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‘American Idol': Scotty, Casey, James Defy the Judges — Jacob Should Have

Even Paul McDonald nixes a beatbox on ”songs of the cinema“ night

This season of “American Idol” has been filled with enough shocking twist endings, alleged love affairs and tearful goodbyes to warrant its own film franchise. Heck, they’ve even dealt with a haunted mansion! The only thing missing is the soundtrack — and what better way to audition potential tunes than to have the contestants participate in a “songs of the cinema” theme?

PAUL McDONALD “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Bob Seger from “Risky Business”
Those who think Paul is a one-trick (arthritic) pony are clearly just jealous of his dazzling pearly whites and ever-growing collection of kitschy cowboy couture. (Seriously, does he get a discount on that stuff?) He is the most original (non-joke) contestant to ever appear on “Idol,” with a unique style that is only matched by his one-of-a-kind voice.

Also read: Randy Jackson on This Year’s Idol Winner

That being said, his quirkiness makes it difficult for producers to figure out what he should be doing. Jimmy Iovine was so confused, in fact, that he suggested beatboxing. Come on, Jimmy! That was ridiculous even when Blake Lewis did it back in Season 6! The ever-present will.i.am (seriously, is this guy on payroll now?) suggested sliding onto the stage a la Tom Cruise. Paul rejected both ideas, instead opting to do what he does best — deliver a raspy vocal while hobbling around the stage like a scoliosis patient with a drinking problem.

The beatbox idea was replaced by a sax solo delivered by a sexy lady whom Paul played off of while beating a tambourine with the skill of a Partridge. (Hope Skype-girlfriend Nikki Reed is not jealous!) Steven loved his crazy wild abandon and how it transcends to an audience. Randy appreciates that Paul is not just a typical singer; he’s definitely an artist. Standing ovation aside, I’m not sure that this was the perfect song choice and I think that Paul may be in trouble.

LAUREN ALAINA “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus from “Hannah Montana: The Movie”
I was positive that 16-year-old Lauren would choose a song from a Disney movie; I just figured it would be “The Little Mermaid.” In her mentoring session, Jimmy Iovine told her that she’s a “much, much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus,” causing Lauren to feign shock while we at home rolled our eyes and said, “No kidding.”

As Jimmy instructed her to shrewdly steal votes from Pia’s old fanbase, will.i.am interjected with “Snatch ‘em up!” and “Put ‘em in da bag!” before reframing it as “inviting them” to vote for her. It makes sense. Lauren’s style, though country, is the closest we have left to the powerhouse that was Toscano. Lauren is the Carrie Underwood to Pia’s Kelly Clarkson.

The song’s catchy melody and oh-so-Idol-apropos lyrics made it a great choice for Alaina, who, even on a bad day could elevate the piece beyond its previous incarnation as a throaty yellfest. (Don’t even get me started on last year’s rendition by Haeley Vaughn, bless her heart.) She made it her own by adding her hint of a yodel (what J. Lo refers to as the “tear in her voice.”) Randy said that she made the song sound like it was written for her, while Steven said that she moves him beyond tears. Lopez offered, “You don’t need to steal anybody’s votes; you’re getting plenty of your own.”

STEFANO LANGONE “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men from “Boomerang”
Stefano’s struggle has never been his unbelievable voice. Rather, it has been delivering heartfelt performances and straddling the line between humility and confidence. This week, though, something clicked and he came to play. Perhaps it was the advice that J. Lo had given him recently: “You’ve gotta stop singing to stay; you’ve gotta start singing to win.”

Lopez isn’t his only fan. Jimmy told him that the reason he gives him such a hard time is because he believes he has the talent to actually win. With all this support, Stefano finally seems to believe his own hype a little and focused on his performance skills, citing that it’s what separates the good singers from the great. His vocals were impeccable, as usual, but this time he connected with the audience, working the stage and making love to the camera.

Randy said that Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris would be proud and deemed it Stefano’s best vocal on the stage so far. Steven said that he knows how to milk a song and that’s it’s not “the end of the road” but only the beginning. Backstage afterwards, Langone had the excitement of a schoolboy who had just seen Santa Claus. (There’s that personality we’ve been missing!) “It feels amazing. The stage was amazing. The crowd was amazing … I’m ready to stay for a while.”

SCOTTY McCREERY “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait from “Pure Country”
When the theme was announced, this song was the obvious choice for Scotty. There are only so many country songs to choose from and “9 to 5” isn’t quite his schtick. What Scotty can do, though, is sit the heck out of a stool. Running around the stage can be entertaining, but it’s unnecessary when you have that voice. In fact, Jimmy said that he could sing the phone book, though he was disappointed that McCreery didn’t go with his original song choice, “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson. Scotty mentioned that he was “kinda going back to his country roots with this song.” (Uh, did he ever leave?)

The vocal was what we’ve come to expect, though there were some pitch issues on the longer notes and he was drowned out by the backup singers throughout the chorus. Nevertheless, Steven said that he thinks all of America is falling in love with Scotty’s voice. Though it wasn’t her favorite song choice, Lopez marveled, “Wow, that was really good.” Randy told us to pay attention: “America, look at this guy right here. A star is born on this stage.”

