For an American Idol episode with so much gravitas—the viewing audience was reminded at the show's outset that the results of this episode would determine which of the three remaining contestants got to visit their hometowns, in a package that for some reason spotlighted Danny Gokey more than any other ex-contestant—tonight's episode sure felt oddly plotted and rushed. You'd think that having Lady Gaga on to mentor the contestants would have at least given the show some sort of structure since she has a Very Important Record To Promote, but she came in halfway through, in a black-and-white wig and makeup even more elaborate than what she had on in the "Judas" video, to quickly guide the contestants through the Lieber and Stoller songbook after they'd all performed songs that "inspired" them. Her fake birthmark alone was 100 times more interesting than the performances, let alone the judges' comments that followed them.
Ah, the critiques. The judges were kind of impressive last night in how they blissfully ignored the fact that three-quarters of the remaining contestants were full-on terrible. On the bright side, they were all terrible for different reasons, but I came away from tonight wanting Haley Reinhart—who has annoyed me with her stick-the-landing arm movements and tendencies toward screeching all season—to win it all. Now that Jacob Lusk is gone, she's the only person left who isn't way out of her depth (Lauren) or cheesy mimicry (Scotty) or just plain aggravating (James). Winning by default is still winning, right?
4. James Durbin. James' performances, all pyro-ed out and laden with guitar solos, bookended the show, which I guess is a sign that the producers really really really want him in the finale? "Hey, look, a heterosexual and not as good Adam Lambert! We see dollar signs!" This is the thought process I'm envisioning the producers having over the prospect of James winning, even though he is terrible and will be shoehorned into the soft-rock box that all the dude winners of the last few years have suffered inside. But you know, maybe that will result in him going away? Could his victory actually be a good thing?
In the video package preceding "Love Potion No. 9" there was a super-awkward bit where Gaga guided James' hips through his run-through of the song and I seriously thought James was going to, uh, have an accident right there. The performance seemed longer than the others this evening, although that might have been because it was kinda agonizing (and augmented by a guitar solo, because, you know, he's the rock guy!!) and came at the end of an episode of the show that really should not have been stretched out to 90 minutes, or at least should have given 45 of them over to Gaga.
His opening performance of "Don't Stop Believin'" was your typical karaoke-bar runthrough of the song, and it was inexplicably slathered with high praise, including Randy Jackson saying that James' voice rivals that of the great Journey singer Steve Perry. I really hope Steve calls up his former bandmate to yell at him because, come on, James sounds nothing like this:
Oh, this video—a viral clip from the pre-YouTube era!-is called "A Tribute To America," and it actually ties into the second contender for fourth place, who is...
4. Scotty McCreery. Scotty has been the front-runner all season, so what on earth possessed him to Kristy Lee Cook it? "Kristy Lee Cooking it," for those of you not around during the seventh season, is when you pull out a hoary America-boosting song in order to remind the viewers at home that they are watching American Idol, and not, I don't know, Estonian Idol. And Scotty engaged in it in a totally blatant way last night when he pulled out Alan Jackson's 9/11 reminder "Where Were You," a song pitched to people not in New York finding out about planes flying into the World Trade Center which also has the added bonus of name-checking Jesus. Tug those heartstrings! And don't worry about that lyric where you say you don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran! That's totally understandable, right? Who reads the news anyway?
Perhaps Scotty pulled the America-loving from his ass because his second performance, of Lieber & Stoller's "Young Blood," was straight-up goofy. This may have been because Gaga made a bunch of sexual innuendos about his relationship with his microphone and he just wasn't ready for that sort of thing to be shown in public yet.
Speaking of not ready for prime time, we have...
4. Lauren Alaina. Hey Lauren. If you don't want to sing a song with a lyric about being evil? Pick a different song. I just can't with her and her "noooo I have to win winning is all that's important" schtick anymore. On the bright side, the dress she wore while singing a serviceable version of Martina McBride's "Anyway" was a gorgeous shade of crimson, and its, uh, semi-skirt with the leopard print inside made my roommate compare it to a mullet. Business up top, party underneath! (Don't worry, Lauren, that joke is supposed to go over your oh-so-innocent little head.)
1. Haley Reinhart. Which leaves us with Haley, who once again was treated to the same worst-to-first critiques from the judges that she got last week. For her "inspirational" song she picked Michael Jackson's "Earth Song," and its pleading coda was apparently the trigger for the judges to call her screechy—even though it was actually her least screechy performance in weeks (remember "Bennie and the Jets"?) and also sort of appropriate to the way the song goes? Boy was she pissed off after getting dinged by the judges--apparently she said this backstage:
"Everybody else gets good feedback and they really let me have it. They don't feel bad for me. Never have, never will. I got a little upset because that song is downright inspiring and emotional. No matter what, that hit me to the heart."
I don't blame her! She went right after James! Who is terrible and who hits his high notes maybe 30% of the time!
For her Lieber & Stoller song she picked "I (Who Have Nothing)," which is something of a risk given that season-six winner Jordin Sparks pretty much sewed up the competition with her two performances of it way back in 2007. She got some advice about turning into Edith Piaf and using breath for drama from Gaga (I wish they'd shown the two of them chatting about "You & I") and she came out and sang the song quite well—not as good as Jordin but probably better than anything else on the night—and got praise from the judges and was in it to win it again and, honestly, who didn't see that coming. This poor girl. The judges are either afraid to give anyone else honest feedback and know she's tough enough to take it or are trying to gin up the sympathy cycle for Haley so she gets out of the bottom, where she's been quite a few times lately. I guess if it's the latter tactic, it's working?
WHO I VOTED FOR: Haley. Just as shocked as you.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: The judges? I know I've said that before, but if Randy Jackson yells "IN IT TO WIN IT!!!!" once more I'm going to break out in hives. I guess Lauren should go home because she once again revealed the gaping chasm between her ability to sing and her ability to interpret songs, which has plagued her all season. But in my dream world, James and his pyro and his endless guitar solos and his utter yuckiness would be departing at the end of this evening.
WHO WILL PROBABLY GO HOME: Not Scotty, I'll tell you that. 9/11 9/11 9/11!!
Tonight: Jordin Sparks performs! Let's see if she gives ol' Haley the side-eye. Also the video for Steven Tyler's horrifying solo single gets its premiere, which, well. I'm sure it'll be "bee-you-tea-full."