American Idol contestants take on Elton John, with no safety net

American Idol contestants performed Elton John songs Wednesday night, knowing that two will be going home tonight. Haley Reinhart proved she's up to the American Idol challenge

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    Haley Reinhart poses at the party for the finalists of the television show American Idol in Los Angeles on March 3, 2011.
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This week. American Idol contestants found themselves following the yellow brick road through Elton John’s songbook. And Elton John certainly gives contestants a lot to choose from; who would have guessed that there was even a country tune lurking in there somewhere?

Well, Scotty McCreery is like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to ferreting out songs that match his country vocals. “Country Comfort” was chosen for two reasons, it has the words “country” and “Grandma” in it. (Grandma McCreery was in the audience this week.) But the lyrics also included the words, “going home,” which is where Scotty could be heading after this performance. Although the judges praised it, the performance was heavy, boring, and pitchy. C-

Naima Adedapo decided that if Scotty could turn Elton country, she could turn him reggae. Naima performed “I’m Still Standing” in full reggae splendor, even rocking a pin-striped pantsuit with Jamaican colored rainbows. (Yes, it was as tacky as it sounds.) While it wasn’t Naima’s worst performance – she wasn’t running around like she was on fire – it just didn’t work. JLo wasn’t sure the song was suited for reggae but said she loves to watch Naima perform and Randy thought it felt a little corny. C-

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Paul McDonald chose “Rocket Man,” a great song with great promise. Unfortunately, the entire time the song felt like it might build to a crescendo that just never happened. The ending was soft and enchanting but overall, Paul failed to deliver the intensity that Jimmy Iovine was asking for. Randy thought he was a little pitchy but Steven Tyler argued that he doesn’t like it when singers hit all the notes perfectly. C

Pia Toscano’s performance of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” defied all the suggestions the judges gave her last week when they told her to sing something up-tempo and own the stage. This was another Pia performance; rooted to the center of the stage, looking lovely, belting out another ballad. The judges heaped this season’s robot with praise. B-

Stefano Langone hoped that his performance of “Tiny Dancer” would keep him out of the bottom three this week. OK judges, reality check. Steven, this was not what nailing something looks or sounds like. Randy, it didn’t just start rough, it was a rough all the way through. And Jennifer, Stefano can connect to the audience until he’s blue in the face but if he doesn’t connect to the song, it doesn’t matter. Like last week, Stefano needs to get the lyrics right before he can connect. Can someone explain what a “ballerinum” is? D

Lauren Alaina selected “Candle in the Wind.” The judges said what she needed to hear: "perfect," "beautiful," and "gorgeous." Was the praise justified? Eh. It was a good performance but she didn’t create a “moment” for herself. Lauren really needs a moment. B

James Durbin rocked, “Saturday’s Night All Right.” Guess what, the judges liked it. In fact, there was little the judges didn’t like this week. James’s performance was entertaining to a degree. The vocals were fine and the burning piano was interesting. C+

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that Thia Megia is not a favorite. But this week, Thia’s performance of “Daniel” was incredible. Of course, the one performance that was actually moving and the judges were tepid in their praise. Randy even suggested it was safe . Safe? Thia was either moved to tears or pretending to be moved to tears by the song. Either way it was a risk and delivered the goose bumps that Lauren failed to evoke. A

A freshly trimmed Casey Abrams sang, “Your Song.” The judges all essentially agreed that saving Casey was the best contribution any of them has ever made to the world. To hear them talk, saving Casey should put them on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Good thing Casey chose to be sincere and humble in a very intimate and accessible performance. B+

Jacob Lusk chose “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” Jimmy Iovine said that if Jacob could avoid overly dramatizing the song, he would do well. So Jacob started the song on a dark stage, with a single spotlight on him, and mist billowing around his ankles. Subtle, Jacob. The judges all gave hearty praise but the performance was over-the-top and very dramatic. C-

Finally it was Haley Reinhart’s moment to shine with “Benny and the Jets.” Her signature growl (she and Casey must take growling lessons together) was right on target and Haley showed what, until now, has been just below the surface: incredible talent. JLo said it was an amazing performance where everything came together for her, and Randy exclaimed, “Best performance of the night!” A

The predictions for American Idol's bottom three this week:

  • Scotty McCreery
  • Stephano Langone
  • Naima Adedapo

Stephano and Naima will be saying farewell.

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If you missed last week's dramatic ending, check out the video.

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