Randy’s right; Scotty will definitely have a career in country music. The genre has embraced former Idols with much less talent. (Kellie Pickler, anyone?) McCreery’s consistency and the fact that he, Lauren and James are the only contestants never to land in the Bottom Three make me wonder if we could witness the first-ever country versus country finale.

CASEY ABRAMS “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole from “The Boy With the Green Hair”
Casey lamented that it’s really hard to find a song that defines him as an artist. I can see why; there are so few rockin’ solos for the upright bass these days. He did, however, find a song – “Nature Boy” — he really loved. When he performed it for Jimmy and will.i.am, though, they weren’t jumping out of their seats. “It’s too small,” said Jimmy. They much preferred his second choice, Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

Casey, wanting to stay true to himself, struggled with the decision, but decided to go with his gut and perform “Nature Boy” anyway, much to the annoyance of Jimmy. “If you wanna win this competition,” he said,”you need to take the help at this point and Casey chose not to so he’d better be right.” Fortunately for Casey, he was right. As he played his upright bass, his quiet jazzy vocal made you lean in to listen. Without extraneous accompaniment, you could really appreciate what a great singer he really is, not to mention how insanely cool he is. As evidenced by his scat-tastic bass breakdown, this bearded beatnik can play, daddy-o!

Though every performance received a standing ovation, Casey’s was the only one to get the judges themselves out of their seats. Randy thought it was “brilliant” and “absolutely genius.” Steven commended him for sticking to his guns against Jimmy and compared him to my favorite artist Sting, a resemblance I also noted.

HALEY REINHART “Call Me” by Blonde from “American Gigolo”
Though the judges may disagree, I thought this was the perfect song choice for Haley, showcasing both her voice and her sexuality. Even though Jimmy called her a “very slow starter,” he says that she’s coming on strong now. She’s got to keep the momentum going; the fact that there are only two girls left is not lost on her. I thought this was one of her best performances.

Yes, the barely-there mini dress (shirt?) and above-the-knee boots screamed “very vocally talented stripper,” especially when she thrashed her mall hair around and cooed into the microphone. (I can almost smell the cigarettes and Aqua Net through the screen!) But I think that’s what Haley is going for. Madonna and countless others have built singing careers on sexuality. Why shouldn’t Haley, especially when she’s got a unique and powerful voice to back it up? Her demeanor runs the risk of alienating young girls, a huge voting demographic, but at least she’s being — the theme of the night — true to herself.

Randy thought that it “wasn’t a singer’s song” or a showcase for her voice. Steven thought she nailed the chorus. Jennifer was afraid to say anything negative at all, lest she send yet another girl packing, but said that it “wasn’t the best,” especially after “two killer perfomances.”

JACOB LUSK “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel from “The Pursuit of Happyness”
Jimmy wasted no time scolding Jacob for his comments last week, which likely contributed to him ending up in the Bottom Three. “You’re gonna preach to 24 million, 25 million people. You haven’t even put a record out yet. Don’t preach to people. They don’t wanna be preached to.”

Amen, brother! Jacob did seem more subdued and a little crestfallen, probably due to the tongue lashing. Initially his choices were both showtunes, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “The Impossible Dream,” but both Jimmy and will.i.am shot them down as too corny. Instead, Jimmy suggested “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and in his interview, a humble, low-energy Jacob mumbled that “hopefully America likes it.” Hmmm, sounds like he could use his own bridge over troubled water, as he’s obviously weary and feeling small.

The vocal he delivered was great, but I missed the enthusiastic Jacob of old. He was so grounded and still that it translated almost as sadness. The judges didn’t think so, though. Steven thought that the amount he puts into his songs is “astounding” and said, “God bless you, man, and your voice.” Lopez thinks his singing “comes from the place it’s supposed to come from” and Randy believes him when he sings, calling it an “amazing job.”

JAMES DURBIN “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar from “Heavy Metal”
James knew immediately what he wanted to sing but says that Jimmy flat-out hated it. He cautioned Durbin to be careful; this was not a careful song. Durbin, like Casey and Scotty, went with his gut anyway. “This is what I’m doing. I know what’s best for myself as an artist with no disrespect to either of you.”

Well said; he should’ve stopped there. Instead he pushed Jimmy’s limits by lumping himself in with the legendary producer: “You and I both know that you can’t hear the potential of a number one hit song just hearing it on a piano.” Jimmy did not appreciate that: “You think I’m an accident? I wrote a song before it was on the piano and knew it was a hit.”

Jimmy may be a great producer, but James knows who he is as an artist. Amid flashing strobes, Durbin ran around the stage like a true rock star, interacting with guest guitarist Zakk Wylde and even standing on the judges’ table. Sure, maybe no one had ever heard this song before but that fact only made Durbin’s showmanship more impressive. Lopez loved it, saying that it “felt really, really REAL …. I don’t know what these performances are sounding like at home, but here they are killing it dead.”

Randy thought it was “unbelievable” and hopes to see him at the next Ozzfest. Both Randy and Steven applauded him for standing up for himself, with Steven adding, “Nice lip to Jimmy there.”