Randy and J. Lo -- who both showed up Wednesday night -- flap their traps wildly in an agonizing attempt to stick to the script

By Annie Barrett
May 05, 2011 at 09:07 AM EDT
Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup
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“One thing is certain. This is American Idol.” Oh cool, thanks Ryan. That is so good to know. Do you know who will win, too? “Who is it gonna be? One of ’em, that’s for sure.” Wow, so helpful this week. He wants it, readers, he wants it. RYAN IS IN IT TO WIN IT TONIGHT.

For “Now & Then Night,” the top 5 sang one tune from the last few years and one from “back in the day,” with an assist from guest mentor and former Michael Jackson backup singer Sheryl Crow. “Everybody on this show is amazing,” someone told Sheryl to say, “but the cold hard truth is somebody’s going home.” Could it be the guy in the baseball cap with a huge skull on it who’s trying to eat her alive? Nope.

The fact that the judges have already decided this competition is James Durbin‘s to lose is annoying enough. Considering his two mediocre, often off-key performances this week, it’s downright baffling. I know the judges have a special script (hopefully with fun clip art all over it to keep Steven Tyler awake), but are they really so clueless as to not veer even slightly off of said script after their chosen one fails to assert vocal prowess during a 30 Seconds to Mars song? James’ shouty rendition of “Closer to the Edge” was okay, but it was far more impressive in performance quality than it was vocally. I remember his intent high-fiving of most of the people in the front rows of various audience sections, and I remember the six pyro pots that exploded behind him after his final scream. I suppose this is what it means to be the American Idol. I’m alive; I’ve been watching. I really should have known. Look, ma, no sleeves.

Agggggh! Awkward shot of James and an adolescent!

NEXT: Is ‘Durbiny’ the new ‘pitchy’? I hope I’m not ragging too hard on the Durbs here; it’s just that this was really not his week and I’m sick of the judges pretending not to notice that. His second performance, Harry Nilsson’s “Without You,” was remarkable in its emotional presentation but, again, weak on vocals. Tears streaming down a man’s face are always lovely on television, but I cannot ignore the fact that James’ voice wavered wildly the whole time, or that the range of the chorus was way too low for him to handle during his distress. It’s hard for James to live without his wife and baby, so he felt very connected to the song. To prep for Wednesday’s emotional roller coaster, he sat outside on a crash mat facing a wall and refused to rehearse for the rest of the day. The training paid off — James’ vocal “wasn’t perfect,” said Randy, “but was emotionally perfect.” Or, as Steven said, it was “pitchy a little bit in that James Durbin kind of way.” J. Lo went so far as to conclude, based on the Durbs making it through the song without slipping on a puddle of tears or having a nervous breakdown, that James was “a true, true artist and serious about winning this thing.” Yep. He is the only one.

Gotta say, though, I did love the Sheryl Crow/Durbs dynamic during rehearsal. Screw latching onto Scotty’s career in Nashville; she should just duet with him. Just not if he sings like he did last night.

Jacob Lusk is still there. So that’s crazy. What’s even crazier is that Jacob decided to take on a duet — Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown’s “No Air” — even though he has barely proven his ability throughout the season to imitate even one good singer singing a song. This was such a mess — Jacob thrashing at the audience with violent fist pumps on every beat, grinding his crotch into some pesky thin air, and missing what seemed like pretty significant chunks of the song. Jacob even foreshadowed his own disaster during the rehearsal footage when he informed viewers that Harvey Mason, the track’s actual writer and producer, would be sitting in on his session. Jacob’s assessment of such an honor? He called it “stupid.”

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

Ryan teased us: “Jacob unveils his rock side with a Nazareth hit.” This had to be a joke, right? Wrong! Jacob went ahead and started oversinging it to win it on “Love Hurts.” Sheryl Crow had demonstrated one way to sing it — tenderly and with a firm adherence to melody. Well, the Lusky Stank would have none of that. He hit some decent sweet spots, but is it even worth congratulating a top five contestant for hitting a few of the notes in an entire song? After suffering through the agony and the ecstasy of Jacob power-stomping throughout a song that should never get the power-stomp treatment, I have to say no. It hurts. It hurts. Need I go on? I’ll let the judges take it from here. Steven: “You kind of got lost in the song, but everybody got lost in you.” Jennifer: “The truth is that you bring out the tricks at the end. That vocal brings you to another place.” Randy: “That might have been the highest note ever sung on this stage. You redeemed yourself.” Amazing.

