The Lucky Seven hit the jackpot this week with “Songs of the 21st Century,” not to be confused with “Songs From the Year These Extremely Young Idols Were Born.” It was the audience, however, who were the real winners. One decade earlier and we would’ve been subjected to Stefano’s version of Milli Vanilli or Scotty trying his hand at “Achy Breaky Heart.”
While the theme was a little tired, Nigel & Co. found a new way to invigorate the episode by giving the stage back to the six fallen Idols of the Top 13 . That’s right; they all came together to stick it to America with the oh-so-appropriate “So What” by Pink. (So what? I’m still a rock star ... I’m gonna show you tonight ... I’m alright ... I’m just fine ... And you’re a tool!)
The performance conjured up nostalgia for some of the former contestants. (Wow, look at Naima’s karate kicks!) As for others, it just solidified America’s decision to vote them off in the first place. (Was Thia even there?!) Ashthon tried out a new Betty Boop affectation to match her retro wig, while Pia failed miserably at singing harmony with Paul. But then, I would imagine that it’s difficult for anyone to sing alongside Paul.
SCOTTY McCREERY “Swingin’” by LeAnn Rimes
It is nice to see that the Idols can laugh at themselves ... and each other. Apparently Joel McHale isn’t the only person who’s noticed Scotty’s smarmy singing and unique microphone technique. The other contestants gave spot-on imitations of the cowboy crooner -- lip curls and all. That’s the thing with Scotty, though. As good as his voice is, you can time your watch to his smirks and eyebrow raises.
While that may be good when it comes to knowing what you’re gonna get, it doesn’t quite hit the bar in the excitement department. Jimmy encouraged him to put a little rock into the song, but Scotty stayed in his safe zone. In fact, this version sounded suspiciously more like John Anderson’s 1983 original than the LeAnn Rimes’s 21st Century cover. He did, however, mix it up when he took the melody down an octave.
Unfortunately, the demonic result prompted me to call my local priest for an exorcism rather than the Idol voting lines to support Scotty. Steve gave a lukewarm “I liked it” while Lopez warned that it’s time to pull out the big guns and get out of his comfort zone. Randy thought it was too safe and “kinda boring.”
JAMES DURBIN “Uprising” by Muse
James’ vocals are only rivaled by his production ideas, which he says come to him in “amazing visions.” The execution of this visions are what make him a must-see every week. What will he do next?
Tonight he brought in a marching band drumline -- so much better than the bagpipe of didgeridoo of yesteryear. Who would’ve thought geek-chic would be the perfect accompaniment to his deranged post-apocalyptic circus ringleader? (At least, I think that’s the look he was going for.) It’s nice to see that James can do something more current; singing songs that people already know makes it easier for them to envision you as a contemporary artist.
As if the costume, the drumline and wielding the mic stand like a dominatrix whip weren’t enough, James then took the chorus up an octave, something that Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy had challenged him to do. Two performances into the night and J. Lo boldly predicted that Durbin’s number would be the best performance of the night, theatrically. Randy agreed, also saying that it would probably be the best performance of the night. Steven said it was “crazy good” and loves that he’s out of his mind, “beautifully so.”
HALEY REINHART “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
The Idols made fun of Haley’s growls, while Stefano specifically referred to their relationship as “love/hate.” Jimmy asked Reinhart what she thought the song was about and she came up with the theme of rejection. Iovine implored her to put the rejection into it, something that should come pretty easily to her, as America has rejected her time and time again by voting her into the Bottom Three. Insisting on nothing less than magic, Jimmy warned that going “right below magic” would cause the audience to reject her.
She got the message. Perhaps she was singing to Casey or Stefano or whomever she’s dating this week but the pain was palpable. Looking like a pin-up girl in waves and polka dots, she did the unthinkable; she took the number one song in the country and made it her own.
Haley has struggled this season to find songs that define her as an artist, but Adele’s retro soulful style seems to be a close match. Randy agreed, saying that she chose the perfect direction for where she wants to go as an artist. Jennifer commended her for having the guts to sing such a current and popular song and still make it her own. Steven said that there’s a reason this is the number one album; the people like “that” and Haley’s got “that.”
JACOB LUSK “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross
The Idols referred to Jacob as -- surprise! -- a diva and made fun of his propensity to infuse his selections with an abundance of “Yeahgiddy-yeah-yeahs.” This diva has been compared to Vandross so many times that it makes sense he would cover him, especially since Jennifer referred to him as her favorite singer. Adding more meaning was the fact that Jacob lost his father at a young age. “Everybody knows Jacob can sing,” said Jimmy. It was time to find out if he could feel.
