The judges nearly trip over each other in an attempt to out-praise the top 9 during Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night

By Annie Barrett
April 07, 2011 at 08:19 AM EDT
Fox

It was Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night on American Idol, and the judges continued to cherish each of the top 9 contestants nearly as much as Steven Tyler cherishes that terrifying wax figure of himself with a slightly bigger mouth and more feathery hair. (Wouldn’t you?)

Even the scant constructive criticism the three Fates provided was preceded by J. Lo APOLOGIZING as she prepared to tear Pia apart like a Gwen Stefani-designed jumpsuit that’d been through one gentle cycle: “It’s not that you’re not amazing. Please don’t ever take me the wrong way — you are spectacular,” she began. “But just keep studying.” Oh, J. How could you? That was just lo.

Meanwhile, will.i.am’s magnificent world tour of the Idol studios continued as he played guest mentor this week. Why? Because he refuses to leave the set, that’s why! Nothing weird about it at all. Let’s get to the performances.

Jacob Lusk made the grave error of making viewers feel even worse about themselves than they already did…before even singing his song! “If I am in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song wrong,” Jacob informed us. “It’ll be ’cause everyone in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” Preposterous! I’ll have Jacob know that his mediocre rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” had nothing to do with the reason I can’t bear to look in the mirror. Becoming a cave troll with ever-loosening bathing standards who stays up all night writing reality TV recaps can get a girl down. Is that what you wanted, Jacob Lusk, with your angelic white suit and your powerful hip thrusts and your refusal to use closing consonants on your final lyrics and your delightful little giggles? STOP MAKING FUN OF ME!

NEXT: Take another little piece of Haley’s heart, and her smile will really let you have itHaley Reinhart certainly earned her license to growl by choosing Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” but I think she interpreted the song a bit oddly what with all of her sly smiles and friendly engagement with the Drew Lachey lookalike on guitar. This isn’t exactly a song during which you want to engage anyone in any sort of pleasant way. Let alone strangers. The horror! Hell is other people, Haley. As Cher from Clueless would say, Haley needs to get “way existential.” But can she? I feel like Haley’s the type of girl who might deal with heartbreak differently. She’d be like “Well, I’m over you, so whatever, bye!” and walk away. Sure, she might be singing, but it’d be something completely unrelated, just to change the subject in her head. “The Rainbow Connection,” maybe, or “Groovin.'” (I guess it’s not really fair to assume that Haley deals with difficult situations like I do, but oh look, I’m over the guilt, so whatever, bye.) Even when Ryan assured her she looked “pissed,” Haley downplayed the language: “I was — I was really PO’ed.” I found this adorable. Of course. The best part of Haley’s segment, though, was when J. Lo told her, “You’ll be here for a minute.” It was the harshest thing she said all night — and she meant it as a compliment!

I’m glad Casey Abrams played it safe and sound this week, but his performance seemed a lot like last week’s to me. He stayed seated, with a rainy night background in place of a starry night background for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” When the episode was over, I could barely remember his performance at all. I’d have preferred if he’d used just his voice and his bass, like he did during Hollywood Week. Remember back when I thought Casey was super sexy and wanted to have like 10,000 of his babies? Haven’t felt that way in weeks. Frankly can’t figure out what was wrong with me! I’m kidding, but come on, dude. Time to liven up my womanly desires and run your fingers up and down that upright bass in relative silence. (He shouldn’t really do this; they’ll call him one-note. Except for Steven, who will call him beautiful.)

Esteemed Colleague Email of the Night:

NEXT: A 16-year-old insists she feels like a woman; the Durbs slows it downLauren Alaina, who is 16, sang Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” So that was awkward. I just kept wondering Who? Who is making you feel this way, you dirty rotten minor? According to will.i.am.bored, Lauren’s combination of country and soul on this song produced something called C-O-U-N-T-R-O-L. Meaningless. Okay. I’d like to add that Lauren’s terrible, horrible, no good very bad black gingham shorts kept bunching around the crotch, producing something called C-R-U-N-C-H-I-N-G. Isn’t it great that we both know the alphabet? Lauren’s voice is so strong, but “Natural Woman” is all about feelin’ it and Lauren was just not. Remember when Kelly Clarkson covered this song? Season 1, man. It feels so…legit.

James Durbin surprised everyone by cooling it down on Rock Night with an understated ballad: George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He’d have to make sure he ended big, warned Jimmy Iovine; otherwise, “That’ll be ‘While My Guitar Gently Sleeps.'” UGH. James was flat in spots here (even on the first note), but I gotta admit I liked the sweet lilt of the first “wee…eeeeeeeps” and even enjoyed some of the emotional facial drama he was pulling. I fell for it. I was a bit surprised he wasn’t playing his guitar, but glad in the end, because then he wouldn’t have had a free hand with which to playfully pat his left thigh. I thought James’ howl at the end of the song could have been a lot stronger and more carefully launched, but it did inspire me to listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to remember how a haunting howl is really done. (Refer to 6:13 here for one of my favorite haunting howls of all time.) Did I just even remotely compare James Durbin to Robert Plant? My ever-dwindling credibility gently weeps.

