you," a good use of Steven's favorite adjective. Randy said that Lauren can sing like a bird and he loved seeing this side of her. Steven also gave it a "beautiful" and said he could listen to Lauren all night.
Scotty McCreery was back, and this time he took on a song by his Idol, Elvis Presley, and chose "Always On My Mind." Sheryl Crow said in her interview that she lives in Nashville and she can't wait for Scotty to move there and she wants to "horn her way" into his career. Dressed up in a tuxedo jacket, Scotty sat in one place and sang the Brenda Lee/Elvis Presley song. He paused and gave a little sniff before singing the last two words of the song. He doesn't seem like the emotional type; maybe it was just allergies. Jennifer said that with both songs tonight, Scotty showed what a well-rounded artist he is. Randy mentioned that the simplest things--like this performance--get the loudest reaction. Before he was at Concert Scotty, but now he is seeing the record Scotty will make. Steven said that America loves Scotty's voice and, of course, called it "beautiful"--twice!
Haley Reinhart selected The Animals' "House Of The Rising Sun," and the mentors said that Haley was meant for that decade. Sheryl made a fantastic suggestion to have Haley start the song a capella and let it sit for a bit to add drama. Haley took her time and created a moment. Siobhan Magnus, one of Haley's favorite Idols, had a moment with this song last season. The judges gave her a standing ovation, and Randy gave her the award for best performance of the night. He's amazed at how much she's blossomed on this show. Steven loved the sweet, sour, and raspy sound to her voice and said she sold the song. Jennifer said, "That song has never been sung like that before. Great job!"
After 10 performances, and most of them "in it to win it" worthy, Jennifer Lopez was glad the voting was completely up to America. Ryan closed the night with "Good luck and goodnight." Does Clooney get residuals for that?
Tomorrow, only four finalists will remain!
Here is tonight's song list:
James Durbin - "Closer To The Edge" by 30 Seconds To Mars
Jacob Lusk - "No Air" by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown
Lauren Alaina - "Flat On The Floor" by carrie Underwood
Scotty McCreery - "Gone" by Montgomery Gentry
Haley Reinhart - "You and I" by Lady Gaga
James Durbin - "Without You" by Badfinger
Jacob Lusk - "Love Hurts" by The Everly Brothers/Roy Orbison
Lauren Alaina - "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers
Scotty McCreery - "Always On My Mind" by Brenda Lee/Elvis Presley
Haley Reinhart - "House Of The Rising Sun" by The Animals