The top 7 mostly stick to their own genres with 'Songs from the 21st Century'

By Annie Barrett
Updated April 21, 2011 at 05:24 AM EDT
Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup

I’d like to kick off this recap with some amazing end-of-show insight from J. Lo that really sums up the Idol-viewing experience for you, for me. “Listening to those voices, back to back, I’m like, oh my God. It’s crazy! Who’s gonna win? I don’t know!” I feel her pain. That was just beautiful.

Before we could really dive into the abyss of Songs from the 21st Century on this week’s American Idol, all of the eliminated season 10 contestants shocked me shocked me shocked me with their deviant behavior in a surprise group performance of Pink’s “So What.” Brutal! This took me way out of my performance night concentration zone with its barely familiar faces, sparkly flowers, and general awfulness. I mean, yeah, they all got eliminated — so what? I seriously considered fast-forwarding through this once I came to the horrifying realization that Pia’s mic wasn’t working during her mini duet with Paul. But that wouldn’t have been very responsible; plus, I might have missed seeing Mark Ballas, his dad Corky, and a woman who looked exactly like Carol, C.J. Cregg’s assistant from The West Wing, in the audience. Steven confirmed it: “You just made America think twice about their decision.” To not press fast-forward.

Time for the Real Performances!

“Who doesn’t want to hold their mic like a flute?” asked Scotty McCreery. Uh, cool people? Among others, I’m sure. Scotty’s rendition of LeAnn Rimes’ “Swingin’” sounded like the same performance he’s done every week so far. For me, the only thing that distinguished it was a slightly heightened sense of self-awareness, but I think the “let’s celebrate each other’s flaws” segment that directly preceded his performance might be to blame for that. Everything just seemed a bit hokier than usual — the hero-sandwich mic grip, the super-sly eyebrow raise after the line “She’s the apple of my eye,” and the way he took a seat onstage only to spread his lanky limbs real wide for the audience. So casual, our boy. Such a gem. When he finished, all I felt was a little PO’ed (as Haley would say) because those lyrics contained the words CHOCOLATE PIE and I’d eaten only a miserable chickpea salad for dinner. Thanks a lot, McCreery! Steven suggested Scotty “sashay” more, which is always helpful, and Randy and J. Lo urged him to finally push past his comfort zone. I thought they’d never ask.

NEXT: There’s a…fi-yah…starting in Reinhart… “Every song that I sing, I suddenly just get this amazing vision for it,” said James Durbin, who forgot to add, “brought to you by Coca-Cola.” I found it hilarious that James’ vision for Muse’s “Uprising” featured four marching band members drumming their brains out behind an unflinching Steven, Jennifer, and Randy — but if you don’t have the budget for a killer teddy bear in the forest (as seen in the video), I suppose this was the next best thing. James claimed he screeched out half the chorus an octave higher in response to an emailed challenge from Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy, which was a genius way to lend credibility to his startling performance. If the original vocalist triple-dog dares you to do something, you have to do it. The pitch may have been correct, but the tone was jarring and overall James’ high-low combination sounded insane. The Durbs’ voice was actually well-suited for the rest of the song. So good on him, as Randy would say. What Randy actually said here was “He slayed it.” Steven certainly sees himself in our tailed rocker, and commiserated with his young friend about how much it costs to look as cheap as Steven and the wardrobe stylist responsible for James have somehow managed. “I love that you’re out of your mind, and beautifully so,” Steven continued. This was too cute. I need to start keeping better track of the 57 different ways Steven comes up with to say the same thing, for a future gallery.

I am a huge fan of Adele. Huge. Listening to 21 on repeat and taking solace in the fact that her heartache was my heartache and everyone in the world has problems and OMG can’t you just FEEL how well she sings about them?!?! pretty much got me through the month of March. So even though I had faith in Haley Reinhart, I was very anxious watching her attempt “Rolling in the Deep.” My emotional attachment to the song made me almost too nit-picky at first. Why didn’t she sing another word instead of leaving out s—? How could she let herself go sharp on a big, bellowing DEEEEEEEEEP? After a few more listens, I ended up agreeing with J. Lo — she “brought a little bit of Haley to it at moments, and I thought you really shined.” Is it fair that the judges are consistently critical of Haley and can’t come up with a single constructive thing to say to a few others — like…I don’t know…”James, that entire verse was flat”? Of course not, but I can’t do anything about that. J. Lo was correct here. Haley took a huge risk taking on a song everybody knows right now, and there were moments of misstep. But I also counted moments of artistry and intelligent deviation from the original. A note-for-note copy would have been a disaster no matter who had sung it. Song choice: badass. Interpretation: more than just okay for me, cat.