NEXT: J. Lo’s supportive bra creates a lasting impression of Pia’s performanceTime to move on to “some future [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] inductees…like Scotty.” (WTF, Ryan?!) I’m beginning to realize that the reason I haven’t warmed up to Scotty McCreery until this week is because I’m not a huge fan of deeeeeeeeep male voices in general. So the extra range Scotty showed here on Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right Mama” helped me realize how good his voice actually is. He was having a blast and acting his age for once and I really liked the new vibe. Suddenly there were seven tiny adolescent girls on stage. Why? Because Scotty has a sexy voice and a hot, super tall bod and a bangin’ cowboy tuxedo and they love him, silly! Oh, lord. The Idol producers must think we’re dumber than I had even imagined. J. Lo called out Scotty’s “hip-hop” hands, which was weird. Is that supposed to suggest his versatility? Yeah, no one is buying that. But I loved how blunt J. Lo was here. “You’re funny, you know?” And he kind of is. Favorite sign of the night: a poster-board “envelope” addressed to Scotty. “SCOTTY / 2011 IDOL / CA 90028.” I hope it’s safe for Scotty to have his exact whereabouts broadcast to the world like that. Scary.

Pia Toscano‘s voice is beautiful, but she never seems to be having any fun. That’s fine for a recording artist. For a person I’m watching on TV each week, it just doesn’t seem like enough. That said, well, I’ll just repeat myself, I guess. The voice is undeniable. Pia didn’t miss a note on Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” and even wobbled around the judges’ throne in her six-inch heels. Whoa, girl. Make sure you don’t get thrown into Randy’s trash bag jacket! She even let her fingers linger seductively on the table, close enough that Steven’s looking-glass eyes could potentially notice them. Good for her. She’s sweet. Oh, wait. Someone else wants to weigh in here on Pia Toscano.

Another Esteemed Colleague Email of the Night:

Ooh. Let’s investigate.

This is where my powers of screengrabbing let me down terribly. J. Lo was bouncing up and down in her chair like a child who’s just been told she’ll never have to wear an unflattering L.A.M.B. belted romper like the scary singing Bumpit lady as long as she is still breathing glitter into this little thing we call life. But you can’t even tell. Just trust me that “the girls” were definitely on the upswing in this shot, but because of her supportive bra, nothing drastic happened and Steven and Randy were able to continue their naps in total peace.

Great contribution, Shaw! Glad to have you on board.

NEXT: Stefano loves a woman; Hoarse Whisperer cranks up the volumeStefano Langone finally “felt so good doing a song I knew”: Percy Sledge’s ”When a Man Loves a Woman.” It’s about time our smiley chocolate chunk cookie with many, many feelings was able to emotionally connect with a song. I liked how he basked in the soft glow of a dramatic triangle of light to begin and let his falsetto stand alone against just a few tinkling notes. His final note was strong, too — the way he held it out for so long in the same triangle of light. Artistic! Unfortunately, Randy committed the unspeakable crime of not jumping up and down about a performance. “The first part felt a little jerky to me,” he complained, to which J. Lo burst in: “You’re crazy! You’re a crazy person!” That may be, Ms. Lo, but that’s just, like, Randy’s opinion, man. Deal with it. Even Ryan took sides against Randy, saying that because Stefano had spent a few moments backstage punching air, “getting in the zone,” Randy was jealous of Stefano’s swagger. Excuse me, I need an LOL break for one hot second.

Okay, I’m fine now.

Ryan: “Was he in your zone at home?” Your EROGENOUS ZONE? Call, text, or log on to vote!

Paul McDonald closed the show in the coveted pimp spot with a crazytown rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” “Sing it like you’re out of your f—ing mind,” advised Jimmy Iovine. Paul went ahead and took that sound advice and, oddly enough, sounded and looked more normal than ever. Well, “normal” is a weird word for what Paul was. “Less creepy-crawly” is probably the term I was going for. Having his guitar and people to interact with onstage is a comfortable zone for Paul to be in — even when he sidled over to the guitarist on his right and stared at him for awhile (much like that man he shot in Reno just to watch him die), it was less “Ewwww, what is he about to do now?” and more “Aw, look, that fluffernutter Paul is having fun with the band.” Paul only seemed to sing a few notes throughout the whole song, but I’m not sure it really matters how Paul’s  vocals were — he went last, the song was fun, the beat was catchy, and he clearly had fun singing it. People will remember that.

‘Til tomorrow, friends. As Steven Tyler says, I’ll be “having drinks about you.” Dream on.

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Read more:

All ‘Idol’ on-the-scene reports

‘American Idol’ Top 9 Power List

PopWatch’s love letter to Haley

EW.com’s ‘American Idol’ Central

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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