American Idol: Paul McDonald leaves, Kelly Clarkson returns

American Idol recap: The two remaining girls (Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina) avoided elimination. Idol original Kelly Clarkson sang. But the Paul McDonald American Idol Adventure is over.

Chris Pizzello/AP Photo
American Idol finalists Haley Reinhart (l) and Paul McDonald pose together at the American Idol Finalists Party in Los Angeles, March 3, 2011. Both Haley and Paul McDonald found themselves in the Bottom Three in this week's elimination.

The Final Eight contestants of American Idol performed a variety of songs Thursday night as they awaited the news that would send one of them home.

First up was Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, who were very successful a couple of weeks ago when they performed the Randy Travis song, “I Told you so.” Unfortunately Thursday’s performance of Lady Antebellum’s, “American Honey,” didn’t hold the same magic. Scotty’s voice in particular seemed to be lacking the richness we’ve come to expect from him.

Next up was a sneak peek into the making of this week’s Zombie-themed Ford Music Video, in which James Durbin, Stefano Langone, Haley Reinhart and Scotty were cast as the Zombies. Seeing them get into costume was interesting but the final video hardly seemed worth the weeks of preparation. Rather than having zombie masks produced, sending the contestants to a few acting classes would have been a better return on investment.

Before we got to the first of the Bottom Three, Casey Abrams and Haley treated viewers to a very jazzy duet. This performance showcased the unique talents of both, but it was Haley who stole the spotlight with a vocal that, had she unleashed it Wednesdayt night, may have kept her out of the Bottom Three.

Unfortunately, many voters were unaware of her potential, so when host Ryan Seacrest asked Lauren and Scotty to join Haley and Casey on the stage, Haley Reinhart was the first of the contestants to be sent to the Bottom Three stools.

As we've seen in previous episodes, a former Idol contestant returned to entertain. This week was a step up from the doe-eyed Constantine Maroulis performance last week. The original American Idol champ, Kelly Clarkson, sang Don't You Wanna Stay, a romantic ballad with country star Jason Aldean. It's currently No. 8 on Billboard's most popular country songs chart.

And we saw a clip of movie/tv director Rob Reiner visiting the contestants, for what appeared to be absolutely no reason other than to reassure Casey that he could be cast as Seth Rogen's younger brother. Sure, Idol's theory for having Reiner on during "Movie Week" was stronger than the Russell Brand "performance" excuse last week, but it still seemed rather pointless. Idol Suggestion: Have Reiner do something useful, like direct a good Ford Music Video.

Then, since there were still four contestants left and at least another 25 minutes to kill, Stefano, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk, and James formed a motley crew and performed two Simon and Garfunkel songs, “The Sound of Silence,” and “Mrs. Robinson.” It was remarkable that they managed to sound as good as they did knowing that 50 percent of them were doomed to be sent to the Bottom Three.

That 50 percent was eventually announced and Paul McDonald and Stefano Langone joined Haley Reinhart to round out this week’s Bottom Three. Thankfully, especially after hearing her perform earlier, Ryan sent Haley back to safety leaving us with Paul and Stefano, meaning that for the first time since the Top 13, a male contestant would be eliminated.

Now, if there was any justice in the world, Stefano would have been sent home a long time ago and it was easy to hope that the universe would correct itself this week, but if you read this blogger’s predictions last night, you already had a suspicion that the bloom from Paul’s wardrobe had faded and that he would be the one going home.

And he was.

It was with sadness (a sadness that was only partially mollified by having accurately predicted the Bottom Three and the contestant to be eliminated this week) when we heard Paul McDonald perform the first song viewers ever heard from him, “Maggie Mae.” His vocals and his dancing proved as intoxicating as ever in his final performance.

Au revoir, Paul. You will be greatly missed. (Did I mention that I totally nailed the predictions this week??)

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