Jacob Lusk picked Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” because his dad passed away when he was 12. Might as well leave it to EW’s executive editor to say something we were all thinking but that I would never write for fear of getting fired. Isn’t it ironic?

Esteemed Colleague Email of the Night

Yes, really! It was time to play it. Jacob gave what I thought was his most in-tune performance yet. He really wanted to bounce right off of that stool and get up — every time he took a breath and stretched his mouth open, I could feel it. Randy infuriated me here by prefacing his comments with “Just to help you…” and immediately launching into one of his Teddy Ruxpin recitations: “It didn’t make me jump up and down.” Not helpful Randy, and by the way, I have never seen you actually do that. But anyway, Randy was just warming up. “I need you to go off the roof, go off the top,” he continued. “I feel like somebody’s put a restraint on the racehorse.” Ugh. You did! You judges did that a few weeks back. It’s probably the most “helpful” thing you’ve done as a trio all season! I’m not with the dawg here. I don’t want the church boy back.

NEXT: Casey has trouble breathing, Stefano gives up pleading From the way the judges raved on and on after Casey Abrams sang Maroon 5′s “Harder to Breathe,” you’d think he had sewn the giant doily onto Randy Jackson’s outfit himself instead of merely being a weird guy who semi-competently pretended he was Adam Levine for a few minutes. I thought he started out pretty well with some interesting phrasing, but the second half of the performance devolved into a somewhat jerky series of stunts. He kept approaching patches of the audience as if he’d dared himself to touch them — but then quickly pulled his hands away. Suddenly he was up in J. Lo’s face, making it harder for her to breathe in the presence of a 21st Century Schizoid Man. (King Crimson/American Idol overlap, anyone?) Sweet lord, this was awkward. Eventually, Casey’s soft lips made their way to the most beautiful cheeks in the world, and despite her initial bewilderment, J. Lo reacted verbally as if she’d been blown away by Casey’s performance. Hey, I’m glad he’s trying out different stuff. The rock twist was a surprise, but not a bad choice for him. I just wasn’t wowed by him vocally once Casey had left the standing mic.

“This is what it feels like to be a man?” cried Ryan, all decked out in a fake Casey beard. Sometimes I love that little Seacrest. (Especially when he challenges my man Tom Bergeron to a flex-off!)

I liked Jimmy Iovine’s advice for Stefano Langone this week. “What’s he doing on the stage pleading?” Jimmy asked, and this question could apply to any of our flirtatious cookie’s performances. So true: Why not apply Stefano’s earthly swagger and natural ease with the ladies to the stage? It was a nice idea, at least. I think Stefano ended up being more concerned with his acting and specifically timed dance moves than he was with his vocals on Ne-Yo’s “Closer” — at times, he just seemed to be buried by theatrics, or maybe the song’s range was too low for him. I did very much enjoy the simulated Pac-Man game in the ridiculous yellow-and-black screensaver behind Stefano, as well as the tragicomic nature of his red Larry King suspenders. And about halfway through the song, when he trotted behind the judges and interacted with the fans, Stefano was truly vibing this performance. Not one even slightly negative word from the judges. “I was hoping you’d dance, and you did,” said Steven. That was his entire critique.

Lauren Alaina played it safe, song choice-wise, with Sara Evans’ “Born to Fly.” It’s an uncomplicated country song she was able to sing well, and she added a rather cute little hop after singing the line “How do you keep your feet on the ground?” (You don’t.) But considering Lauren had the pimp spot this week, her usual “well” wasn’t enough, and the judges let her know. It was almost as if an entire production team had planned this riveting come-to-judges moment for Lauren at this precise point in the season. Their critique was right on — Lauren does need to challenge herself, forget about her fears, and just scream and yell in her closet or shower as J. Lo suggested. But has she really never done this? You’re telling me a girl with a potentially huge voice who knows she has a potentially huge voice and has become the established Chosen One during the first few weeks of American Idol…has never belted something out in the shower and then thought to apply that passion on the stage? I don’t know. I’m not trying to call her a liar. I just don’t understand how, if you had any awareness of your talent, you wouldn’t have thought to take yourself on a little journey through your the sunny meadow of your vast vocal power already. I know she’s only 16, but come on. Live a little!

Who’s going home tonight, friends? Will Paul ever take off that suit?

Episode Recaps


American Idol

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

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