Like last week, the American Idol final contestants each performed two songs Wednesday night. For the first, contestants needed to pick songs that inspired them and for the second, they must choose songs from the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller songbook; songs that inspired people a long time ago.
James Durbin started the inspirational performance round, much to judge Randy Jackson’s delight, with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” (Randy played on Journey's 1986 album "Raised on Radio"). James selected the song, he said, because it represented his journey on American Idol. Granted it would be difficult for James to “stop believing” since the judges fawn over every one of his performances. This time was no different. Jennifer Lopez said it was a great performance and Steven Tyler called it “an indication of things to come.” Screechy, sharp notes and over-indulgence? B-
Haley Reinhart was up next with “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson. The irony of this performance is that though Haley was singing about peace on Earth, she almost started a war on the panel. Jennifer and Randy panned the performance; JLo wished Haley had picked a more popular song and Randy said she screamed it. Steven, more impassioned than he’s been in months, said that they were both wrong and Haley nailed it. ” Haley herself looked downright mutinous with the critique although there was some truth in what JLo and Randy said. B-
Scotty McCreery sang “Where Were You when the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson. Scotty swept the votes from every red state with just the first verse, especially considering the heightened patriotism of the country these last two weeks. Randy said Scotty is ready for superstardom. B
Lauren Alaina took the first round with “Anyway” by Martina McBride. Aside from a stunning dress, Lauren’s vocals were equally impressive tonight. Steven said her voice was pure and perfect. Randy, in a phrase he would repeat several times throughout the night, said Lauren was “in it to win it!” It was good to see Lauren rebound from such an emotional night the previous week. A-
To make up for the stuffy and outdated songs they forced on the contestants, American Idol announced Lady Gaga as a guest mentor for the contestants during the second round.
Haley Reinhart selected, “I Who Have Nothing.” Lady Gaga thought that the drama, rather than the vocals would be a challenge for Haley and she urged her to get a little crazy. Some how, considering Gaga’s outlandish appearance, no one was surprised to hear her encourage insanity. But there was a method to her madness; Haley’s performance earned a standing ovation from the judges. JLo called it one of the best performances of the year and Steven exclaimed “You just Reinhart-ed yourself into the middle of next week!” Like Jordin Sparks in Season 6, Haley experienced quite a moment with this song. A
Scotty McCreery was clearly unnerved by the eccentric Gaga. Unfortunately, he was too busy being a stick in the mud to really listen when she advised him to sing directly into the microphone to ensure his voice was heard clearly. Maybe comparing it to sticking his tongue down his girlfriend’s throat was the wrong approach since instead of heeding her advice, Scotty grasped the cross on a chain around his neck as though Dracula himself was swooping down. The judges, perhaps preparing themselves for James’s second act, applauded a performance that was little more than mediocre. B-
It turns out that all Lauren Alaina needed to get her groove back was a little Gaga time. Lauren selected “Trouble,” and was foolishly struggling with calling herself evil. While Jimmy Iovine told her she needed to play the character, somehow Gaga managed to get through to Lauren. When she took the stage, it seemed that the cloud of debilitating self-doubt had cleared and she was able to tap back into the pizzazz that made her stand out in the beginning. The judges agreed. B+
Last and certainly least this week was James Durbin who chose “Love Potion #9.” James appears to have “jumped the shark” this week with two indulgent performances. Is anyone else growing weary of the close-up of his screeching face? JLo said that James could sing anything while Randy said James was peaking at the right time. Poor Randy seems to have James and Haley confused. Let’s help him out. James is the one screaming the lyrics while Haley is the one who is peaking. C
While James should be in the bottom, he never has been before so I predict that Lauren might be leaving us this week. Lauren and Scotty are both sharing the same voter demographic (middle America country fans), which leaves them more vulnerable since James and Haley have their own unique styles. If Lauren goes, all of her fans will likely transfer to Scotty – making him particularly tough to beat in the end.