NEXT: Jenny incurs the wrath of the EW staff

Lauren Alaina sounded more feisty and powerful on Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” than we’re used to from her, but it still wasn’t enough for an actual wow moment. It was nice. It wasn’t ‘wow.’ And it certainly wasn’t ‘wow, Lauren.’ What bugs me about Lauren (this week) is that she’s technically proficient and does have a really strong voice, but I never find myself thinking during the rest of the week, “I wonder how Lauren Alaina would cover [whatever I’m listening to at the time].” I mean, I can guess exactly how she’d cover something — she’d add a few lilts and runs here and there and then a giggly “thank you” at the end. That’s probably enough extra oomph for the type of country-pop career she’ll end up having. As a reality show contestant, though, she’s just not that inspiring. I truly wish she were. The vocal quality’s definitely there. Let’s check in with Randy: “LAUREN IS IN IT, Y’ALL.” Alrighty.

Cross-show side note: Maksim Chmerkovskiy sure could have used Enthusiastic Sparkly Fiddler’s glittery left thigh brace/garter to prevent his week 3 muscle spasm on Dancing With the Stars.

For her “back in the day” song, Lauren chose the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” We might recognize this song from the movie Ghost (aw, yeah, shirtless Swayze and goopy ceramics), said Jimmy Iovine. Or, you know…the radio. Or (gasp) the actual 1960s. In any case, this was a brilliant choice for Lauren — because who doesn’t know and love this song? — but I’m guessing big “Unchained Melody” fans were probably dying to hear her take on the song’s signature super-high note, as if she really neeeeeeeeded our love. It would have fit into her “take more risks, sing higher notes” story line, too, but I guess she’s already bored with that particular plot. I was so looking forward to expert critiques from Bashful, Weepy, and Dopey, but the judges went ahead and pulled a Wayne’s World, deeming themselves not worthy of picking apart perfection. “That was, uh, nothing to judge there,” said J. Lo. “It was a beautiful song sang beautifully by you.” I guess they don’t teach basic grammar on the Block. (Out of all the dumbass things I’ve written, why do I feel like that was the meanest ever?)

But I’m not the only one who felt like ripping mercilessly on Jennifer.

Esteemed Colleague Email Interludes:

(Our email system does not distort expletives; I did that. I have hobbies! I’m so much cooler than J. Lo.)

That’s a shame.

NEXT: Is it a bird? A plane? Nope, just Scotty the Body leaping from a three-stair-high platform.

Scotty McCreery livened up his usual program with Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone” this week, totally overdoing it with the darting crazy eyes, but entertaining nonetheless. I may have been so enamored that he was trying something different — shining vocally against very peppy, involved background singers — that I’ve inflated the worth of this performance in my head. But who cares? I’m dying for some good stuff here. This was the kind of well-rounded performance we should expect and demand from a top five contestant who’s usually more than happy to remain wedged into his niche. “‘Til now, you’ve been like a Puritan, but I swear to God I saw you dancing with the Devil tonight,” raved Steven. Randy flailed in his seat, trying to do damage control. Beware the wrath of everyone who believes in God, Randy! Also, calm down.

By the way, those twin blonde backup singers (whose first names, I’m sorry to report, are Destinee and Paris) have quickly wormed their way into the exclusive bubble of my top 5 favorite characters of season 10. Damn you, ryanseacrest.com, for I have fallen into your Dance Scene/Interscope cross-promotional trap. (For the record, Enthusiastic Sparkly Fiddler is currently hovering at No. 2.)

“THIS GUY’S IN IT TO WIN IT, TOO.” –Randy on Scotty. Didn’t want to shut you out of the rumor mill there.