Apparently he can, as he got tearful while rehearsing. On performance night, it seemed like he got a little emotional at the top of his song but he later blamed the slow start to a problem with the track. (The audience would rather hear that you have feelings, Jacob!) Clad in a brushed steel suit and sitting on a stool, Lusk gave a heartfelt performance and stayed away from the vocal and physical histrionics we have come to expect. The predictable gospel choir was replaced by a calming string quartet.
Steven said the performance reminded him of why he loves music. Lopez empathized with the difficulty involved in singing a song that means so much to you; “Jenny From The Block” always tears at the heartstrings. Randy, on the other hand, wasn’t “jumping up and down.” He wanted Jacob to go crazy like old times and not hold back. I couldn’t disagree more. While the crazy notes are pure Jacob, they can also be distracting.
CASEY ABRAMS “Harder to Breath” by Maroon 5
To poke fun at Casey, the Idols dressed up in Amish beards and blew into a Melodica, prompting Haley to ask, “How many mouths have been on this thing?” (Too easy.) This seemed like an odd song choice, but Jimmy liked it. (As if he would question song choice after James, Casey and Scotty proved him wrong last week.) I’m actually surprised that they got clearance for this song, seeing as Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine is judging rival show “The Voice.”
The thing that really worked with this performance was that it reminded us of how versatile Casey is. He goes from rock to jazz seamlessly, again calling to mind the Sting-like quality that he possesses. While he may not be as classically good looking as Sting or Levine, he exudes his own kind of sex appeal -- one that increases with each performance. This appeal was punctuated at the end of the song, when he slinked up to the judges’ table and sang five inches away from J. Lo’s face before having the nerve to kiss her on the cheek in the middle of his vocal. “It’s getting harder and harder -- SMACK -- to breath.” A blushing Lopez proclaimed, “I loved it!” before clarifying that she meant “the performance.”
Randy loves Casey’s surprise element and deemed it an “amazing job.” Steven called him a cult hero and got so excited that he had to be bleeped out: “There’s a million people in America that are really angry ... You piss ‘em off ‘cause you’re so f---ing good.” Backstage, Casey was happy with himself: “I kissed Jennifer Lopez and I made Steven swear. That’s always a plus.”
STEFANO LANGONE “Closer” by Neo
The Idols all think that Stefano is quite the confident ladies’ man. Interesting, since his body language hasn’t always translated to “confident” this season. Jimmy wanted him to move around more and command the room with his sexiness rather than “whining and pleading.” Ouch. Langone seemed to take it to heart, though, as the fallen suspenders on his wardrobe choice were very “fireman-themed stripper mid-strip.”
He worked the stage more than he ever has, shaking hands with the audience and attempting some sort of sexy-robot move. Even Ryan commented that he “turned it into Ladies’ Night.” Randy was afraid that the song would come off as bad karaoke, but was pleasantly surprised that he took his time with the verses and worked the dance steps out a bit. Steven was also happy that he tried dancing and called it a “good job.” Jennifer thought it was “very, very good” and that it felt like a concert.
Backstage, Langone seemed ecstatic about his performance, which was sad to watch. Unfortunately, not even giving his best performance of the season could save him from the Bottom Three last week. Will this week be his turn to go?
LAUREN ALAINA “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans
The Idols made fun of Lauren’s “Gomer Pyle” accent but maybe they should’ve made fun of her song selection. With so many choices, why would you pick this “end-of-summer-camp” kind of number? Jimmy cautions other contestants against lackluster pieces; I’m not sure why he didn’t save Lauren here. He did, however, bring in Miley Cyrus’ producers to listen, which really sent Lauren reeling.
I hadn’t noticed it before but apparently she’s been holding back because she’s intimidated by the big notes that the other contestants can hit. In my opinion, Lauren has hit several great notes and runs. If she is holding back, then -- and she says that she is -- letting go could win her the “Idol” crown.
The judges encouraged her to go for it, with Steven suggesting some Faith Hill or Shania in the future. Jennifer thinks she has a “special voice” with “so much character” and encouraged her to practice the big notes at home in private. Randy said, “You can sing anything.” That’s true, so I would encourage her to sing anything good.
The night ended with all the judges marveling at how any of the remaining contestants could win. But it was Steven who bucked diplomacy for sheer honesty: “And you, Casey ... God says all men are created equal, only some are more equal than others.”