Scotty’s second performance, Elvis Presley’s “Always on My Mind,” was pretty nondescript for me (for you) except for the distracting wire from his in-ear monitor that stuck out, creating the fun illusion of a cartoonishly large right ear. At times, the blue background shapes “filled” the half-moon between the wire and his face, so it was like his solar plexus had Jupiter-esque rings. This pretty much kept me awake during the performance, for which I am very grateful.

J. Lo commented on how comfortable Scotty seems in his own skin, but I must say this really only applies when he is performing. Every time Scotty knows the camera’s on him — especially when he’s standing next to Ryan — Scotty has this horrible habit of squinting slightly and “surveying his kingdom” in an attempt to look cool. It is not cool. I’m sorry, I know he’s a teenager. But it is not a good look. You know it’s not. Long story short, I’ve been really burying the lead here: Scotty is a quarter Puerto Rican! I was wondering when they’d officially trot that out. Hola, Paquita!

NEXT: J. Lo and Randy can’t believe Haley picked an unknown song by that no-name Lady GagaGive it up for Haley: The girl loves a good lay. I didn’t mind that I didn’t know Lady Gaga’s “You and I” — I could tell that, like all of her other songs, it could probably be a hit. And what’s more, I could imagine Haley Reinhart having the hit herself — not the way Gaga would sing it, but the way Haley would sing it. Isn’t this the point of American Idol? I actually thought doing an unknown song was kind of genius in this way. And an unreleased Lady Gaga track she’s been performing to sold-out arenas?! Give me a break. Hasn’t Randy been warbling about wanting to know what kind of artist Haley could be? This is it. She just sang really well for me, for you, dawg. Were you even listening?

Ugh, gross. I’m starting to get as mad as I was around 9 p.m. — witness what can easily qualify as one of my angriest tweets ever. We’ve got a hot one, America! Annie’s incensed, and this time it’s not about her behaviorally challenged toaster oven! Honestly, though, WHO CARES WHAT RANDY AND J. LO THOUGHT OF HALEY’S SONG CHOICE? How did she sing the song? I cannot get over how useless it is for the judges to predict the voters’ disappointment. Seriously? Let the voters be the judges of that, “judges.”

Okay. Deep breath. It’s fine. It’s not a big deal. Maybe Randy just needed a snack right then. Maybe J. Lo’s jealous of Lady Gaga. Who knows. Who cares? Not Haley.

In a way, it was better that the judges had tossed off Haley’s first performance, because it gave her all the more reason to method-act her way through The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” as a sexy, soulful, strung-out addict. Haley didn’t have to put on the red light — that’s what lighting director Kieran is for. Good for Haley. I loved the way her facial features drooped and she looked ready for a big ol’ heroin nap at the end of her gorgeous and haunting a cappella first verse…and then she was up and at ’em, ably stumbling around the stage with her far-off dream gazes and that one happy hand. What is wrong with me? I’ve made a huge mistake focusing on the visuals here — Haley’s vocal completely knocked me out (no small feat considering Siobhan Magnus ably covered the same song last season), and I’ve listened to “Rising Sun” at last five times in the past hour. She took her time and pulled it off in her own way, growling and knee-jerking whenever the heck she felt like it. No one needed Randy to confirm that Haley…. No! I’m not gonna even go there. I’ll be civilized about it: Haley would like to win this competition. DUH.

For better or worse, depending on your tolerance for reality show contestant brattiness (mine is off-the-charts high, as I prioritize spectacle above all else), it’s so clear by now that Haley does just not give a crap at all what the judges say. Her facial expressions during the judging — and especially her transition from “microphone orgasm” to “f— you, I’m a bad ass bitch” after her final note — spoke for themselves.

Thanks to loyal readers and hidden gem hunters @ktbanks and @BVielhaber for calling my attention to the striking similarity between Mark Ballas’ “rolling the dice” gesture from Monday night’s DWTS to Haley’s brief but all too telling motion for the judges.

Unofficial sign language translation: “F— you, I’m a bad ass bitch.”

You know what?

See you tomorrow.

Follow Annie on Twitter

Read more:

‘American Idol’ on the scene for Top 5 performance night

‘American Idol’ behind the scenes: ‘Idol’ coaches talk the Top 5 — EXCLUSIVE

EW.com’s ‘American Idol’ Central

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